Friday 28 January 2011

Great advances of our time

Ace idea: Let's play the next two installments of that little-watched series the Ashes back-to-back and get it out the way so that we can make sure another 50-over World Cup goes uninterrupted. Because let's face it, we can't get enough of those Super Six phases, can we? Always sell-outs, they are.

'To ensure that the teams have better preparation time for the World Cup, this is the only solution, but I also think it's absolutely manageable,' says Steve Elworthy of the ECB. Give that man an MBE.

Anyway, as the next two Ashes are over and done with in a few months, you'll need something to wear, won't you? Try this then. Not sure it's philosophical, but it don't half feel good...

Thursday 27 January 2011

The deadliest ground on earth

It looks, on TV, like it lies at the very edge of the world. It's one of the most beautiful, strange grounds I've ever seen, and in my dreams I'd like to bat there. Set at the end of a deep green valley, surrounded by mountains and with a long and apparently depthless [according to Jeremy Coney] lake, Queenstown seems more like a film set than a real place.

What's most alluring about it is its approachability. It has a small and charming stand that appears more like an extended pavilion than anything designed to put bums on seats, and the rest is open, the kind of place you can just wander up to and stroll around, pick a spot to sit for a while. To see international cricket there, well, that's just a curious and welcome bonus.

Small aircraft sweep over it. Traffic sails past in the distance. Boats skim the lake. The views are almost heartbreaking. Then you hear the stats. Average score in ODIs - 173. Highest successful run chase - 236. Man, forget the Gabbatoir. Never mind Eden Gardens with a hundred thousand in, or Sabina Park back in the day, when the pitch shone like a darkened mirror, here is a graveyard disguised as a paradise.

173. Now that must be the lowest par score of any international ground on earth. Queenstown, I'll see you in my dreams...

Friday 21 January 2011

It's not his fault, it's his glands...

So Samit Patel has had another kicking from Andy Flower, a display of the particularly piquant disappointment that only the uber-pro who had to scrap for everything he's got can conjure up. But it's not just Flabby Sam who's fat and lazy. The very sight of him was enough to prod the Guardian into that old standby, the Fat Cricketers XI.

Fat and lazy it was too, containing all the usual suspects, among them IT Botham, Boony, Mike Gatting and Shane Warne - just the 20,185 runs and 1,095 wickets in Test matches from them - plus Colin Milburn [yawn], Boof Lehman [groan], and then some others - Rob Key, Ian Blackwell - who bit the bullet and got fit seasons ago.

Then there was Dwayne Leverock [that picture again, yes] who, let's be honest, is a clubbie, and if we're counting them, listen up: I've seen guys fatter than him open the bowling, pal... And most egregiously of all, the good Doctor himself, founder of the modern game, maker of 54,000 runs across 44 first-class seasons on pitches that make my back garden look like the WACA circa 1974. Yes, WG was fat - when he was 55 and had spent half his life on Victorian trains going back and forth to matches. As the most cursory study of his career would reveal, when he was Samit Patel's age, he had scored a double-hundred at the Oval and then nipped down to Crystal Palace in the evening to win the 440-yard hurdles, and was regarded, with his brother, as the finest fielder in the land - his throw was measured at 122 yards.

But what was most fat and lazy about the Guardian's space-filler is that there is actually a good story here. What it's about really is fitness for purpose, because the standard of fitness has shifted and almost all of the Fat XI simply aligned with the requirements of their day. The most obvious absentee from the list was Samit Patel's Australian equivalent, Mark Cosgrove, who would walk into the Australian Test side at the moment if only he'd tow the line.

It's fascinating psychologically why players like that won't do something as simple as getting fit when it would obviously advance them. Are they maverick figures who would actually lose the edge from their game if they felt like they were conforming? Or is it a deeper fear of failure [or success] that manifests itself in the safety net of appearing too cool to care? Flower obviously feels like it's a problem worth solving, and Australia should too.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Very Superstitious [Part 234]

If you had to guess which member of the England squad had 'a slightly strangely formed kneecap on his left knee', you'd probably head for Graeme Swann, and you'd be correct.

It hasn't held him back. He can counterbalance any effects of its weird shape with the application of superstition and ritual, a tip he tried to pass along to his old Northants mucker Mike Hussey in Melbourne.

'I said to Hussey that day, and I’ve said to him since, he messed with the cricketing gods. He changed his stickers. He had blue stickers before, when he scored all those runs, but his sponsor had obviously got a new range out and they made him bat in orange pads and orange stickers. Never do that! I’m a very superstitious character.'

'I’ve always believed that if something works, don’t change it. I don’t agree in upsetting whoever’s up there looking down over us.'

Swann did not explain how he copes with his own switch in stickers, but we await...

Thursday 13 January 2011

Watto: Weirder than first thought

While it's not exactly the ECB's Black Ops analysis department, Opta, best known for their who-kicked-it- to-who data in footie, have produced some Ashes stuff [you can download it here, or if that doesn't work, there's a Guardian link here]. It's quite blunt, but [provided it's correct] it does illuminate the differences between Shane Watson and the rest of the world.

Opta have broken down the balls faced by each batsmen into 'defensive shots' and 'attacking shots', which is subjective in itself but does allow a rough calculation of productivity or effectiveness. For example, Alastair Cook faced 1,438 balls, of which he played no shot to 245, defended 436 and attacked 757, scoring 766 runs. Now, he will have missed some of the balls that he played at, and he would have scored a proportion of his runs from defensive shots, but for argument's sake if you divide the number of runs scored by the number of attacking shots played, you get a rather unscientific but interesting ratio of 1.01. This represents a 'productivity' of 1.01 runs per attacking shot.

Here are some of the batters [in order: runs scored, balls left, balls defended, balls attacked, run ratio]:

Mike Hussey: R 570 B 1085 BL 276 BD 301 BA 508 RR 1.12

Jonathan Trott: R 445 B 883 BL 162 BD 259 BA 462 RR 0.96

Kevin Pietersen: R 360 B 563 BL 102 BD 134 BA 327 RR 1.10

Brad Haddin: R 360 B 656 BL 71 BD 242 BA 343 RR 1.05

Ian Bell: R 329 B 586 BL 139 BD 174 BA 273 RR 1.20

Michael Clarke: R 193 B 437 BL 85 BD 142 BA 210 RR 0.92

Now here's

Shane Watson
: R 435 B 903 BL 247 BD 336 BA 320 RR 1.35

What's apparent, however blunt the data, is that Watson is batting differently, or at least achieving different results, to the other effective top-order batsmen in the series. He attacked significantly less deliveries than anyone else - 35.44 per cent, compared to a high of Pietersen's 58.08, and a low of Hussey's 46.82 and Bell's 46.59, but scored far more heavily when he did [The only batsmen who attacked a higher percentage of deliveries than Pietersen were in the lower order: Matt Prior at 63.98 and Mitchell Johnson at 60.29, for run ratios of 1.22 and 0.97 respectively].

Watson's ratios don't really compare to the other openers, either:

Alastair Cook: R 766 B 1438 BL 245 BD 436 BA 757 RR 1.01

Andrew Strauss: R 307 B 592 BL 194 BD 155 BA 243 RR 1.25

Phil Hughes: R 97 B 250 BL 51 BD 96 BA 103 RR 0.94

Simon Katich: R 97 B 207 BL 54 BD 59 BA 94 RR 1.03

Although Strauss is the player who comes closest to Watson's runs per attacking shot ratio, he still attacked 41. 05 per cent of the balls he faced - far higher than Watson - and it was obvious throughout the series that there was an [admirable] intent to lead from the front in Strauss's batting.

Watto, then, played differently. The supposition would be that he hit a higher percentage of boundaries than anyone else - answer: maybe [runs scored, runs in boundaries, percentage of runs scored in boundaries]:

Cook: R 766 RiB 330 = 43.08%

Prior: R 252 RiB 112 = 44.44%

Trott: R 445 RiB 208 = 46.74%

Haddin: R 360 RiB 170 = 47.22%

Hussey: R 570 RiB 286 = 50.17%

Strauss: R 307 RiB 162 = 52.76%

Watson: R 435 RiB 234 = 53.79%

Pietersen: R 360 RiB 206 = 57.22%

Watson's percentage of dot balls to deliveries faced, at 78.63%, was also far higher than any other successful batsman in the series. Strauss was nearest at 76.35%, Pietersen was, at 70.87%, the lowest. Significantly, Watto also featured in three run-outs.

While the differences between batters might not seem huge, they are significant. They seem to back up the view that Watson is not great in two areas that might really improve his game: revolving the strike and working the ball around. His defensive shots especially don't appear to result in as many singles as most other batsmen's. The Black Ops people would probably add all of this kind of stuff together with the wagon wheels of where Watson does score his runs - anecdotally with lots of booming drives. In all, it makes him pretty easy to work out, and leaves him open to the 'bowling machine batsman' accusation.

Watto has many virtues. For a converted opener he gets himself a start on a significant number of occasions and he leaves the ball well. Assuming that early in his innings the fields are up, thus allowing him plenty of boundaries when he does attack, perhaps he gets stuck when the fields become more defensive and he can't knock the ball around as effectively as most other players. That may explain his tendency to get out for around the same score a lot of the time.

That's presuming that the stats are right, obviously...

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Tough Love: Australia Player-by-Player

Twas the summer when Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson competed with one another for who could use the adjective 'disappointing' the most. However, Watson said it best when he said nothing at all: the most illuminating interview of the series came halfway through the Melbourne Test when he was asked if Australia could still win. His thin smile spoke volumes. Those of a sensitive disposition might want to look away now. That means you too, Mitch...

Shane Watson
435 runs at 48.33, 4x50; 3 wickets at 74.33
Watson's technique is pinned by the phrase 'a bowling machine batsman'. There is something inhuman about it - it brings to mind George Plimpton's wonderful description of his golf swing: 'my body changes its corporeal status completely and becomes a mechanical entity, built of tubes and conduits, and boiler rooms here and there, with big dials and gauges to check, a Brobdingnagian structure put together by a team of brilliant engineers'. Perhaps his lack of fluidity and instinct is the reason that he gets stuck in the 50s. He arrives there often enough though, which reveals a doggedness that deserves a place in the middle order where he can breath a little. His bowling figures came as a shock - he appeared to have been more effective than he was.

Phil Hughes
97 runs at 16.16
In contrast to his opening partner, Hughes's technique is ineffably human, full of the kind of quirkiness of someone who might have had the game described to him but never actually seen it played. However, I'm in the camp - along with Justin Langer and Steve Waugh [and how chuffed they'll be to hear that] - that sees genius in his madness as this new age of batsmanship dawns. Viv Richards said that when he first came to England no-one thought he could bat either, because he hit across the line. Richards created the new orthodoxy, and while Hughes is more maverick and less brilliant, there is some logic behind the way he plays. His problem in this series is that he removed the wrong part of his game. He was at his best when he made room and threw his arms at the wide, short ball, as he did against Morkel and Steyn in South Africa. As the demons filled his head, he stifled himself for fear of the critics and it got him nowhere. He will find a way though, if he trusts his inner voice.

Simon Katich
97 runs at 24.45, 1x50
You can't kill the Krab. His leg has regenerated but he might not get the chance, at 36, to scuttle across the crease in green and gold any more. His greatest service to Australian cricket now might be to mentor Phil Hughes in the methods of making an unlikely style work against the world's best bowlers.

Ricky Ponting
113 runs at 16.14, 1x50
'Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it', as someone once said. Never has a man wanted something more, and in wanting it pushed it further away. Perhaps he has learned that, for all of his efforts - and they were mighty - no amount of captaincy can overcome such a gulf in performance. England's bowlers had a head start with the Punter's brain scrambled before he reached the crease, and the infinitesimal dulling of his eye and hands did for him. Can and should come again in the middle order, a rheumy-eyed legend clearing a path towards a better future.

Usman Khawaja
58 runs at 29.00
Greeted with a revealing hysteria - Australians getting excited about 30-odd...? - Khawaja nonetheless has that priceless quality of time. He could have waved to his mum and dad, so early was he in position to pull Tremmers for four second ball up. However, the stats say that very few young batsmen come into the side at three and survive for long unless they are specialists or openers, and Khawaja is neither.

Michael Clarke
193 runs at 21.44, 1x50
Most culpable of all of Australia's top order, Clarke appeared handicapped by his back at Adelaide, and all of his frailties remained on display. The best bat by some distance in England in 2009, he was arguably the worst of all here on the experience-responsibility index. He probably needs to come to terms with the ambivalent attitude that his countrymen have towards him in order to progress. At least they discovered at Sydney that Australia's failings had nothing to do with who was captaining the team.

Mike Hussey
570 runs at 63.33, 2x100, 3x50
A triumph for whole-heartedness. If there was any Australian the English wished well it was Mr Cricket, a man unembarrassed by his overwhelming love for the game. His selfless, immediate attack on Swann in Brisbane spoke of a team player to the core [imagine if he'd edged that first pull up in the air], and Hussey stood with distinction upon the burning deck through all five matches. Courageous and skilled, he can take huge pride in the way England celebrated his wicket. He was the man.

Steve Smith
159 runs at 31.80, 1x50; 0 wickets
A batsman who bowls seemed to be the selectors verdict, and as they've said, they had a great summer, so we must take their word for it. There will be no shelter as Australia rebuild their team and Smith might benefit from a year in Div 1 county cricket, tightening everything up. He's probably on a level with Adil Rashid, and Rashid is nowhere near the England side right now.

Marcus North
49 runs at 16.33; 1 wicket at 110.00
No-one else called North has ever played Test cricket. That is Marcus's claim to fame. At least he holds one record.

Brad Haddin
360 runs at 43.00, 1x100, 3x50; 8 ct, 1st
As redoubtable as he is vulnerable outside the off peg early on, Haddin fought his nuts off with no little skill and the kind of grit that made Healy a legend. Naturally the selectors have axed him without explanation from the T20 side. But then, they've had a great summer etc etc.

Mitchell Johnson
15 wickets at 36.93; 122 runs at 17.22, 2x50
Deep breath then... The Barmy Army enjoyed Mitch perhaps more than men should: badges, songs, t-shirts, masks, he occupied their thoughts above all others. It was love, albeit forever unrequited. But then Mitch gave them so much to love: deliveries that swung past Brad Haddin like they'd been served by Pete Sampras, that armful of tattoos that speaks mutely of a tortured and uncertain soul, the mad rug and the buck teeth, the existential despair in those dark, dark eyes... It was a relationship born of experience, because Mitchell is another Steve Harmison, physically capable of immediate and thrilling devastation but mentally prone to introspection and self-pity. It is in the nature of sports followers to cling to the former once it has shown itself. Harmison was a chimeric presence in the England side, kept there by the ghostly vision of what he once was. Johnson is the same, a man doomed to humiliation by his occasional brilliance.

Peter Siddle
14 wickets at 34.57; 154 runs at 19.25
The Sizzler is emblematic of the player that Australia must confront and accept over the next couple of years. He's strong, willing, eager, hard to deter. He is also unpolished, gauche, a Merv Hughes rather than a Glenn McGrath. In short, he's not the kind of player who would get into a great side, but he can be the engine room of an improving one. England's success as a bowling unit has sprung in part from a core group knowledge of technique, and Siddle can't develop that alone. The appointment of the next bowling coach is key.

Ryan Harris
11 wickets at 25.54; 14 runs at 3.50
If Mitch is a new Harmi, the Harris is Simon Jones, a bowler of quality whose action imposes impossible strain on his body. Hopefully he'll have more luck than Jonah.

Ben Hilfenhaus
7 wickets at 59.28; 55 runs at 11.00
The Australian press settled on calling him 'Gentle Ben', not really the nickname you want as an opening bowler. Gentle he was, though. One commentator was practically apopleptic as he described the inswinger, yorker and bouncer that the Gentle one apparently bowls in State cricket.

Doug Bollinger
1 wicket at 130.00; 7 runs [no ave]
Picked when unfit by selectors who had a great etc etc. As he said, 'You're not going to turn down a Test match', but shouldn't have been put in the position to accept. Nonetheless, when fit, Douggie can bowl. So get him fit, then...

Xavier Doherty, Michael Beer
3 wickets at 102.00/1 wicket at 112.00; 27 runs at 9.00/4 runs at 4.00
Their most likely future is as quiz questions: 'which two spinners did Australia play in the Ashes of 2010-11?' Answer: these two. Possibly, if brought into a winning side against a very average one [Australia v England in about 1994 for example] they might have passed unnoticed.

NB: This post goes up as Brisbane, a city where I lived for three years, faces devastating flooding. Cricket's only a game. You'll see the real Australian spirit over the next few days.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Meet The New Boss: England player-by-player

'When we were good, we were good enough,' said Andrew Strauss at the Oval in 2009, and he was right. It was hard to imagine anything other than a bit of nip and tuck this time, too, but then, as the old saying goes, it's called Test cricket for a reason...

Andrew Strauss
307 runs at 43.85, 1x100, 3x50
'One day you'll thank me for this,' Duncan Fletcher whispered in Strauss's shell-like when he made the weary decision to give the captaincy of the tour that dare not speak its name to Andrew Flintoff. It's one of those sentences that usually makes the recipient want to insert a slim knife through the eye and into the brain of the speaker, and yet there is truth in it. Strauss and Flower are the right men at the right time. The prevailing view on his captaincy is that it is functional, and yet it was he who suggested the broad strategy of drying Australia up that brought such dividends. It cuts against current batting mentality, as Strauss observed at Adelaide in 2006 when he was on the sharp end of it. With a pleasing perversity, he refused to yield to anything of the sort himself and slashing the third nut of the series to gully didn't alter his thinking. That's ballsy. The second innings hundred at Brisbane and the 60 in Sydney set a ruthless agenda.

Alastair Cook
766 runs at 127.66, 3x100, 2x50
Australia were undone by the least Australian person on earth. Justin Langer thought James Anderson was a pussy, so it's probably best that his view of the pre-tour Cook went unrecorded. Delicately boned, cow-eyed and from a good school he may be, but England have always believed, however hard the faith was tested. He entered a zone of piercing clarity in Brisbane and stayed there, resident of a nirvana that might never appear for so long again. At least he has known it once. Like Anderson, he fiddled with his natural technique before returning to what made him good in the first place. You don't need a trigger movement to know which balls to leave, just confidence and discipline. Still only 25, the bastard.

Jonathan Trott
445 runs at 89.00; 2x100, 1x50
Scratch, scrape, scratch, take block, stand up, scrape, take block, hit ball, repeat. Forever. The Trotters' guard is a thing of weird juju and obsessive-compulsive ritual probably best set to Dance Of The Knights, so epic is its scale. Rarely are neurotics so tough, too. His back foot bunt through wide mid-on is as spectacular and singular in its way as the Dilscoop or the Flamingo. Try it yourself in the nets if you disagree. Mitchell Johnson foundered on the rocks of the Trotters psyche.

Kevin Pietersen
360 runs at 60.00; 1x100, 1x50; 1 wicket at 16.00
Just as Spinal Tap were reborn with their performance of Derek Smalls' Jazz Odyssey, so the newer, older, maybe wiser KP played an innings of shimmering class in Adelaide. The follow-up 50-odd in Melbourne was beautifully judged too. Flower and Strauss could now ask him to lead the batting in the same way that Anderson leads the bowlers. While the hook at Johnson's bouncer in Sydney may have looked like a throwback brain-fade, there's more to it. Johnson also did Bell and Collingwood with his short one. It comes from a low arm but somehow ends up above the batsman's eye-line right at the death, its danger compounded by the fact that danger is hardly Mitch's middle name. The one wicket, of Michael Clarke, was priceless in many respects.

Paul Collingwood
83 runs at 13.83; 2 wickets at 36.50
Getting teary just thinking about him. His runs and wickets are replaceable, but as his team-mates have said, Colly offers less definable, less common qualities too. The grab to dismiss Ponting joins the Hayden catch at Bristol in the file marked 'immortal'. The last couple of days at Sydney were like watching the end of Old Shep. Countries are built by men like this.

Ian Bell
329 runs at 65.80, 1x100, 3x50
Timing is everything, especially for Ian Bell. Not just in the enviable beauty of his shotmaking, but in being part of an era of tolerance and belief. Had he played a generation earlier, he might well have been as enigmatic as Hick or Ramprakash. He almost certainly would have failed consistently against the bowling that haunted them, and in the ramshackle side that they played. Should not move above five, and should not see that as a defeat - Steve Waugh didn't, after all.

Matthew Prior
252 runs at 50.40, 1x100, 1x50; 23 ct
Cricket writers of a certain age experience occasional printed yearnings for the days when a keeper was selected to keep - even when Knott was in the side they dreamed of Keith Andrew and Bob Taylor - but those years are distant things. Prior has learned to keep while in the Test team, and he's powerfully athletic now. They payoff comes with that broadsword of a bat, especially when the coup de grace is required. The only mystery now is why he's not in the ODI side.

Tim Bresnan
11 wickets at 19.50; 39 runs at 19.50
'England are better with a Yorkshireman in the side,' said Geoffrey Boycott [somehow omitting the words 'called Geoffrey Boycott' from the middle of the sentence] and booger me, he weren't wrong. Blessed with the quality of being 'thick as two short planks' [according to Swann] Bresnan possesses other assets too, including the traditional fast bowler's backside and the strength and power to run in hard all day. These things we knew about: the artfulness he brought to his reverse swing bowling was a glorious surprise. Add solid late-order biffing and you have a formidable contender for a permanent place.

Graeme Swann
15 wickets at 39.80; 88 runs at 22.00
Swann will perhaps never have a greater compliment paid to him than the pitches Australia prepared to negate him. His figures won't tell the story of his tour: buried deep in them is a match-winning spell at Adelaide that beat the rain by vital moments, and all of the hard yakka of tying Australia down. His 219.1 overs were the most on either side, and they cost just 2.72 runs each. Immaculate at slip, too. He is the spirit of the team, and the Swann-Anderson Bromance remains a tender thing, captured in his Brokeback Mountain-inspired video diaries.

James Anderson
24 wickets at 26.04; 22 runs at 4.40
When Swanny is commissioned [as he surely will be] to direct the Jimmy Anderson biopic, the scenes on this tour will be set to 'I had the time of my life': the burst at Adelaide that opened up Australia, the dash home for the birth of his daughter, the heroics at Sydney despite a virus that had him falling asleep in the dressing room after the game. He is now a major player in world cricket, a bowler of beguiling grace and skill.

Chris Tremlett
17 wickets at 23.35; 19 runs at 6.33
A body permanently on the edge of injury, a face on the brink of tears, the young Tremmers was - as former Hampshire team-mate Shane Warne recalled - unplayable in the nets and invisible on the pitch. Yet the move to Surrey, a mature mind and physique and the confidence of Flower and Saker have allowed him to become the bowler he always looked like he could be. As one of those who never thought he'd make it, I've never been more happy to be proven wrong. England will probably only ever need four bowlers when three of them are Anderson, Tremlett and Swann.

Steve Finn
14 wickets at 33.14; 3 runs at 3.00
May worry about how he fits back into the side in the short-term, but he shouldn't. He is really a member of the next generation rather than this one, and England's stocks look rich. Didn't fall over, either, which was good.

Stuart Broad
2 wickets at 80.50; 0 runs
Cruel injury, but it's an ill wind, and he will be fresh for the World Cup. Will have much more Ashes cricket too, and can go back to his best position as first change behind Anderson and Tremlett.

Next time: Australia player-by-player.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Fifth Test, Third Day: Paul Collingwood says 'Fuck It'

As Shane Watson edged behind in Australia's first innings, he said aloud, 'Oh No', picked up on the stump mike. He's a well brought up boy, a credit to Mr and Mrs W. I remember as a kid exclaiming quite loudly 'No!' in a spoiled brat voice when I popped a leading edge up in the air in some game or another, and being shocked as the sound came out of my mouth. Always weird when your internal monologue spills into the real world [over the years I've met a surprising amount of people who admit to commentating on themselves in their heads as they play... and you don't want to be involuntarily gobbing that out].

Watching Paul Collingwood last night, his thought processes seemed as stark and obvious as if he'd spoken them. Often the years of mental battle weigh on you more heavily than any physical injury or stress, because batting is an inward fight, a constant search for elusive stillness and instinct. Sometimes it becomes unreachable, and the short-circuit comes.

Beer was bowling to him, and, contrary to the hype he wasn't useless, or Paul Harris. He got a little turn, but more impressively, some drift and dip, and the ball thudded heavily into the pitch. Colly left a few and then came down to him. In those instants before he struck the ball, he would have been aware that it was a fraction too wide, that he wasn't quite there, and instead of dropping the bat he thought, 'fuck it', and swung anyway.

The shot was more revealing than most: it was a shot made in the accumulation of every failure that has gone before it, a shot of a man who has fought for a long time and who - somewhere in his psyche - wants to go out on his shield, to feel the relief of the struggle being over. That's what Colly did. Vale - and well played for all of those years. See you on the other side.

NB: This post went up before Colly announced his Test retirement: a more fitting tribute will appear in the player-by-player shindig to come.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Fifth Test, Second Day: Such a fine line between clever and stupid

Cook’s talent scientifically quantified at last: ‘He’s got 600, 650 runs in the series so it’s pretty obvious he's talented. He’s probably more talented than a KP, KP’s so naturally gifted with the shots he’s got and Cooky’s not got that. He relies on the shots that he has got and his mental toughness to get him through. He’s shown how talented he is this trip’ – James Anderson

Sub-editors of Australia unite: ‘Beer goes flat after line ball delivery’ [Australian]; ‘No ball leaves bitter taste for Beer’ [Courier-Mail]; ‘Bitter taste of Beer no ball’ [Daily Telegraph]; ‘Full-strength Beer shows his spirit’ [SMH]

No idea: ‘We’re always trying to find ways to get behind the line. Whether we feel enclosed with the nets being there, I don't know what it is, but I'll still bowl half a foot over in the nets. I don't know how we can fix that’ – Mitchell Johnson

MJ – healing the world one at a time: ‘The boys were upbeat with him and consoling. We've got to keep doing that tonight, just be around him’ – Mitchell Johnson on Michael Beer

Loving us now: ‘Philip Hughes has turned the corner, says Mike Atherton’ - Sydney Morning Herald headline

Et Tu, Victor? ‘For a while Strauss might have been facing David Hasselhoff, a celebrity guest at the SCG, rather than Ben Hilfenhaus’ – Vic Marks, Guardian

Monday 3 January 2011

Fifth Test, First Day: Say hello, wave goodbye

Call that a day? 134-4 - usually a session in this series isn't it...

No pressure, then: 'Usman Khawaja attempted to fill the growing void that is Australia's leadership vacuum. In just his first relatively modest Test innings, the delightfully poised left-hander has already done enough to show why he should bat above Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke' - Malcolm Conn, The Australian

Cheers mate: 'Colly has been a brilliant servant for English cricket and is well liked by the management. This is England's chance to show there is no room for sentiment within their squad. If England want to become the best side in the world they have got to be ruthless. Morgan is as tough as they come...' - Andrew Flintoff writes about his old chum, News Of The World

Fred's qualifications as a columnist: 'Don't know anything about Aussie no. 3!' - via Twitter

What Fred was watching on Sky Sports last night: 'Can't believe they're moving the darts for the cricket' [as the world darts semi-final was shifted from Sky Sports 1 to Sky Sports 2 at 11pm]

And... 'Don't stop for lunch and tea at the arrows! Real sport!' - both via Twitter

Weather forecast: 'Sydney is baking today. Hotter than Alastair Cook in a pair of skinny jeans' - Graeme Swann, via Twitter