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    August 08, 2005

    Ricky Ponting zindabad

    Well, I am a big fan of Ricky's fielding and batting. But I like him even more now after he added to his earlier achievement during the tour. Remember how he was interviewed first against Bangladesh? Well, he's now added England to the list. He now becomes the first Aussie captain in eight years to have spoken first-up at a post-match interview after an Ashes test with the series still up for grabs. Oddly enough, the last time this happened was also at Edgbaston.

    Full credit to England for holding their nerve and winning the thrillingly close game. But Ponting's decision to bowl first given that McGrath was absent was a total shocker to me. Glenn McGrath was realistically the only quick bowler England were afraid of, given his feats on the first day at Lord's. Yet, Ponting chose to bowl first. Was he overly influenced by the tornado (or whatever?) which narrowly missed the ground? I don't know. But it was a very odd decision, one that would probably hurt him for a long time, especially if the unmentionable happens.

    England's batsmen were hardly troubled on the opening day and most of them actually threw their wickets away. Seeing them score 407 in a day was thrilling, but the recklessness meant that they were all out, giving Australia a great chance to bat England out of the game. I didn't think the pitch had caused any of the wickets to fall. Pietersen and Flintoff combined well, although Flintoff's strategy especially against Warne was essentially binary in nature. Vaughan would have been quite content with the score, but not the fact that his side was all out on the first day. On the other hand, Ponting would have been quite happy at getting to bat on day two, but would not have bargained for leaking so many runs. Look at those bowling figures:
    Lee                         17      1    111      1 (3nb, 1w)
    Gillespie 22 3 91 2 (3nb)
    Kasprowicz 15 3 80 3 (8nb)
    Warne 25.2 4 116 4

    Warne was among the most miserly of the lot, and he gave away more than four an over. It is in fact the 26th time he conceded more than 100 runs without picking up five wickets. Seven of those have been against India, none of the other teams can claim five.

    Some horrible batting by Australia, especially Hayden, meant that England had their noses in front after the second day. The other reason I like Ricky Ponting is his totally limp sweep shot against Ashley Giles, of all people. But yes, it is tough for me to admit that Giles actually well to pick up Clarke's wicket with a quicker one. Gilchrist played a very strange innings. This entire tour, England have worked on bowling around the wicket at him, and have especially had Flintoff or Harmison bowling to him, and put a couple of fielders on the boundary on the offside to prevent his crashing drives from reaching the fence. England's field placements were quite good, but I did find it hard to believe that he had not yet countered the strategy. His partnerships with the tail did ensure that Australia's deficit was less than 100. Warne then produced a real beauty to get rid of Strauss. In the first innings, a big leg-spinner had defeated Strauss' cut shot. This time around, Strauss walked across to cover his off-stump and defend and found the ball turned a huge amount to hit his leg-stump. It seemed like a real statement of intent and ability.

    But England's headaches on the third day were first caused by a really fired up Brett Lee. He first knocked over the top order, as well as the nightwatchman Hoggard. Then Warne began to work his magic on the middle-order and ended up with 599 wickets. He could still end up snapping up Pietersen for his 600th wicket. Pietersen slogged him a couple of times but could not get going, his nascent test average thus dropped from 96 to only 70. Flintoff then began running out of partners as the score reached 131/9, with England only 230 ahead. He then took charge of the proceedings and belted an overbowled Lee all over the place. While Lee bowled 18 overs, Gillespie and Kasprowicz bowled 11 between them. I really did think Ponting should have tried them out more or even given the ball to someone like Clarke. Do something different. In eight overs, Flintoff and Jones added 50 crucial runs. Did they affect the ultimate result? Well not all 50, three of them did!

    Flintoff was not quite done yet. Although Hayden and Langer started positively, there were a lot of nerves around. Flintoff, on a hat-trick after cleaning up during the first innings, bowled Langer with his second ball. Off the last ball of the same over, he struck again, having Ponting caught behind poking at a ball which didn't do anything extra-ordinary from a good length. Hayden and Martyn kept getting the runs, albeit at a slower pace. Then Hayden flashed wildly and was caught in the slips. A few overs later, Martyn flicked straight to mid-wicket. Katich and Gilchrist followed soon, playing reckless shots. Gillespie was then out with the score 137/7. One hundred and forty five more to get with three wickets in hand became a hundred and seven with two wickets in hand when Clarke was out in the final over of the day after an exciting and aggressive stand with Warne. I think there've been too many days in this series so far where a wicket has fallen in the last over. Something for both sides to ponder about.

    I really thought Australia had no hope. Theoretically the fourth day's play could last just two deliveries. I reckoned it'd last around half an hour. But the performance by the tail-enders, combined with some strange captaincy and bowling meant that the game actually became more and more interesting with every passing over. Even though Warne was out around half an hour after play started, he and Lee had added nearly 50 runs, often with shots over the infield with the bowlers trying to bounce them out. Warne kept backing away and slashing over the slips or point. He did fail on quite a few occasions, but surely there was a better way to bowl to him. Yorkers, someone? Changes of pace? Nothing much changed even after Warne got out hit-wicket.

    It is tough to ascertain if Australia's batting is stronger or weaker without McGrath. McGrath's batting has certainly improved beyond recognition, to the extent of actually threatening opposition bowlers. But Kasprowicz is certainly not inferior as a batsman. So when he joined Lee, with 62 runs still to get, England would have hoped that this damn match would get over quickly. But Lee and Kaspa copped a fearful battering from the quicks, stoutly defended when they had to and belted the ball when they had to. That perennial favourite of ours, Giles, was hit in the few overs he bowled. Simon Jones then dropped Kasprowicz with fifteen to get. Did he drop the Ashes? Maybe he did ... naah, he didn't. At least he hasn't yet! It all ended with Kasprowicz gloving a Harmison throat-ball down the legside to Geraint Jones, who caught it quite well. Turns out that Kaspa apparently didn't have his hand on the bat when the ball went off the glove. So apparently he was technically not out, at least that is what the Aussie press claims. Billy Bowden is a Kiwi, so he must have obviously done something wrong. But hang on, doesn't he get influenced by Australia? Come on chaps, you dont expect an umpire to notice that the hand was off the bat within the few microseconds he gets to see the happenings.

    Vaughan relied yet again on Flintoff and Harmison to take his side through. They did a great job, but they certainly would not have expected to hang out there for nearly two hours and soak in all the tension. Hoggard and Giles bowled ten overs between them. As I commented on William's blog, England must not forget, at least I won't let it, that they nearly lost the game. Three tail-enders left, they couldn't wrap up the proceedings. More than 100 to get ... and Australia got within two runs. Even though Australia will be gutted at the end, I think they’ll come back stronger. I’m sure England would have expected the game to get over within an hour or so. The extra effort put in by the likes of Harmison and Flintoff would surely have drained them out. It would be interesting to see how they’d fare if Australia batted first at Old Trafford (?) given that there’re only three days between the games.

    Comments/analyses from Geoff Boycott, Chloe Saltau, David Hopps, Justin Langer, Peter Roebuck, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Angus Fraser, Robert Craddock, Matthew Hayden, Matthew Hoggard, Bruce Wilson and Jonathan Agnew.

    I found this just now, and perhaps doesn't merit a separate post by itself. Ian Chappell blasts the side for taking England lightly. He also points out that things will become worse when McGrath and Warne retire. But hey, we've seen that earlier ... two years ago!

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    Thus spake Jagadish @ 5:49 PM |
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    1 sledge(s):

    "Come on chaps, you dont expect an umpire to notice that the hand was off the bat within the few microseconds he gets to see the happenings."
    - Thats why he is there. He has to know if the hand was holding the bat or not. Especially in such a tense contest and when just one ball would do for the Eng win. To me, its unpardonable, though I feel he is one of the better umpires amongst jokers.

    I never believed (still do) that England can never win a live Ashes Test (without the help of umpires). I agree umpires make mistakes and it should be forgotten and forgiven, but not at a juncture as this one.

    The headlines should have been "Billy does it for England" - INBOWDIBLE !

    By Blogger Ganesh (09-Aug-2005, 8:41:00 AM)  


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