Even Baldrick wasn’t this cunning

“World Cup  plans on  track: Buchanan”

Ye gods, if this is a plan…

To be fair though, Buchanan never actually is quoted as saying that. It is another case of sub-editors licence. However, if Australia don’t have a markedly improved performance against New Zealand tomorrow in Auckland, the howls coming out of Australia will grow ever more shrill.

Mind you I am confident that things will turn around in time for the World Cup. There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet.

Buchanan saves the kookiest ideas till last

Sydney is not only the swansong for Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath; it is also the last Test for John Buchanan as Australian coach. And not a moment too soon, if his latest media intervention is anything to go by.

Speaking to reporters at the MCG this morning, Buchanan said Australia was hoping for more of a challenge from England, which he thought had played without aggression, self-belief or thought of challenging the opposition for large parts of the Ashes series.

“I’m hoping that they really enjoy the New Year, come back with a new resolve and are really ready to take us on head-on in Sydney,” Buchanan said.

“I think we’ve been tested at certain periods of time but England haven’t been able to sustain their skills through the course of a five-day Test match. We’re quite looking forward to that in Sydney.

Short of baring his arse at the England team bus, I can’t think of a more insulting thing that Buchanan could have done. As an Australian, I can tell you that I wouldn’t have been too impressed if Duncan Fletcher had come out before the Oval Test in 2005 daring Australia to fire up.

It is a well established rule in all sports, not just cricket, that when speaking to the media of your opposition, you speak of them respectfully, and give them their due as worthy opponents. It does not matter if Australia are playing England, Zimbabwe, or Andorra at Test cricket.

When it comes to religion, I am an atheist. However, I am a devout believer in the cricketing Gods, and I fear their wrath. Buchanan’s actions could provoke a powerful response.

And I give thanks to all the Great Cricketing Gods that this is Buchanan’s last Test in charge. I’ll miss Warnie and Pigeon. Not sure I’ll miss Ned Flanders though.

Spin City

John Buchanan’s attempts to spin Australia’s bowling in the Second Test looked even more ineffective then Shane Warne’s leg-spinners.

Admittedly, the pitch offered nothing, and England batted superbly, but you can hardly say Australia have bowled well after taking only six wickets in nearly two full days.

McGrath spent time off the field fixing his boot in the opening session to ease a heel problem. Although he has not been complaining about the injury, his effectiveness was limited and his speed has dropped significantly on the flat surface. “He pounded down 20-plus overs,” Buchanan said, “so, so far so good.” He returned 0 for 103.

Warne gave up 167 runs for the wicket of Geraint Jones while Brett Lee also won praise from Buchanan for his 1 for 139. “I think Brett’s bowled exceptionally well,” he said. “He’s held his pace and bowled good lines. It’s encouraging for the second innings and the rest of the series.

“The measure of Shane’s bowling is how many bad balls there were. He bowled a couple late yesterday when he got tired and maybe a few today. His control has been excellent, he hasn’t got the rub of the green, a bit like Brett.”

Stuart Clark was the only bowler not to win compliments from Buchanan and he was the man who performed the best. Throughout the first two days he troubled England with short and full deliveries and added three victims to continue his strong series.

Excuse me while I roll my eyes at that one. McGrath was clearly not fully fit, and the Australian team heirarchy deserve censure for allowing him to play. Mitchell Johnson probably wouldn’t have fared any better but at least there wouldn’t have been a worry about him worsening an injury.

From an English point of view, the day belonged once again to Collingwood and Pieterson. They were, it has to be admitted, magnificent. They learned their lessons from Brisbane and gave England the whip hand. And it was good to see that Flintoff was prepared, late in the day, to lead aggressively from the front. Fancy declaring, and taking the new ball for himself. Full marks to Freddy on that one!

England can attack on day three. It will be interesting to see how Australia’s batsmen, and England’s bowlers, respond to the challenge.

England fight back, and some thoughts on coaches

To the audible relief of South Australian cricket administrators, England provided some much needed resistance on day four, and saved them the prospect of half-empty stands for the Second Test starting on Friday.

England were set an insane target, worked out by Ricky Ponting on the formula of multiplying my overdraft times the speed of light, or some such nonsense, and let his bowlers loose, while retiring to the massage table. He would have dined well as England lost two early wickets, and with Cook playing a range of loose shots, promise of more to come.

However, Pieterson and Collingwood provided stout resistance and some fiery entertainment for another large crowd, stated as being 37,000.

Yet England will surely lose, and they deserve to lose- while there was some magnificent batsmanship today, there was also some shameful episodes. Strauss, Cook, Collingwood, Flintoff and Pieterson were all guilty of some dreadful shot selection at various points in the day, treating an Ashes Test as little more then a knockabout in the park.

Pieterson’s innings was an instructive example. There was some lovely drives, all through the V, yet there were also some grotesque cross-bat swipes. None of these have cost him his wicket (as yet), but what happens if rain comes about three PM tomorrow and England have been bowled out at 2.35?

If England had batted with a slightly more applied approach, they might well have been three wickets down tonight, not five. That’s a big difference.

****

What do readers think about Andrew Flintoff’s dismissal? Shane Warne gave him an ugly serve on his way, and Justin Langer was smiling in delight even before he took the catch; the arrogance of it will grate on English sensibilities.

But it is an arrogance reflective of an Australian team that knows the value of their wickets, and the absolute folly of Flintoff’s shot. I don’t recall Ricky Ponting playing such an agricultural heave during his defensive masterpiece at Old Trafford last year. Duncan Fletcher may or may not remind his charges of that innings between now and the morning.

****

Speaking of coaches, I came across this article on my web-meanderings this evening, asking about the worth of overseas coaches. Given the kvetching about Duncan Fletcher that I’ve read in British media outlets the last few days, I wondered about the role of the coach.

It seems to me that for a coach to be a benefit, rather then a hindrance, there needs to be an absolute understanding between the coach and his captain. In many first class teams, it seems to be the increasing trend that the coach is the top banana and the captain merely his on-field lieutenant, rather in the way a football manager operates. That may work, but there does need to be a clear line driven, and both sides working in tandem.

It’s never been the Australian way. Would you fancy being the coach telling Steve Waugh how he was to arrange his batting order? John Buchanan always knew his place in Waugh’s order of things.

I’m not sure about the inner workings of England’s team, but Michael Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher certainly were working on the same wavelength. It may well be that the relationship between Fletcher and Andrew Flintoff isn’t quite so attune.

Cricketing lookalikes

Patrick is doing grand things with his blog. He’s proving that a broadsheet correspondent can react and adapt to the slightly more relaxed format, all the while maintaining his own style across both. Other papers and large media establishments have adopted blogs with worrying bandwagonnery, forgetting that it remains an editorial tool; the best blogs are well written, be that by a fan or an editor. The emphasis really must remain on quality content, not just the fanfare of joining in the party (and putting up your hand). I am as guilty as most of writing bullshit, as the rest of this post perfectly demonstrates – but at least I’m a consistent waffler!

If you haven’t read his blog yet, do.

He asked me for some lookalikes (see his post) and the only one I could come up with, off the top of my cranium, was Ned Flanders and John Buchanan. I’m surprised the Barmy Army haven’t cottoned onto it yet; perhaps they will this winter with cries of “Okily-dokily-doo”. In fact, as depressingly cheery Ned is, I’d rather him at a press conference than most coaches.

“Hididdily-ho, paradise dwellers”
“Hello, John. Happy with today’s performance, or do you feel you’re perhaps a hundred runs short?”
“Hot diggity! Indeedily-doodily-do!”
“Yyyyep, moving on…”

Incidentally, “Ned’s three Cs” are: Clean living, chewing thoroughly, and a daily dose of vitamin “church”. Loser.

So – your lookalikes, please.

Incidentally I’ve never really bought the Simpsons thing. I think it’s a bit like Marmite, but not nearly as tasty. I was further put off when I heard Richard, of Richard and Judy “fame”, said it was the best thing since sliced bread; he really is a twit. And continuing this tremendously pointless ramble, I saw him not long ago in a dingy pub in London. He double-parked his Jag outside, rushed in with a face like thunder and stormed to the gents. No sooner had I alerted the entire establishment of a TV personality in our midst – and Richard Madely – than he sprinted out again and flew off in his car.

Here endeth the waffle.

Ponting and Buchanan under fire from Ritchie

God it’s been a tough weekend. Walking on the beach; sitting in the pub, sitting in another pub overlooking another beach; walking on the cliffs overlooking a beach; eating fresh fish in our local pub with a beer and walking the three minutes to our house; walking round Salcombe and eating far too many pasties. I’m exhausted with my gluttonous relaxation. So it’s with tired eyes I read of Greg Ritchie’s bashing of John Buchanan and Ricky Ponting.

If Australia’s coach and captain remain in power, Ritchie thinks England will win the Ashes.

“Australia would win the Ashes if Shane Warne was captain,” Ritchie was quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald. “On the field, he [Ponting] doesn’t know what’s going on. England’s bowlers have our measure.”

Read the full story at Cricinfo then come back here and leave comments.

Warne survives the boot-camp (just)

Shane Warne has revealed what he and his team-mates have been up to at the boot camp – a John Buchanan concept – in the past week, including some tasks more associated with the military than sportsmen:

I was shattered. But just as the night went silent, voices screamed: “Go, go, go!”. What on earth was going on? A stun-bomb had gone off, and we were told the area wasn’t safe. We had to move. Now. There were no torches or directions.
All we had been given for dinner was half a can of chunky soup, so our energy reserves were low after pulling vans and carrying litres of water. But we had to go. It was time to prove our mental resolve and move to a different location.

Welcome to the Australian cricket squad’s boot camp in regional Queensland, a time where we had only been referred to as numbers, not names, and weren’t allowed to communicate with the outside world.

Despite voicing his indifference to the idea beforehand, Warne said “there’s no doubt it brought the group closer together.”

Wacky John and his wacky ways

I can’t make sense of this “boot camp” Australia are going on. John Buchanan has bucked the coaching trend many times, but this is just obscure. They’ve just left for it this morning, and here are the tantalising details:

Australia’s cricketers have started their preparation for this year’s Ashes series, leaving Brisbane early this morning for a secret training camp somewhere in the Queensland bush.

Cricket Australia’s 25 contracted players will be in the remote boot camp in south-east Queensland for the next four days.

Newspaper reports today say the players will be deprived of food and sleep and subjected to a military-style training regime.

The players were told to pack bare essentials only.

Deprived of food and sleep is going to help them how, exactly? Will they be similarly rationed during the Ashes, too? Ridiculous load of tosh if you ask me. It goes without saying that if you just happen to be a Queenslander, and have 11-15 new cricketing neighbours, you should contact me immediately!

Maybe it’s a double-bluff. Perhaps they’ve been transported to a hideaway five star hotel, with signed copies of Duncan Fletcher’s book

We’ve come a long way from ‘mental disintegration’.

Steve Waugh would be horrified:

John Buchanan believes his Ashes opponents have improved as a team unit since Andrew Flintoff’s injury-enforced absence. Buchanan has been impressed with the way England’s players have not sat back and looked to their stars to perform in consecutive Test wins over Pakistan.

“I think what we have seen from them is a gradual build-up in terms of the way they’re playing, their teamwork, and responsibility being shared around the team, which I think has been a real plus for them,” Buchanan said in The Age. “It hasn’t been a case of turning to Freddie Flintoff all the time to take a wicket or turning to [Steve] Harmison or [Kevin] Pietersen to deliver something. They’ve actually had the ability to share it around … the likes of Cook, Bell, Panesar and now [Chris] Read’s come in.”

This is probably all actually true. But Waugh would never have tolerated Buchanan saying such things if he had been in charge.
I’ve not been able to watch this latest England season, so I can not really comment on what has been going on. I have a vague feeling that this latest England side could be said to be rather greater then the sum of its parts, which is a good sign for England.

But like Steve Waugh, I was just about choking on my wheaties reading what Buchanan had to say.

I’m a cricketer, get me out of here

John Buchanan, the tireless laptop-addict and innovator-in-chief of Australian cricket (he is also a coach) is sending his troops on a not-so-secret-but-he’s-trying-to-keep-it-close-to-his-chest camping trip to a remote region of Queensland. The Ashes might be several months away, but they’ve effectively already begun. Tomorrow’s third Test against Pakistan will provide yet more speculation as to England’s preparations. And meanwhile, Australia are to venture into the outback – avoiding those very poisonous spiders and snakes, we hope… – for team-building and other such pitiful phrases which masquerade as a jolly old holiday.

Glen McGrath and Stuart Clark

Officials are adamant that it will not be the kind of boot camp that has become the trend for football clubs, at which players have been pushed to their physical limits along the Kokoda Trail, in the case of Hawthorn, or Arizona, in the case of Collingwood.

While the leadership course is a departure from the usual routine of gathering for a cricket training camp at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane before the summer, Buchanan has a history of overseeing physical and spiritual team-building exercises during his coaching tenure.

No sign of Ant and Dec yet…