August 2009
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Lawrence Booth: Cook and Bopara must turn back time

August 5th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

Four years ago Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara may have wondered whether the Australians were all they were cracked up to be. On a balmy day in Chelmsford the two 20-year-olds added 270 for the second wicket as Essex piled up over 500 runs in a day against an attack containing Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Shaun Tait, Stuart MacGill and Michael Kasprowicz. Now – older, supposedly wiser, and against an Aussie attack of less obvious threat – they look like two weak links in a tenuous batting order. It was not supposed to be this way.

So far their joint Ashes 2009 contribution of one half-century in 10 innings has just about been glossed over by the excellence of Andrew Strauss, the doggedness of Paul Collingwood, the panache of Matt Prior and the sporadic outbursts of the lower order. But there will surely come a moment in the remaining two Tests where either Cook (143 runs at 28 so far) or Bopara (104 at 20 – five runs adrift of Jimmy Anderson’s series average) will have to start resembling top-three batsmen.

Cook’s one innings of substance – 95 on the first day at Lord’s – told us little except he could flog dreadful bowling. But his dismissal in that knock was one of three consecutive lbws as he lost his balance. This is a flaw so old it was supposed to be history: since falling leg-before in eight Test innings out of 14 in 2007, Cook had been trapped in front only twice in 36 innings going into the Ashes.

Of equal concern, his demise at Edgbaston – driving loosely at a full-length delivery outside off – recalled his struggles down under in 2006-07. Technical failings can lead to a loss of confidence, which in turns can undermine technique. Whether the three-day gap between the Edgbaston and Headingley Tests is enough time for to emerge from a potentially vicious circle remains to be seen.

Bopara’s plight seems less technical than temperamental. He was duped by a slower ball on the first morning of the series at Cardiff, then aimed absent-mindedly across his front pad early on the fourth afternoon. The ball would have gone over the top – Rudi Koertzen was the umpire after all – but the stroke betrayed a casual mind: the percentages had not been calculated.

Since then Bopara has made three starts without passing 27 and fallen to a loose stroke on each occasion. It’s the kind of batting which cost Ian Bell his place in the first place. (Bell, incidentally, has been unfairly maligned for making 53 in his comeback innings. Sure, he was lbw on 18: that’s called luck. But to reach fifty under the harshest of spotlights made you wonder about that alleged mental frailty.)

Bopara will probably go on to have a long and successful England career. Those three straight hundreds against West Indies – while containing moments of outrageous fortune themselves – were no flukes. But for the moment it seems that one of Shane Warne’s scattergun bullets has finally hit the mark: Bopara needs to think less about the means, more about the end.

For the time being, it’s tempting to think back to the moment, eight years ago, when Steve Waugh looked down from the Australian team coach to see Usman Afzaal arrive for his Test debut at Edgbaston driving an open-top sports car and wearing shades. Waugh quietly shook his head. Bopara’s task now is to convince Australians he belongs to a different tradition.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Guardian

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes | 2 Comments »

Edward Craig: If Cardus were a blogger

August 5th, 2009 by Edward Craig in England, Test cricket, The Ashes

Back in 1968 Neville Cardus, the most lyrical of all cricket writers, was not able to blog. So here’s his chance. This extract, taken from The Cricketer, May 17, 1968, seemed particularly relevant to today’s Ashes sides – in particular Phillip Hughes, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Broad and Ravi Bopara …

“Whenever an Australian team comes to England, or, for that matter, whenever an England team goes overseas, my ironic appetite is always stimulated by the thought, nay, the certainty, that at least one reputation will suffer eclipse, at least one individual Great Hope will be blighted.

Perhaps the most astonishing of all such “flops” was that of Surrey’s “Bill” Lockwood, regarded by Ranjitsinhji as the most dangerous of all fast bowlers. In the English season of 1893 he took 14 Australian wickets in two Test matches; but when picked for AE Stoddart’s contingent to invade Australia, 1894–95, Lockwood’s Test match performances told of nothing so much as sweat, toil and empurpled language – 124 overs and 5 balls, 31 maidens, 340 runs, 5 wickets …

Still, it’s better to have played for England, or Australia, and “flopped” than never to have played at all. Which of [Australia captain Bill] Lawry’s young men of 1968 are about to write fresh and lasting pages in the history? We all know of [Doug] Walters; we are all on tip-toe of expectation, ready to applaud his batsmanship. Given fair weather, he is pretty certain to do well over here. My own private advices from Australia are to get ready for experiences of rare delight from Paul Sheahan; he carries the special blessing and confidence of Sir Donald Bradman himself. My own personal “hunch” is for Ian Chappell, who has not yet quite realised promise; there’s time for him, he’s only 25 …”

And what happened next? Sheahan scored 303 runs at 30.30 in seven matches against England in England; Walters 745 runs at 25.68 in 18 – famously never making a hundred in this country; Chappell 1111 at 46.29 in 14. None of them scored a hundred in 1968. Sheahan only played 31 Tests, retiring to become a teacher and never fulfilling early promise.

The way this series is turning out, Cardus would have loved it.

This Cardus extract appears in The Wisden Cricketer’s most recent publication – The Story of The Ashes, with a foreword by Christopher Martin-Jenkins and edited by TWC deputy editor Edward Craig. Buy it here

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

Jrod: Ricky Ponting, the statesman

August 5th, 2009 by Jrod in England, Test cricket, The Ashes, The media


I have never been a huge fan of Ricky Ponting the captain.  That is probably an understatement. I have said he is not a captain’s asshole, called him a hairy-armed goblin and once convinced people he had stepped down from the captaincy with a spoof post.

I am not ready to take all that back, but one thing I have noticed in England is how much of a statesman he has become. The press (on both sides of the planet) has tried to manufacture conflicts about “aura” and the “spirit of cricket”, but watching his full press conferences, and his many public utterances, he has carried himself with a fair amount of dignity.

And I never thought I would write that about Ponting when he wasn’t batting.

After the loss at Lord’s his interview with Michael Atherton was very tastefully done. Athers gave him so many chances to lay the boot into Random Rudi or Andrew Strauss’ catch, and he didn’t.

With the “aura” nonsense (I think you’ll find they lost their “aura” about the time Cameron White was picked as the No.1 spinner) he calmly asked if Strauss had been asked directly about aura, found out he had, and then waved the question away.

It was a calmness he has only acquired recently when dealing with the media. He doesn’t have it with the India press contingent, and he didn’t have it in ’05. Something has clicked with Ricky, and now he can handle digging questions without looking like he is going to jump over the table and head-butt the journalist.

There is still a fire in him, something Bilal Shafayat and the door he allegedly cracked at Edgbaston will attest to. Now it seems to be mostly contained with the contest, and not with the off-the-ground nonsense.

In the past if the crowd booed him like the English have he would have got angry. Instead he can barely mention it without a smile on his face.

I am not saying he is suddenly a cuddly teddy bear (he does have the arms for it) that I would happily ask if Australia is only losing because he is a rubbish captain. But even if I did he would probably laugh it off, I hope.

This is the new Ponting, and there is a real reason people are calling him a pantomime villain. He isn’t a real villain at all.

Jrod is an Australian blogger, and now author. His book The Year Of The Balls 2008: A Disrespective is available now

Posted in England, Test cricket, The Ashes, The media | 3 Comments »

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