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
AFP

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.

Brett Lee bowls another maiden over

Super headline, that. So Brett Lee has married Liz Kemp today, a dauntingly attractive blonde. This is OK Magazine stuff, and I do apologise, but the most interesting aspect is they married at Fitzroy Falls, near where I spent about five weeks on holiday a few years ago.

That’s not at all interesting, is it? Sorry. I’ll get my coat.

Brett Lee and Liz Kemp

Brett Lee’s burnout tale is starting to wear thin

I noticed another story in the Australian media about how Australian cricketers are highlighting the danger of ‘burnout’, this time it is Brett Lee doing the talking. Interestingly, he is in India doing promotional work. He may be burnt out, but clearly not so much that international travel is beyond him.

Local authorities are nervous about Australia’s commitment to the Champions Trophy after suggestions from Adam Gilchrist that some Aussies may need to rest from the event which ends a week before the Ashes series begins.

England coach Duncan Fletcher has suggested that players such as Andrew Flintoff may also need to be given a break during the one-day series.

According to local reports Lee was less than convincing when asked if he would return for the tournament.

“I would love to play it because that’s the only trophy we haven’t won. But, then, I will play if I am fit enough to play at that time. Frankly, I love coming to the subcontinent,” Lee said.

“To us the Ashes is more important than anything else. We had the hold over it for 18 long years. We are very keen to win it back.”

To be fair to Brett, I’m sure that he IS very tired right now, and promoting watches is not the most difficult of tasks. However, the Champions Trophy is not now, it is in October. The Australian players will be coming into the tournament after a five month break.

I think there is a hidden agenda here. I think that the Australians are planning to tank the tournament so that they can come home and play a couple of domestic first class games to prepare for the Ashes.

That is a big claim to make, and one that Australian players will, I am sure, deny with shocked expressions if you were put it to them. However, given the demands of the fixtures list in the 2006/07 seasons, it is in fact the only sensible thing to do. The Australian team has four different contests on its plate next summer.

  • The Champions Trophy
  • The Ashes
  • The domestic ODI triangular
  • The World Cup

Now, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand which two of those four contests are going to be a high priority for the players. If the domestic ODI triangular was axed, the Ashes could be spread out into January, and the players from both England and Australia could have a decent preparation. But it isn’t so they won’t get that preparation, UNLESS they take a dive in the Champions Trophy.

Of course it is not acceptable to say that in public, so they are coming out with this nonsense about ‘burnout’.

That dillema is actually made explicit in this story about Glenn McGrath’s preparation for his comeback next season.

McGrath, 36, wants to begin his comeback in earnest in the Champions Trophy limited-overs tournament in India in October, then return home for a couple of Pura Cup matches for New South Wales.

But if Australia reaches at least the semi-final stage of the Champions Trophy – a tournament it has never won – he won’t feature in the Pura Cup.

The Blues have matches between October 27 and 30 at the Gabba and November 3 to 6 in Adelaide, with their next from November 24 to 27 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The first Ashes Test begins at the Gabba on November 23.

Selection chairman Andrew Hilditch said this week McGrath was “gearing himself up” to be ready for the tournament, but captain Ricky Ponting has advised him to bypass the Indian trip and prepare via a stint in English county cricket.This would enable him to deliver some long and repeated spells and regain match fitness. McGrath traditionally takes times to find his rhythm, and Australia cannot afford to ease him into the Ashes.

“Personally, I feel that it would be perfect for me to (play in the Champions Trophy) and have a couple of games in the Pura Cup,” McGrath said.

“That’s my plan. But if they would prefer me to look at county cricket, I would look at that.”

So you can see where the priority of the cricketers lies. And I do not blame them one bit. It is the administrators that force this on players with ridiculous ODI tournaments. The Champions Trophy has no credibility because it is forced into odd places in the international calendar by the likes of Australia’s triangulars, a tournament that lost its credibility a long time ago anyway.

And these considerations apply just as much to the English who by coming off a busy domestic season have a much more valid claim to cite burnout.

Never too old to learn

Brett Lee is making good use of his time in Bangladesh, talking to Wasim Akram about reverse swing.

Wasim Akram has given Brett Lee, the Australian fast bowler, a tip or two on reverse-swing and believes he will unleash it on England in this winter’s Ashes. Lee and two of his Australian bowling mates, Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson, approached Akram, now a television commentator, during the second Test against Bangladesh earlier this week.

“These guys want to improve, so they want to ask the top cricketers [for advice] and that’s good,” Akram told AAP. “I did tell them the little details about reverse-swing. I think soon in the Ashes we will be seeing Brett Lee bowling reverse-swing.”

Akram, perhaps the finest practioner of the art of reverse swing, tormented many batsman during the 1990s in partnership with Waqar Younis. “It was about action, about seam, a lot of talk about reverse-swing,” Akram said. “Brett Lee is a sight to watch in world cricket. Any bowler comes to me from any nationality, I am there to help.”

I’m very glad to see the Australian bowlers go out of their way to learn. Wasim Akram was one of the all time great bowlers, a player I loved to watch, and I’m glad that he’s been willing to teach. One of the best ways for players to learn is to ask, and I hope that when he’s retired, Lee in turn will help all comers in the finer points of fast bowling and reverse swing.

The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2006

Wisden Cricketers' AlmanackThe Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2006 launches tomorrow. I caught up with the editor, Matthew Engel, and you can read my mumblings at Cricinfo. We can also exclusively reveal the five Cricketers of the Year:

Andrew Flintoff was named Leading Cricketer in the World for 2005.

It’s also an exciting time for Cricinfo. After nearly four years of work, involving countless people, we have launched the Almanack online. This means you can search for any Wisden match report, article or obituary from 1864 – 2006! Pretty cool we hope you agree.

Who was that masked man, anyway?

GillyA long time since I’ve written. Not been well, writers block, work, etc. Will is sick of hearing my excuses.

Anyroad, as The Corridor of Uncertainty’s resident Australian and cudmurgeon-in-chief, I thought it was appropriate that I comment on the extraordinary events in Bangladesh, where the locals have just bowled Australia out for 269 to get a large first innings lead.

Old grumble-bum I might be, but I am fine with Bangladesh doing well against Australia. The national pride is a teeny bit mortified, to be true, to see my team struggle against the minnows-in-chief of world cricket. But my first loyalty is to Test cricket, and you can not argue that this Test is going to be a huge boost to Bangladesh cricket, regardless of the eventual result.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch, the wicket is slow, and the odd ball is keeping very low. I think this is what’s caught out the Australian batsmen.

But one batsman didn’t have any trouble- Adam Gilchrist got 144, with six sixes, and although he was slightly more cautious then of old, for the most part it was the authentic Gilchrist, with a smile, swagger, and confidence galore. After his recent form slump, he’ll be delighted to find that he can still smash bowlers all around the park.

But it got me thinking how, for a batsman out of form, a change is as good as a holiday. Gilchrist has been struggling for ages on the pacey, bouncy wickets of Australia and South Africa. Soon as he arrives to the sub-continent, he’s hit his straps, and he’s back to his best. Coincidence?

By the way, Habibal Bashir mis-read the situation with the latter part of the Australian innings. I’ll give him a pass on that- he’s not used to dealing with batsman manipulating the strike to avoid the follow on. But the way Bangladesh are improving since Dav Whatmore took over, he’ll get more practice in the future.

Anyway, I think Bangladesh will set Australia a huge target. Lee is lining up to bowl, but his back is dodgy. Warne’s shoulder is crook too. The Bangladesh batsmen should be able to cope with the pitch, and it’s up to them to get out there and seize a famous victory. And good on them.

Brett Lee does the double

Brett Lee today reached the impressive milestone of 1000 Test runs in addition to his 200 wickets. He’s made vital, match-saving runs in the past two years – it’s a bloody good stat, and his average is all the more impressive: 21.31. The last Australian to do this was Shane Warne, whose batting ability is vastly underrated; Merv Hughes was the last to achieve it before Warne. Stats at Cricinfo.

Incidentally, one of my favourite aspects of Cricinfo’s new scorecards (which are still being tested) is the ability to see full commentary of a player’s innings. Here’s Lee’s.

South Africa vs Australia again

Brett Lee has just sliced through the South African lower order to engineer a collapse. South Africa lost 5 for 12, to be all out for 267. Australia’s lead is over 100, and it is GAME ON as far as Ponting’s boys are concerned.

There’s nothing in cricket quite like a rampant Australian fast bowler tearing through the opposition. Except, perhaps, a rampant Australian leg-spinner tearing through the opposition! The stoush between Nel and Lee was exciting as it was brief. Top stuff!

Lee v South Africa

Ouch. 5 for 22 are very fine figures, especially in one-day cricket. But for Pollock’s 46, South Africa’s eventual score would have been far worse. And I note Lee’s back to being a tailender, and not the future all-rounder Australia think he’ll become…