Friday, 12 January 2007

LONDON: Thud, Wince _ it's over

England 242-8, Australia 246-2 win by eight wickets

A short ball into the chest, a muffled thud and Kevin Pietersen let out a wince. England gave out a collective groan. By the 40th over of a a first, underwhelming one-day innings, England's Commonwealth Bank series chances were buried.

Pietersen _ the world's no.2 one-day batsmen _ will fly home with a fractured rib and take no further part in the triangular tournament. His teammates appear likely to fly home only with a wooden spoon.

Seeking to stem a run on 10 tour defeats, the side contested the match only fleetingly, and the Biltong muncher was at the heart of it, hurling himself into the Aussie attack for 82. Though Flintoff attempted to steer the side to a reasonable total and added a flurry of late runs, momentum was lost once Pietersen departed _ it bodes ill for the coming weeks.

An astonishing first over from Flintoff with the ball _ giving away 11 wides _ set the tone thereonin. The rest was inevitable, Gilchrist thrashed 60 off 61 and Ponting's unbeaten 82 took Australia home.

Tail Watch
The bowlers, Freddie and Collingwood not included, managed 11.

One-Day Fact Of The Day
Flemish anatomist Vesalius caused uproar when he confirmed that both men and women have 24 ribs _ rubbishing assumptions based on the biblical story of Adam and Eve, in which Eve is fashioned from Adam's rib and some dirt. Pietersen, of course, often sports girl-like hair and in fact fell down like a big girl's blouse when struck by McGrath's ball. Is it a coincidence then that Australia, with a man called gilCHRIST and nicknamed CHURCH on the team, went on to win? Er, yes it is. Go away, Dan Brown.

One-Day Track Of The Day
Gone For Good, Chutes To Narrow. The Shins.

Friday, 5 January 2007

LONDON: Whitewashed and WAGless

England 291 and 147, Australia 393 and 46-0 _ win by 10 wickets
There was, inevitably, a flicker of hope - a forlorn glimmer of the potential that drove England to the 2005 triumph - but as before in this series, it only served to sour the pill of defeat. Closing the first day's play on 234-4, with Flintoff motoring and Pietersen still to bat, and still a No. 5, the prospects looked bright for England. By Day Four, Fletcher's team were beaten again, humiliated again and exposed again to a brand of cricket his side appears unable to aspire to, let alone to match. Even on the final day of the 1920-1921 Ashes whitewash, England lost by nine wickets - today it was by ten.

For a spell Harmison, playing his best cricket of the series - finally, hinted that England's bowling unit would threaten. But it didn't. Not only did they prove fairly useless with the ball, but Sydney exposed how critical the tail's inept batting had proved.
Warne scored a valedictory 71 in Australia's first, and his final, innings. England's bowlers and Chris Read managed just 42 between them - in two innings.

Of all England's failings, the lack of wag - not WAGS, see above - appears the most critical. If Strauss, Bell or Cook misfire and Pietersen slashes a flashy shot too many, there isn't a cavalry.

England's trumpeter played Living on a Prayer, see right,after Pietersen nibbled McGrath's third ball of the final day's first over, soon after he sounded The Last Post.

All that was left was to marvel at three departing talents - Warne, McGrath and Langer. It's hard to imagine a character like Warne emerging again. My Dad swears he spent a brief spell as a youth at Egerton Cricket Club, if he did it would explain his fondness for bakery produce, as Bolton's Carrs Pasties are the world's leading meat/potato/pastry combination. The club's records don't back up RRH senior's claim, but do show that Mark Waugh graced the ground whilst I was a young schoolboy.
As Warne waved goodbye, and shook hands on that lucrative Channel Nine deal, the English inquest began. The key questions:

Did England's 2005 hangover over-run too long? Had the gongs weighed too heavily around the Ashes winners necks? Was Stewart at fault to stick with Giles and Jones amid the clamour for Panesar's adventure and Read's superior keeping? Or was he right to acknowledge England's flaccid tail needed reinforcing with better batting?
There's an opinion that the team went into the series with an It'll Be Alright On The Night sensibility, see Dennis Norden left, believing they'd rise to the challenge. They were wrong. Unfortunately, the agony isn't over with a one day series to lose and a World Cup to fail in - only then can the rebuilding begin. Happy New Year to you too.

Ashes Fact Of The Day
Warwick Armstrong's Australians completed their 5-0 sweep of the 1920-21 Ashes with a nine-wicket win at Sydney. However, Armstrong, right, was a pudding of a man - a giant, pie-gobbling 21 stone (larger even than Freddie at his most lardy). His heft could have seen him qualify, with a third of his weight to spare, for a heavyweight boxing title tilt. Turns out the "Big Ship" also played AFL... of course he did with that bulk.

Ashes Track Of The Day
Heroes, Heroes. David Bowie.

Friday, 29 December 2006

LONDON: Stood up and staggering

Fourth Test, Melbourne. Australia 419 beat England 159 & 161 by an innings and 99 runs. Like a flush cheeked boy pacing outside the cinema in wait for a high school beauty who'll never arrive, Freddie Flintoff and England are dumbstruck with incurable embarrassment. It now seems chulrish to have believed they were capable of competing with Australia's slick and confident XI. Much like the broken hearted boy left with a wilting bouquet, the England team have been taught a hard and painful lesson _ they simply aren't good enough. Changes intended to strengthen the line up have shown promise _ Panesar's aggression a positive replacement for Giles's conservatism and Read's confident glovework preferable to Jones's ineptitude _ but haven't been enough to mask some unpalatable realities.
Fragile, barely fit and over ladden with responsibilities, Flintoff has trudged through the series manfully enough, but without asserting his true talents. In spurts, his bowling in Melbourne was explosive _ but that has come at the cost of him surrendering with the bat. Steve Harmison's incredible ball to dismiss Michael Clarke _ a 90mph arrow that reared with precision at the young Australian _ served only to remind England of their once chief weapon's inconsistency.
Mr Flashy Saffa walked out to bat in Dr Jekyl mood, rather than his heroic Mr Hyde: choosing to show the rash, irresponsible reverse to his spirited, free-scoring persona.
The Little Chef, Alastair Cook, passed 1,000 runs for the year _ the youngest Englishman to do so since Andrew Strauss _ but is yet to truly get to grips with the unwavering Australian attack.
Just as the flush cheeked boy won't take no for an answer, England will stagger on to Sydney for one final humiliation.

Ashes Fact Of The Day

Shane Warne goes into the Sydney test with 999 international wickets to his name _ but the omen could be his undoing, with some superstitious types believing the number, 666 upside down, can bring bad luck. Though he is in the 999 club, Warne is probably not welcome to join the Triple Nine Society, open to those with a 99.9 percentage score in IQ tests _ usually 146. Around 600 people, from 30 countries belong to the group. 999 is also, of course, the emergency services telephone number in Britain, Ireland, Hong Kong and Singapore. Operators can provide police, fire, ambulance and rescue assistance _ but can't help cricketers thrashed in a Test match, just in case you were tempted Andrew...
Ashes Track Of The Day
Let's Get Out Of This Country, Let's Get Out Of This Country. Camera Obscura.

Monday, 18 December 2006

LONDON: Freddy's no Houdini, Australia urnt it

Perth, Day Five. Australia win by 206 runs. Win series.
The urn is back in Australian custody until 2009. But for a session at least, England dreamed. Flintoff cracked boundary after boundary, Pietersen survived a scare and England's trumpeter led raucous cheering in the stands. A Houdini act was on. Fletcher's team would not only bat out the day, but chase down the Australian total and win the third Test.

However, even the master illusionist was capable of failure when the pressure was on.

One of
Houdini's famous acts called for the magician-turned-spy to be shackled and lowered into a large milk urn filled with water. However, in a turn of the century tour in England, Harry had his assistant use beer in place of water (no word on what type). Instead of his usual three-minute escape, Houdini began to drown and was pulled clear. Differing accounts cite the effect of the alcohol on the escapologist _ a teetotaler _ or the bubbles sealing off concealed breathing holes, as the reason for the failure.

breathing space Flintoff and Pietersen won England with their half centuries was extinguished as soon as Warne took the captain's off stump just before lunch. Geriant Jones, the man most of England hope will escapologist off, responded to a chance to shore up the innings with a characteristically calamitous dismissal.

Though Go(please, really, go!)-Jo survived Warne's loud shout for lbw, he left his foot out of the crease _ falling to a smart piece of thinking from Ponting, who ran him out. Jones can't bat, can't keep and is dumb...if he pulls on England whites again Lords should be stormed by a balaclava clad militia.

Predicting defeat on Sunday,
a leading British columnist said England must accept they have no divine right to victory. They should simply be glad to have seen Ponting, McGrath and Warne _ three true greats _ up close in action.

Perhaps unwittingly, he hits England's problem on the head. Do Australia stand back to admire the opposition? No. Do they have the Ashes. Yes.

Ashes Fact of The Day
It's the sporting equivalent of the witty riposte, delivered hours after the insult. The studiously crafted compliment to the prettiest girl, never offered. England completing a run chase at Perth was an unlikely a proposition as the Little Red Haired Girl falling for Charlie Brown, or Linus for Sally Brown. But, of course the LRHG did give Charlie a smacker and the Windies managed it in Antigua, knocking up a fourth innings 418-7 to beat Australia. England, like the stammering, blushing schoolboy didn't pull it off .

Ashes Track of The Day
Let It Die, Let It Die. Feist

Sunday, 17 December 2006

LONDON: Civil War, Youth and Sewage

Perth. Day Four. England 265/5, 292 runs behind
In 1862, seemingly against the odds, the Confederate rearguard at Shepherdstown repelled an assault from a Federal force of around 500, pushing back Union soldiers eventually forced to flee down steep cliffs, scrambling in retreat. The victory was crucial and strategic _ no further attacks were mounted on Robert E. Lee's retiring army. But it was Lincoln's Union forces that resoundingly won the American Civil War.
With a fourth Test century _ at the age of 21 _ Alistair Cook displayed admirable resistance overnight as England fought off Australia's inevitable march to a series victory.
The young batsman _ backed by the improved Ian Bell _ refused to buckle under pressure for almost the entire day and offered a promising glimpse to England's future. But, Australian celebrations are merely on ice (not, though, dancing on ice _ like Michael Slater). Though Kevin Pietersen will hope to post a decent score whilst the series is still, in theory, competitive and Andrew Flintoff will be desperate to perform to his talents, the pair can't be expected to hold back the tide. Tomorrow, just like Dame Edna said, will be Last Night of the Poms.

Ashes Fact of The Day
How did Brett Lee prepare for the Perth test? He and Andrew Symonds hired out Kenny, a film about a man who sucks sewage out of portable loos. He said he particularly liked the line: "There's a smell in here that will outlast religion."
Ashes Track of The Day
It's All Over Now Baby Blue, Bringing It All Back Home. Bob Dylan.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

LONDON: Pass the sandwich board: The End is Nigh

Perth, Day Three. Australia 527 for 5 (dec); England 19 for 1
The guard is changing, that much is clear _ but not quickly enough for England to profit in this series. Glen McGrath's metronome is ticking erratically, Damien Martyn has gone and one day soon, Warne's magical touch will desert him forever.
For now, however, Australia's veterans are in their pomp and using their talent, experience and wisdom to pound England's youthful side into the dust. It could be among their final triumphs, but it's incredible to watch _ unlike the real changing of the guard, right, which is rubbish and choked with Spanish tourists.
Hands hung on hips in the field, England's young batsmen rightly watched in awe as Adam Gilchrist tore through their bowling attack with an astonishing century off 59 balls _ shredding hope the tour would belatedly blossom into a true contest. It was a remarkable turn of form for Gilchrist, who had made 0 and lasted seven minutes in his first innings. He pulverised England with 4 sixes, 12 fours and in one brutal over took Monty P for 24.
The 37-year-old made his first appearance for Australia in a one-dayer in 1996. England's Alastair Cook was 11 at the time. Maybe that sums the series up _ it's all a little too much, a little too soon for England.
Ashes Fact of The Day
We know he's an all rounder; but actor, musician and traveller through time and space? Andrew Symonds is a multifaceted man if he takes after just a few of his famous lookalikes. The Birmingham-born booze hound shares his taste of the hard stuff with top match Russell Crowe, but Quantam Leap's Scott Bakula _ are you sure? Perhaps Symonds is just waiting for that final leap home ... to England.

Ashes Track of The Day
Is This It? Is This It. The Strokes

Friday, 15 December 2006

BRUSSELS: Fred-up, frazzled and finished?

Day Two, Perth. Australia 244 & 119-1; England 215 Weary and waning, Freddie Flintoff struggled through a disappointing 45-minute stint in the middle as England crumpled in the Perth heat _ prodding unconvincingly at Lee and McGrath before he fell to Symonds, amassing a meagre 13 runs. It was the fourth time in five tour innings that the talismanic captain has fallen short of 20 and is symptomatic of England's stuttering form. Someone or something, as Austin Powers, left, might say, has Flintoff's mojo. Like Vaughan before him, whose free flowing runs dried up as soon as he became leader, the responsibility is weighing heavily on Flintoff. Some people, no matter how talented probably shouldn't be leaders - case in point here.

There's a difference between setting the example and setting the field. Flintoff's malaise lingered through England's collapse, which though not as spectacular as Adelaide was just as alarming, as Pietersen dropped his run rate and Jones again displayed his unique inability.

But, the kryptonite could be put back in the drawer. Flintoff faltered in the first test of the 2005 Ashes, igniting only in Edgbaston as he scored 68 and 73 with nine sixes _ including that mammoth slog to lash the ball high above a weather vane. The performance was a catalyst for the entire team _ setting the course for the series win. As captain, it's not proving so simple - but, maybe one good innings could provide the spark once again.

Ashes Fact of The Day
Gee-runt Jones sits at 367 in the ICC batting rankings, a full 145 places below rival gloveman Chris Read _ ditched after England's series win over Pakistan for his, erm, inferior batting... the only keeper with a worse average than Duncan Fletcher's pet? Khaled Mashud, of the mighty Bangladesh _ good job he isn't available for England, he'd be first name on Fletcher's sheet.

Ashes Track of The Day
Falling, Sha Sha. Ben Kweller