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    August 16, 2005

    It can only get boring now

    Given the events of yesterday at Old Trafford, England's thrilling win at Edgbaston or Australia's comeback from being bowled out on day one at Lord's seem totally insipid in comparison!

    The last time I felt a series was really interesting was four years ago when India rocked Australia's boat. Unfortunately that was only a three test series and the momentum was almost completely with India by the time the Madras test ended. It is fascinating to think of how things would have panned out if there were two more tests. Ditto with India's last tour of Australia. India failed to stamp out Australia in spite of scoring over 900 runs. The momentum swung India's way till Melbourne and then resumed at Sydney. But would Australia have hit back if there was another test or would India have finally won a test series overseas?

    Would Australia have played as recklessly as they did at Bombay after winning at Nagpur if there was one more test to go?

    There are a few reasons why I feel the fifth and final day's play yesterday was more interesting than the fourth and final day's play at Edgbaston.

    For starters, Australia got away in spite of lagging behind terribly. Secondly, you had a captain playing an absolutely superb rearguard innings, the first time any of Australia's batsmen, not named Shane Warne, had looked like batting decently this series. Thirdly, there is always a charm in knowing that the over being bowled is the last over of the game and that it boils down to the batsmen gutsing it out for six balls or the bowler putting in one final effort. Think of how Harmison, McGrath or Lee would have felt.
    McGrath: "Man, if I stick it out for the next six deliveries, we're home"
    Harmison: "Come on, just one last time"
    Lee: "Oh no, not again!"

    Australia had quite a few culprits in their second innings. Hayden batted atrociously. I know, he made 30-odd. But there were so many edges. Plus he had done the hard yakka yet again and thrown away his wicket. In the case of Martyn's dismissal, Steve Bucknor was the culprit. Clarke totally misjudged Simon Jones' bowling and yet another Australian got out shouldering arms. Simon Katich could have as well been given out twice in two deliveries. The first one from Flintoff, he tried his best to edge it but didn't quite do so. The next ball was a little wider and he played the most amazing cover drive anyone would ever see, except the ball took the edge and flew to Giles who caught it pretty well. I have absolutely no idea what Adam Gilchrist's game plan was when he was batting. His scores this series are 26, 10, 49*, 1, 30 and 4.

    Ponting made the next mistake when he sent in Gillespie ahead of Warne and Lee. I know, in hindsight, Lee played pretty well to save the game. But Warne was clearly in some good batting form. If he played a few shots, which would not have been a terrible idea at that stage, given Australia needed five an over to win, it would have given England a scare. Ponting got out gloving down the legside yet again ... remember he got out perhaps a couple of times that way during the one-day series? It was a cruel way to go, especially given it was the last ball of the over! Lee and McGrath had to bat out four more overs. They did so, in spite of booming drives from Lee ending up reaching the fence rather than allowing him to take a couple of last-ball singles, including one off the last ball of the penultimate over!

    I think Australia need to take a serious look at Hayden's contribution and perhaps fire him. But if Clarke is not fit for the next test, it would be far too many changes. So perhaps they will have to wait and hope that Hayden gets some runs, preferably more than 40 at a time. Gillespie has to go, in spite of his dogged batting in the first innings. Bring in Tait, bring in anyone. Gillespie seriously doesn't look capable of getting more than a wicket an innings, which is what he has been approximately doing for the last half a dozen tests since he has taken six tests to get his last 10 wickets.

    The fact that Clarke's back is playing up means that Ponting cannot throw the ball to him, not that he's done it too often so far. Assuming Australia do drop Gillespie, bring in Kasprowicz, ensure that McGrath is fit, Ponting needs to entrust guys like Martyn, Katich and possibly himself with bowling a few overs. Australia do not have an all-rounder who bowls. They have one who allegedly bats. (NB: That line is in the fond hope that someone will bring this to Gilchrist's notice and he will be provoked enough into blasting a run-a-ball century at Trent Bridge.)

    England's bowling overall was quite good and well planned. Vaughan did the right thing by bowling a few overs himself, especially at Clarke. However there still seems to be an over-reliance on Harmison and Flintoff. Hoggard bowled 19 overs in the game, Flintoff bowled 45. Is he on his way out? He did get England a great breakthrough very early on. So perhaps not.

    I think Harmison bowled a very ordinary final over. If I remember right, three balls were down legside to McGrath, allowing him to get away from the action end. Then two down the legside to Lee as well, including the last ball of the game. Nerves? Yeah very likely. But the least he could have done was to bowl to his field. I think there were like six fielders between first slip and point, a short cover, a forward short-leg and a backward short-leg. But he kept spearing it down leg. In fact he'd probably have done fine even if he'd delivered a couple of ribcage seeking deliveries because that'd at least bring in the short-leg fielders and the keeper into the equation. But full deliveries (and fulltosses) down leg ... not good enough! I think Harmison himself would have been disappointed with that show, let alone Vaughan and the rest of the team or the thousands of supporters baying for Australian blood.

    I am guessing that the only reason Flintoff's bowling action isn't being analyzed is because there is a shortage of microscopes or magnifying lenses or video projection systems with in-built protractors in the ICC's new home, Dubai.

    Finally, how can I not admire my hero? He is bowling on a last day wicket where there is a fair amount of uneven bounce. He has quite a few left-handers to bowl to, which suits him fine. The batsmen are digging in, not looking to attack him. Their first preference seems to be to bat out for a draw. So in such circumstances, you'd expect a better bowling performance from England's leading spinner. I keenly await his column where he claims that he is no Stuart MacGill or even worse, Chris Schofield!

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    Thus spake Jagadish @ 8:00 AM |
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