Act II, Scene IV

I am breaking a cardinal rule: I am writing about day four before it is over. Australia are 191 for 8 and it is 17:37 in London and there is at most 53 more minutes of play and I have a busy afternoon planned so I thought I would go ahead and get this post out. That was a weird sentence.

I have this nagging feeling of disappointment when I think about these Ashes. I was really looking forward to this series and now it is for all intents and purposes over only nine days in. And that’s a shame. I mean, great for England and their supporters, but a shame for Australia and their supporters as well as a shame for us neutrals.

…Anderson just bowled Siddled with a beauty of an in-swinger and Australia are nine down…

Lots of talk about how poor Australia have been, and they really have been poor, but this England team is also very good, and as with all sports cricket runs downhill and with the momentum gained in the first Test and the momentum gained in this Test the gap between the two sides just continues to widen…I think there will probably be a draw in one of the final three Tests, but a five-nil whitewash is also very much in the cards.

…England are on the verge and the crowd is rising with every delivery. This is fun to watch.

…It would be a shame if this went to a day five. England deserve to win today and to win in front of this crowd…Sunday afternoon at Lord’s, packed house, brilliant sunshine, the 21st of July, about to go two-nil up in the Ashes…dream scenario for Cook and his team…

…Nightmare scenario for Australia…

…Broad just laid it all out to stop a boundary and I think that sums up England’s play: up by 380+ with only one wicket left to get, and yet England are still playing hard, still putting the pressure on. Yes, their cricket can be boring but it is also very effective…

…That said, Australia are continuing to fight; Pattinson and and Harris are not just trying to stay alive, they also look to be interested in scoring a few runs…

…Take the new ball, Alastair…

…The members really don’t have that great of seats in the long room. I wouldn’t want to watch through windows like that…

…Alastair took the new ball; not long left now surely…

…Four slips. I love an attacking field…

…Cook gives Broad the new ball. Two overs left but England will probably take the extra half hour. I would have gone with Bresnan…

…A huge LBW appeal turns into four leg byes…

…If only Australia’s top order batsmen had just half the heart and discipline and spirit that Australia’s low order batsmen have had this entire series…

…Thanks to the commentary team, I now know when the number below the badge on the England kits means. Cook’s is 630, so he is the 630th cricketer to play for the England’s Test side. And now you know, too…

…England have taken the extra half hour; I have this feeling we are going to have play tomorrow. Harris and Pattinson look settled…

…Supposed to be 34 degrees tomorrow in London – would be the hottest ever Test match at Lord’s…That’s a tad over 93 degrees for my American friends…

…Put a leg slip in, Alastair…

…Another LBW appeal that was not even close. How is appealing for a LBW when it is obviously not out any different than Broad not walking after an obvious nick? I think people just like to dislike Stuart Broad…

…10th wicket partnership: 38 runs and 40 minutes and 53 balls…now they just need to keep this up for another six overs today…and 90 more tomorrow…

…I will say it again: great spirit from Australia’s lower order…

…it’s all gone a bit flat…

…England are getting frustrated…

…231/9 and five overs left…

…Four slips in for England…

…The crowd has had too much sun and too much beer; they are flatter than the pitch right now…

…England really seem to have no interest in taking this wicket. There is no chatter, no life, no movement…

…Joe Root is a great story and a nice little player but I wish he would get some different sun glasses…

…Four overs left…if this was day five it would be the greatest Test match ever…

…Crowd has come back into it a bit; three overs left in the day…

…Three overs left until the dog gets his lunchtime walk…

…Two overs left…

…Broad around the wicket…

…Cook looks tired and frustrated…

…If this goes to a day five, I will have to rewrite my concluding paragraphs…

…Six balls left…

…And that’s that! Swann gets Pattinson plumb LBW and no reviews left for Australia and England win.

…as I mentioned on Twitter “No Reviews Available” should be the title of the book that dissects Australia’s performance in this series…

…Congrats, England, a comprehensive win but great fight from Harris and Pattinson.

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And that’s that, England are two-nil up and cruising. Here’s hoping Australia have a nice relaxing vacation on the south coast and come back roaring in Manchester. I am not ready to give up on this series quite yet.

My one last thought is how satisfying this must be for England fans. After the horrible 90s, and that horrible 5-0 white wash in 06-07, it must be so fun for English cricket supporters to watch their team humiliate Australia.

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I am going to take a bit of a hiatus from writing here. Just a short one, as I will be back for the third Test on August 1st. This is the first summer in a very long time where I do not have some time consuming activity happening on top of everything else, and so I decided back in late June to hold off on a few things and just really live a life of leisure. And while this blog is mostly for fun, I also do stress about it now and again and so I thought I would take a break from the blog, as well.

Thank you for reading, and see ya on the first of August.

Act II, Scene III

In my senior year of college I worked at a financial firm doing basic administrative duties. Filing and answering phones and sending out packages. It was mindless but I liked it.

I was working there at the absolute peak of the Dot-com bubble – the Nasdaq was over 5,000 and people were making money hand over fist. (One advisor made $100,000 in one single day. Two weeks later his wife was diagnosed with cancer.) I was also working there when the bubble burst. One day in particular stands out: April 15th, 2000, when this happened:

After market close that day I was having a smoke with one of the older brokers. He was telling me that days like we had just had were actually not all that bad – because it was just one day and sometimes stocks are overvalued and the market needs a correction.

He said it was far worse was in the 1970s when the market would inch downward a little bit at a time every single day – he compared it to, and I apologize to my female readers, to having one’s testicles placed in a vice and having someone tighten the pinchers a little bit every single day for months and months.

And that, dear friends, is what England is doing to Australia.

It is boring and it is slow, but it is also painfully and thoroughly and demoralizingly and tortuously effective.

The Cricinfo ball by ball commenter used the word “massacre” to describe the day – I think a better word would be “suffocation.”

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Finally, congrats to Joe Root. What a day:

 

Act II, Scene II

One of the things that some Americans will have a hard time understanding when it comes to Test cricket is when teams decide not to enforce the follow-on.

I am one of those Americans.

When Cook decided not to put Australia back in, I was a little shocked, I must admit, and I was not sure why England of all teams would not just keep turning the screws on a hapless Australia. England’s agenda in Test cricket is just to put on relentless pressure until their opponents (hopefully) collapse. And so not enforcing the follow on seemed quite simply out of character.

So I took to Twitter where I saw that I was not the only American out there who did not get it…

…and promptly received a polite lesson from my Twitter pals regarding follow-on related strategy:

 

(For those keeping score at home, both Bandon and JP are Americans…)

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I love learning things about cricket. I am a babe in the woods when it comes to the true ins and outs of this magnificent game – and learning the strategy behind the strategy behind the strategy is what keeps me coming back

But the thing is: I knew about the dangers of enforcing the follow on. One of my best posts ever was about Kolkata 2001 which is the poster child for not enforcing it on a deteriorating pitch – but I am not at the point where I can apply knowledge gleaned from prior Tests onto current Tests. That is where my cricket analysis skills fail me – but I am getting there.

And so some might disagree, but I now think it was the right call from Cook, despite the fact that England lost three early wickets thanks to some just TERRIBLE strokes – but no way could Cook have predicted that Pietersen, Trott, and he himself would fall in such shameful fashion. And so it remains the right call.

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Speaking of Cook, yesterday I mentioned that England fans should not be worried about Cook’s batting quite yet, as I still think it is too early for panic stations – but after today it won’t be long until supporters and pundits start openly questioning whether or not he has the mental capacity to be both captain and opener. And it is a downward spiral after that. Which is too bad.

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Anyway, a good day. England’s day. This match is theirs to lose. Seven days into the Ashes and it looks as though the urn is staying in England.

Sure Australia got those three early wickets this afternoon. And sure this a young side with lots of fight. And sure Peter Siddle is in the form of his life. And sure England’s top order batsmen look highly uninterested in staying out there for any length of time…

But it is just not enough. England could declare now and defend their total.

Australia, and I hate to say it, are just simply not good enough.

Until tomorrow.

Act II, Scene I

Australia, England, Australia.

That was day one at Lord’s in a nutshell.

But what a day it was.

A few quick hit thoughts:

Should England start worrying about Cook’s form? Is the pressure of the armband affecting his performance at the crease? It’s not unheard of – in fact it can be quite common. I don’t think it is anything to worry about quite yet, however, but his four-hour half-century at Nottingham notwithstanding, his performances with the bat have been poor at best. England need him to bat for long spells early in innings for their style of play to work – and he just has not done that yet.

And it might not even be the armband, it might be his new opening partner, or maybe his box is too tight, but scores of 12 and 13 in the opening innings of Ashes Test matches are just not going to cut it.

I have always liked Cook, so here’s hoping he scores a nine-hour 400* this weekend.

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Ian Bell’s Test innings since his 235 against India at the Oval in 2011 look like this:

4-0-3-29-10-5-13-52-18-63*-61-22-76*-55-13-3*-11-4-58-22-0-28-5-116*-1-26*-24-11-75-17-6-31-6-30-25-109-109

Three centuries in 37 Test innings. Two of them against Australia in the Ashes. Talk about getting hot at the right time.

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Mitchell Starc was dropped for this Test in favor of Ryan Harris.

Starc day one against England at Nottingham: 17-2-69-3
Harris day one against England at Lord’s: 20-6-43-3

Harris has been far less expensive despite fewer overs bowled. But the name of the game in Test cricket is taking wickets; this is not a One Day International. So I think it has yet to be determined whether or not making such a drastic change in the attack in the middle of an Ashes series was a good move or not. At this point it’s a stalemate in my opinion.

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This is a must win Test match for Australia. They needed to put pressure on England early in the day and they did that. They also needed to put pressure on them at the end of the day and they did that too. But leaking runs the way they did in the middle overs was inexcusable – and might cost them the series. This England team can be simply relentless in their fight back – and they respond to pressure with pressure. Look for them to fight hard in the first session tomorrow morning, knowing that if the win the morning session, they probably win the day, and if they win the day, they probably win the match, and if they win the match, then the Ashes stay in England.

Australia on the other hand desperately need to carry the momentum from today into tomorrow. The upside is that they are a young side, playing loose cricket with abandon despite the intense pressure of the Ashes – and they also do not seem the slightest bit interesting in giving up the fight, so tomorrow’s morning session will be thrilling cricket all around.

This is it, Australia. 26 overs to save the series. Are you up for it?

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My Twitter pal, fellow Minneapolitan, and dedicated cricket follower, Diane, is at the match. I am positively green with envy; greener than the Lord’s pitch even.

*

Until tomorrow.

Act I, Scene V

And that’s that. England are 1-0 up in the Ashes despite a thrilling fight back from the Australian lower order.

This was the best Test I have ever witnessed. It simply had everything. It was a non-stop thrill ride from the moment Agar received his shock selection to Haddin being given out via DRS.

When writing about Agar’s 98 a couple days ago, I mentioned that the difference between 99 runs and 100 runs in a five day Test is minimal at best. Boy was I wrong. If Agar gets one more boundary before getting out and ends on 102, then Australia maybe come back from lunch only needing 11 to win, and while that probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome, it surely would have upped the tension at least a couple more notches – if that was even possible.

I don’t mean to pick on Agar, what I am trying to say is that the beauty of this Test was that, in the end, every single ball mattered. Every run mattered. Every no ball, every wide, every leg bye.

Tests are long affairs, and very few supporters watch every single ball; we go about our lives, we go to work, we go to the market – and even when the Test is on, we all space out now and again, as the ball gets soft and the match slows down and it is dot balls and blocking and part time bowlers – but in Tests like we had here this week, it turned out that all of those dot balls mattered in the end, all of those easy singles mattered…every last delivery contributed to the shockingly taut finish we were all lucky enough to enjoy this morning.

But I think what made this a great test, instead of just merely a very good one, was that it never stopped surprising us. From the aforementioned selection of Ashton Agar to Siddle’s five-fer to Bell’s century to Haddin’s positively brilliant innings, the match just kept coming at us with something new to behold, swinging back and forth like the pendulum on a profoundly well tuned and expensive clock. Even this morning, when it looked for all the world like the total Australia were chasing was just simply too high, Haddin and Pattinson were still able to not just make England sweat, but make themselves, and all of us, believe that Australia might very well win this thing.

In the end, Jimmy Anderson proved too much, Haddin edged to Prior, and England celebrated like they had just won the World Cup.

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I guess you could say that the better team had won – and in cricket is very rare for the better team to lose – but I think the third and final reason that this was a great Test was because these two teams are far more evenly matched than we all thought they were. If England really was better than Australia by a country mile, as some pundits declared, then this Test would have been a snooze. But it wasn’t. And this bodes well not just for the next four Tests in England, but for the five in Australia to follow this winter.

If you are an England supporter I suggest you do one thing and one thing alone, however: pray for the health and safely of one J. Anderson. For without him, I think Australia win this Test, and win it handily.

Anderson bowled 55.5 overs in this test, 14.5 overs today alone – and Lord’s is three day’s from now.

Pray, England. Pray.

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Regarding the match ending the way it did, on a reviewed decision: It was the right call. Haddin was well and clearly out. There was a sound and there was a nick on Hot Spot. By the letter of the law, the third umpire had to give it out. But my gut tells me that he didn’t nick it. I have no idea why I think that, but I don’t think he was out. Again, I am not saying the ending was a farce or the decision was wrong, I am just telling you what my gut is telling me: Haddin’s bat didn’t touch the ball.

Now, some will bemoan the fact that the match ended via DRS, and others will sarcastically say that it was a fitting end, but here’s the deal: DRS is part of the game. And if it had ended with Swann bowling Pattinson, it would have been no more fitting an ending then what we got at Trent Bridge today. Love it or hate it, DRS is here to stay, and we need to start getting used to it as a very real, and very important, part of cricket.

And DRS is also one of, if not the, main reason why the Australians lost this Test. Forget Anderson’s 10 wickets, forget Bell’s 100, forget Cowan’s golden duck, forget run rates, strike rates, economy rates and every other stat out there: Australia lost this match because they mishandled their reviews, while England did not. The most telling stat of the entire match is as follows:

Australia were correct in two of their nine reviews. England? Three of their four.

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This morning I found myself pulling for Australia. Mostly because a wicket meant the fun was over, while runs meant it would get to keep going.

However, I was also supporting them because they are (or were?) the underdogs in this series, and neutrals love to support the underdog.

I bring this up solely because it must seem so utterly and completely odd for long time cricket followers to see neutrals supporting Australia for that reason. Australia: one of the most dominant cricket teams the world had ever seen, reduced to underdog status. Against England. My how things change.

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I was very excited for this Test, and for this series. My expectations were admittedly through the roof, which is never a good thing as it is just asking for disappointment. But not only did this match meet my expectations, it exceeded them ten times over.

This was easily the best Test match I have ever seen. It is going to stay with me a long time. Here’s to nine more just like it.

And now the curtain closes on Act I, and the circust travels south to St. John’s Wood. Thursday cannot get here soon enough. Lord only knows what we will be treated to this time around.

See ya then.

 

Act I, Scene IV

My goodness what an absorbing day of Test cricket.

I overslept this morning (5am comes might early on Saturdays after a late night) and so missed the entire first session, but was up during the lunch break for coffee and toast and settled in to watch what was a truly brilliant day of Test Cricket.

It is amazing in a game that builds so slowly to have so many changes in momentum over the course of a single day’s play: first it was England’s day, then Australia’s, then England’s, then Australia’s, and so on until fans and players and commentators were sea sick and shell shocked.

In the end, England continued to prove that they are still a truly great side, landing hammer blows as the curtain closed on the day, taking three Australian wickets in 17 deliveries, putting the hosts on the brink.

But as many have mentioned, Australia are in a far better position this evening than they were before the final day of Edgbaston 2005, and so there is still a lot to play for tomorrow – and here’s hoping I wake up to the alarm to this time, because the first session is going to be a cracker.

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This match so far has lived up to the hype, and no matter what happens,  the game will live long in the annals of Ashes history. Over the course of the last four days, we have seen everything that is great about Test cricket, everything that is horrible about modern cricket, and everything in between. And now we get a day five, a fifth act.

In Shakespearian dramas, the fifth act bring us redemption, resolution, and retribution. Let us hope tomorrow brings all three of those to the great stage that is Trent Bridge, that is the Ashes, that is Test cricket.

Act I, Scene III

It was a busy morning at the office, and then I left at noon, and took the long way home, and then read on the patio, and so I missed the vast majority of the second session and nearly all of the third session. I didn’t watch on Willow and I did not check up on Twitter, all I did was pull up the (really phenomenal) Cricinfo app on my phone to see the score now and again.

And so it was not until much later in the day, when I scrolled through my Twitter feed, that I realized that something had happened with regard to a reversed Stuart Broad dismissal.

But I am not going to talk about that.

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This was England’s day. This is a team that can, when it wants to, quietly pummel their opponents into submission. And today England wanted to. Yes Cook and Pietersen fell before lunch, and yes the tail was exposed far earlier than anyone on the host’s side would have wanted, but it does not matter: this team – again, when it is firing on all cylinders – fucking BURIES opponents. They are relentless. But not in an aggressive way. They are confident and cool and quiet and they lull you to sleep until all of a sudden you wake up and you look at the scoreboard and their lead is insurmountable.

It really is something to see, this England, when they are in form.

Yesterday Australia was sailing along, tonight they are lost in a deep, dark pit.

Tomorrow’s first session will be key,  if Australia can take a couple wickets and bowl England out before lunch when the host’s lead is only, say, 325, then maybe Australia has a shot. But I don’t see that happening. England will declare with a 400 run lead sometime before tea – and that will be just simply too much for Australia to chase down on this wicket against the likes of Anderson and Swann.

And so I say to my Australian fans: sorry, folks, but this one’s England’s.

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