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…

The most important Test for 52 years

Scyld Berry:

If there has been a more important Test match in living memory than the one scheduled to start at Trent Bridge on Thursday, it can only be the Oval Test of 1953, when England regained the Ashes after 19 years, an even longer interlude than the current one of 16 years.

As if the pressure on both teams wasn’t already enough! There is some fabulous stuff in the press today:

Scyld’s article on why England can reverse the Ashes trend.

Mike Atherton, whose articles I always enjoy, writes a light-hearted but revealingly clever piece on Ponting and Vaughan:

I’m not looking forward to confirming the news tomorrow morning [Gillespie missing out on selection] – it could be the end of his Test career.

Maybe I’ll let Merv tell him – the fat b****** has to do something for his money. Who voted him in as a selector anyway?

Cricket v Football at The Observer.

A very long, not particularly revealing but ultimately enjoyable interview with Simon Jones in The Sunday Times.

Another excellent writer and commentator, Vic Marks, says in his Guardian column:

Brett Lee acknowledged: ‘We are happy to come away with a draw.’ When did we last hear Australia so relieved, so ecstatic to avoid defeat in an Ashes Test?

Mike Selvey, Marks’ TMS colleague, has been trying to escape from Ashes Central, but failed. In his article, he said he even tried listening to the White Stripes’ album Elephant – but even this thwarted his attempts to get away from the game:

To avoid the chatter [on the plane] I turned on my iPod – the White Stripes’ Elephant would be a good safe haven I thought – and what did I hear? “Waking up for breakfast, burning matches, talking cricket” on There’s No Home for You Here and “It’s quite possible that I’m your third man” on Ball and Biscuit

Funnily enough, I too thought once thought those were the lyrics (“burning matches, talking cricket”) but my mate corrected me, almost in disgust at my obsession with the game. Apparently it’s “Burning matches, talking quickly.” Still sounds like “cricket,” if you ask me.

There’s lots, lots more besides which I’ve no doubt missed, but that lot ought to keep you honest for the time being. This lull in the Tests has been strangely uncomfortable, almost like when you walk to the next ride and find it’s crap, after going on a 100mph rollercoaster. The tumbleweed has been, well, tumbling – but I’m getting that familiar, nervous excitement returning to the pit of my stomach. It’s 1-1, guys and girls – and it’s about to kick off again in just four days time!

Cricket: the new sport of choice

Another fascinating article about the rise of Cricket in Britain. I’m copying it below for posterity – all copyright and rights remain with The Observer and the original author.

Last friday afternoon, the group of young boys were gathered as usual in the inner-city playground next to the estate where they live, white, black and Asian youngsters idling away the summer doing what kids do best – playing. They gather there every summer, as regular as migratory birds, shooting hoops into the desultory basket, or more likely playing out their football fantasies against a dusty background of competing replica shirts.

But last week something was different: the boys were, as usual, playing but their sport of choice was new. They were playing cricket. There must have been 20 of them crowding the outfield and in the centre was a brand new set of bright blue plastic stumps being defended by an excited youngster swinging his shiny new blue bat with determined animation.

A friend who has passed this playground for the past 10 years had never before seen these young boys of summer playing anything but football or basketball. Here was proof if any were needed, in the week in which the England football team, multi-millionaires to a man, were beaten so abjectly in Copenhagen, that cricket is the sporting news this summer.

No Test series has been more eagerly awaited than the present one and none, not even Ian Botham’s Ashes of 1981, has proved more continuously inspiring or produced such intense and enthralling cricket. The Australians arrived in England at the beginning of June acclaimed not only as the greatest team ever to have played the game but as revolutionaries, the team that had re-made Test cricket as a more vigorous, athletic, attacking game for our impatient age.

They had in their ranks three players – Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist – who would be automatic selections for an all-time great cricketing XI, and most of their batsmen averaged more than 50. They had spent the best part of the past decade or so beating teams hollow all over the world, and, with their usual swagger and arrogance, expected to do the same to the Poms.

We knew England were an improving team. We knew that under coach Duncan Fletcher and captain Michael Vaughan the team had remade itself and was winning series in difficult places such as South Africa and Pakistan. We knew that in Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, and Marcus Trescothick, as well as the captain himself, we had young cricketers of character, determination and high ability.

What we didn’t know was just how determined they were to take on the Aussies, and how, through doing so with such gusto and aggression, they would introduce a new generation to the intrigues and complexities of Test cricket, perhaps the greatest of all games.

The tied one-day final at Lord’s in July, the clatter of 17 wickets on the first day of the first Test, England’s thrillingly narrow victory at Edgbaston, then the almost unbearably exciting draw at Old Trafford in the third Test… it is impossible to predict what will happen next in this remarkable summer of cricket. What is certain is that both teams will continue to play hard and to win, but, following Flintoff’s example at Edgbaston, when in the immediate aftermath of England’s victory he thought only of consoling Brett Lee, who had come so close to leading Australia to improbable triumph, they will also play with courtesy, sportsmanship and fellow feeling.

If you contrast the attitude of our cricketers with that of the monosyllabic truculence of the pampered and often preening footballers who represented England in Copenhagen you will understand why those boys in the playground were last week playing a different game.

My only regret is that from next year no cricket will be available on terrestrial television for them to watch and be inspired by.

Cricket is the new football

(England v Australia, Third Test, Old Trafford)

Excellent newspaper and media round-up by my Cricinfo colleague par excellence, Jenny Thompson, including such gems as:

More prosaically, The Times reported that England cricket shirts are outselling football strips across the country, and even reported on a 20% upsurge in sales of cucumber, scones and tea: “all staple ingredients for a good afternoon tea at the cricket, suggesting newcomers to the sport enjoy all aspects associated with watching it”.

(Another) Ashes Preview

Under four days until the fixture of all fixtures begins. England v Australia, at Lord’s – and the weather is set fair (for now…). Here’s a newspaper and blog roundup:

Mike Atherton, writing for The Telegraph, spends time profiling John “buck” Buchanan, including his highly unsuccessful time with Middlesex (“In the case of Middlesex he admits he may have been guilty of trying to teach them to run before they could walk.”)

Is he from the Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger school of post-match sociability? More Wenger, it seems. “I’ll find it difficult to have a drink with Duncan -we’re in competition after all. If we did have a chat I’d be constantly looking for clues in everything he said and I’d be completely guarded myself. It would be a very stilted conversation.’

When Duncan Fletcher became England’s coach, his wary-looking face, publicity-shy personality and, at times, glum facial expressions from the balcony conveyed a man not happy with his lot. This quickly changed, however, and he is now a highly respected and integral part of the renaissance of English cricket. Importantly, and pleasingly, he has also been recognised by the public as one of the crucial figures in England’s recent winning streak. He is an excellent tactician & batting coach, and an even better people-person. I’d be interested to hear from the Aussies reading this what they feel about their coach.

Uber Scott, who really should have been mentioned by the BBC instead of me, is passionate about the forthcoming duals awaiting us. Despite predicting an Australian victory by 3-1, he says:

My prediction is that Australia will win the series by three Tests to one. However, while that might be a familiar scorecard, I have high hopes that the five Tests in this series will see a standard and intensity of play that we’ve never seen in the history of the game. This could be a series we are talking about for the rest of our lives.

I tend to agree with most of those sentiments. My concerns, however, are that Australia’s weaknesses (which are few and far between) won’t be exploited by England sufficiently. Hayden, for example, looks arthritic at the crease at the moment; exploit that, Harmison. Australia will usually (with the current side) successfully target a players weaknesses, England must too. Ponting’s early fallabilities; Hayden’s decreasing confidence; Gilchrist’s vulnerabilites with the ball cutting back into him (from around the wicket: something Flintoff executed brilliantly in the NatWest one-dayers). If if if if IF England can do these things each session, we could be in for a series to end all series.

Andrew Miller details the head-to-head battles that will decide the series.

Vic Marks ends his piece with a gem:

This is their goal – to keep news of Wayne Rooney’s in-growing toenail off the back pages until the third week in September.

Peter Roebuck says England have chosen a competitor rather than a batsman in Kevin Pietersen.

The venerable AKR has a poll on his blog.

Mike Selvey has a dig at Gus Fraser (why not?) and the ICC’s recent disasterously ill-thought-out one-day plans:

Actually it has been another salutary exercise in cricket’s ability to make what is essentially a simple game into something akin to nuclear physics. The first game at Headingley was a hoot. First we had Vikram Solanki, a fellow who as 12th man habitually spends most of his time on the field anyway while Steve Harmison changes a shirt or Freddie Flintoff goes for a pee, coming on and staying on while a bowler, Simon Jones, stayed off for good. No one noticed the difference and it was made no clearer when it was explained that the game’s first supersub was in fact not a substitute at all but a replacement, which does not have quite the same ring to it.

He also hails Nancy, of Lord’s Lunches fame, who recently passed away:

Once Mike Brearley, captain of England, thought the soporific post-prandial mob he was leading perhaps needed less indulgence. Something a little less substantial, Nancy? “Tell you what, Michael,” she countered, hands on hips. “I won’t tell you how to fockin’ bat and you don’t tell me how to fockin’ cook. All right?”

I got a phone call from Nancy’s daughter Jeanette this week to say that her mother had passed away after a bout of pneumonia. My sadness is tempered only by the knowledge that Nancy would have looked at the picture at the top of this column and said, “Well, you don’t look too fockin’ sad to me, you eejit.” She was a grand lady.

Paul Kimmage sees Justin Langer philosophising about life, writing, cooking and roses and finds it all a bit perplexing. No, you didn’t misread that – Justin Langer does have a rose garden:

“I love my rose garden, I love my family, I love my meditation, I love the soft side of things,” Langer told The Australian newspaper earlier this year.

“So this is what it’s like to be English”

The Australian paper The Age today has perhaps the most interesting and thought provoking article about Australia’s problems at the moment.

In it, it is said Richie Benaud has already forecast defeat for the Australians – as has Christopher Martin-Jenkins who, frankly, isn’t known for his early forecasts:

Australia may have retrieved some ground after their humiliation against Bangladesh, but if Harmison bowls as fast and rhythmically as he did yesterday, England will win the Ashes.

Blimey. This is what I feared, and probably what Vaughan fears: over confidence by English media. Yes, of course they’ve every reason to feel pleased with their team’s performances so far. Yes, Australia have underperformed but, as The Age is keen to mention, “We are only two weeks into a 14-week tour and the first Test is a month away.”

The following part of the article drew me in most, though:

ances before losing the series in 1995. The question is no longer whether Australia is too dominant for the good of cricket (and Bangladesh’s win was good for world cricket). Instead, Australians in England are enduring an uncomfortable role reversal; they are feeling what it is like to have been an Englishman in Australia for the past 16 years. It must be hoped that the Australians can restore discipline, shake off the rust (any complacency is surely gone) and take advantage of a kind itinerary to find form before the Tests. The past week has offered a sobering foretaste of what losing the Ashes would be like.

I think therein lies the elation for the English in the past week: Australia, this is what it feels like, and aint it nasty? The clouds of pain and humiliation of years of Ashes defeats have been lifted in a week of sunshine and victory. But I don’t subscribe to Benaud or CMJ’s views about the Test series, yet; all this week has demonstrated is England are a force, and are making Australia take notice. Nothing more, nothing less.

Eng v Aus roundup (and Pietersen)

Australia’s crazy week is talk of the town (if “town” is a pile of newspapers and websites), with just a hint that their media are starting to panic. Ponting seemed relatively calm after yesterday’s defeat – calm, but fuming.

Darryl doesn’t think Australia must panic yet (but commenters comment to the contrary)

Scott thinks Australia’s standards are slipping

Cricinfo has an excellent paper roundup

The SMH can’t help praise Pietersen, and Trevor Marshallsea thinks he’s the bees-knees – comparing his heroics to Wayne Rooney’s headline-grabbing goals/talent in 2004.

And there’s more, but I have to eat. On a day where nearly 700 have reached my site, I’ve hardly posted a thing – and, on a day where I got some brilliant news (thanks Andrew, Martin…) I’ll add more to this later – and respond to the comments too…

Kevin Pietersen’s secrets

There are some gems in this morning’s Telegraph, by Simon Briggs; my favourite of Kevin Pietersen and his uber-confidence:

So where exactly did Pietersen develop his supernatural sang-froid? Well, a story from the Southampton local leagues provides a clue. Last Wednesday evening, a social team named the Otters were taking an awful hammering from Trant, who batted first and smashed 186 from their allotted 16 overs. Then Bryan Pietersen, Kevin’s younger brother, ran in to bowl.

“He took two wickets with his first two balls,” said one stunned Otter, “and he was giving us plenty of stick. Then he had an lbw turned down – not surprisingly, as this is the sort of league where lbws are never given – and he went bananas. He was walking out to square leg with the umpire at the end of each over and explaining the rules. If the game had been competitive, I could have understood it, but we were 17 for four at the time.”

After the way cricket was played in the Pietersens’ back garden, South African sledging must have made Kevin feel right at home.

Ricky Ponting: significant position in Australian society

Didn’t know what to make of this. Aussie coach John Buchanan says of 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.”

I suppose Cricket is number 1 in Australia, but still, it seems an odd thing to say about your captain.

Quote of the day

Good article in The Times, and I enjoyed this bit:

All the day lacked was a memorable moment. The only picture that will stick in my mind from this game was something that happened on Thursday, largely unnoticed. Stephen Harmison was running in and bowling his fastest, a huge man hurling a hard ball at the heads and ribs of several much smaller men, who were ill-equipped to cope. And he was wearing a blue anti-bullying wristband. No tension, then, but a certain amount of irony.