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The Oval Test - what a difference a year makes

Oliver Brett | 15:29 UK time, Wednesday, 16 August 2006

This time last year the tension before the Oval Test was all-consuming.

Four extraordinary Ashes Tests had been played and the suspense in the hours leading up to the final match was hard to stomach.

This time, with a 2-0 series in the bag and Pakistan’s confidence seemingly shot, the atmosphere is altogether different.

A sense of lethargy pervaded as England began their warm-ups on Wednesday morning.

Matthew Hoggard and Sajid Mahmood bowled off-spin at each other, the touch rugby was lackadaisical and then the players, working in pairs, threw gentle lobs at each other with a baseball glove in one hand.

Monty Panesar contrived to drop a couple, as one might expect, but when it came to throwing down the stumps and catching practice, he looked surprisingly sharp.

This may sound crazy but perhaps one day he could make a serviceable slip fielder.

The first batsman to face up to Merlyn – the bowling machine unveiled last year to help England attack Shane Warne – was Kevin Pietersen.

Set up to mimic the leg-spin of Danish Kaneria, Merlyn conceded rather too many sixes for its liking.


One particularly savage blow from KP hit the top of the canopy overlooking the new OCS Stand.
And if you have been to The Oval in the last year or so, you’ll know just how big a hit that made it.

A few yards across from Pietersen’s unrelenting onslaught, Matthew Hoggard and Jon Lewis both bowled at full tilt – the former thereby proving his fitness for Thursday.

When they bowl consecutive deliveries at the same set of stumps you can see how they are remarkably similar they are to each other.

Both bowled with accuracy and both found outswing – but yet again Lewis seems certain to miss out at the toss with Hoggard’s sore knee no longer affecting him.

Not that Andrew Strauss would say as much at the lunchtime news conference, but he did not sound like a man who had any surprises up his sleeve.

While many fans and journalists already have more than one eye on the Ashes, even the England captain lapsed into unprompted debate about the big winter series.

“We’ve got very good momentum heading into the Ashes series,” he said, before hastily adding “and, more importantly, the one-day series.”

Then there is the small issue of the captaincy for the Ashes.

Strauss said it was right for the selectors to meet to decide whether he or Andrew Flintoff should get the job.

But he also suggested he would be keen for them to do it sooner rather than later.

Revealingly, he added: “I still need to continue scoring runs – that’s my primary job in the side.”

Strauss is at least prepared for the bad news then, though on anecdotal evidence his own form has kicked on now that he has got used to captaincy.

Flintoff’s own stint as captain had its high point when he led from the front in that memorable match in Mumbai (Bombay).

But when it came to the home Tests against Sri Lanka, he was unable to dominate by his own deeds and then struggled to coax the best from his players.

Nothing has gone right for Pakistan this summer, and even on Wednesday they had to make do with the worst of the weather for their warm-up.

Shoaib Akhtar was there, but only to lend moral support.

Pakistan will surely fancy their chances in the one-day series, though.

Shoaib will be as hungry as a starving hyena for that one, Rana Naved-ul-Hasan will also be fresh, and England will have to arrest a dreadful run of form in 50-over cricket.

Their last 11 completed matches have yielded just one victory, and the bowling in the June matches against Sri Lanka was abysmal.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 05:16 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • James wrote:

Surely the "momentum" described has been with Strauss at the helm and for that reason, as well as continuity he should lead the side out against the aussies. If Flintoff were to take the captaincy from the Strauss, he would not have played with his team for close to six months and to resume it just a month before the series would be both disruptive for the team and virtually untested given how much the side has evolved from the India and Sri Lanka experience.

With Strauss' form improving when captain and Flintoff already overworked, to take the responsibility from the Middlesex man would be a selection "no brainer" for me.

  • 2.
  • At 06:08 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Arif Ahmed wrote:

Going into this series Pakistan's first choice bowling attack would have been Shoaib Akhtar, Rana Naved and Mohammed Asif, along with Danish. The first three have been missing and I honestly think this is one of the main reasons England have won the series. The other factor is that their replacements have been below test standard. If you take out Warne, Mcgrath and brett lee from australia then they become only a good side as opposed to a great one. Indeed Australia sorely missed Mcgrath in the Ashes of 2005. As for captain, surely England should stick with Strauss long term. He leads by example and seems to have the respect of his team mates. Furthermore, froma historical perspective, only 1 bowler / all rounder has successfully captained his nation more than 30 times; Imran Khan.

  • 3.
  • At 06:49 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Rashed Ahmid wrote:

Lets not use injuries as an excuse seeing as england are missing what was percepted as 3 of their frontline bowlers (jones, flintoff and beofre the start of the series giles) and don't come back with the younis khan argument as you will find we were also missing our captain vaughan. The fact is england had a surprising amount of depth that pakistan don't seem to have.

  • 4.
  • At 06:59 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

I'm posting this in the hope that Oliver might email back! The TMS team may be interested if they need something to chat about in a rain break. I have a nice graph to show them.

International Cricket - the title of the blog - is a great success story which we should celebrate. In a quiet afternoon I used a cricket archive to work out the average runs per over during an English Ashes series from each decade since the 1880's. The recent 2005 series really was special in that sequence and the entertainment has carried on since. The 2005 rate was 3.8 runs per over, whereas typically it has been only 2 to 3 runs per over. The wicket rate and, expecially, the number of sixes were also high in 2005.

  • 5.
  • At 07:13 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Vaseem Siddiqi wrote:

Lets be honest England are only leading by 2-0 due to bad empiring and Pakistan dropping five catches on the first day of Lords test match. I accept at Lords pakistan were to blame for their bad fielding but if batsmen had walked when they were out on the first morning of third test match England would have gone to lunch at around 80 for 4. There would have been too much pressure on Ian Bell and England would have probably collapsed for around 130 and Pakistan would have won. In my opinion at this stage the series should have been level at 1-1. I also believe Pakistan's selection policy was wrong for third test. They should have opened with Afridi, no point sending him number 8 and played Razzaq at 6 instead of Faisal Iqbal. This would have also given them strength in the bowling. I am of the view even though England are leading 2-0 Pakistan are still a better team inspite of the fact their youngsters have so far failed to have an impact in their first series in England.

  • 6.
  • At 07:24 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Oliver Brett wrote:


This is a reply to you - as requested.

I would be interested to know more about your run-rate graphs. It is not at all surprising that last summer's was very high - it was one of the reasons why the Ashes was so entertaining. The first day of the Edgbaston Test had England all out for 380 or so, which was an electric rate of scoring!

How does it compare to this summer?

  • 7.
  • At 10:20 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Andrew Webb wrote:

Well the Pakistan test series has shown what a woeful performance we had against Sri Lanka.
Of Course, this is the last Test before Australia so it should be used as a training session for that but we have to win for a 3-0 win which would be pleasing.
I think Strauss should Captain the side in Australia because he has shown that we just cannot depend on Flintoff all the time.
Overall if we win and some of our ashes winners come back like Giles and Flintoff, I would like to see how the selectors are going top choose for the Ashes 1st test.
But please keep Bell and add Giles with Pansear, Strauss, KP and Flintoff (if injured come back), that is some of the side I would choose.

  • 8.
  • At 11:30 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • saud wrote:

hi 1st of all i agree pakistan have lost because of the umpiring decisions and the miss fielding.talking about injuries pakistan have there main bowlers out shoib akhtar,rana naveed,mohammed asif and batsman shoib malik.england already have there main bowlers playing harmison,hoggard,panesar,mahmood and so on.pakistan are using there youngsters to play a professional match.its stupid really.but we have all of the main bowlers back for the one dayers.

  • 9.
  • At 11:32 PM on 16 Aug 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

Thanks Oliver. My graph can only be sent as an attachment, I don't know how to use this system to achieve that.

In the 2005 Ashes there were
3.8 runs/over, 2.0 wks/100b, 5.6 sixes/1000b

this summer England have achieved
3.6 1.8 3.7
Pakistan only lag significantly in wicket taking:
3.5 1.3 3.1

  • 10.
  • At 12:22 AM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Jason Linsdell wrote:

As most of the Pakistan supporters who post here all seem to agree on, they are the better team and are only losing because they are missing 3 fast bowlers. Well, England are missing Flintoff, Giles, S Jones, Vaughan - all Ashes winners - including a reverse swing expert, a world class allrounder and a world class captain. Furthermore, you can't say you are losing due to umpiring errors. Over the long run they should even out.

  • 11.
  • At 09:59 AM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Openered wrote:

I agree with the last post. To blame Umpires and players being out with injury smacks of sour grapes.

The umpiring decisions, what comes around goes around. I agree that there were some woeful decisions but it's a very hard job to get right and my sympathy lies with the umpires. England have at least 3 world class players out and other first team choices out. You have to play with the team that is picked at the time. I would have loved nothing better than to have England and Pakistan at full strenght and for us to get a bit of revenge for the series defeat in Pakistan!

  • 12.
  • At 10:36 AM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • I-be-after-e wrote:

Morning everyone. So it's the first day of the final test of the summer and low and behold, rain looks like it's going to play a major part.
England have had the rub of the green during this series btu Pakistan have only themselves to blame. Very poor fielding errors, hands that seemed to be coated in butter, ridiculous run-outs and Inzamam unable to get his leg-over.

Still, looking forward to the Ashes I agree with Oliver that the main discussion topic now is who will captain the team. Will the selectors go with their first choice of Flintoff, providing he is fit of course, or will the success of Strauss sway them?
Personally I think they will go with Freddie but whether I agree with that is another matter.

  • 13.
  • At 10:57 AM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Dave Childs wrote:

I hope the selectors choose Strauss as captain.
Flintoff will find it very difficult to bowl, bat and captain for five full test matches. Especially in the white heat that is the ashes competition.

Just let him do what he does best. Bowl and bat us to victory.

Strauss has looked composed and seems to share that Vaughan knack of getting wickets when its needed.

As for Pakistan, we have simply outplayed them, even though both sides are missing key players.

Agreed I-be-after-e - and as Aggers has pointed out in his column for BBC Sport, "...the captain needs full and unequivocal support, and the apparent wavering will not be sending positive signals in Flintoff's direction as he works hard to recover from his foot operation".

There's certainly a school of thought that it would be better for Flintoff to be able to concentrate on his batting and bowling Down Under, without the pressure of the captaincy... We will see.

  • 15.
  • At 11:41 AM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • I-be-after-e wrote:

Aggers is spot-on with that statement Paul as he is about 'unnecessary distractions' leading up to the Ashes. Strauss really does seem to want the job badly and I would think would be highly disappointed if it were not to be him. On the other hand Flintoff seems to have a 'take-it-or-leave-it' attitude and I don't think would be bothered at all is it wasn't to be him.

It would be disastrous if the squad became split over the matter. I can see that easily happening if Fletcher and Graveney are not keeping all members informed. I am sure that they are however and are only stalling their announcement until it can be confirmed that Flintoff will definitely be fit.

  • 16.
  • At 12:05 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Mike Thomas wrote:

It has been heavily raining in Windsor- now stopped. I think it is coming your way.

You're right Mike - from the look of things the players will be on and off the field all day today.

  • 18.
  • At 12:10 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Deborah wrote:

Another vote here for Strauss to continue as captain. He would have been my choice ahead of Flintoff in the first place and not only does he seem to be growing into the job, it is having a positive effect on his batting at present too. For all of Freddie's qualities, just as with Botham in the 80s, sometimes you will need someone to take the ball off him.

  • 19.
  • At 12:12 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Deborah wrote:

Already here Mike, and doesn't seem to have come from Reading this time either.

  • 20.
  • At 12:19 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Craig wrote:

Hello all.

To the TMS team; Experts often wax lyrical about the batting of Pietersen and his potential. The same was true of Vaughan and Trescothick is acknowledged, rightfully, as the best opener England have had for many a year. However, when it comes to assessment of talent and predicting where a career will stand in the all time stakes when a player is done, Andrew Strauss seems to be undervalued. It is true that when you watch Strauss you are seldom moved to the gasps that Pietersen and others may produce. BUT! The facts are, 10 tons in 30 tests. None of those against Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. 2 against Oz, 2 against Pakistan, 3 against South Africa and 1 against India thus encompassing all of the best sides in test cricket. The guy deserves more recognition!

For some of the other posters above, specifically those attributing Englands victory to bad umpiring and injury; Yes Pakistan are without three of their first choice bowlers. However, it is very wrong to say that England have had their "main" bowlers in this series. Prior to this recent injuries, Englands first choice attack included Flintoff (the best of them for the past 18 months), Giles and Jones. The fact that Monty has come in and improved the team and that Mahmood has cut the mustard (along with Plunkett to a certain extent) demonstrates exactly why England are better than Pakistan. Better squad depth. Those stepping in also step up. This also goes for Bell replacing Flintoff as a batsman.

Re the umpiring, was Hair appalling, and pretty much exclusively to Pakistan, the other day? Yes. However, did Pakistan look outplayed every day of the test regardless? Yes. Plus as everyone says these things even out. Cast your mind back to the last Pakistan tour here. England leading the series one nil, last evening of the last test. Multiple wickets go down to Paksitan bowlers off clear no balls missed by Umpire Shepherd giving Pakistan a share of the series. Its just coming around. If Pakistan had played better they wouldn't be in this situation. End of story.


  • 21.
  • At 12:42 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • I-be-after-e wrote:

Can anyone throw any light on the umpire's decision of take lunch at 12.50pm. Had they left it as it were the teams would be out there playing again now!

  • 22.
  • At 12:46 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Patrick Howie wrote:

Dear TMS Team,
Potential Sponsorship??
Given cricket's constant need for money is there not a case for sponsorship of the umpire's finger?
As with pay per click on the Internet payment would be based on the number of times it was held erect. It could also be rotated to reveal a second ad on the other side. Close ups would cost more than long distance views.
An ad agency would no doubt want to refine the idea but in essence it sounds possible.
Comments please.

  • 23.
  • At 12:51 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Tim Waters wrote:

Where is Henry Blofeld? He was missing at the last Test match too..??

  • 24.
  • At 12:55 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • I-be-after-e wrote:

Very good idea Patrick. Perhaps Raleigh would be interested in this. The close up of the umpire's finger could reveal the slogan 'On yer bike son'.

  • 25.
  • At 01:27 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

Good Morning all,

I agree with most people on the Strauss captaincy issue. I doubt if there is any difference between their captaincy skills so it can only come down to two other things - a, who will provide the most inspiration, well I would of guessed at Flintoff, however we have just beaten Pakistan at least 2-0 so I don't think Strauss has an issue there,- b, who's game would be less affected by being captain, I think history tells us that bowlers can have a tendency to over bowl themselves, especially if they are as passionate as Freddie, so the obvious choice for me would be Strauss who has coped extremely well.

Would it be cynical of me to suggest (bearing in mind that being a england cricket fan over the years can make you cynical) that the ECB would prefer Flintoff as a captain for marketing reasons ( Beckham Syndrome) as opposed to cricketing reasons.

One last point, while I agree on the comments over the last week or so about Monty's bowling and in particular his fine dismissal of khan, everyone seems to of forgotten the sequence of spin bowling and final delivery from kaneria to dismiss KP in our second innings which I thought was brilliant


  • 26.
  • At 02:11 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Neil wrote:

Re: The sponsored umpire's finger - the big screen already shows a very prominent sponsorship logo when it displays the 3rd umpire's decision following a replay.

  • 27.
  • At 03:57 PM on 17 Aug 2006,
  • Tim Cross wrote:


How about a TMS podcast for us all to enjoy at our leisure? Something in the style of the lunchtime chat?

I can't see there being any licensing issues for the content so why not! I'd definitely download it.

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