Friday, June 17, 2011

Focused on something....just not sure what?

Perhaps, just perhaps, Cricket Australia (CA) has finally developed a modicum of consistency after the shambles of the Ashes in the summer. It seems that the 'no rhyme or reason' approach to squad selection during that infamous series proved so brilliantly successful that CA selectors have decided to adopt it permanently.

Many observers felt it was simply the pressure of a good (but not brilliant) England side that scrambled the thinking of Andrew Hilditch and co., resulting in anomalies such as Michael Beer, Xavier Doherty or Steve Smith chasing leather as glorified fielders last summer.

It would now seem that CA administrators have found a huge pot of cash to employ the team of monkeys it secretly engaged for the Ashes squad selection on permanent contracts.  Peanuts and huge amounts of  green and gold bananas were being delivered by the truck load to Melbourne Zoo yesterday, the new official address of CA, as the brains trust worked on their next great idea.  "It's just embarrassing", said one insider as rumours circulated that the monkeys expect chauffeur service to and from the zoo.  "They piss on everyone".  Sadly, the same can't be said of the side they pick.

The recent announcement of the 25-man CA contract list for the 2011-2012 season was notable for a number of reasons,  First, the same people who presided over the dismal Ashes debacle are still in charge.  Second, good money has been given to entirely unproven players like Pat Cummins - suggesting a staggering expectation on someone who hasn't played in any senior format for Australia.  Cummins will fit into a squad with more hope value associated to it than Osama bin Laden's chances of thinking paracetamol would cure his raging headache one morning as he lay in bed recently.  Like bin Laden, CA now appears to be all at sea.

The well publicised axing of Simon Katich is perhaps the greatest triumph of the wildly confusing contract list.  It is not as if Katich was struggling and we are not talking about district standard here, or even State cricket.  No, Katich was doing his thing successfully on the world stage, single-handedly showing the resolve that the majority of his compatriots seem to lack.  Katich meets most requirements of a test opener: Tough - tick.  Patience - tick.  Longevity - tick.  Hard for opposition to get out - tick.  Scores runs - tick.

So just what did go wrong?  Many think that the arrival of Michael Clarke as captain has seen the selection form amended - no doubt by Twitter or some other form of unsocial social media.  There are rumours that a new box was added to the key selection criteria, namely 'Ponce factor'.  Here, Katich would fail badly: Shaves - no.  Waxes body hair - no.  Models -no.  Talked about as having 'future potential' - no.  Displays immature tattoos - no.   The other critical box would have to be: Pinned now captain against wall of dressing room and threatened to punch his lights out - tick.

Irrespective of sport, most teams would probably consider the de-selection of one of its best performing players as inconceivable, particularly during a 're-building' phase.  Katich and Shane Watson, as an opening partnership, at least gave the team something to work with.   The flaky middle order including Ricky Ponting, Clarke and Michael Hussey do not merit retention if runs, as they should be, are a key performance indicator.  Even the retention of Ponting is based on hope - hope that he will recapture some of the form of his youth.  Run scoring is no longer an essentail batting skill it would seem, as proven by Phil Hughes being able to do no wrong.  Silly Katich.

Watching Australia go about its business at the moment has shades of the legacy of the Titanic - a great ship that was thought too good to need lifeboats because it couldn't sink.  Katich is a lifeboat that will now be left at home to serve only the good ship New South Wales.  The difference between the Titanic and Australia's test side is that before Australia even leave port, they know their ship has all the characteristics of a sieve.

Australia has also made no secret that the 'rebuilding' is targeted toward the 2013 Ashes series.  Narrow minded isn't a word that would come to mind at all?  Is it worth letting the Aussies know that the administrators have foolishly scheduled some cricket before then?  Sri Lanka, South Africa and India over the next few months might come as a surprise and two of those are rated more highly than the Poms.  Perhaps old Hilditch didn't see those in his diary.  In any event, it is doubtful that England will be sacking any player because they might not play in the next Ashes series, but then again, picking a player on current merit is not something Australia appears particularly interested in.  Ask our friend Mitchell just how untalented you can be and get away with it these days.  Waxes - tick.  Tattoos - tick.

Focus Aussies, focus.  At least the first shot in the Ashes build up has been fired...somewhere...from a spud gun.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Scores on the Doors - Part 2: Australia player ratings

Some good marks for the English victors were awarded in Part 1, but what about the beaten Australians.  With only one or two highlights, will the combined marks of the team match England's Alistair Cook?  Read on.


Ricky Ponting:  Three Ashes losses on his CV.  Ooops!  Grumpy, frustrated, tactically unsure, technique fading, a man really under pressure.  The Good Ship Australia is sinking and fast.  But bravo to Ponting.  Constantly blurting out bullshit bravado in press conferences, it became hilarious viewing.  Honestly Ricky, did you really expect us to believe Michael Beer was a quality spin bowler or Steve Smith was the best number six bat in the country?  No runs with the bat to speak of.  Ponting scores highly as a major contributor to England.  8/ 10 (he should be included in the England player ratings such was his assistance to the Poms)

Michael Clarke:  Tosser.  1/ 10

Shane Watson:  Looks like Watson is the sort of player who reads half a book, gets bored and picks up Hello magazine instead.  Gets in, gets out with the job only half done.  Needs to do more sudoku puzzles to improve his concentration, although not much time in the sheds as the Aussies always seemed to be fielding, mostly to Alistair Cook.  One of only three contributors for the Aussies.  Runs like he is in treacle...with lead weights around his ankles.  He would probably eat his way out.  Sturdy lad.  Bowling was weak, never really troubled England.  5/10

Simon Katich:  Difficult to judge....difficult to get out.  Struggled with injury but showed his usual grit.  England will have been happy to see the back of him. 5/10

Michael Hussey:  The Huss was back to some of his dogged best form in the first three matches of the series. Stood up to the English bowling with great technique. Little boring mind. Faded in the two final crucial tests when England worked him out. 8/10.

Marcus North:  Turned up twice.  Didn't use his bat.  One wicket.  1/10 (if only for the wicket)

Brad Haddin:  Along with Hussey and Watson, Haddin contributed some solid runs in a losing cause.  When he put his mind to it, looked dangerous.  Sometimes thinks he is playing backyard cricket and gets out ugly.  Didn't look like he enjoyed it behind the stumps.  Who would with Mitchell Johnson bowling. 6/10

Mitchell Johnson: Absolute tripe.  A chucker with no idea whatsoever where it is going.  Haddin's worst nightmare.  Had the temerity to try and claim Perth was due to skill.  Trust us Mitch, it wasn't, it was the wind.    Along with Punter, major contributor to making life very easy for the Poms.  10/10 (like Ponting, should be included in the England player ratings as he didn't contribute to Australia)

Xavier Doherty:  Really?  Waste of a Baggy Green.  The X-Man is the Ex-Man. 0.5/10 (for having a name beginning with X)

Peter Siddle:  A hat-trick to start, big hearted, can't move the ball one millimetre off the straight.  Never gives up.  You wouldn't like to get in a scrap with this fella in the car park.  Note to Matt Prior. 7/10

Ben Hilfenhaus: Apparently he played...according to the scorecards.  We believe you. 0.5/10

Phil Hughes:  Midget.  Wafter.  Clueless.  Banana farmer. 1/10

Steve Smith:  Picked in the first Test squad as a batter, but not considered good enough as cover for Clarke.  Then picked as a batting replacement for North.  Then dropped to No. 7.  Struggles to land it when he bowls.  Not quite sure himself why he was even playing.  Ever heard of Cameron White or David Hussey Cricket Australia? 2/10

Mchael Beer:  One for the headline writers.  No good.  Probably never going to wear his souvenir Baggy Green again, unless at a dress-up party where the theme is L....for losers. 1/10

Ryan Harris:  Big, strong, quick...but injury prone.  One good performance in Perth.  Middle of the road. 5/10

Usman Khawaja: Australian media went into over-drive because he got 37 and 21.  A sign of the times when two scores of below 50 is greeted with such enthusiasm.  Still, looked poised.  Has potential.  5/10.

Doug Bollinger: One game, told he was unfit, The Rug's best performance was his dance moves in the Vodafone TV commercial.  2/10

Tim Nielsen: Shane Warne reckoned the Australian team didn't need a coach....looks like they don't have one at the moment.  Not in the same league as Andy Flower.  Benefits from Cricket Australia offering him a new three year contract just before the series.  Costly bus driver.  1/10 

Agree or disagree?  Feel free to post your own ratings here.

The scores on the doors - Part 1: England player ratings

The 2010 Ashes Series is over. England celebrates, while Australia mourns its worst performance on home soil since er...ever.  Is a revolution taking place in English cricket? Is Australia being run by a bunch of space cadets? In the wash-up, we rate the players.  Here, we rightly review the victors first.


Andrew Strauss:  Very well presented, affable all-round nice guy and looks dapper in that royal navy blue blazer with the three lions on it.  Mothers love him.  Bit of an up and down series personally for the skipper.  Won the toss in Brisbane, followed it up with a third ball duck...just what his side didn't need with memories of Steve Harmison never far away.  Recovered with a good century second dig and scored solid runs through the rest of the series.  Unflappable under pressure.  Enjoyed his role and the ideal man for the job.  Great working relationship with coach Andy Flower.  Captain Calm.  7.98/ 10 (not quite good enough for an eight..he did leave that ball in Adelaide that hit the top of off and made Doug the Rug look better than he was)

Alistair Cook:  Lovely head of hair but weak little goatie beard doesn't make him look like Bruce Willis.  Perhaps he needs to shave his dark locks off to look meaner.  Perceived weak link before the series but dominated with the bat from start to finish.  Doesn't like to watch his colleagues bat so stayed in the middle for five whole test matches...or so it seemed.  Brilliant.  9.9/ 10

Jonathan Trott:  Short, balding, ungainly and from South Africa...not normally lovable traits.  Scored a sack full of runs and drained the spirit of the Aussie bowlers.  Two crucial run outs effected by making Aussie batters think he couldn't field.  Who cares if he parks in a caw pawk.  9/10

Kevin Pietersen:  Oh Kevin.  Genius or clown?  Match winning innings in Adelaide, some contributions elsewhere.  Highlight was winding Ponting up in the Melbourne Test leading to the Aussie skipper 'losing it' in front of 70,000 people.  Priceless.  Got out in Sydney needlessly...again and to Mitch Johnson of all people. 8/10

Paul Collingwood:  A 'ranga and apparent fielding specialist.  Not his finest series with the bat, but took some stunners in the field, notably the one handed leap in Perth to dismiss opposition skipper Ponting.  Retired from test cricket at the end of the series.  Take a bow, collect your gong. Two marks here.  9/10 (fielding), 2/10 (batting).

Ian Bell:  He is small isn't he?  Silkier than a Paris Hilton negligee, Bell oozed class as he stroked the ball at will around the grounds.  Deserved hundred at Sydney.  The Sherminator finally got laid.  Still a bit caught getting his hair dyed at Toni and Guy in Melbourne.  8.5/10

Matt Prior:  Horrible beard, misguided if he thinks it's cool.  You should never trust a man with a beard.  Sharp behind the stumps and got plenty of practice thanks to the poor technique of the Australian batsmen.  Fantastic hundred in Sydney capped off a great series for the stumper. 9/10

Stuart Broad: Really quite a tall chap, Goldilocks provided a great foil to Jimmy Anderson.  Accurate and sharp with the ball, ruffled batsmen and kept things tight.  Steve Finn, at first change, benefited most as batsmen relaxed and lost concentration in search of 'easier' runs.  Loss didn't hamper England like it might a few years ago. 7/10

Graeme Swann:  Has his own song, own dance and marches to a different beat.  Nutcase of the side, hilarious and good for morale.  Toiled away on wickets not made to measure, but apart from Brisbane, contributed solidly and won the game in Adelaide.  Great video diary. 7.5/10

Jimmy Anderson:  Swing-ba-da-bing.  Couldn't stop moving the ball all series and troubled every batsmen.  Along with Cook, key player in England winning the series.  Taken up the hobby of sledging and seems good at it too.  Even went on holiday mid-series.  Best spell of the series was in the Aussie first innings in Brisbane, third morning, and didn't even take a wicket.  Unplayable. 9.5/10

Steve Finn: Young, learning, took wickets in his three tests.  Solid contribution although a bit leaky on runs.  See comments about Stuart Broad.  Will benefit massively from the experience.  One to watch. 6/10

Chris Tremlett:  Gladiator or gentle giant?  Massive bloke, arms bigger than most people's thighs.  Frightened Aussie batsmen with the bounce he extracted from the pitches.  Phil Hughes looked like he needed a change of underwear every time he faced him.  Fantastic influence on the series, offered the bowling attack something different. 9/10

Tim Bresnan:  Big Yorkshire lad.  Looks like a rugby playing farmer.  Would expect him to put a few ales away down the local without them even touching the side - wouldn't want to boat race him.  Like Tremlett, blazing entry into the series and his spell in the Aussie second innings at Melbourne was a clincher.  Strong, good pace, swing (traditional and reverse) and some good runs in Sydney too. 8.5/10

Andy Flower:  The silent assassin.  Masterminding the resurgence in English cricket.  Appears methodical, calm,  focused and in control.  Perfect combination with Strauss.  ECB...give this man a big contract. 9.5/10

Monty Panesar:  Solid and enthusiastic drinks carrier...head and shoulders above his Aussie counterparts.  Sometimes brought out the wrong gear or appeared in the middle with no reason.  Crowd favourite even when not playing.  Didn't drop a catch. 7/10

Agree or disagree?  Feel free to post your own ratings here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fifth Test @ SCG - A two horse race, just one finisher.

If Australia was a racehorse, it would have a bullet through its brain by now after being declared lame.  In a one sided race, it barely made it half way round the track before falling in a crumpled heap as a majestic England cantered over the finish line, winners in Australia for the first time in twenty-four years.  If the media were to have anything to do with it, this Australian team would be stoned, machined gunned and fed to the sharks just to be sure the job was done properly.

Cricket Australia should consider replacing its national anthem with the Shaggy song 'It wasn't me', in response to the apparent lack of blame being accepted for the Ashes failure by those in charge.  CA Chief Executive James Sutherland denied the blame lay with him.  Strangely, so does chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch, as does coach Tim Nielsen.  "At least the Muppets had someones hand up their arse making them perform." said disgruntled former test wicket-keeper Ian Healey as he failed to hide his sentiments about the lack of leadership.  "Who is in charge...the tea-lady?" he snapped.  If she was, no doubt her selection policy would be more consistent based on the usually delightful sandwich range at CA events.

The monkey sits idle on the pavement next to a deathly silent organ that hasn't knocked out a tune in a while. 

"They'll probably blame me again", tweeted Shane Warne, although this could also be a reference to the current divorce claim going through the Melbourne courts from another disgruntled husband.  It might also refer to the reaction of parents of a future generation of fat kids encouraged to tuck into chicken products the former leg-spinner is currently spruiking ubiquitously.  Perhaps Warne might adopt the new anthem for himself.

England has found itself in unfamiliar territory at the end of an Ashes series in the southern hemisphere.  Normally, by this stage of a tour, a temporary stand-in to the stand-in skipper is running the side, the selectors have long been holidaying in the Caribbean (usually after the third Test), a fast bowler is only something it started a tour with before hospitalisation and an Australian second innings only occurred in first innings of the second test of a series.  This time, the fabled manual 'How to fail graciously', started by Graham Gooch at the end of the 1991 tour and handed down to and appended by every England captain since, was put in the post by Andrew Strauss, second class of course, to one Mr. R. Ponting. 

The tourist's schedule hadn't originally factored in celebration time, a point hastily remedied by the recently retired Andrew Flintoff.  Late in the early hours of Saturday morning, larrikin Flintoff asked the England team's cruise boat skipper to quickly stop by the Prime Minister's Sydney residence at Kirribilli, not to attend a function but because he needed to relieve himself in her bushes.  Flintoff infamously started the garden toilet tradition in 2005 at a reception at No. 10 Downing Street following the Ashes win on home soil.  Flintoff appears to have more accuracy in the dark, even with severely blurred vision, than Mitchell Johnson has with a cricket ball in hand.

So, little old Betty will be sharpening her sword at Buckingham Palace, with a whole set of new gongs likely to be handed out to a number of cricketers, just for doing what they are paid to do.  Poor old Paul Collingwood will get his second award just for turning up and taking the odd catch.  "Good work if you can get it", grumped Geoff Boycott who had to make a hundred appearances and score 8,000 runs before he got his own souvenir from the Queen.  "They'll probably start giving you one (an OBE) in your Cornflakes box soon", added Boycott in typically outspoken fashion.

England won the series 3-1, completing a previously unimaginable third innings-plus thrashing of a demoralised Australian side in the fifth and final Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground.  Australia, devoid of its regular skipper, one fast bowler in hospital, selectors missing in action, five years worth of Baggy Greens handed out in one series and totally bereft of ideas, is looking every bit the new England.  Enjoy the next twenty-four years.

A short twenty-twenty series is next on the schedule, followed by a seven game one-day series between the two sides.  It provides a chance for Australia to gain a modicum of revenge.  The first T20 kicks off in Adelaide, the City of Churches, on Wednesday.  Ample opportunity for new skipper Cameron White to start preying.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chalk and cheese but silence is golden for Strauss

Opposites attract, so suggests the well worn theory.  Nothing illustrates this better perhaps than the Ashes rivalry that draws England and Australia together.

These two proud nations were set on an eternal collision course the day Captain Cook, the sailor not the current England opener, stepped foot on Terra Australis in 1770.  Australia has sought one-upmanship over the 'Mother Country' ever since and the cricket field has proven to be perhaps the biggest leveller of all when it comes to blows with England.  Latterly, Shane Warne sought to expand these horizons beyond the oval, often preferring the world of SMS and a London hotel to play out his own contretemps with the English.

This current Ashes series has given us the generally courteous and polite Poms.  England has adopted a say-nothing policy toward its Australian counterparts.  No soundbites, no public criticism of its opponent for the press to seize on.  Australia, by contrast, decided it wanted to chirp and listen to the sound of its own voice months out from the start of the test series. 

Shane Watson told us, confidently, England wouldn't be able to bowl on Australian pitches with the Kookaburra ball.  Mitchell Johnson informed Andrew Strauss that he would be targeted as his bunny and Justin Langer latterly suggested England would regret taunting Phil Hughes about his batting deficiencies. 

Not exactly out of character for either side.  This time, however, the Poms were inwardly confident both in its ability and preparation.  Galvanised by its leadership team of the two Andrews, Flower and Strauss, coach and captain,  it has gone about its work with quiet efficiency and fortitude.  England appreciates all too readily the failures of the last twenty-four years to take any other approach.  Better to keep your mouth shut until you have the runs on the board.

Following the loss of the Ashes on home soil in 1986/7, Australia built a dynasty of cricketers that were highly talented, tough, brash and confident.  Living legends of the game emerged in the form of Alan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and, of course, Warne.  There were many others too who were highly talented.  It seemed that the line was endless.  These were cricketers who could say what they liked, confident they could back it up on the field almost at will.  Sadly for Australia and the current generation of cricketers, it has not quite come to terms with the en-masse departure of such talent and the cloak of invincibility they took with them.  Australian players still persist with the chirp, the digs and the verbal diarrhoea that flows into the press, all of which is now beginning to make it look rather silly.  It is one thing to be positive, but another to talk plain rubbish.  It is a habit Australia quickly needs to put back in the closet for the time being.

In a summer where the balance of power has clearly shifted in favour of a vibrant England side, why has the demise of the Australians, more often than not, been the headline grabber?  England's cricket has largely spoken for itself.  It has been well organised, consistent (with the exception of Perth) and generally of high quality.  In other words, repetitive.  Unlike the ragged England teams of old, its current team doesn't court controversy, selection has been almost too simple and it hasn't self imploded.  Essentially, it has just been about the cricket and good cricket at that.  Sadly, it doesn't make for interesting headlines in this media saturated world to continually write about another England hundred by Cook or Jimmy Anderson swinging the ball past well worn Australian edges.

In stark contrast, Cricket Australia has literally stuck a kick-me note on its backside and invited all and sundry to sink the boot in on a daily basis.  Starting with an embarrassing loss to Sri-Lanka in the short one-day series preceding the Ashes, Australia quickly followed this up with a confused and farcical squad selection for the first Test.   Thereafter it snowballed.  Xavier Doherty was picked and dropped almost without trace, Marcus North's tenure was a constant question, Michael Beer a pick of desperation.  Australian self destruction was complete when its obdurate captain Ricky Ponting and, presumably, the selectors, decided the number three batsman should play with a broken finger in the Boxing Day test at Melbourne.  Batting with such restriction would be a tricky task even in backyard cricket and so it was almost cruel to watch Ponting struggling to get the ball off the square in the biggest arena of them all at the MCG.  Ponting infamously compounded a personally dire summer with his graceless blow-up as he disputed an unsuccessful review.

Dare we call an England side winning in Australia (for the first time in twenty-four years) dull?  Andrew Strauss will not mind the lack of headlines one bit for it was all part of a well conceived and executed plan.  The urn is packed away in his suitcase for safe keeping until these two old foes clash again.  Chalk and cheese it has been but it makes for the best of relationships really.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fourth Ashes Test @ MCG - Aussies hosed down by Poms as sprinkler douses Ashes flames

The fat lady was singing and loudly, very loudly.  "We are the army, the Barmy Army" roared the rather rotund example of British female beauty as she stood amongst the huge contingent of lobster coloured England supporters at the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday.  The Ashes is over.  History made.

The Barmies went wild in celebration, beer guts shook with pride and alcohol sales soared in Melbourne.  Meanwhile, Ricky Ponting was ordered to undergo an urgent eyesight and hearing test by Cricket Australia.  Not only has Ponting been unable to spot a cricket ball all summer, he couldn't see the two ginormous screens in the MCG replaying the Kevin Pietersen incident before his epic hissy fit during England's first innings.

Ponting continued a deranged on-field outburst for five minutes, indiscriminately abusing anyone close enough to listen to his ranting. At one point, even a startled Gatorade drinks boy copped a hammering as he drove the drinks cart off the field. "Did you see it?  Did you?" demanded Ponting of the unfortunate boy.  After a Ryan Harris ball passed Pietersen's bat, the wild-eyed Australian captain was adamant he had seen a hotspot that didn't exist and heard a noise that 'snicko' couldn't detect.  He probably saw Elvis driving Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve too.  Pietersen is believed to have toyed further with Ponting suggesting he had "smashed the crap out of that one buddy".  Ponting appears to be slowly losing the will to live in this calamitous Australian team. Rumours that he sits on his stripped bed at night, wearing nothing but his pads, gloves and helmet, rocking back and forth for hours in the dark have been denied by Cricket Australia.

The marketing division of Ponting's sponsor, vitamin company Swisse Ultivite, is believed to be worried by the Aussie skipper's comment to the umpires that "you shouldn't believe everything you see and hear on TV", after Pietersen was given not-out using the referral system. In his TV commercial promoting the vitamins, Ponting tells us that "You'll feel better on Swisse".  One advertising expert said that "The sincerity of the commercial is undermined by fears that Ponting just makes stuff up, just like when he claims catches that bounce".  It might not be all bad for Ponting, with rumours that laser eye surgery specialist Vision Laser is lining up a sponsorship for him.  A part in Pinocchio might also be up for grabs.

Former Australian great Shane Warne yesterday Tweeted that "Punter shouldn't have played with a broken finger - couldn't bat to save himself".  Ian Botham, England's own Ashes hero of the past, went one further when he said "Ricky must of thought his hand would heal quicker than Jesus that time they put him in a cave for a few days rest after that whole cross ordeal".  Botham was perhaps suggesting that Cricket Australia's decision to play its most experienced player with a broken finger was a bit of a gamble gone badly wrong.  "In fact, he probably thinks he is Jesus", Botham added dryly "although I reckon Jesus would have a better technique against the swinging ball...he could probably sense which way it would go".

The result of this Test appears to suggest that Perth was a bump in the road for England.  It dominated this match from the moment Andrew Strauss won the toss and sent Australia in to bat, a generous term for the stick wafting ritual performed by the Australian team in its dismal first innings 98 all out.  As for the bowling performance, Richie Benaud told viewers during a commentary stint that "In my day, if I couldn't bowl six deliveries an over exactly where my captain told me to, I would get the chop for the next game.  Today, it appears that if you bowl six good deliveries a match, that will do".  This was a clear criticism of the woeful Mitchell Johnson, the self proclaimed 'leader of the attack', who is fast becoming the Australian Steve Harmison.  "He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, but that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling's shite", sing the Barmies gleefully every time Johnson enters the fray. 

English entrepreneur, billionaire and cricket fan, Richard Branson, joined the Aussie-bashing by saying "If I could only do my job once in a blue moon, I doubt I would be where I am today.  I would probably be a dirty taxi driver doing the night-shift.  Australian selectors seem to pick players like Johnson, Hughes or Smith and cross their fingers, shut their eyes and hope that they come good despite continually bad performances, which is actually an old English selection ritual.  Thank God surgeons aren't employed on the same basis.  If Johnson was a postie, all your mail would end up three streets away and all over your front lawn".

England, led by its clown-in-chief, Graeme Swann, turned the MCG into one large dance floor at the end of the game with a performance of the infamous 'sprinkler' dance to the delight of the adoring Barmy Army.  "Brilliant.  Definitely more coordinated than David Boon after a long haul flight to London", said a smug Michael Vaughan.

The margin of victory by England was an innings and 157 runs, its second innings defeat of the Australians in three games.  The two teams now move on to the Fifth Test in Sydney with the scoreline 1-2 in favour of the English.  Although the Ashes now remain firmly in England's grasp for the next couple of years, both sides will want to win the final game for differing reasons.  It will be far from a dead rubber. England has already avoided a series defeat for the first time in twenty-four years, but will be hoping desperately for a series win.  Australia will be hoping for another Perth miracle.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

22 yards and a sledge for good measure

Conspiracy theories are raging around Melbourne about the questionable antics of a local gardener tending to a strip of mown grass. 

Those of the 'Lee Harvey-Oswald didn't act alone persuasion' would have you believe that dark forces within Cricket Australia are surreptitiously doctoring pitch preparation at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to offer its bowlers any advantage it can get in the crucial Boxing Day Test against England. 

In the last 24 hours, there have been numerous reported sightings at salubrious road-houses along the Nullabor that a strip of grass, measuring approximately 22 yards and strapped to the back of a flat bed truck, is on the move east from Perth to Melbourne.  One 'eye witness', Shane 'the sheep shagger' Wilson, 49 and father of fifteen, told journalists that "I seen a bloke watering and rolling the back of his bloody truck the other noyt out back o' the pub come post office/ diy store/ chemist/ school/ doctors", a building in the small settlement of Mundrabilla.  In Madura, further west, other so-called witnesses of varying character have described the strip of grass as having all the hallmarks of a wicket.  It apparently has a green tinge, white painted tram lines at either end and was in almost pristine condition except for a few 'bowlers footmarks' according to the sightings.  "Looks like it was used just for bowling practice" said one unconcerned local, Bill O'Keefe.  When pressed further, O'Keefe said "Look 'ere mate, I can tell yous all it was grass 'cos we haven't seen any round 'ere since 1972 so it's bleedin obvious".  He wryly added " I tried to even get a bit for me back yard cricket this Chrissy but the driver, Tim, nicked orf too quick for me".

Ebay also reports that one of the big ticket items it has just auctioned this week was a piece of turf.  The listing read "Wanted - home for a much loved and tendered piece of turf approximately 22 yards long, 10 feet wide.  Comes with all accessories, including white lines, wiring holes, six wooden pegs and four bails.  Suit pace quartet.  Warning - does not come with unique Freemantle Doctor to aid bizarre swing bowling.  Successful bidder to collect".  The winning bid was by English-born Mr Nielsen of South Australia.  His previous history indicates he has purchased items such as a whiteboard, clipboard and John Buchanan's cricket coaching manual. His buyer rating though is one star (five being the highest).  The whereabouts of Mr Nielsen and the Ebay item are currently unknown.

As the Australian team congregated at its Melbourne hotel last night vice-captain Michael Clarke, speaking in the unexplained absence of the Australian coach, said that "the bowlers were feeling good and just wish they could have rolled up the Perth wicket and brought it with them".  Clarke was later seen cuddled up close to Peter Siddle as the pair whispered and cackled with laughter.

Cameron Hodgkins, the MCG curator, denied that there was anything suspicious about the rectangular shaped hole at the centre of the MCG.  "It is normal practice to hide the wicket for safe keeping", Hodgkins fired off at a press conference from a grassy knoll outside the ground.

Despite the media fuelled conspiracy theory, a press release overnight from Lords, London, by the guardians of cricket, the MCC, confirms that the rules of the game will not be changed, despite a request by Cricket Australia.  It states that both sides are still required to bat and the traditional protocol for them to do so on the same pitch is unaltered.  This will be disconcerting news to Australia's batting that will now be expected to reprise its one-man batting show on the same questionable pitch as England.  This would appear to be a major flaw in any ill-considered CA conspiracy.  A wicket that further appeals to both sets of bowlers would not be the stocking filler Australian captain Ricky Ponting was hoping for to lift him out of his batting slump, given England's strong showing with the ball so far in Australian conditions.  A coin toss may decide the outcome of the Test.

Another aspect occupying plenty of column inches over the last few days is the Australian art of 'sledging', the tactic of asking obscene questions of the batsmen about the well being of his wife or kids or the marital status of his parents at the time of his birth.  England batsman Kevin Pietersen yesterday misunderstood the question and deemed sledging to be fine.   "There is nothing wrong with it at all", he said "it is probably the easiest way to get around the UK at the moment judging by the weather reports we have been getting".

Boxing Day is looming with 90,000 expected to pack out the MCG for the Fourth Vodafone Test.