Mark Waugh takes the long handle to Twenty20

Junior calls it ‘junk food‘. Can’t say that I disagree with him really.

From a purely cricket perspective, I have to wonder why either man would base a competition on Twenty20? It’s entertaining, yes, and the novelty of it might even attract a few new fans to the game for a while. It’s also attractive for many because a game is over in three hours. But it isn’t cricket.

Twenty20′s like junk food. It’s a quick fix and while it might taste good there is no substance to it. The more people see of it, the more they’ll see through it.

It’s like rugby sevens. The players don’t take it too seriously and don’t lose too much sleep if they lose.

Twenty20 is the same – it’s hit and giggle.

India vs Bermuda, West Indies vs Zimbabwe

India are batting, and have already lost a wicket to what will be one of the great images of the 2007 World Cup, as Bermuda’s heavyweight Dwayne Leverock took a slips catch worthy of Mark Waugh. The earth shook as the big fella hit the turf!

Zimbabwe can still make the Super 8′s, but beating West Indies will be hard.

Abandon all hope ye English that enter here?

Andrew Flintoff might not be able to avoid talking to the Australian media, but he’s best advised to avoid reading the media. As his team flies into Sydney today, the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage takes on a traditionally gloomy (if you are English) tone.

Mark Waugh, never backward in coming forward with his opinion, thinks it’s going to be a 4-1 walkover.

I’m not sure if Flintoff is good at two-up but he needs to win four out of five tosses to give England hope.

Even allowing for some luck with the coin, I’m predicting a 4-1 victory for the Aussies. England might sneak a Test, with Adelaide the most likely venue for that.

They have a decent record there and Australia have not been so good recently. It’s a vital toss to win, with the wicket difficult to chase runs on or survive on during days four and five. With virtually no rain around Australia, the likelihood of a draw goes out the window.

England have brought a squad of 16, with plenty of question marks about many of them. Their form since winning the Ashes has been ordinary at best. They did a super job to draw the Test series in India, but performances against Sri Lanka and Pakistan were below par.

Waugh’s not being totally dismissive. He does have some nice things to say about the newer players.

England look a slightly weaker team on paper than last time, but fresh faces might give them hope. James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood look useful pace bowlers who can swing the ball. Anderson has had an interrupted career bowling a full length, giving him a chance. Mahmood is raw but talented and could be a trump card.

Panesar is worth the gamble for England. He offers more attacking options for Flintoff than Giles (who has never won them a Test match against Australia).

Other positives for England are the growing stature of Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood as batsmen. I’m not convinced they are real dangers against our quality bowlers, but they have racked up some Test runs since we last met.

Game-breakers Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen need to fire. Flintoff will have a big workload, and Pietersen can be expected to cop the short stuff. They won’t have an easy time but should produce entertaining battles in the middle order.

There’s no way Ricky Ponting and Australian coach John Buchanan will allow any complacency to sneak into the camp. After hammering England at Lord’s, Australia might have underestimated England’s ability to bounce back and paid the price.

Like all cricket followers, I’m looking forward to this series and although England beat us last year, Australia will start clear favourites. We’ll bounce back strongly on home soil with a full-strength line-up.

In the same publication, Peter Roebuck, that doughty Somerset batsman-cum multimedia guru, ponders on an England fading into the sunset.

Although England’s batting will be boosted by the return of Alistair Cook and Marcus Trescothick, the bowling was more or less at full strength in India. Matthew Hayden and company will have taken heart from Steve Harmison’s loss of control and the punishment dished out to Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson.

About the only encouraging sign for England’s vast following was the sight of Andrew Flintoff trundling down a few overs in Ahmedabad. Although not at full pace, he was able to maintain his unerring line. Still, it is not easy to recover rhythm after a long break and the Lancastrian might not be much of a threat at the Gabba. Flintoff has a huge heart but his fitness and form with the ball will be followed closely.

Nothing much can be said about Flintoff’s captaincy except that he spoke well at press conferences and did not let it affect his game. He seems to be a straightforward leader. The choice of captain must have been touch and go because both Strauss and Flintoff were capable candidates. In the absence of any compelling reason to demote him, the vice-captain deserved his chance. He is an impressive figure in the game.

Ashley Giles has also been bowling in the nets. Most likely his solidity will be preferred to Monty Panesar’s potency. He ought to have been recuperating at home. England cannot afford to think only about the Ashes. It is important to keep going forwards.

Certainly it will be different in Brisbane. It is another form of cricket played in another country and in front of a large and devoted group of supporters. Moreover, England will have a properly constructed team. Still, it is better to win than to lose.

Well, um, yeah. You can’t argue with that last bit.

Beware Pakistan!

Mark Waugh is looking ahead to the 2007 World Cup, and he isn’t impressed with South Africa or Sri Lanka. He thinks that the big danger to Australia completing a hat-trick of titles is Pakistan.

True enough, but it’s 12 months to go and Pakistan are.. well.. changable. Which Pakistan will turn up? I agree that if Pakistan are playing to their full potential, they could win the title. And I’m surprised that Waugh doesn’t even mention England.

And I so hope that they get rid of the ‘power play’ and ‘supersub’ nonsense at the end of this summer. I do not like these new rules. The ‘power play’ is almost always taken straight away, and the ‘supersub’ gives far too much advantage to the side that wins the toss.

Silencing the pom-bashers

I suspect the rivarly between Indian and Pakistani cricket sides is far fiercer than that of English and Australian ones, but that’s not to underestimate the Ashes battle. This series has demonstrated just how much that little urn – it really is tiny – means to Britons and Australians.

Aussies, especially their cricket teams, have historically always hated this country, despite them coming in their droves to live and work here (who can blame them?! Friendly banter there, don’t you be taking any offence now). So I was intrigued to see a headline at The Age of: Put Pom-bashing aside and give England credit. [link]

I was then put into instant shock when I saw the author, none other than Michael Vaughan. Alas, it is not he-who-looks-like-an-accountant-but-actually-captains-England-with-great-imagination fame. For so long now, 18 years, Britons and English cricket fans have suffered at the hands of the fervent Australian cricket fan. Simon Jones, famously, was called a “weak pommy bastard” after ripping/tearing/snapping his knee on the last winter Ashes tour on those shores. And he still talks about it, as well he might; not only has he transformed himself into a superb exponent of reverse-swing, but his side are now able to silence these pommy-bashers who for so long revelled in England’s limp Ashes efforts. There’s nowt limp or weak about this English side, as Michael Vaughan (the author of this article) concedes:

The Australians have beaten all-comers over a long time, but this time they have been comprehensively outplayed, despite the close finishes, and it’s about time we put aside our penchant for Pommy-bashing and delivered credit where it’s due.

As much as it pains me to say it, England is the new Australia. Matthew Hayden is a good example of the out-of-form/outplayed conundrum.

To those Australians who question why I’m making such a deal of gaining the respect of Australia as a people, you have to understand what Britons have been through. It isn’t so much the losing that we hated, nor being outplayed. Every. Series. It was the total lack of respect Australia showed us. “England didn’t deserve it!” you cry. Maybe, but lack of respect arguably hurts the most, and it is perhaps this reason alone which makes this summer taste all the sweeter. Glenn McGrath’s comments of a 5-0 whitewash. Hayden’s uber-confidence which, remarkably, has continued unabated even at this late stage of the series. Mark Waugh writing England off (“seen it all before.”). Peter Roebuck saying, well…you can well imagine.

As I’ve said all along, whatever the end result may be, let us just earn the respect of Australia. And we’ve done it. That’s what’s made my summer.

As an Australian, Indian, Icelander, Englishman, West Indian or any other nationality, what about this series has made it for you?

The things I, and they, said…

Chris reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to. Trawl back through my blog, and other people’s sites and blogs, to find out what people said of England’s chances. You can start by looking at my “Ashes” tag. There are ten pages there, and this link starts at the back of the queue (i.e. 7 months ago), so you’ll need to click “Previous page” at the bottom to trawl through. You can see the first Ashes post was 7 months ago, in January, in which I said:

Naturally, all talk is on The Ashes which is already becoming tiring. The expectation on England is going to be massive and, in my opinion, they can only win if Harmison is on form, Flintoff bats naturally and bowls quickly, Strauss & Trescothick continue to score hundreds and Vaughan too. They’ll also benefit from a) winning the toss, b) some luck and c) someone breaking McGrath’s arm. England – whether you like or agree with Jagdish’s views – are a fine team, captained superbly, and whatever happens let’s hope the media don’t shoot them down. (incidentally tickets for the Lord’s game are going for over £300 I heard in the pub last week, on eBay and private sellers etc…)

Seven months on: Harmison hasn’t really been on form, but has still been influential in this series by smashing balls into batsmen’s heads. 16 wickets is also fairly handy. Flintoff has batted naturally and bowled very quickly. Vaughan has won the toss. England has has its fair share of luck. McGrath’s elbow, not arm, has been injured, and Vaughan has captained the side imaginatively. It’s an easy game, this punditry :)

In February, Mark Waugh wrote England off, but Peter Lever reckoned England would do ok:

“England might have a chance, but I don’t know if they believe in themselves against Australia,” he said.

Towards the end of March, I wrote:

As I’ve said in the past, I am excited about this Ashes – but am also much more relaxed about it. The past 3 or 4 have been painful to watch – really, really painful – not least because winning the Ashes was seen as the only way to resurrect English Cricket, back then. English Cricket isn’t in the mess it was 5/10 years ago, and for that reason alone, England can at last try to enjoy this series and not worry too much about the outcome. That’s Vaughan’s motto, after all – “enjoy yourselves” – and I’m sure Australian’s wouldn’t begrudge England the odd victory in a few month’s time, although I don’t doubt for a second which way they want the pendulum to swing for the final result :) 2-2 going into the final Test at the new and redeveloped Oval would be just fine, please.

Can you smell the reserved “I don’t want to be too cocky, and please let England perform well” nature of my post there?

And perhaps most interestingly, 3 months ago I wrote of a John Buchanan quote, speaking of Ricky Ponting:

“He’s growing I think every series as a person, as a leader, as an occupier of a fairly significant position in Australian society.”

Australia can’t, now, win this series. The best they can hope for is a draw, to retain the Ashes. What IF Australia don’t win at The Oval, and hand the Urn over to England? What ramifications does this hold for Ponting, who is “an occupier of a fairly siginificant position in Australia society?”

If you know of any links or quotes, or indeed comments on blogs (here and elsewhere) that showed Australia’s lack of respect for England (on those lines, anyway), send them in…