The rain came to England’s aid on Monday as they managed to survive the loss of early second innings wickets to draw the match and retain the Ashes by virtue of being 2-0 up in the series with only 2 Tests to play.
The game itself was a strange one. The pitch was an absolute belter to bat on and Australia did what they needed to do to have any chance of winning the game – win the toss. They piled on over 500 runs against an unusually flaccid and expensive England attack. Michael Clarke hit a brilliant 180 and Rogers and Smith helped build an effective partnerships with him. If Australia have any chance of winning a Test match against this England side, Clarke has to score big and it’s slightly ominous that he’s found some form.
England stuttered slightly at 50-3 and then 110 -4 before KP hit a splendid century. I was at Day 3 of the Test Match and watching him pull various short balls is one of the finest sights in sport – it makes me drool just thinking about it. England decided before they went out to bat that they weren’t going to win the game and set about not trying not to lose the match. They got up to a respectable 370 odd and crucially avoided the follow-on. Bell and KP playing some sublime, chanceless cricket until Bell was unlucky with one which jagged back off the pitch and KP was wrongly given out after hitting the ball. Prior and the tale ensured we avoided the follow on.
Australia’s second innings was obviously a rushed affair with Monday’s weather forecast on their minds; but I cannot understand Michael Clarke’s thinking. Australia had to win the game to stand any chance of winning the Ashes back from us. He continued to bat into the evening session with a lead over 300. Most teams will not admit to paying any attention to the weather forecast, but the way England batted at little over 2 runs an over in their first innings – suggests they knew that avoiding the follow on would save the game. Clarke knew the forecast was dire for Monday and in a game he simply had to win, he concentrated on batting England out of the game. His declaration was even forced when bad light stopped play late on Sunday. Clarke was livid with the umpires for stopping the game, but I cannot fathom setting this England side over 300 to win.
Setting England 250 or maybe 270 at a push would have been a challenge and for Clarke to ensure he didn’t lose the game before winning it is madness. Maybe he was pre-occupied by not captaining his side to 7 straight Test defeats for the first time in 125 years.
Australia had England 3 down for not a lot in the morning session but a win never looked likely as it was so obvious the day was going to be a wash out. Australia may point to the weather denying them the chance to keep the series alive – I’d point to the fact that they only ever had a chance by making England enforce the follow on or setting a low score for England to chase – in the end they did neither and ended up whingeing about the weather.
So the rest of the series seems to be a contest again. Australia will look to win at least one Test which will give them a boost going into the winter series. England will look for the draw which secures them the series and hope to nick a win. I’m okay with this. Some people moan about England’s ‘negative’ tactics – Christ people are moaning about time-wasting etc saying it’s not a great way to win the Ashes. To me it’s a sign of how far we come as a cricketing nation in the last 15 years that people can moan about the method employed to win the Ashes. Madness.
I’d finally like to comment on the media’s desire to see the contest come alive and some of the good will and sympathy coming from sections of the public to the previously hapless Aussies. Stop it. The Aussies lauded it over us for us about how useless we were. An Aussie newspaper ran with ‘Can anyone in England actually play cricket?’ on their FRONT page in 2002. Can you imagine that happening here? I hope we smash them every time we play them. England has only ever won three Ashes series in a row TWICE in nearly 125 years (and one of those didn’t count because of Packer). Enjoy it. We’ve been in second gear all series and we’re still 2-0 up. It riles me that in this country we can’t celebrate a team’s dominance. The media are quick to tear into our teams when they under-perform yet we’re currently in possession of an Urn which we went 21 years without.
I’m enjoying it – so should you.
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