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Patchy England left searching for inspiration

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Tom Fordyce | 18:57 UK time, Friday, 10 July 2009

A few years back, Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett decided to hold his club's Christmas party in August.

His reasoning was simple, if characteristically unhinged: his team always started the season in dreadful form before suddenly going on a brilliant run as soon as Santa Claus had been and gone. By throwing the party pre-season, he hoped to trigger that fine form from the very start.

Andrew Strauss might want to try something similar. For a second successive day, England wrestled the initiative back from Australia in an outstanding morning session before letting it slip away completely in a sobering afternoon of toil and trouble.

Cornflakes for lunch, fry-ups for tea, cuppas during the drinks interval. Anything to get his players thinking that it's still morning.

On Thursday the tail-enders had laid merry waste to a flagging Australian attack, only for Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting to grind England into the Cardiff dirt once the luncheon dishes had been cleared away.

On Friday those same tail-enders, this time in their normal guise as England's bowling attack, sent Katich and Ponting packing and got rid of Mike Hussey for good measure too.

Australia, ominously poised overnight, were suddenly 348-4 going into the afternoon session, still almost 100 runs adrift, with two new batsmen at the crease and one of them, Marcus North, batting with all the class and confidence of Frank Spencer.

Around the concourses at lunchtime, there was a solid expectation that more was to follow. James Anderson had bowled his best spell of the match - two wickets for two runs in 15 balls - Monty had just bowled a well-set Punter and Andrew Flintoff was smacking bouncers onto heads and chests.

It never happened. Instead, we had an action replay of Thursday's accumulation and attrition - another right-hand/left-hand pairing, the former easy on the eye, the other ticking off the total - with all the inspiration England had shown earlier evaporating like the steam coming from Strauss's ears.Andrew Flintoff shows his frustration as Michael Clarke and Marcus North pile on the runs

By the time the partnership between Michael Clarke and Marcus North was broken, late in the day and with the stands almost deserted after a soggy two-hour hiatus, it had yielded 143 runs. England were never taken apart, but neither did they often look like breaking through.

Graeme Swann, after that fantastic start to the year, seems to be having his worst match for his country at a time when he would wanted to have produced his best. Length was a problem. There was either too much of it or too little of it. Of the spin there was only the latter.

For Stuart Broad the match has been even more testing. Swann could at least console himself with his economical return. Broad, save for an early lifter in his first over of the day, failed to find any bounce or menace until he returned at the death to surprise Clarke with a mixed-seam bouncer.

That he pulled a wicket out of the bag spoke volumes for his determination. That it took him until the 136th over of the Australian innings speaks as loudly of his struggles.

Strauss's decision to open after lunch with Broad from one end and Monty from the other puzzled everyone in the ground. Flintoff had tenderised successive batsmen before the break, but he wasn't thrown the ball until Clarke and North had settled and prospered.

Perhaps his skipper is cautious of overusing him so soon after his comeback. That's excusable. So why then did he often send Flintoff out to field in the deep, where his exertions would be far greater than in the close catching slots?

There may be good reasons why Anderson was held back too. He was off the pitch for the first part of the afternoon, although he returned later with no obvious problems. By then all the pressure on Australia had dissipated. That England's most dangerous deliveries of the entire afternoon came from Paul Collingwood indicates how little threat the front-line attack carried.

In the absence of any real danger, Clarke gave a timely reminder that he has now matured into the Test batsman everyone thought he would when he first wore the baggy green.

After the last tour to England the precocious Pup found himself dropped from the side, his tendency to go hard outside off and a weakness against swing threatening to disrupt his smooth progress through the Aussie ranks.

It took a hamstring injury to the perma-crocked Shane Watson to get him back into the team, but since that recall he has made as much of his chance as the 'Carpe Diem' tattooed on his arm would lead you to expect.

Gone now is the surfer's bleached hair of his debut, replaced by a more austere buzz-cut, a physical reflection of the way he's preparing to succeed Ponting as skipper when the time comes.

In the last Ashes down under he hit 389 runs at an average of 77, his technique sounder and his shot selection more cautious than in his first incarnation. On Friday it was his twinkle-toed dancing footwork that impressed.

Clarke has always played spin beautifully, from his spectacular debut in India almost five years ago onwards, but the speed of his adjustments against the quicks made it appear that they were bowling in slow motion.

When Broad had him caught behind, the first Test wicket under floodlights in England cricket history, it came as a surprise both to the batsman and the thousands of spectators who were streaming back into the city centre after the long rain delay.

With two days left and a lead of 44 runs, Australia remain in the driving seat. North will resume on an unfussy 54 not out with five batsmen to accompany him.

If heavy rain were not forecast for most of Saturday, the odds would now favour an Aussie victory. Even as it is, England still have work to do if they are to go to Lord's next week at parity with their flinty opponents.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Question: when is Strauss going to unleash his deadly spinners against Australia. I am waiting to see them run through the Australian batting. Maybe that 90 mph quick who can swing it in both directions should be tossed the ball as well.







  • Comment number 2.

    Question: can you be an allrounder if your batting average is lower than your bowling average say after playing 50 or more Tests?

  • Comment number 3.

    Granted I didn't see the whole game at Worcester but it looked as though Harmy was chomping at the bit to get at this Aussie team. Maybe we should look at taking one of the spinners or Broad out and unleashing him!

  • Comment number 4.

    Well, it looks like weekend rain might save England's blushes but how are the bowlers going to raise their game for the second test?

    Is it simply nerves that is making both Broad and Swann bowl below their best? Is Strauss holding Freddie back, afraid of another injury? While Anderson shows his usual inconsistency. Unless, our bowlers find a higher gear, then the Ashes is very much in Australia's favour. It is unlikely Panesar will make another Test appearance. OK, he got Ponting, but that was the Captain's error and not due to an excellent ball. So what can Gibson do to help the bowlers find this higher gear?

    I hope it is just nerves. We know England can bowl better than this. As '05 clearly showed, they need to bowl as a unit and not as individuals. Meanwhile, this 1st Test is more about England starting with a draw rather than their usual loss, while the Aussies are showing us that they aren't as bad as we thought. I watched them against Sussex and the team have improved greatly since then.

    My view is, bring back Harmison to replace Panesar. There is no real aggression or bite, at present, in the English bowling attack and while a risk, a Harmison firing on all cylinders, will put fear into any batsmen including the Aussies.




  • Comment number 5.

    England can definitely bowl better than this - Broad especially, who will hopefully be buoyed by his late wicket.

    But Australia still have two very good players in and with Johnson to come who is pretty handy. Rain is England's only hope.

    Never mind though at we go to Lord's next where England have a brilliant record against Australia.

    Oh bugger, that's a lie.

    http://sportingchameleon.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 6.

    Australia with the upper hand but a good morning session 2moro, lyk the one 2dai and england could be back in the game, so fingers crossed.

    And why, why, why is Hoggard not in the england team, what has he done wrong, plus i would have harmy back, he always preforms on home soil Imagine the bowling attack of Flintoff, Hoggard, Harmison, Anderson and the spin of Swann seems like a better bowling line up den the one we got in dis match

  • Comment number 7.

    Yes, Australia have the initiative, but this is far from a winning position. We've had 3 days and Australia have a small first innings lead only. Neither side has engineered anything like a collapse and the pitch seems to be playing better than ever. Rain will not "save England's blushes" because there should be no prospect of anything other than a draw unless there is some very inspired or very shoddy play from one or other side.

    In fact, to shut out an England win Australia still have to bat through to lunch. To force a win, they need to hit out, get a lead of at least 150 and rely on skittling England quickly. Neither route is exactly likely based on what we have seen so far.

  • Comment number 8.

    nice article. i did find it hard to enjoy clarke stroking the ball around and being so fleet footed due to the fact that a wicket never looked likely to fall for the second day in succession.

    im not going to join the ranks demanding changes, hold steady england, but i agree that broad causes concern. england have blooded bowlers before they have developed sufficiently in the recent past several times, saj mahmood, kabir ali, liam plunkett all spring to mind, but stuart broad seems to have the heart and mind for the job - but here is the key; i asked a friend before the series began if he would wager on broad getting his wickets at under 35 and he said no. i dont blame him. i really hope to be proven wrong and am glad his batting will buy him time.

    swann? lets see, he has been fantatic for england and is he type of player who will come back from this doubly hungry to do his bit for the team.

    well, its back to the winter of watching bowlers have their hearts and bodies slowly dismantled whilst batsmen with patience and insatiable appetites make for the high numbers.

    come on england - stick with the aussies and dont give them a sniff, go to lord's at a blob each and start again!

  • Comment number 9.

    So, England come up against one of the top teams in the world and are found wanting. I am very impressed by this Australian side who, so said many in the media, should not have bothered turning up. They personify the usual Aussie qualities of grit and determination- not to mention consumate skill- which our side appears to lack. And I'm certainly not impressed by Strauss's captaincy. Every time the camera caught him he seemed to have a huge grin on his face. Mark Nicholas commentating on the Channel Five highlights programme was spot on when he said there was nothing to laugh about! And Strauss quickly ran out of ideas. When Michael Vaughan captained the Ashes-winning side of 2005 he had done his homework on the Aussies' weaknesses. He was constantly inventive in placing fields and changing the bowling. I get the impression that Straussy has been promoted beyond his capabilities.

  • Comment number 10.

    Interesting to hear the comment from Anderson that 'he didn't hit his straps' etc and also to see Broad looking far from his usual self. Have to say, this to me should see a few fingers pointing at our illustrious bowling coach, Ottis Gibson. Has he not had the past ten days or so with these players to get their minds right?? Is it not his job to get these guys fully prepared and ready?? It is majorly frustrating and unprofessional. I hate to look back at '05 but what a difference when under Cooley, the 'fab four' went for it from ball one in that series and truly looked the part.

  • Comment number 11.

    Quote from Oliver Brett:

    "While Friday's rain was largely unexpected, further heavy showers are forecast from around noon on Saturday - so the odds favour draw despite Australia's dominant position."

    This has been a situation that has troubled many for eons!

    Q: Why have the powers that be not yet seen the wisdom in affixing an optional day to Tests, to make up for loss time through weather intervention, in order to create an opportunity to forge a result?

    I think, in light of the current state of affairs in world cricket, this problem will have to be ultimately addressed in earnest, sooner rather than later!

    What fun, one might ask, is a drawn Test to paid customers, to promoters, to sponsors, to anyone?

    Someday, in every major cricketing center, it might become necessary to construct a multi-functional domed stadium where matches can be played without Mother Nature playing a role. But this prospect may be decades away from materialisation?

    Dome stadia, will create an interesting situation where games can be played even in the winter months; and that would be moving progressively and tantalisingly into the 21st century, boldly, won't you say?

  • Comment number 12.

    Softandfluffy - if it is nerves that are affecting England's bowlers, you have to ask why Ashes debutants like Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Hauritz have been more effective.

    NSrudeboy4ever - I fear Hoggard lost enough pace to take away his threat at international level. Do you think Harmison has done enough to earn a recall - and should he be trusted now when he's failed his last few chances?

    gramedgar - a fine summation...

    dudepod45, jabsco79 - it's worth saying that it's only the first Test of five. Lord's last time out felt like a thrashing, but we all know how things turned around...

  • Comment number 13.

    Every day so far in this test, there have been no wickets between lunch and tea. Does this have something to do with the way the pitch plays between 1.40 and 3.40???

  • Comment number 14.

    I really was quite surprised so many had written off this Australian side - did they not see them defeat the number 2 team, South Africa, in South Africa quite emphatically???

    I think Strauss is pretty wisely (yes really!) not bowling Flintoff too much, as if he was to be injured (as McGrath was in 2005) the series would be just that much harder. As a bowler he IS the class English bowler on display, heaven help them if he got injured.

    North & Clarke showed determination to first get there, and then push on. Pity Clarke was out, but thats the way it goes.

  • Comment number 15.

    THE FORGOTTEN MAN - RYAN SIDEBOTTOM!!

    EVERYONE KNOWS THE AUSSIES HATE SWING!

  • Comment number 16.

    Tom,

    "Softandfluffy - if it is nerves that are affecting England's bowlers, you have to ask why Ashes debutants like Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Hauritz have been more effective."

    Quite simply, Australia are a far more confident side as individuals and as a team, whether debutants or not. England, on the other hand, are continually besieged with self-doubt, lack of belief and a scarcity of will to win. Stuart Broad is a young guy, who has been brought through the ranks very quickly. I am sure his present below par bowling is caused by nerves. This is an Ashes series, for goodness sake! And at times like this, you hope Gibson is good enough and able enough to encourage and boost England's bowlers self-esteem. The major problem with England has always been their minds - not their talent.

  • Comment number 17.

    Tom, the Aussies didn't so much 'wrestle' the initiative, they 'wrested' it, in a calm, controlled and purposeful manner.
    Cheers

  • Comment number 18.

    Ryan Sidebottom: 10 wickets @ 30.2 so far this season (3 matches) with a best of 4-118. 3 wickets in 3 matches in List A and he looked more unfit and out of form than Steve Harmison in the Caribbean. It's hardly a strong case for selection. Only his 11 wickets in 7, T20 matches show any real form. He hasn't had a good Test in the last year and is past his best. Like Matthew Hoggard, it is hard to see him playing another Test.

    Steve Harmison has 37 wickets @ 20.8 and is bowling fast and furious right now. Only Graeme Onions with 54 @ 16.8 has more wickets this summer. Incidentally, the third highest First Class wicket-taker is Liam Plunkett with 30 @ 18.4.

  • Comment number 19.

    softandfluffy

    You are quite correct about the confidence factor of the England players. They are simply not permitted to be confident, for it will be deemed by fans and media alike as being arrogant (Pietersen for example). They are expected to be 'yesmen' who smile embarrasingly all day long while the Aussies take the game away from them.

    I am a great fan of Strauss the batsman, but 'captain safety' simply does not gamble enough to even close out the Windies, let alone the Aussies.

    The sooner Kevin Pietersen returns to the captains role, the sooner England will compete with the top sides. England have the talent, but sadly lack the mentality.

  • Comment number 20.

    I dont want to be too harsh on England the pitch and conditions were not exactly helpful,although broad was again disappointing,Swann had an off day it happens,its made more noticeable by his above average performances up to date.

    Another burst like we saw this morning tomorrow would make for an interesting finale to what up to press has been a batsman match.I am a believer in continuity and that a squad should be picked to play all the matches of a series....chopping and changing helps no one unless of course an injury prevents someone playing.

  • Comment number 21.

    Interesting comments.

    I hope to see North get a century before lunch, they may be under instructions to get a wriggle on and I am becoming a fan. He starts nervy and looks awful for about 20 balls, then transforms into a very calm man.

    Siddle and Hilfenhaus have never played in England and only had one warm-up game. If anyone should have been nervous, it was them, but Hilfy was on his mark from first over. Nice to see a bowler who is still a rookie so collected.

  • Comment number 22.

    Surely a captain must lead by example, this automatically rules Pietersen out ;).
    As people continue to slate our bowlers, it's worth remembering that on the first day most of the top order threw their wickets away, wasn't it the bowlers who managed to get around 100 runs in well less than a sesion?

  • Comment number 23.

    DavidLeigh,

    A man who shares my views whole-heartedly!!

    Don't get me started on the Pietersen debacle. The entire ECB should have been fired for their cowardly, pathetic act. As you say 'status quo' Strauss is not the right Captain. He doesn't know what the outside of a box looks like. Whereas, Pietersen designed, built and painted it himself! If only he were Captain for this Ashes series. What a positive, exciting difference that would have made.

  • Comment number 24.

    Where's Mr. Moutarde???

    Wonderful to see your support of the England team disintegrating at the end of day 3 of the first test...........

  • Comment number 25.

    Re: freddawlanen
    Seeing as a lot of criticism has been directed at Strauss for his lack of offensive captaincy, surely Pietersen's (perhaps overly) aggressive demeanour would yield far greater results at a time when Australia are distinctly in charge of the game?

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    I can't belive you poms think Broad is OK because he can bat a bit. I think his role in the side is to bowl sides out. 5 average bowlers does not make 4 decent ones!

  • Comment number 28.

    I think that the game will end in a draw regardless of the weather unless there is a dramatic batting collapse - which is more likely to come from England, because if they don't, there won't be enough time for Australia to collapse.To me each team seems to be too nervous to break out and have a go for fear of going to Lords one nil down. The only question will then be who takes the moral victory from this test so as to take confidence or self-doubt into the next test. If a draw seems inevitable, it is more likely England, bowling last with an unassailable lead, who will be able to play without fear which could therefore give them the moral victory if they knock over Australia's top order. Cricket is a game of confidence and so the importance of such a victory should not be underestimated. I predict a draw, but one of these teams will be going to Lords with their tails in the air.

  • Comment number 29.

    re: TJinks

    Strauss is too cautious, even negative at times, but Pietersen isn't just overly aggressive, he's dowright stupid.
    If he keeps playing the way he does, in 20 years, everyone will look back and wonder what might have been, such talent, the chance to become a true great of the game...

    I don't really see anyone else capable of leading the team, does Cook have enough about him?
    Would the selectors bring in a new man simply to captain the side?
    I think we all know the answers to those 2 questions ;).

  • Comment number 30.

    What I find most complexing is that the English press/public consider any Australian cricket player that they have never seen before as some weak point in the line up. To be included in the No.1 test cricket team in the world must mean you can play somewhat "batting with all the class and confidence of Frank Spencer". You might play better if you respect your opposition a bit more and understand that if they are in the Australian team they might be there because they can play the game a bit.

  • Comment number 31.

    Softandfluffy,

    Your comment "the Aussies are showing us that they aren't as bad as we thought" is perplexing.

    How did you come to the conclusion that the number 1 ranked test team in the world were going to be easy beats?

    Why do the majority of England supporters now want to kull half their team based on 4 bad sessions?

    However, I do agree with the general consensus that Monty is a joke.

  • Comment number 32.

    Anzacman,

    I agree. Fantastic. May it continue ...... and the other upside is it makes for great reading!

  • Comment number 33.

    As far as England are concerned, they have started the friendliest Ashes face off ever. A new approach!

  • Comment number 34.

    I think most people back here in OZ are scratching their heads as to why the English side is so confident... The Aussies didn't just accidently become the number one test side in the world. Everyone here has pretty well notched up a series win already. GO AUSSIE! (and the concerning thing for you blokes is that this may be Englands best shot had grabbing the ashes for another 15 years...)

  • Comment number 35.


    This Test Match is creating a good amount of suspense. Test cricket is surely the real thing and not ODIs or T-20s. The two sides out there are trying. Best wishes to the guys on Day 4.



    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 36.

    Early days in the Tour but already lessons to be learned like Aussies do not get themselves out. Going into match two after what should be a draw here the England batters would do well to reflect on this and do the same. This is not T20. As to bowlers this is probably not a fair track from which to condemn but they need to be better organised next time out. I'm sure KP as captain would have been more likely to extract a result from this game but most probably not the one we would like on the evidence of his match awareness when batting. Strauss can do better and I believe he will - a win next time out looks a must before Mr Lee joins the fun.
    Well done Aussies though a real hard as nails start.

  • Comment number 37.

    Sadly it did not need hindsight after the foolhardy manner in which England's batsmen got themselves out on day 1 and the ease with which the tail scored runs that Australia would prevail after the first innings. How niaive, for supposed professional cricket commentators, to state that 436 was a good score. On that pitch, having won the toss 600 was what was required, which is what Australia will get. The question is again raised; why do our players lack application. Sadly, whilst the Petersen attitude pervades of ' I will do it my way, come what may; and am not man enough to admit my mistakes' then it will ever be that England failto eclipse even a half decent side. Australia know that they do not have the side of 2 years ago. So instead they have a clear intent of substituting talent and experience with application. England do not have the side they had 4 years ago, but have decided to substitute batting fortitude with gutless frivolity. Petersen's feable defense that if it had not hit his helmet he would not have been caught highlights his arrogant stupidity. No son the answer is that if you had not attempted the shot in the first place THEN the ball would not have hit your helmet and THEN you would not have been caught.
    Once again England will be hoping that their 12th man - the rain - plays a blinder in order to save this test match. At this rate in order for us not to be humiliated we must hope for a wet six weeks.

  • Comment number 38.

    I am an Engishman who lives in New Zealand. Last night I watched the whole day's play and I must say that this was a wonderfully riveting test match. I hope it will nor be spoiled by rain.

    The Aussie team is not as powerful as it was - for obvious reasons. But I must say that its batsmen hit the ball very hard, the fielding is pretty good and the bowlers bowl like a team should.

    England by contrast look to me like an excellent amateur national side of yore that is 11 talented individuals playing their favourite sport. They do not always hit the ball as positively and seem happy to throw their wickets away with smile, the field is not as intelligently set and the bowlers (except Anderson) are all over the place.

    Watching the Aussie team doggedly chase down a quite big total with cussed determination to win was enthralling to say the least. This is real cricket!

  • Comment number 39.

    JPRees

    It is the very fact that Pietersen does it 'his way' that gives him a test average of 50+, and the second most prolific in the history of test cricket after the great Bradman. Your comments make no sense! Other agenda's perhaps?

    If you try to reduce Pietersen to a 'yesman' you will ruin what could become a memorable career (if that is not already happening). The old-school way of approaching test cricket simply does not cut it any longer and unless England adapt, they will always have to be satisfied with consolation victories (they already have a reputation for being superb at winning dead rubbers).

    Pietersen top scored again despite not having the best day with the bat. How about your views on why any of the other batsmen did not go on to bigger scores, or does Pietersen have to do it all, everytime??

  • Comment number 40.

    Captainofsillypoint,

    "Softandfluffy, how did you come to the conclusion that the number 1 ranked test team in the world were going to be easy beats"'

    Two simple answers: No. 1: the English media. No. 2: I watched them play against Sussex and Australia were mediocre at best.

  • Comment number 41.

    Struass wants to set a field which forces the Aussies to crack a few over the boundaries. Once they've been unhypnotised from the dreadful status quo, they might be more vulnerable. Anything! Please! I can't stand it - other than Simon Hughes's excellent analysis of the depth of Ponting's striding footwork.

  • Comment number 42.

    God! what's happened to our 12th man? Anyone out there know a rain-dance?

  • Comment number 43.

    Softandfluffy,

    What can I say?

    Obviously your research and general knowledge of the game is impeccable.

  • Comment number 44.

    I'm glad Freddy enjoyed his victory over Phil Hughes. He celebrated like he had dismissed the great Don Bradman ....... couple of days later he sits with 100+ for 1 .... and still bowling. That's gold in my book.

  • Comment number 45.

    " For a second successive day, England wrestled the initiative back from Australia..." right...so one English bowler bowling well for a few overs is considered 'wrestling the initiative back'...what does Australia comprehensively outplaying and outclassing (except for the few minutes in question) England count as then?

  • Comment number 46.

    freddy is very good but he could not sustain the pressure on the aussies all the innings

 

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