Monday, August 08, 2005

Shane Warne - Man of the Match

Andrew Flintoff was awarded Man of the Match for the second Test. No question about it, his performance was outstanding. His partnership with Jones at the end of our second innings was crucial; his bowling yesterday evening took wickets just when England needed them most. It was a vital component in England's eventual victory in what must have been the most compelling sporting theatre ever known.

That said, I still don't think he deserved Man of the Match - although he was unquestionably England's most valuable player. Strangely, it should have gone to a member of the losing team. Shane Warne was quite simply phenomenal. After England had built a first innings lead of 99, the match shouldn't have been close. Even allowing for quick scoring, a lead of well over 300 should have been built, making the target beyond the wit of almost any team - even the strongest batting line-up in the world.

That the game was at all close was down to Warne. The delivery that bowled Strauss turned a full foot more than the delivery that bowled Mike Gatting in 1993 - and that became dubbed "the ball of the century". It is rare that a spin bowler is given such a new ball to bowl with. However, such was the brilliance of Warne that it was the only sensible decision. The Australian pace attack looked rudderless without their talisman McGrath; Warne was their most dangerous threat. Even watching England under the cosh on Saturday morning was not as painful as it might have been. When an all-time great is putting on one of his greatest ever displays, it is always a joy to watch. More than that, though, Warne is jocular and good-humoured with a crowd and doesn't let banter phase him.

Not only that, but his batting this morning gave Australia their best chance of winning the match. If he hadn't had an aberration and inadvertantly kicked his stumps, the English press would instead be writing about Australia getting out of jail against us yet again. The position that England were in on Saturday morning and Sunday morning was hugely commanding. At many times during the day's play, however, the result looked it doubt. For that, Australia can be very thankful Shane Warne wears the baggy green.

Of course, England's performance, as exciting as it was, left a lot to be desired. The hallmark of Australian excellence is that when they have the chance to hold the opposition by the throat, they seize it with both hands. England didn't go full throttle. Changes probably need to be made - in particular, someone needs to take responsibility for sticking in and letting the team bat around them.

Vaughan, in particular, had a very poor match indeed. Three times now in this series he has been bowled, the Aussies finding a gap in a woeful defensive technique. The entireity of their batting line-up seems more likely to score runs than Vaughan does. If only we had another fit batsman capable of batting number 3.

Nor was his captaincy inspired this morning. Harmison and Flintoff are two of a kind, style-wise - Jones and Hoggard have the ability to generate swing; Jones being particularly good at reverse-swinging the old ball. Bowling Giles helped to make a change of pace; but against tail-enders I would have backed Jones to take a wicket first. That said, Ashley Giles proved this match what a valuable player to England he is. He consistently took crucial wickets, and was parsimonious in runs allowed, too. John Buchanan didn't single out Giles for criticism because they thought he was expendable; he targeted him because when Giles performs, England are a very difficult side to beat.

The other downside to the match this week was the quality of the umpiring. Many dodgy lbw decisions were given, some batsmen not out when really they were plumb; others falling victim to the trigger-finger. Pietersen and Bell were desperately unlucky to be given out caught behind when technology shows that they were nowhere near out. Now, more than ever, technology has to be used more in cricket. Bad umpiring threatened to ruin one of the greatest games of all time. We might not be able to make Vaughan bat, but we can make sure that the umpires are right.