Friday, 24 December 2010

Even Pitch

Game on!

One of the main attributes of Australian sport in general is their never say die attitude, an attitude we do not have here.  That's not to say that Australia are going to now run away with this series, but they have put themselves back into the game.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Australia had to win in Perth, and given the unique set-up at the WACA, this was their best opportunity.  They took it.  The WACA pitch is currently still the quickest bounciest pitch on the Test circuit, Australia had the players capable of utilising it and of playing it.  The person who benefited the most was Mitchell Johnson (above).  Johnson made his debut against Sri Lanka 3 years ago, but to date his performance in South Africa – where he took 16 wickets and emerged with the Man of the Series gong, but apart from a spell against England at the Headingly test has not really reached that standard again.  Until Perth when he took 6/38 and 3/44 (to go with his first innings 62 with the bat).

Australia might have won convincingly in Perth, however the problems besetting the team are still there in victory.  The win was held together by Johnson’s 62, had he gone early Australia would not have made 200, and in the second innings by Mike Hussey’s 116.  Hussey now leads the series averages with an aggregate of 517 runs at an average of 103.40, with Shane Watson & Brad Haddin the only other Australians to have made over 200 runs during this series so far.  At least the bowlers now have a bit of form and wickets behind them.

Having lead, England are now facing questions about their team, with calls being made to push Bell up the order to bat at No# 5, and for an extra bowler to be included.  I think the only change that should be made is that Bell is switched with Collingwood, with Collingwood coming in at 6.  I am also surprised that Collingwood has not had more of a bowl as well, considering how much work that Finn/Anderson/Swan and Broad/Tremlett have done.

While Perth has always produced hard, fast and bouncy wickets, the pitch at Melbourne (right) is expected to be a slow one.  Being a drop in pitch it may well suit the seam bowlers, and be a little bowler friendly.  Unlike Perth, England have a good record at Melbourne, winning memorable tests at the MCG in 1982, 1986 and 1998.  If last year is anything to go by Australia racked up 454 on first use of the pitch.
For England, a win will see them retain the Ashes, Australia need to win to take the series to the last test.  The question will be who’s nerves will hold out?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

SOPTY Time is Apon Us Again…

Sunday sees the BBC’s once good now rather excruciatingly smug roundup of the sporting year. The glitzy glamour and razzmatazz rather masks the poor year that BBC sport has had, with the corporation receiving all manner of brickbats in relation to its lazy coverage of the World Cup, not to forget the games played in relation to their failed attempt to pick up the free-to-air Ashes highlights contract (which eventually went to…  um…  ITV4).

The centrepiece of the old Sports Review of The Year programme used to be the Sports Personality of the Year award (pictured, right), which like some sort of lethal virus has grown and taken over the programme.  So much so that the programme has now taken on the name Sport’s Personality of the Year, as the awards aspect has side-lined the sports review aspect (with the addition of "Team of the Year", "Coach of the Year",  Overseas awards and Outstanding Contribution awards).  One look at the nominees underlines why the review section might have gone on the slide.

The favourite should be the Northern Irish golfer Graeme McDowell, who won the US Open, 40 years on from the last British triumph in that tournament.  There is also the small matter of his contribution to Europe’s Ryder Cup win in Wales in October.  His Ryder Cup team-mate Lee Westwood is also nominated.  Though he did not win a major, his nomination is down to his unseating of Tiger Wood’s as Golf’s number one player.

The Heptathlete Jessica Ennis is nominated for the second year in a row, she added a European Championship to the World Championship she will defend next year, she should be close as well.  I would also like to see Mark Cavendish do well too.  In 3 Tours, Cavendish has won 15 stages and holds a reputation as a deadly finisher on the flat stages.

Of the others, Haye’s anti-climatic defeat of Audley Harrison might count against him, people are split on Horse racing, so AP McCoy is an outsider, as is the teenage diver Tom Daley.  Graeme Swann might make the top three, depending on his performances during the ongoing test in Perth.  Amy Williams is another outsider, even though she is the first Brit to win an individual winter Olympics gold medal in 30 years.  The Dart’s lobby might also push Pill Taylor into the top three.

I think that McDowell will win, ahead of Ennis and I think that either JP McCoy or Phil Taylor will sneak into third, depending on who get’s their vote out.  After last year’s shock win for Ryan Giggs, its not a confident prediction.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Doctor Will See You Now…

Intriguingly, while we are in the middle of an interesting Ashes series, South Africa and India begin their series tomorrow. The winners will be crowned the best test side at the conclusion of this series.  I wish that I had the time to properly do a preview (Steyn V Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar etc.) – but with Christmas around the corner and having just returned from Holiday, this is a subject i should return to.

This Ashes series is perfectly poised though.  After Australia dominating for 3 days in Brisbane, England found their form to dominate the last two days and then to crush Australia in Adelaide.  Next up is Perth, which really represents Australia’s last chance to get back into this series.  England’s only win at the WACA was during the 1978/9 Ashes tour, when the Australia side was severely depleted by the rival Packer series.  Generally the WACA pitch is a pitch for the quick bowlers to enjoy as the leading wicket takers comprise a who’s who of Australian strike bowling – noticeably as well the West Indies first loss at the WACA came during the 2000/1 whitewash, winning all of the 5 tests they played up to that point.

Australia have brought back Mitchell Johnson (as well as Ben Hilfenhaus), and have brought in Beer & Smith as options in the spin bowling department.  All of the changes smack of desperation for a side who do not repeat the trough’s of the mid 1980’s.  England, who are one up, have a selection headache of their own.  Stuart Broad is injured, with Chris Tremlett tipped to take his place.  I think that Bresnan might be a better bet.

A win for England will se them retain the Ashes for the first time since 1986/7.  However Australia are notorious for their fighting spirit.  Now would be a good time to see that.