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Friday January 07 2011

I’m now watching the TV highlights of the final day at Sydney, and now I’m celebrating.  Like the England team itself, I am now happily counting the chickens of this series, because they have now all hatched.  Three innings victories, to set against the one weirdly big defeat inflicted by the otherwise ineffective Mitchell Johnson at Perth.  Wow.  Was there ever such a tonking in a series the win-lose-draw result of which was still in doubt as the last game began?  The Guardian reports, in this, that a Sydney Daily Telegraph blogger has opined thus:

A 3-1 result flatters Australia.

Ouch.

The series win count for the last four Ashes series now stands at England 3 Australia 1.  But because of that 2006 Australia 5 England 0 bollocking, and because an outclassed Australia did still sneak one win this time around, the test match win count for the last four series is: Australia 8 England 7.  How about that?

Anyway, a few more random thoughts and a little more linkage.  I don’t normally have asterisk type gaps between this bit of a blog posting and the next one, but this time, I think it may help.  If you get bored, don’t give up on on the whole thing.  Just skip down to the next asterisk.

*

A reason that so many of us find it hard to think of Jimmy Anderson as the great bowler he surely is may be that, when he takes a big top order wicket that really matters, he celebrates by running about and skipping and high-fiving with both hands, and jumping up and down like an excited girl on her birthday.  Yes, he’s doing it again, on the telly, as he takes the ninth Aussie wicket.

While doing his regular bowling, and when reacting to bowling disappointment, Anderson has learned to get his “body language” right, i.e. suitably statuesque and impervious and manly and undefeated:

“Body language is a huge thing,” he is reported as saying. “I try to keep my shoulders back now and to be positive. In the past I’ve been pretty average at that.”

The point being that he has had to make himself do this.  It does not come naturally to him.  And as I say, when he takes an important wicket his default body language (happy version) still asserts itself.  When he gets a big success, there is no still, calm posing, like Flintoff did, and none at all of the even better unposed pose, so to speak, where the triumphant bowler is an expressionless tower of calm in a crazy sea of team-mate congratulation.  Anderson is the opposite of that.  Most of the stills of him celebrating don’t show this, because they usually freeze him into a pose of some sort.  You have to watch him on the telly to see what a girlie man he still is, when very happy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  If he carries on bowling for England like he has in this series, he can do it in a bikini for all I care.  There was a great self-send-up by Anderson in one of the Swann videos, where he celebrated his feminine side by appearing with his hair wrapped in a towel, girlie style.  Yet “Anderson” is now going to be on lists also containing words like “Larwood”, “Tyson”, “Snow” and “Botham”?

Anderson took twenty four wickets in the series, without once taking five in one innings.  Has that ever happened before?  Those numbers speak both to Anderson’s relentless leadership of the England bowlers, and the fact that he was always followed by the other bowlers also taking wickets, every time.  In a team with less good other bowlers, Anderson might have taken even more wickets.  But, England would not have won the series.

*

As for the other dominant England player in this series, did you know that although Alastair Cook may look like a movie star, he talks like Noel Fielding?  Do people realise how hilarious this will be when Cook is the captain?  Plus: is that an original observation?  You can’t google to see if anyone else has said this because it’s Noel Fielding.  There’s a lot of fielding in cricket reports so you get a million irrelevant hits.

Cook quote (from an admiring piece about England coach Andy Flower):

We’ve had an amazing two months since we got here but we’ve already said we want to improve, that’s one of our team ethoses,” said Alastair Cook, whose own partnership with Flower grew in stature during his spell as captain in Bangladesh, and whose tally of 766 runs was the outstanding performance of the Ashes.

Shouldn’t that be “ethoi”?

*

In other England batting news, Ian Bell has finally learned how to be a tough bastard by doing cage fighting.

*

Good teams – in fact good enterprises, groups, firms, outfits, operations of any kind – get lots of luck, or they seem to.  This is because when they get a bit of luck, they make maximum use of it.

Trott, supposedly a clogger in the field, runs out Katich for a duck in the first over at Melbourne Adelaide, and soon after that Australia are three down for two wickets.  The Perth blip is immediately reduced to a blip. England are on their way to their first win.

At Sydney, Cook gets caught off a no ball when in the forties, and goes on to make 189.  Bell challenges a caught behind, gets away with it, and goes on to make another hundred.  Prior, who also made a hundred in that last huge Sydney innings, when asked what had changed for him as a batsmen as the series went on, said that he just got luckier.  If an Aussie had been caught off of a no ball in this series when in the forties, he would soon have got out for about fifty, and we would all have forgotten.  In fact, the Aussies did have lots of luck, as all sides do in cricket games, in the form of close play-and-misses, nearly catches, balls shading the stumps, nearly run-outs, nearly lbws, etc., but because they did not exploit these bits of luck, we don’t now remember them.  There was general commentator agreement that, on the first morning at Sydney when England got just the one wicket off the final ball of the session, England could in another version of the same morning have got nearer to five wickets, so well did they bowl but so lucky were the Australian batters.  But that is now quickly being forgotten, because soon after that Australia were their usual 140 for 5 or whatever.

*

The English celebrations immediately following the Sydney win, consisting of journos and commentators talking to England players, featured a perfect storm of sporting cliches, “perfect storm” being one of the cliches, or so I seem to recall.  Strauss in particular spoke almost entirely in verbal plasticene, and the others mostly copied him.  “The guys deserve all the credit in the world, and not just the players but also the backroom staff”.  “Pressure”.  “Bowled in the right areas.” “We stuck to our plans.” Thank God for Swann.  “So, Swann, what did Strauss bring to this team?” Swann: “Nothing.  Nothing at all.” Looks at other England player standing next to Swann, who goes along with this joke: “No, nothing whatsoever.” Both together: “Nothing.” Strauss joins in: “Well I was going to congratulate the other players, but I don’t think I will now.” Ho, ho.  Under Swann’s influence, even Strauss was saying unprepared, vaguely funny things.  But it couldn’t last.  “But seriously, the guys deserve all the credit in the world and not just the players but also the backroom staff, the bowlers bowled in the right areas, we stuck to our plans, pressure pressure pressure, blah blah blah, cliché cliché cliché.” All true of course.

Wonderful.

*

Provided you weren’t trying to listen to it on Radio 4:

It was unfortunate – some might say extraordinary – coincidence that it was the third time in the series that Radio 4 had cut to the shipping forecast at the moment of an England victory, missing the climax to all three of the team’s Test wins.

*

But what if you’re an Australian?  Not fun.  Favourite incoming email to Cricinfo during the Sydney game:

Sam Warburton, thanks for the best feedback of the day so far: “I reckon my phone must be Australian. When I try to text ‘Ashes’, predictive text suggests ‘cries’.”

Indeed.

*

To get a bit more serious about the Australian cricketing pickle, I earlier said that Michael Clarke had a chance in this final game to strengthen his claim to be the next Australian captain for real, rather than just as a stand-in for Ponting.  Strangely, I rather think he has done that, despite the immensity of the defeat his team suffered.  His second innings 41 may not seem like much, but until Smith went into futile gesture mode right at the end of the game, it was the top Australian second innings score, and was made under immense England pressure.  More to the point, Clarke looked the part when talking to the journos, or he did to me.  At least, with his talk about learning from England, he seemed to communicate an understanding of the scale of the defeat, while nevertheless managing not to subject Australia to a public psychological disintegration of the Kim Hughes 1981 variety.  I now rate Clarke as a possible regular captain more highly than I did before this final match, although that isn’t saying much.

I see that another Guardian guy, Kevin Mitchell, agrees:

Clarke has impressed immensely in his brief tenure. He has been derided in the media, booed in the stands and utterly destroyed in the scorebook. Yet he has kept his explanations short and considered, neither railing at provocative questions nor dodging the really tough ones.

As for all the rumours flying around that some of the Australian players don’t rate Clarke very highly, well, they are in no position to expect their opinions about how well or badly they either have been lead (by Ponting) or will be lead (by Clarke) to have any great influence on anyone, given how they performed in this series, and given that about a third to a half of them may well be out of test cricket in a couple of years.

*

But here is some serious consolation for Aussies.  I met up with Tom Burroughes last night, and he told me that somebody or other has now proved that countries doing better economically always do worse at sport.  Not enough desperation to do well because if you don’t do well you rot in the slums, presumably.  Too much else to do that is profitable and/or fun.  The Aussie economy is motoring just now, compared to most other places.  England’s, on the other hand, …

*

Since it’s Friday, here is this, which is a reminder of better Aussie times.  (Warning: best to keep the sound down.  The woman making the video occasionally shouts.) It’s Boxing Day at the Melbourne test in 2006.  So very different from the 2010 Melbourne Boxing Day nightmare, which was the defining day of this latest series.  At the time I speculated that while England were then very much on top, Australia might yet get up off the floor and land a few more big punches of their own.  Because, you know, cricket is a Funny Old Game blah blah, and they just might.  They never did.

Further on that point about the sometimes inverse relationship between one guy getting a great set of bowling figures in one innings, and his team doing well, it is a strange fact about this series that the four best sets of innings bowling figures are all Australian, each one a six-for.

Here are the numbers.

The next eight in the list are all English, headed by Finn, who got England’s only six-for, six-for a lot, in England’s most costly bowling performance. Basically, the other England bowlers then didn’t cut it, and neither did Finn, really.  Too many of Finn’s wickets came too late.  Most of those next eight performances are four-fors, including three four-fors by ... Anderson. 

It must be admitted, though, that the top two sets of figures were in each England innings at Perth, both helping Australia to win handsomely.

Even so, these numbers reinforce the much made point that England did indeed bowl well as a unit (cliche alert), pretty much throughout the series.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 08 January 2011

>The Guardian reports, in this,
>that a Sydney Daily Telegraph
>blogger has opined thus:

A small amount of pedantry: that should be the Sydney Daily Telegraph like it should be the London Times. Australian newspapers tend to follow the London tradition of the city not being part of the name of the paper. The one big exception is the Sydney Morning Herald, perhaps because there used to be a Melbourne Herald as well. (On the other hand, the Sydney paper was founded first and has always had “Sydney” in its name).

I don’t buy the theory that a 3-1 result flatters Australia, in truth. I think the result is about right. England were completely dominant for the three matches that they won and the last two days in Brisbane, but were completely dominated by the Australians for the remainder of the series. There was virtually no close cricket in the series. England were mostly smashing Australia, but when they weren’t, Australia were smashing England. It was quite odd.

The moment in the series that intrigues me is Strauss being not out to a very close LBW decision off the first ball of the England second innings. Would England have gone on to lose that match, and what would then have happened in the series? My hunch is that England would still have won the series even if they had lost that match, but we might be talking now about the series having been close if that had happened.

Anyway, England host India at home in the summer. This is by all rights a bigger event than the Ashes just past, and England will have genuine reasons to crow loudly if they win it. I hope the series is treated as the big deal that it is.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 08 January 2011

I think Australia’s great failure was in the batting. Ponting and Clarke in the middle order were hopeless. Hussey was great lower down, and Haddin was good, but by the time they came in Australia was on the back foot. I think Hussey should have been moved to three in the order early in the series, but it didn’t happen.

Going into the series, Australia had a very effective opening partnership in Watson and Katich. Katich would hang in there, and Watson would score quick runs. Unfortunately Katich got injured, and Hughes didn’t work. Watson still batted okay, but without the right kind of support. In the last couple of days I have read a couple of comments from English commentators saying things like “Watson is not an opener and should be batting at six”, when the problem really was all Hughes. (There is also the problem that Watson doesn’t like batting at six and this showed in his batting when he previously batted there, but the English commentators weren’t watching when that happened).

I support a complete clean house. New selectors, new captain, and a largely new team. I wouldn’t have Clarke in the team, let alone as captain. He’s just Ponting all over again.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 08 January 2011

The sporting cliche’s are actually magic.  When the lads are heading out to hunt antelope, they all know how hard it’s going to be; antelope are fast, they twist and turn like mad, and even if the warriors catch one they have to fend off the hyenas and lions etc.  To insure the success of the hunt, the chief must take them to the witch doctor who blesses the enterprise with these mumbled incantations.

“Bowl as a unit!  Keep the pressure on their batsmen!  Execute your plans!  Bowl in the right areas!  Field as a team!”

The rest of the incantations are best not repeated, which is why the hunters come out with the abridged version when interviewed by Athers.

Oh, on the subject of ethoses/ethoi, I’m inclined to go with Cookie’s version since he is an Ethics man.

Posted by Kevin B on 08 January 2011

Even when getting totally shit-faced, the England team were still executing their plans:

The squad even performed an impromptu “sprinkler” dance made famous by spin bowler Swann – but he turned down a request for a live TV interview because he had downed too much champagne.

Cameramen were told not to film any close-ups of the tipsy players when they returned to the pitch after several hours of partying.

Plus they got drunk in the right areas, and got plastered as a unit.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 09 January 2011

I have now added “Food and drink” to the category list for this posting.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 09 January 2011
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