2. August 2009 22:59
At the start of the second day of this test match, last Friday, Australia were 126-1. It took just 40 overs for the England bowlers, led by James Anderson and Graham Onions and assisted by the moving ball, to reduce them to 263 all out. England received 36 overs and reached 116-2. If that were to happen again tomorrow, England could be facing a target in the region of 120 by mid-afternoon. But could it happen again?
You bet it could. Australia are, in fact, in a substantially worse position than they were on Friday morning. Here are four good reasons why. First, on Friday morning they were expected by most observers, including Dan, to crack on and post a big total. They were hardly under pressure to survive; on Monday morning, they jolly well will be. Second, they have already lost Ricky Ponting. The fall of the captain's castle is a critical psychological setback for the visitors and it will have hurt them. Third, not only can we expect the ball do do exactly the same favours for Anderson and Onions as it did on Friday morning, since it is almost exactly as old, but also we have seen impressive turn for Graeme Swann, something which the Aussie batsmen did not have to contend with in the first innings. Fourth, the Australia team has learned to fear the final day of matches in this series. At Cardiff, they failed to win a match which was theirs for the taking. At Lord's, they were undone by Andrew Flintoff, a man who sends shivers down Australian spines like no player since Ian Botham.
The Australia team is in disarray. Test Match Sofa has already exclusively revealed, thanks to Manny at Edgbaston, that the Australian players were not speaking to, or even sitting with, each other at breakfast on Friday; on Saturday they stayed in their separate rooms. Mitchell Johnson has been wound up by his mother, Shane Watson openly questioned the reliability of the opening batsmen, Phillip Hughes broke with selection protocol: it has all been going wrong. If Australia lose today then it may not even be Ponting who calls the coin toss at the Oval.
1. August 2009 19:45
It is so tempting to revel in the elements and congratulate Mother Nature for effectively ruling out any chance of an Australian win at Edgbaston. England could just about manage it, if they reached 450 tomorrow and then bowled the Aussies out in two sessions on Monday, but the prospect of the visitors taking 18 more wickets and having a second innings in the twelve hours remaining stretches the bounds of belief. So it's got to be advantage England.
Or is it? Andrew Strauss believes that an Ashes win is only meaningful if you take on the best Australian side there is. That's why he let Graham Manou sub in for the injured wicketkeeper, Brad Haddin, after the toss and the naming of teams on Thursday. Presumably he would also want to beat the Australians without the weather helping. But surely, you might say, you have to take whatever luck comes your way? I would say not. To follow that line of reasoning is to miss the essence of a victory against the old enemy.
You see, no-one whinges like the Aussies when they fail to win. If they have an excuse for a defeat, or even a draw, it is repeated ad nauseam. They failed to beat England at Lord's in 1997 because rain intervened. The same was said of Brisbane in 1998, with knobs on. England were let back into the 2005 Ashes contest because Glenn McGrath was injured at Edgbaston, an excuse which was wheeled out again at Trent Bridge. You get the idea. So, if England are to regain the Ashes this time, it's got to be all-out, full-strength warfare in blazing sunshine. And should we lose, we can tell anyone who'll listen that we'd have won if we'd had Kevin Pietersen.
31. July 2009 17:52
We were all rather concerned at the start of play. How many times, in our long-suffering lives as England cricket fans, have we seen Australia turn an overnight score like 126-1 into a dominating, impregnable position? The answer is: too often. Dan, anticipating a total of 500 or more, suggested England might lose by an innings. Our nerves turned to incredulity as Graham Onions, with overnight figures of three wicketless overs for 21 runs, was handed the ball by Andrew Strauss and told to bowl the first over of the day. Onions? What? Not James Anderson or Andrew Flintoff? Well, what followed had us speechless in disbelief. It was like watching a highlights programme: the Durham seamer dismissed Shane Watson with his first ball and Michael Hussey with his second. The crowd at Birmingham had barely taken their seats and were already jumping out of them.
There was no comeback for Australia. Michael Clarke found himself charged with an onerous task: to marshall Marcus North, Graham Manou and the tail to save his team from collapse. The responsibility was not as weighty as the one he shouldered on the fifth morning at Lord's, but the outcome was the same. He failed to fill his boots. Reprieved by Flintoff at second slip off Onions, he missed a big inswinger from Anderson and was quickly (wrongly as it turned out) given out lbw by Rudi Koertzen. Australia were left in disarray. It's not reasonable to expect miracles from Clarke, but we've heard too much about his growth in stature and it is worrying for Australia that he is not finishing the job more often.
Why did it all go so well for England? Onions and Anderson bowled a much tighter, more attacking line than yesterday, without leaking runs. They did not so much make the ball talk as make it present a chat show. Flintoff looked tired and it was fortunate for Strauss that he didn't have to call on him too often. Stuart Broad again seemed out of his depth, as has become customary. He seems incapable of bowling aggressive, rapid deliveries to hurry the batsmen and unwilling to adopt a tighter, more containing line. Not simply playing a bowler for his runs at number eight was a lesson learned, I thought, in the Ashley Giles years. Broad has to shape up or ship out. Graeme Swann was underbowled but from the look of the turn Nathan Hauritz was getting at the end of the second day, he will yet have a role to play.
England, of course, need to knuckle down, but you know all that. With showers forecast on and off for the rest of the match, they need 400 to put real pressure on Australia. It's not enough to hope for draws and reach the final test at the Oval 1-0 up. England need to kick the Aussies when they're down.