Disaster turns to farce

England’s disasterous preparations for the first Test is rapidly turning into a farce. First it was Michael Vaughan’s knee. Then Baroda-belly hit the spinners. Then Simon Jones had a wobbly stomach. Then Marcus Trescothick flew home. Now Simon Jones has recovered from his gut-ache and has twisted his knee. No, not his dodgy right knee (which he injured/snapped in Australia a few years ago) – his left knee! It’s all going horribly wrong.

The good news, though, is Andrew Flintoff has decided not to go home on or around the second Test, if / when his wife goes into labour for their second child. Flintoff is England’s captain for the remainder of the tour. (thoughts on this yesterday)

It’s almost funny…

Jones v Clarke = Jones

A video of Simon Jones bowling Michael Clarke. Probably my favourite wicket of the Ashes.

Athers: “Offspinners were crap in my day!”

If it’s Sunday, it must be time to see what Mike Atherton is writing in the Sunday Telegraph.

Mike, if you read this, I pick on you because your good. I don’t do this to Roebuck or any of the other hacks out there.

This week, our hero is writing about England’s dire spinning options heading to India. No doubts there. But not to worry, no English spinner was ever going to bowl out Dravid, Tendulkar and co. England’s strength is in their pace bowlers. If England are going to win in India, it will be Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff that are the men to do the job

But Athers goes into his own memory to make a point:

The best off-spinner that I played against, Tim May, didn’t bowl a ‘doosra’ but he did grasp the need to vary his pace and his flight, change his angle on the crease and give the ball such an almighty rip that a huge, bleeding gash was routinely opened on his spinning finger each time he started a spell.

TIM MAY????

*scott falls on the floor laffing*

Truly, your kidding, right? Actually, “Mayhem” was a pretty decent offspinner, who never took himself very seriously at all. It’s one of the funny things in life that Tim May, who was a affable joker of a player has transformed into the uber-serious head of FICA, the cricketer’s union.

The first Test I ever actually went to was Australia vs West Indies, 1992-93 (yes THAT one, where we lost by one run.) I had to catch my train back to the country town I was living in, so I had to leave the ground with an hour of play to go. As I regretfully walked out the Victor Richardson Gates at the Adelaide Oval, May was just coming on to bowl. He took 5 for 9 in that hour, routing the West Indies, and causing the rest of Adelaide to lose the plot. And I missed it! And Tim scored 42 not out to nearly take Australia to the Frank Worrell Trophy. There was real steel under that goofy grin, and real talent, too.

But I still want to know how much Mayhem paid Athers to write that. All of Tim May’s friends, family and fans want to know!

Someone had blundered!

Jagadish mused on Trescothick’s folly in inviting Pakistan to bat first and then watching them run up over 350, and went down memory lane for other invitations that did not work out too well. He invites readers to give their vote for the biggest blunder (I voted for Ganguly’s inviting Australia to bat in the 2003 World Cup final, which led to Australia scoring 359).

Great idea, that.. Jagadish limits his post to ODI’s so I’ll make the two obvious Test blunders. Both of them were Ashes disasters.

In 2002, Nasser Hussain decided to invite Australia to bat in the First Test at the Gabba. Hayden and Ponting racked up centuries and plundered the English to be 2 for 364 at stumps. What was the blunder? Hussain no doubt thought his bowlers would get more assistance from the pitch then he thought, and he wasn’t helped that Simon Jones broke down after seven overs.

In 2005, Ricky Ponting lost the services of Glenn McGrath, but still felt confident enough to invite England to bat at Edgbaston. Freed from the stern discipline of McGrath, the English were bowled out by stumps, but they had racked up 407 at more then five an over. England seized the initative in the Ashes series and never gave it back.

Any other blunders come to mind in Tests?

The Irish sweets of the Englishmen

Cricinfo ran a story on Nathen Bracken making suggestions that England’s control (use of) reverse-swing wasn’t, erm, entirely legal. (When has reverse-swing ever been entirely legal though?) Bracken suggested the England team might have used mints/sweets, and the sugar contained in them might have assisted the Irish swing, which bowlers like Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff used to such great success in the summer. And I thought the whinging Aussies had finished their diatribes by now…

A few hours later, Mr Bracken retracted his comments

And while on the Irish theme, here’s a joke for you. Try to say these four words without sounding like an “astonished” Irishman: Well, Oil, Beef, Hooked.

Simon Jones out of Pakistan tour

Bugger. Great shame – I was looking forward to seeing him reverse the ball in the subcontinent.

Simon Jones not fit for The Oval

Great shame – mainly for him. He’ll be devastated, having played such a key part in this series. But this isn’t the “end,” as the BBC’s listeners seem to think, of England’s Ashes chances. Far from it.

So – Collingwood or Anderson?

Simon Jones on course for The Oval

Simon Jones is on course to play at The Oval, which is brilliant news. I’d take it with a pinch of salt, however; we’ve seen throughout this series the media-war both teams have waged. But if it’s true, it will make the final Test all the more thrilling and exciting. Meanwhile, MacGill might play (instead of McGrath?)

Replacing the Welsh swinger

My article on Cricinfo about Simon Jones’s replacement is up:

Replacing the Welsh swinger

The things the modern cricketer has to endure. Twenty years ago, prominent England players would have winced at the thought of sitting in an Oxygen chamber, no doubt scoffing at its supposed benefits. Simon Jones has little choice: after he injured his ankle in the last Test, England have been doing everything they can to patch him up for the final fling. He has been a key, reverse-swinging cog in England’s success this summer, and if he fails a fitness test, his replacement could hold the key to wrestling the urn from Australia’s 18-year-long grasp. Or not…

Who could replace him? His long-term understudy, James Anderson, is finally playing cricket regularly. For Lancashire this season, he has taken 48 wickets but averages over 30: this is not what England, or Anderson, wants. He’d played just three games for Lancashire in 2002, before England called him into the one-day squad against Australia the following winter, and his success was instant. But his confidence was fragile, and attempts by England’s coaches to modify his bowling action sapped it further still. He remains promising and, importantly, is still only 23, but England can’t afford to risk his selection in what is the biggest match of England’s recent history.

Chris Tremlett, 24 tomorrow, has usurped Anderson as the young, English fast-bowling hope but is yet to play a Test. He played three one-day matches earlier in the season, and performed reasonably well, picking up 4 for 32 on debut against Bangladesh, and the useful wicket of Adam Gilchrist in the following match against Australia. Importantly, he has remained in the England “bubble”, Duncan Fletcher’s protective cushion, throughout this series which signifies he is very well regarded. Indeed, his extreme height has excited many observers: he is 6′ 7″ and generates bounce from a natural short-of-a-length, something Michael Vaughan can testify to as Tremlett smashed a ball into his elbow at Edgbaston. For Hampshire this season, he has taken 45 wickets at 26 – a good performance, if not a spectacular one – but he doesn’t move the ball a la Jones. Worryingly, in Hampshire’s latest match against Warwickshire, his two wickets cost 98 runs and included six-no balls.

Paul Collingwood is desperate to play Test cricket again, to add to his two matches played against Sri Lanka in 2003. While he is primarily a batsman, his bowling has improved steadily this season with 19 wickets for Durham. He remains very much a wobbling medium-pacer, though and it is a front-line bowler England needs to win at The Oval. His inclusion would strengthen the home side’s batting considerably, and this could yet win the selectors over. England, after all, only need to draw the fifth Test to regain the Ashes. But the remaining England bowlers’ workloads would be become even heavier. He is in excellent batting form, though, and his catching and fielding abilities are almost without peer. His bowling won’t win England the Test, but his batting and fielding could.

England’s former pace bowlers Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough are both a year either side of 35, but each would give their eye-teeth to be a part of a successful England side, and especially one which has, at long last, dominated an Ashes series. Caddick, 36, last played for England in Sydney in 2002-03, a Test England won, but injuries have since forced him out of the side. Despite his age, he is still the leading English-qualified wicket-taker this season with 54 at 27.79. Meanwhile it has been rumoured, rather cheekily, that Gough was asked to attend a training session by England. Mind you, Gough is the closest like-for-like replacement for Jones: he was England’s best exponent of reverse-swing throughout the 1990s, but with age comes medium-pace. England’s consistency in selection has arguably been a key factor in their successes spanning two years, and it remains unlikely Gough or Caddick will buck that trend.

Whoever is chosen – and other names in the mix include Kabir Ali and Jon Lewis – it is unlikely they will match the skill Simon Jones has shown this summer. His rare and surprising ability to move the new and the old ball is almost irreplaceable. Britain will be praying the German doctors can work their oxygen-chamber magic on him; and for Jones himself, it would be devastating to miss the finale of a series he has played such an integral part in swinging England’s way.