Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day

The third day at Perth. It’s quite simple for England: take 9 wickets for about 50 and knock off 200 runs. It’s possible, too; all they need is for Steve Harmison to find some bounce and Monty Panesar some turn. Fortunately, Harmison is finally looking like a bowler in this series and not a stray from the Barmy Army. And Monty, well – we all know about the Montster.

Blind optimism is well and truly the way to go. It’s the 1990s all over again. Also: if you have any Russian friends, here’s how to say Happy Christmas: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom.

Get chatting.

Live: Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 3rd day

The third day from Adelaide. England are in a terrific position, but the pitch remains flat and they only have the one spinner. No pressure, Ashley Giles…or Steve Harmison for that matter. It’s up to those two to produce something special.

Fast, and not so fast, bowlers

There’s been more ink and bytes spilled on the Steve Harmison issue then any other English player in the last week or so then I can remember. Given that so many English hopes rested on his shoulders, that is understandable.

Jagadish crunches some numbers on Harmison. Meanwhile, his fellow fast bowlers escape scrutiny.

England’s other bowlers deserve some stick as well. Matthew Hoggard is an honest toiler, but he will struggle in Australian conditions. The lack of reverse swing has gone a long way to de-fang him. And, let me make it clear, it would have de-fanged Simon Jones as well, if he had been here. There might have been a few less half volleys, but it is wishful thinking to think that England’s attack would be much more dangerous with Jones about. At best, he might have stemmed the tide.

Since Jones is not around, England called upon two younger sorts. Jimmy Anderson got the nod at Brisbane, and he was mediocre. His bowling figures reflect that too. He was not able to bowl a consistent line or length to develop any pressure on the batsmen and Australia’s batsmen just waited for the bad balls and picked him off.

And there’s no excuse for that- his performance was barely worthy of first class cricket. Anderson needs to stop worrying about his hair product, get a copy of his Brisbane pitchmap, and get his arse in the nets and start working.

He certainly doesn’t deserve a place in the Adelaide Test but he might get it; the only other pace alternative is Sajid Mahmood. I saw Mahmood in the first game of the tour against the Prime Minister’s XI, and he was even worse then Anderson. If England seriously bring him into the XI for Adelaide, it will be Christmas come early for the Australian batsman.

Much more likely is the introduction of Monty Panesar. I’ve not seen him bowl except for highlights, but everyone that has seen him was surprised that he wasn’t included at the Gabba. From what I can tell, England’s best option is to include both spinners, and rely on Flintoff to attack with short sharp bursts, including the new ball.

Giles is not regarded as a serious wicket-taking options, but he does have the merit of keeping it tight. That is a handy virtue to have while Panesar is attacking at the other end. It is a huge ask to Panesar on Ashes debut, but England’s bowling plight is desperate, and there’s nothing else for it.

Anyway, that’s my take. Tim de Lisle has his take here. What’s your take?

An Ashes Christmas Carol

Gather round, boys and girls, and let dear old Uncle Scott tell you a cricket story. This especially goes out to all you smartarses out there that think this series is over bar the shouting.

Once upon a time, there was a country called England. They played cricket, but they weren’t very good at it, and they hardly ever got to have the Ashes. But eventually, they gave the captaincy of their cricket side to a hardcase Yorkshireman, and after a very tight home series, the Ashes were regained at the Oval, and there was much rejoicing through the land.

Needless to say, the Australians weren’t very happy about this state of affairs, and later in the next year, the English came to Australia to defend the Ashes. And at the First Test in Brisbane, Australia absolutely smashed them, scoring over 600 and winning by a mile.

England had put their hopes on a new fast bowling sensation, but he had gone for 1 for 160 in Australia’s innings and the Australians were not very worried. It seemed that the Ashes were coming home to Australia for sure. Then this happened, and this happened and this happened, and Australia was very annoyed indeed because the English had beaten them three Tests in a row for the first time in 25 years.

So the lesson is, boys and girls, is that it’s not over till its over. And if England were to bounce back and thrash Australia in this series, it would be no more then history repeating itself. Especially if Steve Harmison were to be the agent of Australia’s undoing.

England’s rust a warning to the future

I’ve been furious with Steve Harmison throughout this Test, and this year. But on the bus home this morning after work, it struck me that the problem isn’t solely his own. The near-total lack of warm-ups before internationals these days allow no time for any player to prepare sufficiently for the cauldron of a Test. Consequently, we could be entering an era when talent is elbowed aside by sheer fitness-fanatics – and what price will cricket pay? Anyway I wrote some stuff on similar lines, so have a read and offer your own thoughts.

Harmison declares himself fit

So he’s fit, as much as a cortisone injection can mask the pain, but is Steve Harmison angry enough?

“I will bowl through the pain barrier to help retain the Ashes,” Harmison wrote in his column in The Mail on Sunday. “I won’t do anything foolish, because this first Test is just too huge. But, as long as the medical people say my condition won’t get worse by playing, I’ll take any painkiller they want me to, and I’ll get myself on the field.

“Once I’m out there, I’ll bowl as much as they want me to, for as long as they want me to. I’m desperate to play in this match and in the whole series. The way I’m feeling now it will take a hell of a lot to stop me.”

Fighting talk, then. Worryingly for someone who is about to embark on his 46th Test, concerns about his commitment remain. An angry, menacing Harmy is what England needs for the first Test – much as he provided in the first Test at Lord’s last year, albeit a match England lost.

The problem with Harmison

I have a feeling I'm going to be chuntering and shaking my head long into my grey years well after Steve Harmison retires. I still wax lyrical about him to all my friends, as well I should. Here is a bowler so frighteningly good "on his day" as to make his path to greatness a formality. Yet we now all know this will never happen.

And we thought we had problems with Andrew Caddick. His partnership with Darren Gough was a vital cog in England's resurgence in the early 2000s yet Caddick was England's Jekyll & Hyde. Which will turn up today? We never knew, and we're similarly in the dark about Steve Harmison. We just don't know. Another dreadful display against Australia no doubt has Ponting and co. licking their lips at the dross he might serve up. They'd be wise not to get too cocky too soon, though; Harmison can destroy a side in about 40 minutes if he so chooses. Equally, his confidence can be ruined in half that time. Reason I'm rambling is this:

But paceman Steve Harmison showed again that while he has developed since his last tour of Australia, the danger of him turning in horror performances remains as clear and present as it was when his rhythm deserted him in Perth four years ago.

I'd forgotten the horrors of listening to that tour four years ago, and of Harmison's yips and general inadequacy. He has improved in consistency since then, and delivered match-winning performances to remind us of his potential. But the p word is not one we should associate with him now. As he himself admitted this week, prior to England's game against Australia, he is an experienced bowler now. Yet why, and how, is he still utterly unable to bowl like one?

Oh woe is us. 

A day for umbrellas

Someone needs to find Chris Adams and ensure that he is in no way performing any kind of rain dance. After a morning deluge washed out Thursday’s play at Old Trafford as well as Edgbaston, Lancashire’s chances of staying level in the title race are becoming faint. With Sussex sitting out this week’s round, they have been unhampered by the bad weather. Mark Chilton’s men, on the other hand, have now suffered two games running, with good performances against Warwickshire going to waste for the same reason. Requiring maximum bonus points and victory to grab top spot, they have only taken four Durham wickets, and are running out of time.

At the other end of the table, Yorkshire will also be rueing the lack of play in today’s Division One matches. With their two remaining bats skittled in what little action they saw at Headingley, the win Craig White’s side desperately need will be a hard task. The last thing they will want to see is third from bottom Durham holding on for a draw, especially as they will be playing each other next week. Maybe they will take some heart from the fact the only Harmison they will face will be batsman Ben – his older brother has been ruled out as a precaution.

Who should replace Harmison (if anyone)?

I can’t help but feel relieved Steve Harmison is missing for the one-day series which begins tomorrow, at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff against Pakistan. He was about as worthless as is possible in the 5-0 blush-fest against Sri Lanka earlier in the summer. So who should replace him…if anyone?

On and off switches

There’s a lot of hurrumphing about the variable form of certain English players going on at the moment. Both Steve Harmison and Marcus Trescothick have been subject to media speculation over the last few days.

Trescothick would be the player whom England would have more cause to worry about. It is true that he will probably turn it around, but I wonder how much patience the English selectors will show with him in Australia. I suspect that will depend greatly on how England’s fortunes are faring. If he has two ordinary Tests, and England are also 0-2, then his place will be under some serious scrutiny.

Harmison though, well, he’s been temporamental all his career, has he not? Australian fans have seen the same sort of thing from Brett Lee. I remember vividly last summer that in the space of four days, he went from terrifying the New Zealanders at Auckland to getting smashed by them in Wellington. Australian fans know that if he’s switched on, he’ll make mincemeat of the batsmen, and if he’s not, he’ll get carted.

Fast bowlers are especially prone to having such wild fluctuations in form. It is a reflection that everything has to be ‘just right’ with them, both physically and mentally, for them to be successful. Fans need to be patient with them.