Request for Saturday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph

If there are any Sydney readers, I have a big favour to ask. Could you nip out and buy Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, then get in contact? I could do with something scanned or photographed. It’s not massively urgent but would be a terrific help.

Thanks chaps.

Photos of England arriving in Australia

I’ve just put up Getty’s photos of England arriving at Sydney airport. Suddenly, it feels as though the tour really has begun. England’s mission now seems a lot clearer, if it wasn’t already abundantly obvious: bring that bloody urn home!

This. Is. Massive. See Flintoff here and the photo index of the tour here.

And here are some from Yahoo News courtesy of AP

Flags on England's plane after arriving in Australia

England fans cheer on their side who arrived at Sydney Airport

Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff wave to the cameras

Lee and Clarke cut the Ashes cake

As mentioned yesterday there are but 100 days until Brisbane. As if we didn’t need reminding. And today, or earlier today, Brett Lee and Michael Clarke cut a cake on Sydney Harbour to mark the countdown. There are no words…

Brett Lee and Michael Clarke

100 days until the Ashes

It might seem a long time until Brisbane, but in fact it’s just 100 days until the first Ashes Test of the 2006-07 series. Brett Lee and Michael Clarke will mark the countdown in Sydney tomorrow morning by cutting a cake. Not sure what that signifies, or indeed whether the cake will be made of ashes, but it’s all a bit too exciting for words.

Andrew “Roy” Symonds starts repaying what he owes.

Andrew Symonds’ big night out on the day before an ODI against Bangladesh in 2005 will go down in infamy in Australian cricket lore, and probably will be celebrated in Bangladesh for a while to come as well. But he did redeem himself somewhat with a match-winning century in Dhaka to win the 2nd ODI for Australia yesterday.

It must be said, in all honesty, that at the moment he looks like he’s been on an even bigger bender then his 2005 effort. The dreadlocks look scruffy and the beard makes him look like a vagabond. At the moment, if any Australian cricketer is crying out for a makeover by the folks from ‘queer eye for the straight guy’, it is Symonds.

He may look like a drunken derelict, but his 5th ODI century for Australia was a most sober and abstemious effort. He came in with a bit of a crisis happening and Australia struggling after losing 3 for 10 after Adam Gilchrist got interrupted just as he was really warming up. That brought to mind his innings in Sydney against Sri Lanka, where Chaminda Vaas roughed up the Australian top order. Starting this time at 3 for 65, he combined with Michael Clarke to compose a brilliant but ungainly knock.

It’s one thing to score a glittering century on an easy paced but reliable SCG wicket; this wicket at Dhaka was simply diabolical. It was slower then a Madagascar sloth and deader then WG Grace. He came out wearing a helmet but there was no way Mashrafe Mortaza was going to get a bouncer to get beyond rib high at best. Pitch preparation is a black art at the best of times, but whoever was in charge of this one should hang his head in shame. Bangladesh may be poor, but if they can afford to put on a gloriously manicured outfield, there’s no excuse for a pitch like this.

So once the fast men finished their spells with the new ball, we had the rather dreary sight of spinners bowling and the batsmen working them over for singles. It is this sort of cricket that drove the ICC in frustration to introduce monstrosities like power-plays and supersubs. It is hardly the batsmen at fault in situations like this; in Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds, Australia had two of its most positive minded batsmen at the crease. But Clarke only scored 2 boundaries in his 54.

Credit must go to the bowlers, especially the redoubtable Mohammed Rafique. The veteran spinner has clearly been the pick of Bangladesh’s bowlers right through this Australian tour. Of course, it does help his cause that as a slow left arm spinner, he is a member of the spin caste that has troubled Australians the most over recent years. Daniel Vettori is another that springs to mind.

So Symonds played Rafique with respect, picking him off, working him over for the singles, and waiting for the loose ball from the other end. These were not in short supply once Bashar had to face the chore of juggling to find ten overs from his ‘fifth’ bowler, but again the conditions conspired, and the lack of bounce clearly frustrated Symonds. However, instead of losing his head and his innings, he managed to keep his composure, and his wicket, and in the end his century came off 122 balls; slow by his standards but fast in the conditions.

Bashar perhaps missed a trick; he seemed content to allow Australia to pick off singles, and I wonder when a captain is going to be bold enough to try keeping his inner fielders close enough to the batsmen to make singles hard work. It could have paid dividends.

But it was never tried, so they tied Australia down for a while but they could not get them out though, and a late burst saw Australia through to 250. And once the Australian fast men knocked off the top order of Bangladesh’s batting, that was it as a game. Habibul Bashar played a good captain’s knock to ensure Bangladesh had some respectability with their reply of 183, but Symonds was the man who made the difference. And a good thing too, because against this opponent, Symonds owed his country a match-winning innings or three.

Not quite the great escape, but that was actually a very good Test match.

So Australia escaped, mainly through the remarkable deeds of Ricky Ponting, once again demonstrating that he is the peerless Australian batsman of his age, a great age of Australian batsmanship.

This was his 31st century, and his first against Bangladesh. A lot of batsmen have scored a lot of easy runs against Bangladesh, but this was no easy century; I can think of almost a dozen that Ponting has scored that were easier; two against West Indies in Brisbane, and his second against South Africa in Sydney spring to mind just in this latest Australian season. This was close to being a masterpiece in fact.

It wasn’t quite perfect; he was dropped on 97, a difficult chance to Mashrafe Mortaza. It was watchful, thoughtful and dripping with purpose and energy. Ponting is no great shakes as a captain, but he’s one of the all-time great batsmen at the height of his powers, and he is a delight to watch.

But just as Ponting can be credited with saving a lost cause, Bangladesh can be faulted for losing it. In his Verdict for Cricinfo, Osman Samiuddin puts the case for the prosecution:

Even if we accept that Australia were tired – this was their 11th Test since October – five days ago nobody expected them to nervously chase just under a hundred on the last day with five wickets in hand. Five days ago, most expected the last day to be a day off. In this context alone, the performance is remarkable. But while everyone celebrates, Bangladesh might choose some serious contemplation instead. Should Bangladesh be happy they pushed Australia so close? Or should they grumble about having missed the opportunity to win it?

Their second-innings collapse – after Dav Whatmore had said he was hoping they wouldn’t do just that – will gnaw at them. Habibul Bashar has already repented his sin of a dismissal and if they were smart, then Aftab Ahmed, Rajin Saleh, Mohammad Rafique and Khaled Mashud, would follow suit. More than just a hundred runs separates chasing 300-plus and 400-plus.

And though Steve Waugh claimed he never told nobody about dropping World Cups, surely his successor Ricky Ponting could have told Mashrafe Mortaza that he had just dropped history through his fingers. Australia needed 24 when Ponting miscued a pull with only Stuart Clark and MacGill to come. And Mohammad Rafique might curse the pitch for offering too much spin when he beat Ponting’s outside edge. Ultimately, will it be any consolation that, like Multan, they should not have lost this Test? Or solace in Ponting’s words that, “They’ve played very, very well. For them to score 355 on the first day was a terrific effort. They certainly have come a long way.” Just one of the many intriguing after-effects of this Test will be how the home side now responds in Chittagong.

Australia have played eleven Tests since October and they’ve won ten of them. You don’t get a chance to beat Australia very often at all, so when the cricketing fates flow your way, you just have to take them. England did that last year to win the Ashes, but consider this. Since Ricky Ponting became captain of Australia in early 2004, Australia have lost just three Test matches.

It may well be a long time until Bangladesh get another chance to beat Australia and while they deserve commendation for pushing Australia as close as they did, which after all is way above what we expected, in the long run they will rue this missed opportunity.

What Statsguru can tell us about the first final between Australia and Sri Lanka

I played around with Cricinfo’s statsguru program so I could write a post about the first final for the Cricinfo blog Different Strokes. Ironically, that blog is down, as indeed are all of cricinfo’s blogs. Some technical malady has smited them. So because I’m going to the game and won’t be here to post anything, I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting it here.

Thanks to Tuesday’s result, we now know that Sri Lanka will play Australia in the finals of the VB series. This is good for the series, because in my opinion, Sri Lanka are better equipped then South Africa are to cause an upset win in at least one of the fixtures and push the series into a third final. Which is something that has not happened for twelve seasons. The trend strongly is that the team that wins the first final goes onto win.

So for Sri Lanka, to win the first final is very important indeed. If they can somehow conjure up a win in Adelaide on Friday night, they will have a great fillip, and the second final is on their favourite Australian ground, Sydney. Between now and Friday, Sri Lanka’s coach Tom Moody will be working on a game plan to surprise the Australians, and he’ll probably use Cricinfo’s Statsguru program. Let’s see what Statsguru says.

The variations of scheduling help here, since these sides have met 15 times since 2002/03. This gives us a good sample to work with, and from these results, certain trends can be inferred.

Australia has dominated recent meetings between the sides, winning eleven and losing only four. The alarming figure for Sri Lanka is that Australia have batted first seven times in the fifteen, and won six out of the seven. Whereas, Sri Lanka have batted first eight times, and won three of those matches.

So Sri Lanka would like to bat first. In those eight matches where they batted first, they won three with scores of 343/5, 245 and 309/7. The other five scores were below that, and they lost all five. So they know if they bat first and can score 245 or more, they have given themselves a good chance to win.

And history at the Adelaide Oval certainly backs that plan up. Adelaide Oval has hosted 60 limited overs matches, and the team batting first has won 35, but recent history is strongly in favour of the team batting first, with eight out of the last ten being won by the side batting first.

However there is one small problem with this scenario for Sri Lanka. They have to win the toss and bat first.

If Australia win the toss and bat first, Sri Lanka have a problem. Of the last seven times Australia batted first they have won six of them. The only game they did not win, they scored 198/7. They have defended several scores in the mid 200 range as well as scoring over 300 three times. So Australia will be very confident that they can defend anything over 200.

So Tom Moody has to somehow find a weakness in Australia’s armour. Thanks to Statsguru, we can fine tune our search. Let’s look at the last 15 games where Australia won the toss, batted first, and lost the game.

What is interesting here is that while Australia has quite a few low scores in that lot, the mean score over the last fifteen is 221; and further looking around suggest that eleven of Australia’s last fifteen defeats came while batting first.

The common thread is that Australia have lost by losing a lot of early wickets, and getting either bowled out, or close to it.

So this should flow into Sri Lanka’s tactics. They have three bowlers who can take wickets, Vaas, Muralithiran and Bandara. My own feeling is that Sri Lanka should look to try and bowl these key figures early, and dispense with at least one of the powerplays until the 40 over mark. Because if history shows anything, if Australia still have top-six batmen in at the 40 over mark, the score will already be past 200 and Sri Lanka’s chances will be slim indeed. So the key thing is to attack at all costs, take early wickets, and keep taking them. If Australia are able to bat through their fifty overs, Sri Lanka will find it very hard to chase them down, and the history of the venue also points to that.

I somehow doubt that Tom Moody will instill this sort of attacking gameplan into his charges; Marvan Attapatu is not one of the attacking captains. However, thanks to Statsguru, we can see that to win, he’ll need to win the toss and bat, and failing that, he’ll need to use his bowlers in a very aggressive manner to stop Australia.

Australia vs South Africa wrap

I’m not the only one bored with the VB series going this long. I listened to the radio for most of the day while watching the play, as I was getting close to an act of violence if I had to listen to any more of Tony Greig’s insufferable inanities. Peter Roebuck was clearly even more bored then I was since he was more keen on discussing his charitable foundation’s activities in Africa then the game, and he follows my lead in calling for the format to be scrapped.

The game itself was actually good, and Adam Gilchrist was back to his sparkling best, scoring 88 off just 66 balls, with 14 glorious boundaries. His innings was theoretically terminated by a mis-played pull shot, but the actual thing that got him out was the commentator’s curse; as he passed 80, they started talking about double-centuries. He admits he was thinking about it himself, so obviously he got out.

Ponting, Martyn and Hussey all tucked in as well against a very weak South African pace attack, and settled on 344. Chasing that monster of a total, South Africa were just on the edge of possibility until Mark Boucher got out after scoring an excellent 76. They ended up with 287 for 6, which is a huge score in itself.

So a pretty meaningless game in the great scheme of things, but an entertaining fixture, at least compared to what happened in Melbourne on Friday. The difference was that the pitch here was good.

Statistical oddity- Australia scored 344 for 7 in 50 overs, with only one 6 for the innings. And that didn’t come up till the 46th over. Australia scored 300 in 45 overs, without going over the rope once. Bizzare.

McGrath to play

Glenn McGrath is likely to play in today’s ODI against South Africa in Sydney. The future of the Australian fast bowler in the short term though is very doubtful, as his wife is once again battling with cancer.

It seems likely that McGrath will be available to play in the Second final as well, which will be played at Sydney, but that he’s not able to travel for the immediate future.

I would hazard a guess that McGrath was told to play by his wife Jane, who would be hating the impact that her battle with cancer is having on her husband. I wish them both well. Even though this is a cricket blog, there are actually more important things in life. Not many, but this is one of them.

UPDATE- Ugh, me wrong. McGrath’s a late scratching. Good luck mate!

Australia v World XI, Super Test, Sydney, Day Four

So. This Test has just about sparked into life at the eleventh hour – laughable to think there are two whole days left in it. Plenty of time, therefore, for the World XI to reach 355. They can pootle along at about 2/over and they’ll walk through to victory…

I really think World XI have their noses in front. The formula for victory is incredibly easy: one batsman needs to score a hundred. The rest can back him up with 40s and 50s. But, as we’ve been saying for the past decade, the threat of McGrath and Warne is omnipresent. My Cricinfo colleague, Dileep Premachandran, has done a preview for day 4. Chat away, if any of you can be bothered.