Now we need to take 21!

Drinks on Day 1 afternoon 1/131 Warner 100 Khwaja 4 but in the last over Curran had Warner caught by Broad only to have him called back for a no ball! So now we need to take 21 wickets!

Up to that point it had been slow accumulation after lunch. Woakes bowled a lot better but the whole team approach seems off – they give the impression they would rather be somewhere else and on top of that the bowling is still in Christmas mode gifting so much to the batsmen.

Forecast for tea 1/175

Tea 2/145 Smith 5 Khawaja 10 – slow going all round as the bowlers start to take a grip and batsmen start on their innings. Overall not particularly sparkling session but marginally England’s as they took two wickets (three in reality) but another 36 overs to be bowled. One day someone will do something about over rates, we don’t need all the time wasting and conferences and discussions and meaningless drinks breaks, just get on with it!

Anyway, forecast for next drinks break 3/200.

Is today rubbish collection day?

Toss won by Australia- first this series. Pitch looks brown dry flat and no hint of green, should bat well for days 1-3 but I suspect will take spin later. One change for Australia as announced already.

Expect Australia to bat and bat so long Day(s) in the field for England. Forecast for drinks 0/54.

Drinks 0/37 Warner 30 Bancroft 7. Australia went off like an express train for the first 20 minutes then some tighter but not penetrating bowling from Broad and Anderson over 4 and a bit consecutive maidens has slowed the pace. The ground is allegedly sold out – all 91,000 – but so far only 60,000 have turned up! So where we the rest? Seems like the cheap seats A$30 – £18 – and up in the ‘nosebleeds’ are not being taken up. Such ticket prices are unknown in England!

Forecast for lunch 0/95.

Lunch 0/102 Warner 83 Bancroft 19. Thank someone that Bancroft is slightly off form or out of touch otherwise it would have been carnage! I’ve watched England over many years and seen some rubbish play over that time but today is gold standard rubbish! Bowling as per the rest of the series, fielding plans change every ball – as England are following the ball- if you have a plan then stick to it. There’s so much overthinking going on it’s hurting my brain from 100m away!

England don’t look like taking one wicket let alone 20 (they’ve only taken 37 out of a possible 60 so far this series). I just don’t know what to say. What I can say is how impressed I am with Tom Curran on his debut, good start and not fazed by the occasion – the one thing to cheer at lunch.

I got some ‘happy’ socks as a Christmas present and I was hoping they’d be ‘lucky England’ socks and I’d have to wear them every day- perhaps they become happy in the afternoon?

Forecast for drinks 0/155 as I can’t see where England are going to get a wicket from unless someone’s taking out the rubbish at lunch?

Omg…am at the MCG!

There’s the possibility of regular blogs through the day (or night if you’re in the UK/Canada etc) as there’s free Wi-fi here. However suspect that when 90,999 others log on as well, the band width may collapse!

Membership of the MCC – Melbourne Cricket Club not the ‘original’ – is seemingly more exclusive than that in NW8 and from the affluent folk in the boxes behind its clear that cricketing knowledge is not a key to entry! ‘Nufff said!

Am behind first slip at this end (members end I suppose) and in the shade, my seat is cushioned, has drinks holder and two TVs in case I miss the action. This really is something else! Tomorrow I’m at the other side of the ground so am going to make the most of today! No news of toss or teams yet – Ali could be a doubt for England is the overnight news but more to follow…

MCG – the Boxing Day test

If you’re someone who’s not too keen on Christmas with the cold weather, short days and long nights, constant eating and drinking, then get yourself to Australia! Christmas Day here has been like a very busy August Bank Holiday Monday in the UK except that the shops are shut! There are thousands of people here in Melbourne getting out and about in the summer sunshine, restaurants are booked solid for the Aussie version of Christmas lunch or just eating, some are having picnics or barbies in parks or beside the river…it’s just so weird and odd compared to all those that I’ve had so far. And also there’s the mouthwatering prospect of the Boxing Day test at the MCG – an experience I can’t wait to have!

This shark at the Melbourne sea life centre is called Mitchell (reasons were not given) but whilst it’s lost a few teeth from its extended nose, it’s just as fierce-some as Mitchell Starc, who, for one will not be on the field for Australia tomorrow. Neither will Craig Overton who’s done so well with a cracked rib in his two tests – best batsman at Adelaide best bowler in Perth. His place goes to Tom Curran who wasn’t in the original team selection. We’ve heard nothing more from England as to any other changes.

In the last week we’ve had Stoneman claiming there’s little or nothing between the two sides, Anderson claiming that the Australian second string bowling is no good and, heaven forfend, Atherton writing about short pitched bowling to tail enders being unfair- all hype from England and from Australia…nothing, let’s just carry on to make it 4-0.

And that’s what I think it will be, there’s some prospect of rain later in the game but probably not enough to save England. Nets and practice between the tests are fine, but nothing compares to time in the middle and the agreed tour schedule did not allow for this. And with the final test starting late next week….then…

I fear that until things change in the England camp, then we are just repeating what we’ve seen already and one enforced change is not enough but where are and who are the next cabs off the block ready to take over? I fear it may be best to wait until Pakistan visit in the early summer to do this. The team dynamic is so fragile at the moment, wholesale changes would just add to the spinning out of control.

One area where England lead 3-0 is the toss and Smith is notorious at losing the toss but his luck must change soon…and when it does, I can see Australia batting and batting and batting and putting England to the sword.

So all doom and gloom for England or just reality? I think the latter and I did resign myself to a 5-0 loss even before the wheels went up at Heathrow which seems to me, a long time ago. One other aspect we can console ourselves with is that Steve Smiths mum is English and we can take some credit for that and under the new rules here in Australia he can’t stand for Parliament!

One other interesting sight today is shown below…those who remember Rod Marsh the great Aussie keeper who went by the nickname Bacchus due to his love of things alcoholic, so to see a coach company named Bacchus Marsh doesn’t fill me with confidence about the driver, but I reckon the passengers would have a good time. ‘As live’ blogs again from tomorrow.

The king and the queen

I’ve picked up a few Aussie phrases and sayings which we don’t usually hear in the UK or associate with Australia – some are what we would regard as politically incorrect and others too rude to go into print but there’s a lovely rhyme to utter as a oath when you’re finding things exasperating!

So “**** said the king as a thousand…” and as to what the queen and the page boy get up to would force this site to close! I imagine there’s a lot of exasperation being expressed not only in the England team here, but also in NW8 as well as the written and social media!

Exasperation in that in September the hopes were so high after the English season, then the wheels on the bus started to come loose. There’s been more than enough written and speculated about the night time goings on in Bristol I won’t add to it, team selection was not well received and fitness issues plagued the tour before the squad left and since they arrived. Add to that more off field antics and basically England offered Australia all the buttons they could ever need to press to get under the skin and into the minds of the team. As often said cricket is 90% mental and 10% skill and what did we do to stop the bandwagon rolling ever faster downhill? But I think this underlined the management skills of the touring team but also that of the ECB not only here and now but also strategically over a long period.

Ive long admired and subscribed to Sky’s cricket coverage and understand that TV rights fundamentally fund the game across the globe but having seen the alternative approach here in Oz of free to air, I’m coming to the conclusion that the ECB got it wrong in terms of strategy but just chased the cash. No terrestrial or free to air TV organisation in the UK is going to touch cricket coverage – the BBC lost it in the 1990s when they treated it as something to fill the time before they moved to cooking, property and antiques programmes, C4 did well and refreshed it but did not have the appetite so I think we’re left with subscription and Sky/BT. The door has been slammed shut and the horse bolted years ago. Bringing T20 back in limited form to the BBC in 2020 is a start but not the whole solution. Here in Oz, it’s free to air but with adverts at the end of each over. I’ve not sat and watched it but have listened to the commentary and between over ads and you do get used to it, eventually!

There’s also marketing and the place of the game in the Australian psyche but that’s probably another blog.

So losing the Ashes is not the end of the world although it feels like it to some. The urn has metaphorically changed hands many times since 1882 and will do so again but this needs to be put into context. Or more accurately – money! Ashes series are economically important for both countries and will always be sell outs at the ground and generates cash like you won’t believe, so until the punter stops paying it will continue, but why would the punter stop paying ? Series in each country have favoured the home team in recent times so the urn swap is becoming almost certain and common place. Even when the away team wins it just generates more interest for the next time. So there’s always this in the background. Does it matter that one team plays poorly – 100,000 of us will turn up at the MCG this time next week to watch people playing for pride- and generating A$5m in ticket sales per day alone!

What am I trying to say? Ashes tests help keep the game going and spur interest I suspect more in Australia among the young than in the UK. But does the quality of the play matter? Of course it does…losing badly any time is damaging to national pride, so much so that I’m telling the locals here that I’ve come over to go round the Neighbours set but have got lost!

So why the poor quality from England? And why so good for Australia? Well there’s team dynamics for a start which I’ve blogged about already but also the strategic approach to the game. In England test match cricket whilst a nice little earner for the ECB is not regarded as the pinnacle by some in the ECB – all efforts being focussed on the one day and T20 game. It’s a stated aim to win the 50 over World Cup in England in 2019, almost to the exclusion of all else and so what if the test team does badly . The punter in England will still pay up! But shouldn’t interest in one format generate interest in others? I can see what the ECB are trying to do in raising the T20 profile to have two tournaments per season from 2020 but isn’t that killing the goose that’s laying the golden egg? How much can the public take or is one tournament going to turn into drinking competitions among spectators more than it is now? Ok, T20 generates cash for the counties which means for old f**ts like me I don’t pay so much for the other county games. I’m happy with that but I feel that the balance is skewed too much so that the longer game has become marginalised and unavailable to the test punters of the future to help cut their teeth on.

And is this having an effect on the performance at test level that counties are solely concentrating on the one day game to the exclusion of the longer game – I know one county where this is that agreed internal strategy! Non-cricket readers may be perplexed – cricket is cricket isn’t it? No…it’s like comparing a hamburger to fine dining – both will feed you but one can be devoured anywhere, the other takes time to savour, enjoy and digest!

And the techniques in each format are different and difficult to expunge from one format to another- hence the occasional T20 type approach seen in tests and county games but it’s becoming more than occasional. The lack of patience shown by the English batsmen compared to the Australians is noticeable in the extreme in this series – and that’s just one aspect. What’s to be done and will anything be done to restore the test side to glory in the format of the English game?

Personally I think there’s room for all formats but the balance needs to be better – only one T20 is needed, so decide which one, and keep the length short, bring the county game into midsummer and away from the cold of the spring and autumn – after all who ever heard of a spinner doing well in the cold April days in Derby but where always ripping through sides on the dust bowls in August – thats when they learn their trade and develop – hence our cupboard is bare! Getting batsmen used to building an innings, learn the patience that Smith shows by the bucket full, get bowlers on all types of wickets, build up their strength to be able to bowl really fast and I mean fast…like the Aussies or…we shall be uttering more oaths about the king and feel just like the the queen after her discussions with the page boy!

Thanks…

Firstly many thanks for reading my blog – so far there have been 691 views – that’s more runs than Australia scored here at the WACA! I’m amazed that anyone is interested in my ramblings and jottings but I suspect it’s more for the tourist photos and overall experience I’m having that get people reading (some may also be reading this to check on my sanity and well being) rather than my expert(?) knowledge of cricket but if you are finding my cricketing insight interesting then I’m very flattered.

Thanks to all those doing rain dances back in the UK and elsewhere as they seem to be working – the start has been delayed by some really nasty short downpours which can only help England’s cause by taking time out of the game. The forecast however is for the rain to pass through and a few showers can be expected later. The weather has been so un-Australian so far -Brisbane a lot less tropical than I thought, Adelaide freezing cold during the day/night match and Perth cooler than forecast and wet! Umbrellas are not allowed into the ground (but trombones are?) so my wet weather wear consists of a plastic poncho which I managed to trap myself in yesterday when it rained much to the amusement of the Aussies in the crowd behind me! T-Shirts, shirts, pullovers and jackets are the order of the day!

Thanks to Cook, Broad and Anderson or so the Aussie press would have us believe this morning – they have really gone to town on how poor these three senior players have been this tour, suggesting that it’s time for Broad to definitely go, Cook to go at the end of the series and Anderson soon after. One article even suggests dropping Cook for the Melbourne test but the question as to who replaces him was left unanswered, just as to who are the fast bowling stars of the future was also left open. What is pleasing about the Aussie papers is that they have the sport on the back page…oh what joy!

Thanks to the WACA for all the exciting tests over the years even though England and other visitors have not found it to their liking, the mantle of the fastest pitch in cricket now passes to…Bridgetown or how about the glazed top that is Sabina Park? One think I do like about the WACA is that in the rain break, the sound system plays ‘ Singing in the rain’ – not quite sure how that would go down in NW8! And records galore falling in this test and others…including the highest Australian score in Ashes tests in Australia and I’m here to see it!

Thanks to the umpires who are insisting that the wet patches on the pitch dry before play can begin- in other words, the pitch must be the same as it was at 5pm yesterday. Seems that the covers may not have been as effective as they should have been.

So in the absence of any cricket to report, here’s my half-way assessment of the teams:

England

Stoneman – the most confident of the openers we have tried to find to partner Cook and is starting to look like a Test cricketer. Challenge will be who opens with him next summer?

Cook – tragic loss of form all tour, technique needs adjusting (where’s Gooch to help him?), has the power to come good again. Would not write him off, he will know when it’s time to go.

Vince – silly run out at Brisbane when well set for a century which would cement his place, and an unplayable ball here from Starc. Needs to be more game ‘aware’ and rotate strike but has the makings of a fine #3 and I would be delighted for my previous thoughts to be corrected!

Root – captaincy is affecting his batting, he needs to learn some man-management techniques to control Anderson and Broad (probably in equal measure) as they seem to be in charge when in the field but not taking any responsibility. Tactics in first innings at Brisbane were a delight to watch. He will come good but needs more time; one day he’ll come to enjoy management.

Malan – ok, thought he was flattering to deceive earlier in the tour but I think his century here can be the making of him. Cover drives exquisite but not in the Gower or Cowdrey class. Can be used as a legged a bit more – Smith rates him as the best spinner in this England side.

Bairstow – goes from strength to strength, at present the best batsman we have. Personally I’d like to see him as a batsman only and pass the gloves to Foakes who is a better keeper.

Ali – who? Where’s he been?

Woakes – learning how to bowl on Aussie pitches in tests! The tour schedule needs looking at to provide the proper preparation- Strauss team of 2010/11 insisted on it, so why not now? Needs to step up but early days.

Overton – brave and committed beyond belief, playing with cracked ribs. We need more of his ilk, England’s best bowler and can bat too! Could be on track one day for the freedom of Taunton!

Broad – enough said already. Even the Aussies see him as arrogant and full of himself. The boos he receives for poor sportsmanship are now changing to signs of sadness as his career ends.

Anderson – ego the size of planets, difficult as can be seen from the boundary to manage, good verging on excellent in parts but, as I’ve thought for sometime, a tour too far.

Ball – not sure why he played in Brisbane, could get a game at Melbourne or Sydney but then so could I!

Australia

Warner – yet to shine. Has got starts but hasn’t really motored. Impressive in Brisbane but that may just be a starter for 10

Bancroft – good start to his test career and impressive in Brisbane. Another big score seems inevitable

Khawaja- playing for his place after Brisbane but now better. Seems like a solid #3 to drop anchor whilst all the others play around him.

Smith – extraordinary, classical patient builder of centuries and leading his side by example and they all follow.

Marsh S – steady performances with good scores. Capable #5

Marsh M – burst onto the scene in this match (ok, he’s played 21 other tests) but on first glance looks to have nailed his place and, oh, he’s also handy with the ball

Handscomb – suspect technique he tried to change mid-innings. The only one player England can be sure of dismissing for a low score, so he’s dropped!

Paine – brave choice as keeper who has been under the radar in this series – the sign of a good keeper, can also bat!

Cummins – does not get the praise he deserves. Unsung member of the fast bowling night triumvirate and also very handy lower order batsman. You know Australia will not collapse like England do.

Starc – impressive, knows what to do and when. Ball of the series at least to dismiss Vince here. Would get most top class players out 99 times out of a hundred

Lyon – spin maestro and always in the game. His run out of Vince at Brisbane brought England down, dismissing a Malan here also, spectacular caught and bowled in Adelaide and bemusing all the English left handers. Known as Gary (no idea why) and Goat – greatest of all time.

Hazlewood – due for a string of wickets on top of what he’s got already. Will bowl all day and probably all night if asked!

More rain and an early lunch but should get play this arvo. Every drop of rain cheered by large English contingent – in what other game would people sit and wait and cheer bad weather? Reckon we must be bonkers, but then in Australia that wouldn’t be unusual

Play will now start at 1pm local – three hours later than planned but at least they’ve had lunch! 70 overs to be bowled today before play ends at 6pm. First session is just over two hours but there will be a Drinks break. So what’s the forecast? England 6/184

Drinks 6/172 Malan 47 and Ali out for 11 poor batting. Bairstow got a ripper first ball and Ali lucky to survive a disputed catch. England on slippery slope to defeat. Tea if we get there 8/220

Well we didn’t get to tea as we collapsed to 218 so and lost by an innings and 41 losing six wickets today in just under three hours for 86. I haven’t checked but I bet the Aussies don’t collapse like that! Anderson was hit on the helmet just before the end (giving me enough time to eat my ice cream) so he will need checking out before the next test next week. The ashes are now back in Australian hands but as I reminded the Aussies sitting near me, they’re only on loan!

At the moment, it’s not the time for reflection on where England go next or how good this Australia team can be; it’s time to thank Smith for his excellent batting, Hazlewood for his bowling and the WACA for 47 years of test cricket or as the Aussie art student standing next to me said “I haven’t been to the WACA since 1982 and saw Lillee, Thomson and a streaker, so I thought I’d better come down and thank the old girl’