July 2009
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John Stern: Why we love Andrew Flintoff for his flaws

July 15th, 2009 by John Stern in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

Sky News gave the impression that they were reporting the death of a member of the royal family rather than the ill-timed retirement of an England cricketer who in nine Tests over the past year averages 25 with the bat and 37 with the ball.

But Andrew Flintoff’s status has never had much to do with his stats and all to do with his personality. Along with most of his England team-mates, he attended a benefit dinner for Andrew Strauss last night. He walked into the Lord’s Tavern with his ghost writer Myles Hodgson, stood at the bar for a while and then joined Michael Vaughan at a table.

The normality, the lack of pretension, the accessibility is why people love him and why people are prepared to forgive the foibles. Our heads might say that we want single-minded hyper-professionals like, say, Justin Langer but our hearts say that we want guys like Flintoff in whom we can invest our dreams.

Later in the evening, Flintoff was part of a Q&A session with Vaughan, Strauss and Langer. He played the “I’m just a lad from Preston” schtick magnificently, bringing the house down with self-deprecating comic timing. He was a blond Peter Kay.

There is an element of cultivation here and the small but perfectly informed anti-Flintoff brigade will tell you that the loveable larrikin image is just that – image. There are people close to the England team of recent years who will tell you that Flintoff is not the chummy everyman we like to think he is.

I don’t know the truth but I know what I want it to be. There is a magnetism about Flintoff that no other England player possesses and no cricket lover with a heart and a soul can fail to be moved by.

But England’s Test side may well be better off without him just as the limited-overs teams will be much better with him (which I first mooted in TWC back in 2007). He will have one eye on the IPL of course but if it means that we have a sniff at next year’s World Twenty20 or the 2011 World Cup then bring it on.

The valedictory tour that this self-serving announcement offers up may well grate and it has the potential to undermine rather than assist England’s chances of regaining the Ashes.

But the roar at Lord’s when he comes on to bowl or out to bat will be electric and should be cherished.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 4 Comments »

Peter Siddle: "I'm not afraid to bowl the short ball"

July 15th, 2009 by peter siddle in Test cricket, The Ashes and tagged , , , ,


I enjoyed my battle with Graeme Swann in the first Test. It was the excitement of the moment and the clash – that’s the way I play. I bowl my best when I’m fired up so I like to get in the batsman’s face and get a contest going. There were a few words said, along the lines of ‘I am hoping to get you out!’

We noticed he liked to get on the front foot in the first innings, so we thought we’d look for a weakness against the shorter stuff. I was unlucky – on a bouncier pitch those balls that hit the glove might have gone to hand. Short balls can be a great way of working the batsman over but I didn’t get the wicket, and he toughed out a few balls, which was what they needed. Still, he’s got eight more innings in these Ashes so hopefully I can get a few more on the body and we’ll see how he goes.

I’m feeling good going into this Lord’s Test. Sunday was a tiring last day in Cardiff, it was tough on a flat wicket and we had to charge in and give our all. To be one wicket short was frustrating but we’re feeling good now and I’m looking forward to getting into the next game.

When I got Paul Collingwood I was confident I could go on and finish the job for the team, so I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get that last wicket and leaked a few runs.

Collingwood’s dismissal was a range of emotions for me. I saw it catch the edge and I was up to celebrate but then I saw Mike Hussey parry it into the air and everything stopped while I waited for him to get his hands around it. Collingwood had dug in for six hours and to get him at that stage and know that there were just the two tailenders left – the adrenaline was amazing.

And I thought I’d cleaned up Monty Panesar first-up to win the game – I came round the wicket and beat him, it was so close but ultimately so far. I kept steaming in but we couldn’t break them – they did well to hold out for the last 11 overs.

A lot has been made of the time-wasting but I’m not fussed. They knew how much time was left and the 12th man coming out with gloves was just a tactic to slow the game down. It’s going to happen as long as the rules allow it – it’s part of cricket. There was nothing in the collision with Stuart Broad either. He’d edged one and was running down the wicket and we were both watching the ball but the commentators seem to think it livens up the game by talking about it.

I’ve seen the slo-mo’s of the ball that got Ravi Bopara in the throat on day one, it’s a nasty looking ball but fortunately for him the wicket was slow even on the first day. I like to make myself known to the top-order batsmen early on. I did the same against South Africa, and my first ball in Test cricket was a short ball that hit Gautam Gambhir on the head. I hit the wicket hard, generate bounce and am not afraid to bowl the short ball, as you’ve seen. And the Welsh crowd seemed to enjoy giving me stick but it was nothing I haven’t heard before.

Mitchell Johnson was not quite where he wanted to be in Cardiff but it’s a long tour and I know he’ll come good soon. He missed the first tour match in Hove, and he is one of those players who gets better the more he bowls. We didn’t want him overdone now and exhausted for the last few Tests but by the end of this Test I’m sure he’ll be back to his top speeds and in the groove. Brett Lee will be fit and ready by the end of this Test too, so it’s a good problem for the selectors to have. It keeps the pressure on us too and will help us bowl better knowing we have to perform to stay in the side.

England’s top-three failed in Cardiff but they have all made a lot of runs in the last few months and we know they are good players. We have a different attack to West Indies though, so hopefully we can get a hold over them. That top three have been the foundation for England’s big totals, so if we can get them cheaply and get into the middle-order then that will be the key. Kevin Pietersen may be under pressure but he seems to thrive on that – he always likes to give the impression of being laid-back, cool, calm and he loves being the centre of attention. He does play the game differently to others but his Test record is exceptional and he can tear an attack apart. We need to watch out for him.

Our batsmen have talked about the threat posed by Jimmy Anderson and Freddie Flintoff, especially when Fred doesn’t have a big workload, so that was important for our batsmen to keep him out there for as long as possible in Cardiff. The first hour or two he was bowling with real pace and bounce. If Steve Harmison doesn’t play at Lord’s it will probably be more of a surprise for us but we know what to expect from him having seen him at Worcester. He’s had a lot of success against Australia, and he’s in great form at the moment.

I’m looking forward to playing at Lord’s – ever since I was a kid in Victoria the dream has been to play a Boxing Day Test at the MCG and an Ashes Test at Lord’s. I achieved the first one last year and I can’t wait to run through the Long Room on Thursday – it’s a great honour at such a young age. I was having a look at the honours board yesterday and it would be great to get my name up there, but I’ll concentrate on getting my first wicket for now! Glenn McGrath has talked to us about bowling on the slope, it will take getting used to but you still have to go about your game as normal.

The wives and girlfriends are still with us. It’s great for me, it helps me to relax when I’m away from the game to spend time with my girlfriend and see new faces so I’m not thinking about tactics the whole time. London’s a great place, I’ve enjoyed getting out and having a look around and a shop. I’ll be taking my credit card with me to Lord’s though, just in case my girlfriend gets bored of the cricket and has the same idea!

Peter Siddle is blogging for thewisdencricketer.com throughout the Ashes

Posted in Test cricket, The Ashes | 2 Comments »

Lawrence Booth: The self-fulfilling prophecy of Lord's

July 15th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, Test cricket, The Ashes and tagged , , , , ,


It used to be said that England were always hopeless at Lord’s. And it used to be true: between 1979 and 1999, when they lost to New Zealand, England won six Tests out of 30 there and lost 12. During Duncan Fletcher’s reign things changed: eight wins out of 14 with only three defeats. Since then it’s been four draws on infuriatingly flat pitches, plus the recent victory over West Indies. But while England’s record at Lord’s has evolved, Australia’s hasn’t. They just keep winning. Hell, they even won at Lord’s in 2005. But we digress…

You will read a thousand times between now and Sunday – so let’s get it over with now – that England have not beaten Australia there since 1934. (The English will use the fact that Don Bradman was twice dismissed relatively cheaply by Hedley Verity as some form of consolation, but pay no attention to the ruse.) Since then it’s been nine wins for Australia and nine draws, a sequence that has become an anomaly even in the context of recent Ashes drubbings.

What on earth has been going on? To be at Lord’s yesterday was to gather evidence at every turn. Merv Hughes, moustache greying these days and a gentler figure with no Graeme Hick around to enrage him, pointed out that Australia only get to play at Lord’s once every four years. But then the same applies to pretty well everyone else, so no cigar for Merv.

A tour party of wide-eyed Australian fans dutifully followed a guide around, lapping up every historical nugget. “The thing about the Nursery End, madam…” said the green-jacketed MCC sage, before telling her the thing about the Nursery End – and madam could not get enough of it.

The sense of wonder extended to the players. Peter Siddle, Australia’s interview nominee for the day, declared that his two dreams as a child were to play in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne (he was born in nearby Traralgon) and an Ashes Test at Lord’s. Encouraged by an Australian reporter to explain his feelings upon seeing the old place for the first time, he duly trotted out all the hyperbolic adjectives. And it looked as if he meant it too.

Of course, Australia’s ingrained desire to stick one over the Poms is amplified at Lord’s, with its pomp and circumstance – not to mention the fabled honours board which triggers the Australians’ acute sense of competition and history (a subject that seems to encumber the English instead of inspiring them). But, again, you could hardly argue Australia try less hard elsewhere.

Perhaps Ricky Ponting came closest to the truth yesterday when he told Australian journalists that their record at Lord’s has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, both for Australia and England. The more Australia win, the more they expect to – and the more England expect to have their noses rubbed in it.

Something similar applies in reverse to The Oval, where Australia have won only twice since 1948. But The Oval has always been the final venue of an Ashes series, whereas Lord’s – traditionally the second Test – greets a fit and fresh touring side. By the time they reach The Oval, thoughts are turning to home. Thoughts today are turning to a more potent kind of home: the home away from home that threatens to send Australia to Edgbaston with the series lead they already deserve.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 1 Comment »

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