Monday 29 November 2010

First Test, Final Day: Life's A Mitch

Those Aussie Newspaper Headlines In Full: 'A Sad, Sorry Sign of Things To Come'; 'Battered Australia No Match For English Fightback'; 'Lame Attack Gives England The Psychological Edge'; 'Pace Duo On Notice'; 'England Deliver A Future Shock'; 'Mitched It By Miles'; 'Johnson Now A Liability'; 'Realities Stare Selectors In The Face'; 'Ponting In The Eye Of The Storm'; 'Ineffective Johnson Faces Sack'; 'Horror Flashback To '80s Nadir' and finally... 'English Press Goes To Town On Aussies'

A man who spent his career facing Wasim, Waqar, Walsh, Ambrose, Donald, McGrath and Warne assesses Mitch: 'Can't bat, can't bowl, can't field' - Mike Atherton

Boycs' family arrive: 'Johnson couldn't bowl my grandmother out'

Last word on Mitch: 'I feel sorry for him' - Steve Harmison, in the Sky studio

Feet still on ground: 'It's all very well strutting about the hotel lobby feeling good about yourself, we have to transfer that to the pitch' - Andrew Strauss

Talking point: 'Forget the Ashes. There's only one thing the cricket world's talking about: Shane Warne's face' - Courier Mail

And why? 'He's not a masterpiece but he's got a nice face. His teeth are too shiny - they're overdone. You put some black bits in there and he'd look like a piano' - Plastic surgeon Howard Torres

Par Watch: 'There will be all this momentum chat again. I don't know who takes the momentum' - Andrew Strauss; 'The skipper appeared intent on landing a few psychological blows of his own... as he streaked to 50 off 43 balls' - The Australian; 'Both teams only took 11 wickets and dropped catches, pretty even' - Shane Warne

Stat of the match: 28 - number of hours Alistair Cook spent on the field

Sunday 28 November 2010

First Test, Day Four: Cardiff Redux? Adelaide Redux?

Big match hype: 'Andrew, how did it feel getting out third ball in one of the biggest Test matches ever?' - Nasser Hussain to Andrew Strauss

Understatement: 'It wasn't the start I was looking for,' - Strauss's reply

Positive spin: 'And at tea, England's lead is just 17 runs' - Gabba PA announcer

Tempting fate: 'Mitchell Johnson has never gone wicketless in a Test match' - Channel Nine stat

One for the Indian bookies: What price the most number of moustaches removed between Test matches - Movember ends two days before Adelaide, current Movember suspects: KP, Mitch, Hilfy, Sizzler.

Mitch on the couch: 'He's in good shape if his eyes sparkle when he peers at the batsman... When his head drops as he turns silently to return to his mark, he's in the early stages of serious torment,' - Peter English, Cricinfo

Support Network: 'He's a major problem for the Australian selectors, never mind the captain,' - Ian Chappell on you know who

Par Watch: 'On the evidence presented yesterday, Ricky Ponting's team is not going to reclaim the Ashes' - Peter Roebuck, SMH; 'There's definitely still quite a bit of hope for us,' - Shane Watson; 'The game is still up for grabs' - Andrew Strauss

Historian: 'Shane Warne has been the only difference for years. They haven't got him now or would have been a different story' - Darren Gough, via Twitter

Saturday 27 November 2010

First Test, Day Three: Yeah, alright then it's the Gabbatoir...

Typical British understatement: 'It was quite satisfying,' - Brad Haddin

Simile of the day: 'Haddin was still as a statue and as patient as a farmer' - Peter Roebuck, SMH

Do the math: 143: Australia's first five wickets; 31: Australia's last five wickets; 481: Australia's total

Build 'em up, knock 'em down: 'If Swann still can't get it right after Adelaide, then playing an additional bowler is something England might have to seriously consider' - Jonathan Agnew, BBC

Par watch: 'We're going to have to be very patient, very disciplined for long periods of time' - Mike Hussey; 'the way we've played our cricket over the last 18 months will stand us in good stead in this dogfight' - Steve Finn; 'Australia murdered us' - Geoffrey Boycott, Telegraph; 'It's only just over a day and a half of batting, our lads will be fine - Andrew Flintoff

'How is he doctor?': 'He's pulling through,' - Steve Finn on Andy Flower

Poor areas: 'Andy said to me that some guys' lips, which can be a problem area, are worse than his' - Dr Shobhan Manoharan, who treated Andy Flower

Michael Vaughan's night: 'Everyone who has a kebab tonight - respect' - via Twitter

Friday 26 November 2010

First Test, Day Two: Nobody knows anything

The Brian Close Stand There And Take It Award: Michael Clarke's back and head

'I knew that I would win, he knew that I knew that I would win, and I knew that he knew that I knew that I would win' confrontation: Graeme Swann to Marcus North.

Total Cricket moment: Paul Collingwood bowling at Mike Hussey. Mr Cricket versus the man who would doubtless be called 'England's Mr Cricket' if anyone had to be. Back in the 1970s, these two would have been employed to play a single-innings match against each other, for broadcast over the Christmas holidays.

Par watch: 'It's pretty tight, probably 50-50 at the moment,' - Mike Hussey; 'It's ebbed and flowed and I'm sure it will tomorrow' - Steve Finn; ''How poor are they that not have patience' said the villainous Iago' - Mike Selvey, Guardian; 'Edgy Hussey saves team, career' - Brisbane Courier Mail

Phil Space Award, 'You Don't Say' Category: 'If Hussey can push on and secure a lead of a hundred, there will be added pressure and England could be in trouble. If Australia are shot out quickly, batting last on a pitch with a dirty great crack appearing in the pitching area for spin bowlers, it could be the break Graeme Swann needs' - Martin Samuel, Daily Mail

Freddie's Evening: 'Good day for the lads, on a personal note, I am getting too old to pull all-nighters' - via Twitter

Serious point of the day: Mike Hussey's footwork. Exemplary.

Sun Tzu's Advice for the UDRS: 'The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim'

Thursday 25 November 2010

Day One: Keep calm and carry on

Sub-editor of the day: 'The first ball phobia of the bowlers transferred itself to the batsmen as Andrew Strauss was out third ball' - Telegraph caption

Which Mitch? Ordinary Mitch today. Tattoos looked sharp though.

New Boy: Xavier Doherty - called 'Ex- Ayvier' all day by Shane Warne, great first ball, dropped catch, made Kevin Pietersen laugh.

Par watch: 'It was certainly under par' - Ian Bell; 'England's day really wasn't that bad' Steve James, Telegraph; 'Australia dominated day one' - Sydney Morning Herald; 'England perhaps 30 runs short' - Guardian.

Best accent: Peter Siddle - makes Ricky Ponting sound like Brian Sewell. Post play interview probably needed subtitles for English viewers.

Channel Nine moment of the day: 'Umpire's Decision - Out' - caption on referral system playback of Siddle's unsuccessful appeal against Trott.

Movember moments: Hilfenhaus to Pietersen.

Freddie's plans: 'Family time. Will nip to the pub later for my pint, let me know how good yours tastes, then up all night for day two, come on England' - via Twitter

Zen reflection on day one: Neither ours nor theirs. It just was.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Numbers game: Mitch's Radar

Number of England players targeted by Mitchell Johnson at yesterday's press conference: 2

Number of wides bowled by Mitchell Johnson in a club match last weekend: 11

Monday 22 November 2010

Haydos: The Coalface Of Competitive Battle

There is a piece of received wisdom being repeated endlessly in these last few days before the merciful onset of play. It's a piece of received wisdom that suits a desperate-sounding Australia, and it deserves to be challenged.

It has just been restated by the wondrous Haydos, in that unique Haydos tongue: 'There is an enormous build-up and the heat is on you. You are at the coalface of competitive battle, you are under pressure... It will be play on at a venue which is really really tough for anyone who sits outside these boundaries'.

'There's been a lot made of England's preparation,' Ricky Ponting went on, 'but they don't play a match at the Gabba before the first Test'.

Ah, the old Gabba chestnut, the Gabbatoir etc etc. It's a strange one, because it's not the arena itself, which has lost much of its character to commerce in the last decade or so. I feel vaguely qualified to comment because I lived in Brisbane for three years at the time it was being reinvented - along with much of Brissie - from Queensland country town to thrusting contemporary cityscape.

It's now a vast, unshaded bowl, its major competitive disadvantage for visitors coming in the heat, which in November, the rainy season, builds throughout the day in boom and bust style until the frequent afternoon rains, and in the pitch, which holds demons when you bat against Aussie bowlers with the strength to whack it in and then becomes a road when they take guard. Neither are decisive as and of themselves.

What accompanies them is that fearsome record, but that has less to do with the ground than the opposition, seeing as how it coincides with the matchless Australian dynasty of the late twentieth century. It is a reputation compounded by a further conventional notion, that the first session is a kind of weird, witchy premonition of the months to come. The hope is that Slater's first-ball boundary, Nasser's toss and Harmi's wide linger in the English national psyche.

But the two Ashes series of recent memory won by England saw them start with a heavy defeat at Lord's in 2005, and a skin-of-the-teeth draw at Cardiff. Thus it's hard to extrapolate that Brisbane is vital, and even harder to conclude that the first couple of hours offer the key to the Ashes. More likely that it will be a slow-burn series that will go to the wire. England are more than used to starting badly.

England don't need to fear the Gabba, or defeat there. Neither are insurmountable.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Phil Space 2010-11: The Nightmare Renewed

The phony war is almost over. Which is a shame, because it's quite good. Today the Guardian fired a salvo from left-field with the recruitment of Stuart Clark to play Yang to Duncan Fletcher's Yin.

An unusual choice, the big lad from New South Wales. His first gig was a free hit, a man-by-man on the England squad to stand against Implacable Dunc's ever-incisive take on the Australians.

On the available evidence, Clarkie's decided against the research route and instead had a dig around in his kit-bag and pulled out Tim Neilsen's notes from 2009. Hence Jonathan Trott is 'one of England's in-form batsmen'; KP 'on his day one of the most destructive batsmen in world cricket'; Ian Bell has 'a lingering doubt about his' - you guessed it - 'mental toughness'; Stuart Broad's great attribute 'is his height'; and Graeme Swann - amazingly enough for an off-spinner - bowls with 'drift and control'.

Job done Stuey! We might have found the new Michael Vaughan. Speaking of whom, let's hope he's still on the Telegraph payroll.

Clarke also has the honour of the first entry for this year's Phil Space Trophy. Hacks of the world, start your laptops...

Emails from Boycs

The great man is offering a daily Ashes email. Make sure you get signed up.

Altogether now:

'Play a shot like that, on uncovered pitches? I don't think so...'

'I tell you what, I wouldn't have minded facing Xavier Doherty! You wouldn't have been able to drag me away. I could play him wi' a stick of rhubarb and a blindfold...'

'I like Kevin, he's a lovely lad, but sometimes he just does stupid things...'

'I know they like to play their shots, but the match lasts five days...'


Ramps: not there forever

Glamorgan and Leicestershire may be in meltdown, but the revolution at Surrey held together. Although you might want to read closely the reaction of coach Chris Adams to the news that Mark Ramprakash has gone in the fetlock playing football, and may miss the start of next season:

'It's just unfortunate that it's come at this stage of Mark's career... It is a blow but obviously we have to plan to be without him possibly in the opening weeks, if it comes to that, and it offers an opportunity for other players to show what they can do... Mark won't be there forever so someone has the opportunity to prove he can step up...'

We'll see what the brooding Heathcliff of county cricket makes of that, when he blows back in off the moors of winter...

Fielding: the shocking truth [part iv]

'I hate fielding with a passion. I can't stand it because I get bored stupid' - Graeme Swann

Twas ever thus...

Thursday 18 November 2010

What we have learned on a day in Tassie

Having read more about Australia's second-string batting that actually seen it, it was good to get an eyeful of Khawaja and Ferguson for as long as it lasted, and for the briefest of reacquaintances with Phil Hughes.

Sometimes second-string has the feel of second-string, and sometimes it has the feel of the next generation testing each other out for the first time. Shazad might be bowling at Khawaja for some years yet. The most striking thing about Khawaja was that he had the one commodity all batsmen want - time. The cameras and commentators picked up on his first couple of balls from Tremlett, a snorter of a short one that he swayed away from and a second that he pulled a long way in front of square, but what was really telling were the first couple from Shazad, who was hurrying the other lefties. Shazad's first ball to him started outside leg and swung across Khawaja, who seemed to have been waiting for it for a couple of minutes by the time it hit his bat. It's a priceless commodity to have. He can play.

Ferguson had less about him. He has Eoin Morgan's first class average, but not Morgan's x-factor. Hughes remains a brilliant oddity, a counter-intuitive player who has got as far as he's got on talent and confidence. What he needs now is the pro's pragmatism, because he still has the feel of an avatar, someone who, like Morgan, can reinvent the game. Just not on green wickets.

Shazad was the big find for England. Patently fitter and stronger than Tremmers and Gough-esque of attitude, he can move the ball at pace a la Simon Jones. He should play a Test or two before the series is out.

Monday 15 November 2010

Australia: The Hilditch Situation

'Yeah, okay, you've busted us,' said Andrew Hilditch earlier today, speaking exclusively to this blog. 'I'm surprised no-one's spotted it before. Our entire build-up to this Ashes campaign has been a Situationist prank. Well, you've got to do something to shift the tickets, haven't you?'

Hilditch made his comments after appearing at the 'grand unveiling' of Australia's 666-man Ashes squad under a piece of tarpaulin near the Sydney Opera House, an event attended by a cast of up to 30 Situationist actors who huddled beneath umbrellas and expressed ironic regard for Australia's chances in the forthcoming series. 'One of the guys in marketing at CA is a bit of a fan of Guy Debord, and he made the suggestion,' Hilditch said. 'We actually thought we'd be found out sooner. I mean, we did appoint Greg Chappell as a selector while the boys were in India. I was pissing myself when we came up with that one...'

'The clues have all been there,' Hilditch went on. 'We needed to break the spectator's passivity towards the spectacle, so we did stuff like persuading Mike Hussey to get his average down and picking Nathan Hauritz. Then today we chose every State player we could think of whose surname begins with an 'H' EXCEPT for Phil Hughes! Bloody ripper!'

'And I got Mitch Johnson to play a Grade match at the weekend, and the nutter bowled 11 wides! As you know, he's a big Asger Jorn fan, and he's spent the past couple of years establishing an almost perfect paradigm of alternative inadequacy'.

'Anyway,' Hilditch concluded, 'we might knock it on the head after this round of State games. After all, we can only go on pretending to be like England for so long...'

Sunday 14 November 2010

Six and out

Given the circumstances, it was maybe understandable that a remarkable stat slid beneath the radar last week: Shahid Afridi became the greatest hitter of sixes in international cricket. His 373rd panged over the boundary in Dubai, coming from just the second delivery he faced. Three balls later he was out, thus concluding perhaps the signature Afridi knock.

What the stat reflects, more than Afridi's mortal terror that he might, at some point in his career, play an innings open to the adjective 'boring', is how the methods of scoring are changing. Afridi's is probably not a record that is going to survive the career of say, David Warner or someone of his age and sensibility.

Viv Richards, the most domineering player of his era, hit 210 sixes, a total that Virender Sehwag skipped past in the Test against New Zealand. Bradman hit six in his career, Boycott eight, totals that Afridi exceeded in his first international innings.

The six is now central to limited overs batting, something intrinsic and totemic, and of course that filters into Test cricket too. It's been easier for batsmen to hit [shorter boundaries, better bats, less approbation on dismissal] and strangely, easier for bowlers to bear [face it, it's going to happen to everyone].

What brought it to mind was a question posed by elegantstroke in the post below about Barry Richards - who does Richards' game most compare to? Richards played in an era when a six was still not quite common currency. He did hit them, mostly via his early adoption of a type of elegant slog sweep, and when he would lean back, thrillingly, to get elevation over the bowler from his slim-edged bat, but they weren't his main scoring shot. Yet Richards powered along. He hit nine hundreds before lunch in his career. That's not a feat often replicated even now. Gordon Greenidge once remarked that it wasn't unusual for him to still be in single figures as applause for Richards' 50 rang around the ground [and Gordon didn't necessarily believe in holding back, either].

Richards, like Sehwag and Lara, just hit lots of boundaries. The artistry of batting is in hitting the ball where the fielders aren't. Therein lay his greatness and his genius, and theirs, too.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Sound advice

Tiger Woods finally meets the man who can guide him through this crisis...

Yin Yang, you're my thang...

Arrange the following adjectives against the players' names [answers below]: 'Overrated'; 'Overpaid'; 'Unpopular'; 'Overrated' - Callum Ferguson; Michael Clarke; Nathan Hauritz; David Warner.

It's deja vu all over again for this piece in the [Oz] Telegraph - or at least it is if you're English. Phrases so beloved of our journos for all of these years - 'why our cricket's in crisis'; 'age of the silver spoon'; 'players lack the ability to think for themselves'; 'whinges too much'; 'quite self-indulgent'; guaranteed seven-figure salaries'; 'structure that's 20 years behind the times' - come tumbling back. Only this time, they're not about us. [Yet].

However inconsistent your team, you can always rely on the papers...

Answers: Overrated - David Warner; Overpaid - Nathan Hauritz; Unpopular - Michael Clarke; Overrated - Callum Ferguson.

Monday 8 November 2010

When he was king

Behold, Bad Bas, lost emperor of the game.

A wistful reverie awaits you there...

Thursday 4 November 2010


With no need to take the hair shirt out of the wardrobe at least until England's young princes get a bloody nose from some plucky underdogs at the Gabba in a few weeks, why not avail yourself of a garment to get yourself in the mood? You know how much they love Mr Jardine, in word and deed.

There's this, too, if you want to feel like you're there. And best of all this, of course... Who did we beat in the final again?

Anyway, shameless plug over. As you were...

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Sex, bribes, Marcus North...

Colin Cowdrey gets into a fight with his wife in the car on the way back from a party, and pulls out a clump of her hair... Len Hutton checks himself into rehab for alcohol abuse... Geoff Boycott 'forgets' that he's supposed to get out for less than 2o in a one-day international because Ray Illingworth's promised him $20,000 if he does... Don Bradman takes three girls back to his hotel room whilst on tour and then encourages one of them to 'jump ship' onto his roomie's bed because he's feeling 'a bit left out'... The Rev David Shepherd enjoys an encounter with a woman known fondly as 'The Perth Stripper'...

Not very likely, is it? Yet times change, and so do the kind of things that cricketers find themselves doing. Herschelle Gibbs has really raised the bar as far as the tell-all cricket yarn is concerned - To The Point is not exactly Don't Tell Kath. And no doubt agents are already approaching Jesse Ryder, Andrew Symonds etc.

But if you thought that Hershy had provided the most extraordinary thing you'd read this week, think again. Because the Sydney Morning Herald are reporting that the next captain of Australia could be... er, Marcus North. 'The team is not divided to the point of implosion, but a number of senoir players remain firmly opposed to the idea that Clarke will succeed Ricky Ponting...'

It has been generally accepted that an Ashes defeat this winter would mean the end of Ponting. With the kind of vacuum that might admit Marcus North to the job developing beneath him, that can no longer be considered a certainty. In a way, the decision to sack Ponting would smack of a kind of arrogance. If Australia lose, it will be because the team is not good enough any more, and that's hardly Ponting's fault. And unless he was prepared to swallow a demotion, it would also mean sacking Australia's best batsman.

It's easy to forget that England and Australia are the fourth and fifth best Test sides in the world. Both need to be pragmatic about winning and losing. The Australians might be best off regarding Ponting as more of a Border figure than a Waugh.

Monday 1 November 2010

WG, Jubilee...

As a kid, I found an ancient but well preserved copy of Ranjitsinjhi's Jubilee Book Of Cricket in a junk shop and bought it. I can still see the cover now, the gold leaf of the title receding into the light blue hardboard covers. It was a great doorstop of a thing, almost entirely ghosted by CB Fry*, and I didn't read too much of its densely-set type, but nonetheless me and Ranji [and CB] connected because, essentially, the game is the game, in that century and in this.

The pictures were amazing. Because of the limitations of Victorian photography, the subjects had to stand still during the exposure. Thus the famous 'under leg shot' [ironically just about to be outmoded by Ranji's newfangled leg glance] saw a batsman balancing precariously whilst trying to look like he'd just raised his leg and belted the ball under it, and the man chosen as 'a bowler illustrating a doubtful delivery' looked like someone chucking wooden balls at a coconut shy. It was ace, and remains the only book I've ever owned that was written by a prince [or at least by a prince's mate].

There is obvious comedy about the game in that era, and obvious parallels with today too. It's what makes WG Grace Ate My Pedalo - a contemporary publication that in the interests of full disclosure was sent to me for nothing - demonically funny. The idea is slap-your-forehead simple: write about the modern game in Victorian style. You need to be good to get away with it, and Alan Tyers is. Thus he can pull off something like 'Letter From Oscar': 'My dearest Bosie, your sonnet was quite lovely, like sweet wine to me, as was the newspaper report of your 6-73 against Leicester. To read of those rough brutes groping in vain for your googlies was an exquisite joy', and also, on the book reviews page, nail 'No Boundaries, By Mr Ronald Irani': 'His views are as sickening as his prose, and indeed his medium paced bowling'.

The illustrations, by the enigmatic Beach, are superb, too - some of the 'Wisden Cricketer' covers are minor works of art. Send me one and I'd gladly hang it next to my picture of 'Bowler Illustrating a doubtful delivery'.

* It's obligatory to mention the essential CB Fry fact: his party trick was to jump backwards onto a mantelpiece. Not even AB de Villiers can do that. Neville Cardus called Ranji 'the midsummer night's dream of cricketers', too. That's good.