Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Size Of England’s Task…

In the previous post, it was mentioned that England have only won 3 Ashes tests on Australian soil since winning the Boxing Day test of 1986, which sealed the series for England.  Here is a reminder of those tests…

26-30 January 1995: 4th Test, Adelaide – England (353 & 328) beat Australia (419 & 156) by 106 runs.
Having lost the first two tests by 185 and 295 runs respectively, England responded by putting themselves into a good position to win at Sydney. May & Warne’s rear-guard action saved the draw, and ensured Australia retained the Ashes.

For the fourth test, England batted first & posted a par score of 353, Gatting making his last test century in this test with 117.  Australia then went on to take a 66 run first innings lead, debutant Greg Blewitt made 102*.  England then set Australia 263 runs to win with their second innings score, with an 81 run 7th wicket partnership between Crawley (71) and DeFretas (top score of 88) helping England to that position.  Mark Waugh spun his way to 5 for 40.  Australia then collapsed, with Devon Malcolm (4/39) and Chris Lewis (4/24) doing the damage.

26-29 December 1998: 4th Test, Melbourne – England(270 & 244) beat Australia (340 & 162) by 12 runs
Another win for England in a dead rubber, England managed to draw in Brisbane, with the rain coming to their rescue, before losing in Perth (7 wickets) and in Adelaide (by 205 runs).
Play on Boxing Day was washed out.  This meant that play in the remaining days were elongated to compensate for the loss in play.  This resulted in play on the 29th December lasting for nearly 8 hours, as the test came to an exciting conclusion. 

Alec Stewart smashed his first Ashes century on Australian soil as he made 107 in England's 270.  In reply Steve Waugh rescued Australia, taking them from the parlous 98/3 to a first innings lead of 70 with his 122*.  Darren Gough nabbed the bowling honours with 5/96.  Stewart, Hussain & Hick all made 50’s as England could not get going, and set Australia a gettable 175.  Australia were on their way, but collapsed from 140/5 to 162 all out.  Dean Headley got 6/60, including the wicket of Darren Lehmann which started the rout.
Vaughan with his man of the match & man of the series gong's

2-6 January 2003: 5th Test, Sydney – England (362 & 452) beat Australia (363 & 226)
Yet another win for England in a dead rubber, this one meant that they avoided a 5-0 series whitewash as Australia had won the previous four.  Butcher scored his second century on Australian soil with his 124, while Hussain & Stewart made half centuries in their last test appearances on Australian soil.  In reply Australia were struggling on 56/3, when that man Steve Waugh entered the stage once again.  Cue an emotional century, which included Waugh passing 10,000 test runs when he reached 69*.  Waugh was rumoured to be retiring (or to be retired by the selectors), before that hundred.  Gilchrist top scored with 133 as Australia only scraped past England’s score.

In England’s second innings, it was once again the Michael Vaughan show (left), as made his highest Ashes score of 183.  In doing so, Vaughn equalled the feat of Chris Broad in making three centuries on Australian soil (having made 177 in Adelaide and 154 in Melbourne).  His century helped England set a target of 452 to win, which proved to be difficult on a wearing pitch.  The night watchman Andy Bichel made 49 as Andy Caddick took 7/94

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Ashes 2010/11: Up For Grab’s

They might have gone with trepidation in 1994 & 1998, and they might have gone with hope in 2002 & 2006, but for the first time since 1978 England go to Australia with a real opportunity to retain the Ashes on Australian soil.  The irony is that when they toured in 1986/7, they were touted as the team that couldn’t bat, couldn’t bowl, and couldn’t field.  Until they won the first test in Brisbane by 7 wickets.
Austraila Retain the Ashes in 2007

Draws followed in Perth & in Adelaide before England retained the Ashes by winning the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.  Perth & Adelaide may be reversed, but the challenge England will have to negotiate if they are to retain the Ashes this series remains as hard.  England have not won in Brisbane since that test in 1986, and have only won there on one other occasion since the Second World War.  In 1994 & ‘98  England were batted out of a chance of victory by Australia making huge first innings totals.  In 2002, England ceded the advantage before then, by opting to field.  In 2006, nervousness and a lack of match practice cost England dear as Australia racked up 346 runs for the loss of only 3 wickets.  Brisbane is a place where batting first and putting a big score on the board will put you in the pound seat, as bounce allied to a wearing pitch takes it’s toll on the opposition.

Australia though are not the force they were 4 years ago, as England found out by regaining the Ashes 15 months ago, by only really dominating in 5 sessions (The first two days at Lords and the Friday afternoon session at The Oval), the momentum swings provided by these sessions proved insurmountable for an Australian team who put in the runs but only saw their bowlers on top at Headingley.   They have not won a test since beating Pakistan at Lords, having lost the second test of the series at Headingley followed by  both tests in India.  They are also in the middle of a run of defeats in the one day form of the game.  Though the form of the Australian test side is not as bad as the drought experienced in the mid 1980’s (when Australia failed to win a test series between January 1984 and December 1987), there are still worrying signs.
Australia announced a squad of 17, which will be trimmed down, for the first test which starts on 25 November.While Katich is expected to open with Shane Watson, with Ricky Ponting coming in at his customary No. 3 position, the middle order places are less certain.  The men in possession, Hussey & North have not had the best of years,with the selectors bringing in Khawaja and Ferguson as possible replacements.  Interestingly the selectors have kept Phillip Hughes out of the squad for the time being.  Before his dismissal for a brief 30 odds at  the Sophia Gardens Ashes test, Hughes was the latest supposedly great batsman to come off the conveyor belt.  Both Michael Clarke & Brad Haddin should also make the Gabba.
England Leave the field well on their way to regaining the Ashes, August 2009

The Australian attack is similarly unsettled.  Peter Siddle has been injured since January and might miss out this time, especially as Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger are the current men in possession.  Ryan Harris, who played during the test series in New Zealand might be an outsider.  The inclusion of Xavier Doherty has also put pressure on Nathan Hauritz ahead of the First Test.

England also have their selection issues.  With the return of Kevin Pieterson & Ian Bell, it looks as if Eoin Morgan will make way.  I suspect England will go for Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pieterson, Bell, Collingwood, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson & Finn.

History will be against England.  Since their last series win in Australia, England have only won 3 tests in Australia.  Since the end of the second World War, England have only won 4 series in Australia (1954/5, 1970/1, 1978/9 and 1986/7), while Australia were unbeaten at home in a test series between 1992/3 (when the West Indies won a 5 match series) and 2008/9 (when South Africa won a 3 test series).  However, they do have a good chance to win against an opponent still trying to find it’s next generation of greats.  I think that with both sides much of a muchness, that this series will be a draw.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Reffing Hell!

Ah, the latest (in a long line) of refereeing controversies.  Where do I start…

It would be nice to think that Celtic’s motives were honest and all for the good of Scottish Football.  But they are not.  I can think of at least 3 very poor refereeing decisions which went for Celtic and against my own team (St Mirren) in recent years – for the record those decisions are Nakamura falling over to get a free kick at Love Street in the February 2008 fixture, the sending off of Haining and the award of a penalty for his challenge with Venegoor of Hesselink in the opening game of the 2008/09 game, and the non punishment of Artur Boric for flattening Dargo in Celtic’s last visit to Love Street.

Instead, Celtic’s complaints rather smack of petulance.  This is a pity because Celtic’s stance obscure’s the fact that the current crop of referees are not very good.  The criticism of Willie Collum after the last Old Firm game was that he gave a penalty for Rangers, when Broadfoot dived.  It seems to have bypassed these critics that referees are not particularly good at picking up dive’s, not least Collum who failed to curb Hamilton Accies players lack of balance the week before.  They are even less inclined to punish dives, Stephen Naismith being the latest to commit that particular sin…

Not that referees are 100% to blame for their failings.  In most games I see nowadays, the referee makes the majority of decisions unaided by his linesmen.  In no sense of the word do the majority of linesmen deserve the term “Assistant Referees”.  This season seems to be some sort of nadir, with linesmen unable to ascertain who’s throw in it should be, even though I and the people sitting next to me can see precisely who’s throw in it should be from the back of the stand.  Some sort of training or testing initiative should be the SFA’s response.  However I'm not holding my breath, after all the SFA have form in going down the inactivity route.