England’s Commonwealth Bank Series win completes my misery

I have a toothache from hell. It set in on Friday night, and my dentist can’t fit me in until Wednesday morning. So between that, and England totally outplaying Australia in the one day finals, I have not been a happy little camper. At the moment, I’m taking refuge in alcohol for pain relief. Meanwhile I wonder if Andrew Flintoff is taking pain relief from alcohol. The last time Flintoff was involved in winning a trophy off Australia, his alcohol intake was spectacular. I’m partial to a drop myself, but I have to admit I don’t think I could keep up with Freddy when he’s up for a drink.

Anyway, enough of vices. I asked in my previous post if Duncan Fletcher would have anything to do with the resurrection of English fortunes, and it turns out he did have a bit to say.

Whereas a matter of weeks ago England’s planning for the World Cup almost revolved around picking random names out of a hat, Fletcher now says there is a clear plan heading into the tournament.

“We’ve got a side that have won here and done very, very well and yet we are still missing people of the calibre of [Michael] Vaughan and [Kevin] Pietersen who are two very important players for us, so it’s still going to be very difficult for us [to narrow down the squad].”

“But we’re a lot clearer than we were at the start of this series. We really believe in the side now, four in a row is a great achievement and we’ve just got to continue with that momentum.”

Fletcher, himself, received a special mention as Andrew Flintoff relished his first success as captain. “The one person I really want to thank is Duncan Fletcher,” said Flintoff, “throughout the trip he has kept taking the knocks for us but he has kept backing us.”

While most of the plaudits will go to Paul Collingwood, and rightly so, I think that the emergence of Liam Plunkett also has a lot to do with the turnaround in England’s fortunes. And Monty Panesar has had a role to play too. He hasn’t taken a hatful of wickets, but he’s always kept things tight, and a good spinner is worth a fortune in any form of cricket.

Australia have got some thinking to do. They are in danger of losing their ranking as the best ODI side in the world to South Africa. To me the two issues are that Michael Hussey has lost his magic touch, as well as Symonds’ injury. Michael Clarke could do with some more runs as well. My own view was that White should have replaced Symonds as the batting allrounder. Instead, they’ve chosen Watson as a bowling allrounder, which is fine except that he’s barely had any cricket since the Champions trophy. Bringing him back for the finals smacked of hubris, and hubris gets punished.

My understanding is that Will will be returning from Kenya in the next few days, with plenty of photographs and hopefully some insider gossip about his adventures. For an Englishman’s perspective, be sure to read the Reverse Swing Manifesto (and speaking of which, why hasn’t Troy Cooley done us any good in the ODI’s?) In the meantime, I leave you with one final question before I drown my sorrows. What exactly is the Duckworth/Lewis algorithim? I once heard it described as being so complex as to make Einstein look like a bit of fun with an abacas, but even still!

England can smash and grab a trophy today

Barely three weeks ago, England had plunged to awful depths with consecutive humiliating losses in Adelaide; now they are on the cusp of winning the Commonwealth Bank Series. If they do it, it will be a massive form reversal. And even if they don’t win today, they still have a chance in Adelaide on Tuesday.

But England’s best chance is in Sydney. England’s record in ODI’s vs Australia is much better at Sydney then it is at any other ground in Australia.

England’s much maligned coach, Duncan Fletcher, has stayed in the background, and I wonder how much of the form uptick is his doing?

Collingwood takes England to a famous victory

A brilliant century by Paul Collingwood has powered England to a four wicket win over Australia at the MCG, chasing down Australia’s 252. Given that England were 3 for 15 when he came in, his coolness and poise is worthy of the highest praise.

England have won three ODI games in a row. If a week is a long time in politics, it might be an even longer time on tour.

England take on New Zealand for a place in the finals

So, for one of the two sides, it is judgement day, and not a moment too soon. The Australian triangular series drags on forever, and it gets rather stale by the end, don’t you agree?

I’m going to hope that England win, not for the reason that I think Australia can beat them, but rather because if Australia play New Zealand in the finals, we could have a situation where Australia play New Zealand six times in two weeks (for the two sides meet in New Zealand for the Chappell Hadlee trophy straight after this).

New Zealand is a great team, and I’m sure New Zealanders are a swell bunch of people, but six times in two weeks is too much.

One a totally different topic, did you see that South Africa piled on 392 against Pakistan in an ODI game? What’s notable about that is that it isn’t even in the top five ODI scores anymore. But South Africa has gone past 400 twice now as well as this effort in the last 12 months or so. This sort of batting firepower has to make one stand up and take notice at the World Cup.

A grotesque mismatch masked as an ODI

Coming into Friday’s game between Australia and England, for what surely must be the final time this summer, the contrast between the two squads could hardly be greater.

The Australians are happy, confident, and feel that everything is on track going towards the winning of the series and into the World Cup. England look patently miserable, tired, out of ideas, and with no appetitite for the battle. The contrast between this side and the one that won the Ashes eighteen months ago is so stark it can barely be believed.

England fans have every right to be furious with their team and especially their administration for allowing such a state of affairs.

They go into Friday’s game against Australia without Michael Vaughan, and also without James Anderson, who is flying home after a back strain. All of England’s bowling hopes will therefore rest with Flintoff and the redoubtable Monty Panesar, who looks like he’s the only Englishman with both the ability and the desire to play at this level at this point in time.

Meanwhile, Australia are feeling confident enough to introduce Shaun Tait to their one-day side, who is replacing Brett Lee. It is very much a ‘like for like’ substitution. Tait is perhaps even faster then Lee these days, and similarly erratic in performance. England faced him in the last two Tests of 2005, and also in the first game of this tour where he played in the Prime Minister’s XI. He did so well in that game that there was speculation that he would be the third seamer in the Test lineup, but Stuart Clark got the nod, and did so well that Tait’s hopes subsided.

Ricky Ponting has a slight hip strain and is in some doubt, but if he fails a fitness test, he’ll be replaced by the in-form Brad Hodge, who scored 115 off 100 balls for Victoria against South Australa on Wednesday.

A quick check of the bookies has some amazing prices. Not many betting houses are offering better then 10 to 1 on for Australia, whereas you can get odds of 13/2 on England. Remarkable, in a two horse race.

Ticket to nowhere

The Barmy Army can’t even give tickets away to Australia vs England at Sydney. Fortunately, England’s tour of duty is nearly over. And they are really treating it as a tour of duty.

Gary Hayes is one of South Australia’s most respected and sociable cricket coaches. He coaches Adelaide University’s first-grade side, a club where Liam Plunkett once passed a contented and productive season. His desire to wish Plunkett well at an England net session this week required a security officer to hover a yard from his shoulder, antennae twitching. Hayes is half-Malaysian – he recently coached the Malaysian team – and wonders if that explains it. “Goons,” he concluded, suitably unimpressed.

Had the security team investigated Hayes further they would have discovered that he had also contacted Plunkett during the second Test in Adelaide, the Test where England’s last-day capitulation sealed their Ashes defeat. Plunkett went out for dinner with his one-time coach and some former colleagues but had to eat at a restricted list of restaurants vetted by England. As he left the hotel his Durham colleague, Paul Collingwood, joked that he would not be having room service for the first time on tour. How can it be beneficial for an England cricketer to tour in such a reclusive manner?

This is kind of hilarious. Where do they think they are, Australia or Iraq? What on earth are they so frightened of? It’s hard to imagine anyone telling the likes of Steve Waugh or Matthew Hayden where they could or could not eat on tour. But as an Australian fan, I’m delighted to read this, because no England team is going to come here and win with this sort of mentality.

How low can England go?

The team is as low as Michael Vaughan has seen them. Meanwhile, as I write, New Zealand are making a good fist of chasing down 344, and even if they do not get there, New Zealand will take some heart from how well they are batting.

I do not think that England do themselves any favours by making it so plain that they do not like one-day cricket. Australia do not particularly like it either, but they really do like winning, and the best way to win is to keep winning. It becomes a habit.

I will take the positive view and say that England did have a plan entering the Commonwealth Bank Series, but either it was blown out of the water by Kevin Pieterson’s injury, or it has simply been blown off course by their total lack of confidence. Certainly there’s not been any backup plans.

Given England’s total disarray, they could do worse then to talk to the likes of Michael Atherton. I do not think Atherton’s plan is going to win the World Cup for England, but at least it is a plan. At the moment, England look like they are working out their plans with a dart board.

A nice night out at Adelaide Oval

So I wandered along to the Adelaide Oval yesterday after all, and took up my seat in the Chappell Stands with New Zealand struggling at 3 for 60 after about 20 overs. England were right on top, and as I’d found myself next to a rather chatty fellow, we discussed the match, and also the possibility that we’d be going home early. As it was, we DID end up going home early, but that was because New Zealand had won the game.

How did they escape? Well, Jacob Oram batted well. England made it easy though for him, because he came out to bat and was facing the fire and brimstone of Paul Collingwood. My own view that Flintoff should have brought Anderson back into the attack eventually filtered through to the England captain four overs after I had said it, by which time Oram had settled in.

He’s a big lad, is Oram. After a spell from the game, his footwork was understandably rusty but once he found his range, he was able to power the New Zealand innings onwards. He found an ally in Brendon McCullum, who looked totally out of form, but was still able to contribute by running like a whippet.

A late flurry by Franklin took New Zealand to 210. I wandered off for chips, a hot-dog, and a chocolate ice-cream, all the ingredients needed for a balanced diet. I think the Black Caps might have had something a little more healthy because they came out on all cylinders.

Franklin took the first over from the Cathederal End because of the considerable breeze coming from the south. He took three wickets in his opening spell, though he was helped by a withering blast from the River End by Shane Bond.

Bond bowls with the pace of a Brett Lee and the accuracy of.. well he’s not quite in the McGrath mould, but he’s certainly pretty accurate. He pinned down the English upper order, and Mal Loye was in no mood to try his sweep shot this time around.

Franklin and Bond bowled the first fourteen overs, before being relieved. It was the introduction of Daniel Vettori that proved England’s undoing. He bowled a lovely spell; with the breeze to bowl into, he obtained drift and flight, and England’s batsmen did not have the footwork to cope with him. What particularly struck me was the way that England’s batsmen were stuck in two minds about whether or not to come forward, or to play back. Quite often they were caught in no-man’s land.

This certainly didn’t help England’s scoring rate. Ed Joyce was the only batsman to get past twenty. New Zealand fielded much better then they did in Sydney with Gillespie’s catch the highlight. Bond came back to finish the game, taking his 100th wicket in just his 55th match, and New Zealand’s large contingent of fans in the outer celebrated in style.

Speaking as a spectator, it was a nice evening out. I rather enjoy going to these ‘neutral’ games because since my team is not playing, I’m not that emotionally invested in the outcome, and therefore I can enjoy the cricket as it happens. But I have to say it- England were indeed woeful.

England vs New Zealand, and I’m not going

The New Zealanders are bringing back Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills. But Shane Bond isn’t yet fit. With the greatest respect to Oram and Mills, I’m not shelling out money to watch them.

Anyway, chat away yonder, my merry readers. An England victory here would be a great leap forward towards them making the finals.

UPDATE – Oh, Bond’s been included. New Zealand are batting first, so I might wander along after all.

Big Brother isn’t watching you

All you people who have been watching this ‘Big Brother’ imbroglio should hang your heads in shame. When the British Prime Minister is commenting on it, then it’s a sure sign that England’s sense of priorities are warped. No wonder England’s cricket team doesn’t win much.

Mind you they came close last night- a four wicket victory and a bonus point to Australia doesn’t indicate how tense it was out there for a while. That Australia won was due to the nerves and good luck of Michael Hussey, who got a clear edge early in his innings. However, unlike Adam Gilchrist, he’s never been a walker.

Who knows what might have happened if England had set Australia a decent target?  England got their first opening partnership of 50 thanks to the introduction of Mal Loye. The rest of them went down to McGrath and co very meekly.

And to make matters worse for England, Michael Vaughan won’t be available for another couple of matches. England’s one day summer is turning out as bad as was feared.