Sunday, December 19, 2010

WACA still proves too tough for England

The WACA is the venue that packs an onomatopoeic punch, and England, in keeping with their terrible record at the ground, were whacked out of sight this week, good and proper. One victory in 12 visits is how their statistics now read, after a performance that might feel entirely familiar to the cricket-watching fraternity in Perth, but seems totally at odds with the confidence and expectation levels that England harboured coming into the contest.

Maybe this match will spark an Australian attack into life, or could this work the other way in helping the tourists focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about victory ‘sprinkler’ dances, undefeated series and what they are doing after the Ashes is complete. Australia approached this match with much more hunger than England, and this was showed with the bowling attacks relentless push for wickets, with a swinging and non-swinging ball. Mitchell Johnson showed his class with a spell some are calling one of the best in an Ashes series, yet his nature at the crease during the first innings was too just as much a bigger thorn in the England’s pursuit of victory.

But the very fact that England couldn't pick themselves up off the canvas suggested that they were unprepared for the chinning they received in this Test. Instead they crashed to their sixth straight defeat at the WACA, and - true to Ponting's research - their seventh sub-200 total in their last 12 innings, in which time they've exceeded 300 just once. And since their high-scoring score in 1986, which also happened to be the last time England successfully defended the Ashes in Australia, the nature of the beatings have been particularly traumatic as well.

As England showed all through the summer against Pakistan, they have a collective vulnerability against the moving ball - a trait that another of the world's best batting teams, India, showcased in damp conditions on the first day at Centurion this week. The Highveld, of course, was the scene of another of England's remarkable recent capitulations, as Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel destroyed them in Johannesburg back in January. But when the going has been good, few line-ups have been better at cashing in than England, and it's a fact that they will cling to as the intensity of the series steps up.

As England move forward to Boxing Day at Melbourne, however, there will scarcely be a backwards glance at the WACA. It's not a venue upon which England teams like to dwell.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Around The Grounds: WACA, home of swing bowling in Australia.

Established 1893

Capacity 22,000
End names Members End, Prindiville Stand End

The third instalment to our around the grounds articles takes us to the Western Australian Cricket Association Ground or the WACA [wac-ka] as known by cricket fans.

The first match played on the turf wickets took place in February 1894. However, difficulties encountered in transporting teams to Western Australia meant that the ground was not part of Australia's main cricket community for many years. Even with the building of a trans-continental railway, the trip from the eastern states still took several days. It took the introduction of scheduled flights to Western Australia to make the WACA readily accessible to interstate or overseas teams.

The WACA staged its first Test in 1970-71 and soon established a reputation for being a fast and hard track, and that continued until the last couple of years when the surface flattened out. The often intense Perth heat is famously eased in the afternoon by the Fremantle Doctor, a breeze which sweeps in from the Swan River.

From 1984 to 1988 the WACA underwent major renovations, including a complete resurfacing of the ground and the construction of new terracing and seating in the outer. Also built were the three tiered Prindiville grandstand and two tiered Lillee-Marsh grandstand, which increased the ground's seating capacity. Six large light towers were also installed in 1986 at a cost of $4.2 million, allowing for night time sports such as day-night cricket matches to be played at the ground. An icon of the WACA, the floodlights are 70 metres high and cost $600 per hour to run.

The WACA with its afternoon breeze has seen it become a happy place for Australian bowlers, with both Glenn McGrath and Merv Hughes taking hat-tricks here against the West Indies in different era’s. And with all the talk of Shane Warne’s come back to Test side [joke] this was the sight of his famous 99 runs, where his chance of making his only Test 100 was blown as he tried to sky the next ball out of the ground only to be caught.

On 13 April 2007 the Western Australian Cricket Association announced a $250m redevelopment of the stadium. Seating capacity will be increased, and residential and commercial buildings will be built in the surrounding areas. The project will be done in partnership with Ascot Capital Limited with a three to four year time frame.
WACA members gave final approval for the project in July 2010 and construction is expected to commence in March 2011.

Memorable Moments:
• Donald Bradman played at the ground for the first time and attracted a crowd in excess of 20,000 in 1932.

• South Africa’s Barry Richards while playing for South Australia compiled 356 against Western Australia in 1970/1971, the 6th highest score in Sheffield Shield history.

• Australian Andrew Hilditch was dismissed handled the ball against Pakistan in March 1979. Pakistani batsman Sikander Bakht had been Mankaded by Alan Hurst earlier in the same day to end the Pakistan second innings. Whilst at the non-striker's end, Hilditch interrupted a throw from mid-on and passed the ball to the bowler Sarfraz Nawaz, who appealed. Strictly speaking, Hilditch had broken the law and the umpire was correct to rule him out. But the appeal was against the spirit of cricket and was viewed as gamesmanship. It is the only handled the ball dismissal to occur at the non-striker's end

• Described by Wisden Cricketers' Almanack as "one of the most undignified incidents in Test history", the clash between Lillee and Pakistani batsman Javed Miandad in 1981, in which Lillee and Miandad collided with each other, after which the bowler turned and kicked Miandad from behind. Miandad lifted his bat above his head as if to strike Lillee and Lillee backed off. The umpire Tony Crafter stepped in to separate the two. Lillee was fined and suspended for two matches.

• In December 1979, on the second day of the Test Match between Australia and England, Dennis Lillee emerged onto the field carrying not the traditional willow bat, but a cricket bat made from aluminium, known as a ComBat.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Australia grabs a Beer.

Three weeks ago, the only beer anyone would have expected to see in Australia's dressing rooms was the cases of bitter provided by the sponsors on the final day. Yet this time it’s Michael Beer who has snuck into the Test side. It smells of desperation, or maybe they have listen to Warne too much. As it was he who though up the option of maybe taking a local spinner from WA, one that knows the conditions.

Michael Beer is sadly not that player. For starters he is from Melbourne, playing for Warne’s old club side St Kilda CC and has played a total of 5 first class matches with WA, with only 3 of those being at the WACA where the wind can play havoc with a drifting ball to keep it in the pocket. Maybe the selectors have seen something special from Beer, like when Peter Taylor was plucked from obscurity 24 years ago and bowled Australia to victory in an Ashes Test at the SCG. But is this the same "something special" they have seen in Beau Casson, Cameron White, Jason Krejza, Doherty and others over the past three years?

With this selection also follows Hughes in for the free opening spot, despite scoring 4 & 0 in a recent shield match, this selection makes sense, yes he doesn’t like the short ball, but it is a calculated risk to select the future of the test squad rather than a miracle. Phillip Hughes state team mate Steve Smith has also made the 12 man squad, a choice I personally think should have happened at the start of the series rather than now, replacing the up and down North.

Having had the pleasure of meeting and viewing Smith on his test debut at Lord’s earlier this year I was impressed with his professionalism and his application to wanting to lay test cricket, rather than a flash in the pan youngest who is chasing T20 money [something that is not uncommon these days] For all Smith's flaws as a bowler, it makes no sense to play both him and Beer at the WACA. Ben Hilfenhaus, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson, who can slide back in as a fourth fast man used in short, sharp spells, is the way to go.
Mitchell Johnsons return was a no brainer. He may not be in career-best form, but nor are any of the other openers in state cricket. Choosing anyone but Johnson would have sent another message of desperation, and one such whiff was enough in this squad.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

228 runs in local T20

The local crowd was left speechless on Tuesday night when Kumar Sarna blasted 228 not out off only 65 balls in a suburban Melbourne Twenty20 cup match. Playing for Wonga Park in the Ringwood and District Cricket Association, Sarna, who was on the Bushrangers' rookie list, creamed 22 sixes and 17 fours against Croydon North.

His team smashed 4-277 and won by 148 runs. SCORECARD

The charm in this story doesn't end, because if ever cricket was the ultimate leveler. Wonga Park and the new master blaster Kumar Sarna were looking forward to a Saturday league match [42 overs] where hopefully the same masterful display would be shown, only for Sarna to be done in 3 balls for a total of 2 runs.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Kangaroo in Lions Clothing

An innings and 71 runs, by repeating it to myself I’m hoping it will settle in and make more sense as I digest further highlights tonight. Besides reports of 2 old men fighting over a biscuit in the Adelaide car park, pigs have also been sighted by Qantas pilots as the fortunes of these 2 sides have swapped for the first time in 20 years.

If Australia wants to know what they are doing wrong, they only have to look at the English sides from the past. England wrote the book on Ashes blunders, and Australia is making the same mistakes again. The key issue for Australia at the moment is not solely in the hands of the players themselves, but from the selection table and those that seem to be chairing it. Firstly they dropped Hauritz after an unsuccessful Indian tour, something that many a great spinner has had. Just ask Shane Warne. England learned with Ashley Giles, sometimes you have to make the best out of what you have. Hauritz has an excellent record in his nine home Tests, where he has taken 38 wickets at an average of 29.65 each. Just last winter he took 18 in three Tests against Pakistan . And he is a competent tail-end batsman, with a Test average of 25.05.

Ben Hilfenhaus took more wickets in the 2009 Ashes series, 22, than any other bowler. Unlike Hauritz, he performed superbly on the flat pitches the team played on in India last October, though he had little luck. And poorly as Mitchell Johnson may have bowled at Brisbane , he had played 39 consecutive Test matches up to that point. And given Ponting's pointed comment that "sometimes it doesn't matter what I think" it seems like the decision went against the captain's own wishes.
Then there is the effect on team dynamics by chopping and changing a line-up, you straight away hurt a players confidence levels and start to plant a seed of doubt. Secondly you spread panic in a side on who will be the next player to go. In short, if you are going to drop players you have to be sure that the ones you are bringing in will improve the team enough to make up for those considerations. Ryan Harris did. But Doug Bollinger and Xavier Doherty did not.

England on the other hand seemed have been taking notes for the past 20 years and having given Australia cricket have began to play the Australian way. Using strong opening partnerships that blast huge holes early in the day, then include a strong 3/4/5 batting roles to continue the runs, keeping the opposition in the hot sun for long stretches. Then bowling with a strong upright seam attack whose sole focus is on off-stump at a good length, providing a testing range on Australian wickets. Couple this with a strong desire in the field and a world class spin bowler to mop up on the 5th day. This England team seems modelled on the great Australian sides of Waugh and Taylor.

The English used to call syphilis the French disease. The French used to call syphilis the English disease. It seems a similar reversal may have been taking place in Australia these past two weeks. Such selectorial confusion used to be the bane of English cricket. It seems the Australians have now acquired the habit. There are a host of good players and strong personalities in the Australia team. But they are being undermined by their shambolic mismanagement.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Around the Grounds "Adelaide Oval, Heaven in the City of Churches"

Established 1873
Capacity 31000 (approx)
End names City End, Cathedral End
Home team South Australia

The city of churches as its known holds what I feel, and many agree is the most beautiful test cricket venues in Australia if not the world. Long have I remembered Adelaide for ‘the hill’ and the Edwardian style scoreboard that is heritage listed in South Australia. Most recently the Western stand has under gone some renovation to update it the facilities to a modern standard, but still with St Peter’s cathedral as a backdrop gives this Australian ground a very English Village green feel.

The ground opened in 1873 amid bitter local disputes over boundaries and money, and in its early years the pitches were often dreadful. Things gradually improved, although Adelaide's tendency to attract controversy remained. In 1884-85 it staged its first Test, but that was dogged by arguments with the English tourists over appearance money and who would umpire. In 1932-33, the Bodyline affair reached its nadir at The Oval when Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield were struck, and on the third day mounted police patrolled to keep the 50, 962 spectators in order. But these days the pitches are true and disputes rarer.

Known as one of the smaller grounds in Australia, being a true oval it makes shots played square of the wicket hard to defend from a fielding point of view. Before the far ends in front of and behind the wicket were roped off, making the playing area shorter, it was not uncommon for batsmen to hit an all-run five. The pitch itself is generally very good for batting, and offers little assistance to bowlers until the last day of a match.

The first test match was played in 1884 against England in which they won by 8 wickets, where William ‘Billy’ Barnes scored 134 & 28* along with Bobby Peel taking 8 wickets for the match. This was in the days where the 3rd Day was a rest day, and 4 balls per an over. 674 was the highest total placed on this ground by Australia against India in 1948, the most recent high score was Australia’s 575 against New Zealand which included a 215 runs by Justin Langer in the first innings. S.K Warne has always enjoyed bowling Adelaide on the 5th Day taking 56 wickets in total.
Memorable Moments:
• In 1932–33, the Bodyline affair reached its lowest point at the ground when Bill Woodfull and Bert Oldfield were struck, and on the third day mounted police patrolled to keep the 50,962 spectators in order (a record crowd for cricket at the ground). The total attendance for the match was 174,351.

• In 1931–32 Donald Bradman scored the highest score ever at the ground in Test Cricket, compiling 299* against South Africa.

• In October 1982, vs Victoria, David Hookes hit a 43 minute, 34 ball century - in some respects the fastest hundred in history.

• In 1989–90 Dean Jones scored twin Test hundreds against Pakistan.

• South Australia compiled the highest fourth innings winning total in Sheffield Shield history, reaching 6/506 (set 506 to win) against Queensland in 1991–92.

• In 1999, Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was called for throwing by umpire Ross Emerson in a One Day International against England. The Sri Lankan team almost abandoned the match.

• Lights were constructed at the ground in 1997, allowing sport to be held at night. This was the subject of a lengthy dispute with the Adelaide City Council, due to environmental issues relating to the parklands area. The first towers erected were designed to retract into the ground; however one collapsed and they were replaced with permanent towers.

1928-29 Tour Footage

Recently I had a great opportunity to view some footage of England’s tour of Australia in 1928-29 shot by Percy Fender. He later wrote a book on the series, The Turn of The Wheel, but he never mentioned that he had shot the film.

The film is silent, with lovely wobbly old captions added by Fender himself. He takes us right through the tour. He starts with stop-overs in Aden and Colombo on the ship out and continues with his train journey from Perth to Kalgourlie and on across the Nullarbor plain. He intersperses footage from four of the five Tests with clips of an 'Old Crocks match' at Rushcutters Bay; Christmas Day on a packed Bondi beach (where the camera lingers slightly too long on one sunbathing woman); a day out at the Melbourne Gold Cup and a few other social events. It is a charming portrait of how life on tour used to be.

The footage shot on the voyage back home is particularly good. The team take a camel expedition in Cairo to see the Sphinx. And back on board we see Jack Hobbs relaxing in his deckchair while Jack White plays battledore, Patsy Hendren throws quoits and Tich Freeman puffs a fag and chats up two female friends.

The most interesting part for me was the early footage of Don Bradman at the age of just 20 years old, and also the only footage I have or know of Archie Jackson who tragically his life was cut short by TB. Many have written that he was better than Bradman, he made his only test century during the 4th Test of this series.

With all the angles, hot spot and a million tour diary’s that will be written long after the current Ashes series is completed, it is nice to sit back and watch a silent film of cricket with aggressive fields and fantastic shot makers wearing little protective equipment against the earliest signs of Larwood’s short bowling.

I got great pleasure from watching this and I hope you do to.

Australian Tour 1928-29 shot by Percy Fender.