Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cricket Blogging

APOLOGY:For those of you who read this during the day, gremlins in my laptop made me lose about half the piece during posting. So for once, the fact my argument seemed pretty incoherent wasn't actually my fault. I am now attempting to rehabilitate the post...


I don't think I've ever literally been woken up by a punch in the stomach, but yesterday came pretty close. How on earth could England have thrown away that Test match? I'd gone to bed fairly sure of victory, thinking that with a whole day to bat, scoring about 170 more runs with nine wickets left should be a simple task for a team of the calibre of England. How wrong I was. Were it not for the sensible batting of Jones and Udal around the lunch interval, the defeat would have been even more embarrassing. Our batting line-up from number four down has failed woefully in both innings, and it is unacceptable.

Worse, though, it looks as it is becoming a habit of England. It is the one thing that makes Australia's continued claim to be the best side in the world stand up: England cannot finish off sides. Not only can they not finish out close games, they make a bloody hard job of finishing off games that are easily won - like this Test match had been before our second innings started. If we go back to the South Africa tour, the second Test should have been an England win, but the inability to polish off the tail made it a draw. At Edgbaston - by consensus one of the greatest matches ever played - the result was far closer than it should have been. For a world-class side to allow Shane Warne and Brett Lee look so controlling was poor; and the failure of Vaughan's captaincy on that morning shouldn't be forgotten either.

The trend continued at Old Trafford, when we couldn't finish off the tail once more; then at Trent Bridge what should have been a cakewalk nearly turned into a disaster when Shane Warne proved that he had more strength of character in his spinning finger than the whole of the England team put together. These weren't games that should have been close finishes - these were games when England were the better side throughout and failed to finish the match off.

To let one, or maybe even two games slip to a nail-biter might be acceptable, or at least understandable; to let so many in such a short space of time fall through their fingers is nothing short of downright careless. And for a team with the talent of England, it shouldn't do. Victory in the Ashes doesn't win you matches thereafter if your practice is sloppy. And Flintoff and Pietersen definitely were sloppy in the last Test, not applying themselves correctly to the situation. They may have the ability to play one Test-changing innings in ten, but if they are going to play Test-losing innings as well then it's a different matter. A batting line-up containing Paul Collingwood needs to proceed with more caution.

England need to sort that aspect of their game out. They have a good enough side to be genuinely feared the world over - one of the strongest opening partnerships in world cricket; a line-up theoretically well-balanced because of Flintoff; the most balanced seam attack in world cricket; a coach meticulous in his game-planning. There are obvious weaknesses, such as the wicketkeeping of Jones and weaknesses in the middle order (Vaughan has not performed well at 3 for a year and a bit now). There are non-strong points, if not weaknesses, most notably Gile at spinner - crucial to team tactics but unlikely to roll sides over on a regular basis. But all the strengths count for nothing if the team panics and collapses at the first hint of danger. And for England, it is quickly becoming a habit. They need to sort it out. Fast.