Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Sporting Picks of 2009, Part 3 - July 12th

England (435 & 252 for 9) drew with Australia (674 for 6 declared)

Paul Collingwood hit a valiant 74 and England's last-wicket pair defied Australia for 40 minutes to clinch a draw in the first Ashes Test. England, 20-2 overnight, lost three further wickets inside 90 minutes but somehow clung on in the final stages.

Collingwood's innings lasted 245 balls - five hours and 43 minutes in all. Then, amid scenes of high tension, with every dot ball roared by a capacity crowd, James Anderson and Monty Panesar kept Australia's spinners at bay.

The last man refused to be an easy target, and when Anderson squirted Siddle down to third man for four, England had a precious lead. Significantly, that meant England did not have to bat until the 1850 BST cut-off. They just had to get past 1840, which meant facing around three overs fewer. When the clock ticked past 1840 BST, an excitable crowd knew that Hauritz was bowling the last over. Anderson survived his 53rd delivery - Panesar had hung around for 35 - and the ground saluted a famous result.

Of England’s major series wins over the past 15 years, they have all contained a hard fought draw where England managed to find themselves in a hole, then proceeded to dig them out. Against South Africa in 1998, England conceded 552 runs and were forced to follow on in the 3rd Test at Old Trafford before eking out a draw with a last wicket partnership. Two years later at the same venue, the West Indies had set England 293 to win early on day 5 before losing Atherton in cloudy swinging conditions before the weather closed in after Lunch. While in the 2005 Ashes series, England with a paper thin 1st Innings advantage over Australia lost 3 quick wickets on the final morning of the 5th Test and saw Kevin Pieterson dropped by of all people Shane Warne. Pieterson went on to make his maiden Test century, and the Urn returned to England for the first time since 1989. This test was the equivalent to all of the above, and was a key moment in the series.

Australia came to England intent on retaining the Ashes, with Ricky Ponting correctly pointing out that all the legendary Australian captains have the badge of skippering a successful Ashes series win in England. Ponting flagged up that this was the only thing missing from his own CV. For 4 days of this test Australia looked like the old mean Australia. Katich got a hundred that banished the nightmare of 2005, Ponting got his obligatory century in an Ashes series here (to go with his hundreds at Headingley – in 1997 and 2001, and Old Trafford in 2005) while Clarke, North and Haddin were a throwback to the classic Australian middle order of years gone by. Missing out of the run-fest was the middle order batsman Mike Hussey and opener Phillip Hughes, who pre-series was touted as the next great Australian batsman. By the end of the series, Hughes will have been dropped in favour of Shane Watson, touted as Australia’s answer to Flintoff.

Yet for all that the batting looked invincible during this test, where the Australians would be shown up during this test would be their bowling attack. Hilfenhaus was the find of the series with his swing which was ideal in English conditions. However he would not have played had Brett Lee been fit. Instead the main pace attack was carried by Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson. Siddle is quick, able to generate bounce but is not accurate enough for line and length bowling. Johnson went into the series as one of the world’s best bowlers, but took too long to come to grips with English conditions. As a result, his confidence took a battering, only picking up one five wicket haul (at Headingley). Australia’s spin options were supplied by Nathan Hauritz who was a useful off-spinner, taking wickets with guile and flight. Bizarrely Stuart Clark, dubbed metronome 2 during the 2006/7 series in Australia because of his un-erring line and length bowling, would play no part in this test, or the series until Headingley (where he took 3 wickets and looked economical during the first innings, and didn’t during the second).

This was a tactical mistake as however talented the bowling unit was, the second morning of this test showed their tendency to leek runs. The last 3 wickets of the England first Innings would see Australia concede 99 runs in trying to get those wickets. This would be a critical trend throughout the series. On the 5th Morning, Australia had England 5 down for 70 runs, under Waugh, Taylor or Border England would have struggled to make 200 as pressure would have been created to force errors from the tail-enders. But then again despite the criticism flying the way of Ricky Ponting, it has to be said that Johnson, Hilfenhaus or Siddle are no McGrath, Flemming or Gillespie. The absence of Lee hurt.

Australia’s inability to close the match from 70 for 5 was a psychological blow for Australia. In each of the examples given above England went on to win the next test, this happened here as England smashed their hoodoo to win at Lords and outplay Australia at Edgebaston. Australia escaped with a draw there and then hammered England in 3 days at Headingley. Australia having looked to have restricted England to 332 at The Oval then fell victim to the most inspired spell of bowling since McGrath’s 5 wickets at Lords 4 years ago, as Broad ripped through the Australian middle order picking up 5 wickets in very short order. The old Australia would not have taken their foot off their opponent’s windpipe.

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