Captaincy?

I write this in what could be called ‘real time’ – that is the thoughts and views at the time, no benefit of hindsight or foresight!

The joy of watching cricket is many fold – great batting, bowling of all types, fielding in all its forms – but one overlooked is captaincy. Books and theories abound on the subject crossing over into management theory and practice but the joy of Roots captaincy yesterday and so far today cannot be overstated. His novel approach, homework, willingness to try something new or fresh is refreshing and welcome and most importantly obvious to all concerned. So far today we’ve seen a modern day leg theory revisited, rings of fielders within rings, areas of the field uninhabited and bare- so rare its exceptional. A joy to watch and savour all by itself. Let’s hope it continues. We approach drinks on day 3 Aus 5/188, two overs until the new ball and Ali into the attack. Conventional wisdom out of the window?

lunch – Ok so what do I know? Personally I would have combined spin and seam for a few overs as this worked at a similar stage for Australia but Root took the new ball and within an over Jimmy had worked his magic! Broad followed – Starc tried to knock him out of the attack – and Australia dropped anchor, back in their shell but at least the 200 came up. Lunch 7/213 Smith 81 – will Smith get his 100 before he runs out of partners or will Australia get a first innings lead- or both or neither? Just another aspect of cricket with games within games, issues to be addressed but all to play for.

Forecast for tea – England 0/60 after a first innings lead of 70 but then I have no idea and been watching cricket since the 1960s!

Drinks 7/252 Smith approaching his 100 and has found a chum in Cummins to keep him company. England second string bowling struggling a bit, doing their best but need more penetration; England slightly off the boil, Australia hanging in. Half way through in terms of time played – where will this match go?

Tea Australia 8/287 – as Manuel from Fawlty Towers would say…I know nothing, nothings! Cummins played out of his skin and comfort zone with a determined 42 taking over two hours whilst Smith just played the waiting and patience game, waiting for something to hit, put away and play on. He just loves batting but not in the Boycott sense. I’ve seen a century of rare class from a supreme batsman at the top of his game. Okay his captaincy needs a bit of work, the rest of the batsmen need to show his resilience, skills and patience – ok not everyone has all three but they can all practice patience!

Forecast for the close of play – an Australian lead on first innings and England with somewhere near 75 runs on the board but not necessarily in the lead; how many wickets down…?

But as above…I know nothing!

So at the close, Smith got his ton, Australia a lead of 26 on first innings and England looking as if they’ve never played the game before at 2/33 a lead of 7. One wonders whether the players watch the opposition when they bat? Smith was patience personified, the new ball took early wickets but then died down…so be patient, patient, patient but no! All reason went out of the head – after all the game is 90% played in the head a la Richie – so why did Cook hook when he didn’t need to? Vince was undone by the induced pressure of the situation and Root hit on the helmet. The last hour and a bit was full on, intense, hard fought test cricket in all its glory. The nearest similar situation was Holding and the WI at the Oval in the 70s…but today had a lot less physical intimidation.

So where does the game go from here? Forecast tells of an Aussie win after lunch on Day 5 but a hard fought contest nonetheless- chasing more than 250 here is not what you want especially with the brittleness of the Aussie top order but we’ve seen that the tail can wag!

And add in the support of 30,000 plus Australia fans tomorrow and England have more than 11 in the opposition to contend with!

There is a first for this Ashes match – the first played with bails that glow!

All in all so far an amazing experience, test cricket at its best and more to come.

Sample of today’s photos to follow

Honours even?

There’s a website called CrickViz which is a statistical heaven for those who want to try and assess a game of cricket using data alone. It’s not the scorers type of date but tries to forecast events. At the start of play it was forecasting the following:

England 340 and 290

Australia 310 and 200 – so an England win by 120 runs (with a probability of 43%, Australia 27%)

Based on what I saw on Day 1, that looked generous. So how did Day 2 go? The following was written at the time of each event/break so shows hopefully a contemporaneous feel but also with hindsight can show great wisdom, knowledge or I’m a complete numpty!

Australia wasted new ball early on, there was so no plan, no gumption, so England reach 4-211 after 30 mins but as I write there’s the best ball of the day so far from Hazlewood making Malan look a novice!

By the first drinks break England reach 4/234 Malan making a solid if unspectacular 50, his game against top class spinners may need some help. Lyon and Cummins are best for Australia who eventually wake up – perhaps 930 start was too early! But it’s Attritional stuff…bat Oz out of the game, tire their bowlers, traditional test cricket, slow by comparison, measured, determined which means the competing areas of Richies and the Barmy are each in full voice!

Lunch – delayed as England make 302 all out. Good comeback from Australia 6 for 70 in just over 90 mins. The England lower order is missing something! If Stokes had come to the crease at 6/249 with Bairstow- how would that have looked? Probably still batting at lunch, and beyond. Lyon bowled well – England not paying attention to him but…only one innings so far. Good play on both sides – reckon both happy England probably 40 to 50 short.

But at tea..Australia 3/76 – who saw that coming? England really fired up, on all fronts…fielding and bowling but especially Root’s captaincy. A lot of homework has been done and it seems to be paying off but one swallow doesn’t make a summers etc but there is still some way to go but an impressive start. At tea Australia trail by 226 with 38 more overs today. End of play looks like Australia close to 200 but for ? All depends on Smith and Handscomb

At Drinks 4/113 – Handscomb perished and Marsh struggled against a determined attack which kept to the plan, the exception being Chris Woakes who struggled with line and leaked runs in relative terms. Close of play looks likely to be close to 160 but for? Smith stuck to his task led from the front and quietly just got on with it. But without him, Australia will struggle.

Comparing the Captains:

Root – planned, dynamic, assertive, decisive, backed up and supported. Made Australia play the ball more, less fast stuff, bouncers etc. His batting let him down but that’s probably lack of decent match practice but he has no time to address that before the next test.

Smith – seemed to have fewer plans, no real plan B or C if plan A doesn’t, bowlers reasonably supportive but a reliance on spin and fast short pitched stuff. The pitch was not as responsive as of old to pace which perhaps blew some of his Gabba plans off course a little but his Batting is supreme…timing, approach, shot selection…clear reasons why he’s one of the worlds current best!

Close 4/165 – the forecast has moved slightly to almost equal between the two sides – each has a probability in the low 40s of winning. Going to make Day 3 and how England perform in their second innings key to success/failure. Day 3 as always could be the decisive day but there’s a forecast of showers here in Brisbane and looking out of the window at 6.30 am, the forecast could be right…we shall see.

Dream achieved – well, day one of 25!

My lifelong dream of following an Ashes tour started today with the first day of the first test of the 2017/18 Ashes at the Woolongabba, Brisbane

For the non-cricketers this is beyond words! The atmosphere and tension building up to the first ball has been developing since the last ball of the last Ashes series. For cricketers this is the ultimate goal, the ultimate test of skill and challenge with a history going back over 140 years, to times of empire and colonies, to the end of the dominance of the former and the rise of the other! One series almost brought an end to the Commonwealth with Australia threatening to leave due to (alleged) poor sportsmanship by England but hopefully this series will help enhance UK/Australian relations. There are photos of cricket and non-cricket to follow and include HM Queen in the crowd but not the cuddly Ashes!

But to the cricket…

I’d heard over the years that one aspect of cricket in Australia is that the light is clean and clear…you hear about it but until you see it, you can’t imagine it! Another area is the extra bounce in the pitch and the Gabba is supposed to the one of the fastest in the world. Well. If Australia had a plan to exploit these, then someone forgot to tell the bowlers in the morning and early afternoon- perhaps the rain break was the time to discuss the plan?

A green edged wicket appeared to offer more for the quicks at the start than the Australians delivered. In a stadium bowl setting, the pressure was palpable, the weather fair and for Brisbane (I’m told) on the cloudy and fair side resulting in a rain delay of 75 mins but play continued until darkness was about to fall.

England had a strategy of goab…go out and bat! Bat for as long as you can, bat the opposition of the game and end the match with a draw! After all the Gabbatoir hasn’t seen an Aussie loss in 28 years!

There are unproven players on both sides – points to prove, today and later! Cook looked unsettled. Others need to prove their worth and take their chance. Stoneman and Vince at one stage evoked memories of Boycott, Tavare and Trott but none of those tended to be sloppy and assume a run was there – coasting in my mind. And it gave Australia a crack to expose and exploit. But with Ali and Malan still there…there is hope. Malan was lucky against Lyon but needs to prove his worth in the side

The Atmosphere first ball was indescribable and exciting beyond words but it’s more than just one ball. Today at 4-196 England did well after an early shock, recovered well but one wicket due to sloppiness became two and then, the cracks were exploited – not a day of high drama and scoring, in part one of attrition, in part an excellent comeback.

All to play for tomorrow but favours the hosts – England were too slow at times and when a crack appeared, fell down it – less than 200 when the new ball is taken, England will do well to make 400 especially as the lower middle order is Stokesless…we shall see but what do I know?

Leaving on a jet plane…

My bags are (almost) packed, I’m (almost) ready to go…

After a short interlude of what the Royal Family euphemistically call a ‘chill’, am back to full fitness and health and starting to concentrate on the Ashes and Australia.

By this time next week we should be starting to understand who holds the advantage in the First test – this assumes that we have had some decent play by that time; the forecasts I’ve seen talk of rain interruptions during/throughout the match so will swing and seam in overcast conditions come into play or will bowling with a wet ball and slow outfield, but it’s not going to be an English ball! (I know by this stage some of my non-cricketing followers haven’t a clue of what I’m talking about!).

So…will the weather help decide the team make-up?

Probably not – the England side (for once, now that the selection and other issues have been put to one side) should choose itself – Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root, Malan, Stokes, Ali, Woakes, Overton, Broad and Anderson – and could well be settled for the rest of the series subject to injuries, loss of form or complete catastrophic team performance etc; so have decided not to pack my whites! I would be more use offering advice from sitting in the Pavilion!

And so to Australian¬† squad…some old, some new, some borrowed (from England)…

I think it will all come down to the bowling not only at the Gabba but across the series- the batting for both sides centres on three/four players of class/quality (Cook, Root, Bairstow, Smith, Warner, Khawaja) so things look pretty even. The odds are that one on each side would fail, but the other two will succeed – and who knows, this could be the start or reboot of a glittering career for someone! I recall the family debates about taking Cook on the 2010/11 tour after a poor home season…how wrong others can be!

And the bowling? Australia are difficult to beat at home in the main due to their bowling across all types and the challenge other sides find in adapting to conditions. In times gone by when tours lasted six months, this was not such an issue but nowadays with five tests in 50 days and tour matches of dubious quality and value…

And when it comes to individuals England are dependent on Broad and Anderson and Ali as the infamous ‘second choice’ spinner. All of Australia know how to wind up Broad (ok he did take 8 for 15 against them at Trent Bridge when they last met), Anderson despite the spin doctors is not as good overseas as at home could be on a tour ‘too far’. The future without these two looks promising – Woakes, Finn, Overton, Ball, Plunkett, Porter etc – but as above promise needs to be converted into reality.

Unless of course a certain B Stokes is able to travel to Australia and the Australian fans, media and team don’t press his buttons and he gets suspended (after all he’s one demerit point away from suspension). If he does arrive and can overcome all the adversity and show more maturity than he has to date, then the enticing balance of all the above is skewed towards England.

Experts claim that a side making over 400 in the first innings in each test stands a good chance of winning (stating the obvious I know) but this does have more than a grain of truth. After all, as the great Richie used to say, 90% of the game is played in the mind – imagine spending two days fielding in hot conditions, your bowling trashed and the ball having to be retrieved from the boundary time after time and then having to bat and bat to just get back into the game but with 40,000 Australians (at least) baying for your blood, 400 runs just to get back on equal terms is a very long way away! So a good batting performance is essential – I know this is in the Basil Fawlty ‘bleeding obvious’ category – but the side with the most runs wins the game!

At Brisbane, bat first and score as many as you can before the rain comes and squeeze out/survive for a draw; at Adelaide, make the most of the day/night game pink ball and swinging/seaming in the gloaming; at Perth make the most of the fastest pitch in test cricket (for the last time) – and you approach the last two games in a reasonable state or if things have gone so one sided as we have seen, the Ashes have been decided in 15 days play! But let’s hope for a good series, played hard on both sides on the field and cricket is the winner.

So just the packing to finish, check in on line, get to the airport, travel for 24 hours non-stop, arrive in Brisbane early morning – hours before I can check into my hotel – adjust the body (clock and all) and Ashes here I come!

If you’ve read this far, well done – my intention is at least a daily blog from each game, perhaps even session by session for the more UK time friendly matches and even a few photos-and not all cricket related as it seems there’s a lot more to Oz than just cricket!