Saturday, December 30, 2006

No mercy as Austrlia bash their opponents all around the ring and the referee can't intervene to stop the fight

If it was a prize fight the referee would have stepped in long ago to save England from further punishment – perhaps as early as the end of the second round in Adelaide when they all looked shaky on their legs and eventually dead on their feet on the fifth day. The great Muhammad Ali used to dance around and taunt his opponents before he administered the coup de grĂ¢ce – perhaps feeling that the audience who had paid their money were entitled to a prolonged exhibition.

Ricky Ponting might have been in Ali’s mood when he failed to enforce the follow on in Brisbane and scored a quite unnecessary extra 202 runs for 1 run out in the second innings – he could probably have forfeited that innings completely if he had wanted to - as the eventual margin of 277 runs demonstrated. But Justin Langer helped himself to a hundred (having missed out by 18 in Australia’s first innings) and there was a century in the match for the Aussie captain as well. Mike Hussey also just missed a ton in the First innings but one suspects that having kicked himself for his error back in the dressing room he reasoned quite understandably that there would be more rich pickings ahead. It was help-yourself time for the bowlers as well and Glenn McGrath eased himself back with a gentle seven wicket limber up in the match. Warney wasn’t really needed in England’s first innings but he tweaked a few past the bat and, despite conceding a few runs, looked good as he took four in the second innings. Stuart Clark did the holding job and helped himself to four scalps without giving away many runs.

At Adelaide the match meandered along for four days with there not being much between the sides on the flattest of pitches. Ponting took another comfortable hundred off the England attack, as did Michael Clarke and again the dressing room door shuddered as the formidable Hussey just missed a hundred again – this time by nine runs in the first innings. Warney slept his way through the EnglandEngland batters into a false sense of security. There was no security at all as it turned out as like a gambler whose reason has left him completely they piled the chips on the wrong numbers throughout the final day to lose a match which it was impossible to lose. It was perhaps the most incompetent batting ever seen in a Test match, but take nothing away from Australia - it was their self-belief and the way they instilled fear in their opponents that deservedly won them the match. first knock – but the concession of 167 runs for just one wicket may have been a smart move lulling the

At Perth Hussey missed out on a hundred that was there for the taking yet again in the Oz first innings when he ran out of partners on 74. Perhaps the modest Australian total of 244 was a deliberate ploy to fire up the bowling attack – if so it worked as England were swept away in their first innings and failed to get the first innings lead that even some Aussie gamblers were punting on. The bowlers shared the wickets – even the improbably selected Andrew Symonds took a couple to celebrate his recall to the side after the withdrawal of Damien Martyn (who had perhaps decided that he had tired of the sight of blood). In the Aussie second innings this time Hussey made no mistake and carved and drove his way to a calm hundred and he was joined by Clarke who improved his average further with another hundred (not out this time). Perhaps the league against cruel sports were off duty later in the day when Adam Gilchrist went completly mad scoring 102 off 59 balls to take the game completely away from England (if that had not happened already). As at Brisbane England batted better in the second innings, but again as at Brisbane the writing was already on the wall. Warne stretched himself a bit with four wickets (five if you include the way that the bemused Geraint Jones committed suicide rather than face more punishment at Warne’s hands).

And so to Melbourne where the chat in the Aussie dressing room must have been about whose turn it was to score a hundred. Few would have argued when Hayden put his hand up but there may have been a few sighs when Andrew Symonds said that it was high time he got a hundred as well and now was as good a chance as he would ever get. The rest of the batsmen took the day off as these two helped themselves to 309 runs between them out of Australia’s total of 419. So the first seven in the batting order at Sydney have already scored at least one hundred each earlier in the series – I suspect that this may be a record but I can’t really be arsed to wade through Wisden and check! Oh and England managed to be out twice for well under 200 for the third and fourth times in the series and lose by an innings. Pedants like me (who fail to acknowledge that the knockabout exhibition match against a “World XI” in October 2005 was a proper Test match) will be pleased to recall that Warney’s 700th wicket came with his last in England’s second innings and not as he thought his first in England’s first. But what the hell the boy done great again as did his back up crew all of who chipped in with wickets when needed.

And so to Sydney – a round too far in this Ashes “no contest”. Surprises do happen in cricket (how could this Aussie team have nearly lost a Test match to Bangladesh only nine months ago?) but England aren’t on the ropes, they are down and out, gasping for breath and wanting to get the hell out of the ring. Well it’s Warney’s turn for a hundred and that would make it eight in the team who have at least one in this series. I wouldn’t put it past the old thespian to make his last tread on the boards an Oscar winning and nail-biting ton. For England there is talk of playing for pride, but pride usually goes before the fall not after. Getting up off the canvas in order to be hit down again will be an achievement in itself. It can’t be much fun – as Orson Welles once said “When you are down and out something always turns up - and it is usually the noses of your friends.”

© Paddy Briggs December 2006