For three days at the MCG, my outlandish predictions of Australia winning the toss and England winning, had me cock-a-hoop – so long as I ignored my call for Moneyball stats that would pull the curtain on Cook, Anderson and Broad, who were far and away England’s best players.
(Some of you may know that last Ashes in England we stayed with Alastair Cook’s in-laws in Bedfordshire, where Alastair, wife Alice and baby Elsie were also living while their own place a mile away was being renovated. In the flesh he was just as nice as he looked during his long innings at the MCG. I have to say I prefer his quiet and modest celebration of milestones to the raucous rubbish many Aussies perform.)
Hopes for Sydney
My big hope for my annual trek up the Hume Highway to the SCG is that its curator and the Trust have got the message about leaving some grass and moisture in the pitch so we have a test of skill.
Years ago, from the SCG Members’, I watched Alan Davidson give the most marvellous display of swing bowling as he took 3 for 5 that could have 7 for 5, so often did he miss the edge of the bat. The collective oohs and aahs from the crowd I can still remember as the ball swung both ways at serious pace on what was then a fast, bouncy, green pitch that the spinners also loved.
In contrast, 3 years back, I watched Warner and Chris put on 200 at nearly a run a ball against India on Day 1, and as much as I enjoyed it personally, it felt like it was taking candy from kids, so benign was the pitch and so little swing was evident for India’s swing king Bhuvnesh Kumar.
Even the MCG has conceded that its drop-in pitches are a problem. Why it’s taken them so long to realise that is a worry. A lifetime ago I saw John Maley put down a dozen experimental half-pitches at the WACA prior to its ground re-build, aiming to work out which combination of clay-soil and grass type etc, would work best. He may well have got it wrong in the end, but in these days of the MCG having a power station and a waste water treatment plant underneath the ground itself, you’d think there’d be some experimentation going on somewhere to get better drop-in pitches.
But is it the balls?
The Kookaburra cricket ball is just as culpable – it just doesn’t swing anymore and it moves less off the pitch. England have two of its best ever in both categories – Anderson with swing and Broad with seam – and each has been rendered toothless. Australia is winning this series largely on the back of bully-boy tactics – bowl fast at English heads. A bit like rugby union has become with fields too small these days for 15 players so the only way through is to have huge south sea island behemoth types smashing at the opposition, with skill a thing of the past.
When machine making of cricket balls took over back in the 90s, a past WA swing bowler Ken MacLeay living on his Angus stud property in Margaret River was invited up to Perth to show the youngsters how to swing it. “Yuri” (as he was nicknamed for seemingly being away in the stratosphere like Yuri Gagarin), asked for a ball to demonstrate, and when handed a couple, said there was no way he’d be able to swing balls like these, walked out of the room, and drove 300kms back home. And in the 20 years or so since, nothing seems to have changed. For mine I reckon Cricket Australia should give Kookaburra one season to get swing back, and if it doesn’t then try someone who can, like England’s Dukes ball.
My tip for this one? Anything like a green-top and I’ll tip the poms with Anderson and Broad having the edge. A typical SCG boring one, then Australia easily. The Poms have had a goodish test, but Smith, Warner, Lyon and the quicks will be far too good if we have another easy-paced deck.
Happy New Year!
But it has struck me that MoneyBall the book (and film) that rubbished traditional stats in sports, hasn’t inspired stats on when the great players should call it quits.
Clarke, Ponting, S Waugh, Border, Taylor – Australian captains all – each left the scene in steep decline. The mind says keep going, the heart just isn’t there.
For most the last season is a step too far.
“Dad’s Army”, was how our last Ashes tour to England was dubbed – and so it proved. Clarke, Johnson, Harris, Haddin – 2014 white-wash heroes in Aus – all called it quits at the end – with Ashes lost.
And now it’s the turn of England’s Broad, Anderson and Cook. They are a bit unlucky as none of the younger guys has stood up. But all three either open the bowling or the batting so they are the front-line troops.
The poms were nowhere
And when you look hard enough, the evidence is there – albeit in hindsight. In the two Australian wins in England on the last Ashes tour – on flat wickets – all three poms were nowhere. An aberration you might say, but the reality is that all three now do wondrous things only sporadically.
In a sense it is about hunger. Michael Clarke was gone at 32, yet Chris Rogers was doing well at 37. But Clarke had played a hundred tests and was an acknowledged hero- while Chris was hell-bent on proving he could compete at that level.
This series, Australia’s leading players are younger and playing with hunger – while England’s are older and slower, and their troops less bolder.
The drive of Warner and Smith is great to see. How long can it last?
Maybe in five years’ time, a ‘hunger’ stat will be exercised on them!
Back to my predictions
I’m predicting that the side which bats second will win at the MCG. Root has won all 3 tosses so far, so will lose this one, Smith will bat, and England will win!
Wincing he may be, but JR’s predictions are going to just keep coming.
No more scoring…
…of my rat-bag predictions – it hurts.
But don’t write the Poms off just yet. Few people are giving them any chance in Perth… I’m not so sure.
It’s 10 years (shy of a 6 weeks or so) since Chris made his test debut – at the WACA. Australia then brought in Shaun Tait to make a 4-man pace attack (just like it seems Aus is doing now with Mitch Marsh). And all four appeared toothless on a very flat WACA track. Then India’s medium-pacers bowled and Aus were all at sea – Ponting in particular to Ishant Sharma – and India won easily – on the WACA!
Steve Smith’s most telling comment, in his Adelaide post-match interview, was the ‘choice of the ball’.
“Luck,” he said, was whether each side picked a ball that swung, or one that was gun-barrel straight.
As I saw it, the Poms picked a ‘gun-barrel-straight’ ball when they won the toss.
To me – Anderson – England’s leading wicket-taker of all-time, kept hoping the ball would swing, and when it didn’t, it became easy pickings for the batsmen. And an hour was lost for rain, so that on day 1, with ten overs available with a new ball under lights – danger time for batsmen – they got just one. Again though, they’d picked a non-swinging ball, and Paine & Shaun Marsh took the game away from England the next morning.
When England did pick a ball that swung – in the second innings – Anderson got England back into the match, but party-pooper Hazlewood also had a ball with movement and snuffed out any chance on the final morning.
So far, Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins have done much better than I expected, and with Lyon doing as well as Shane Warne used to do, the Aussie attack looks far better than England’s. But it could change! Remembering 10 years ago as above, and the prediction the pitch will be flat, I’m sticking my neck out even further and predicting England will win.
Last time, JR made some bold predictions for the first Ashes test in Brisbane which, ahem, did not come to pass. Will that slow him down?
Scoring a D minus for my tips means I should be ducking for cover… Bad luck, here I go again!
Why was I so far out?
The Gabba “pudding” was reason no 1, I reckon – and off-spinner Lyon was number 2.
As my curator down here explained: Kevin Mitchell’s normal, early (deep) pitch-watering plan came unstuck when unpredicted cool moist days arrived in Brisbane for the weeks leading up – the pitch never dried out to allow a crust to be formed. Perfect for Lyon.
And suddenly it was the Warne glory-days all over again as Lyon got turn and bounce at good pace unlike any offie before him in Brisbane. Not only did he get the middle order out, he reduced runs to a trickle and what might have been 500 for England ended up as 300. And when at last the pitch dried on days 4&5 it was a batting paradise for Warner and Bancroft.
Then came the Smith show.
My friend Brian Sawyer, who coached him in a NSW schoolboys’ team for a couple of years, told me what incredible self-belief he had then – and he sure has now. I thought Broad in particular and Anderson were superb, but when they couldn’t get Smith, there was no firepower to follow as England had in 2015 with Wood, Finn and Stokes – and Moeen was nowhere near as good a spinner as Lyon.
I’ve long had reservations about Lyon’s ability to get people out. As a young groundsman at Adelaide Oval, his net bowling against an Aussie team had him plucked from obscurity into the Test team inside a year – and you don’t learn confidence when the best players in the world are often belting you all over the park. Now it seems he’s got that confidence – it was pleasure watching him bowl. At times in the past it has been agony as the good players milked him.
So what does England do?
Lyon made mincemeat of their left-handers, Root was trapped lbw by both Cummings and Hazlewood and the tail disintegrated against Starc.
No. 3 paceman Ball will probably be dropped. Not enough pace and poor with the bat. Fellow paceman Overton is of similar pace and can bat but has 3 ducks from 3 outings on tour. The young (replacement for Finn), ex-South African Tom Curran might be a bolter – he bats and bowls quite well. Bairstow should be batting 5 to split the lefties. If it wasn’t a day-night test where batting needs to be bolstered, I’d drop Malan and try Crane as the spinner. It would make the tail longer, but Anderson and Broad badly need a back-up wicket-taker.
And there could be a bit in the pitch. That cool moist tropical air that affected the Gabba has been sucked down to Adelaide and Victoria, and it’s been bucketing down as a once-in-a-generation weather event – and that might just suit the poms
So I’m sticking with my prediction – Anderson and Broad to win it for England!
John Rogers, proud VG owner and host, regularly regales his dearest, nearest and furthest, with his musings on the cricketing state of play. Here’s his latest on the upcoming Ashes contest.
Can’t see it.
Stats appeared this week to claim the current Aussie fast-bowing trio of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins are the most potent in history.
Yet last Ashes series Starc and Hazlewood simply weren’t up to it – consistently out-bowled by England’s Broad, Anderson, Wood, Finn and Stokes. Hazlewood was even dropped for the final test and was completely shown up by his replacement Siddle.
Supposedly now they are so much better. Starc is a world-beater we are told with his two hat-tricks of 9, 10 & jack in his last outing. Take off those 6 balls against the tail, and he bowled 34 overs and took 1 for 97 for the match. Meanwhile Cummins has yet to play a test match in Australia.
Flying under the radar is England captain Joe Root, who ranks with Kohli, Steve Smith, Warner and Kane Williamson as the world’s best. And the England lower order of Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Woakes might be England’s key advantage. I say, look out Australia.
And the Aussie team? Bancroft is a good selection given his performances against the trio of quicks above and then a double-hundred. And he’s been playing shield cricket for 5 years. Shaun Marsh just doesn’t inspire confidence – so many chances and so inconsistent. Tim Paine’s selection gets a pass mark – a quality keeper, who has been a good bat and has been on the scene for a long time. But not much keeping behind him at the moment with test incumbent Wade preferred in Tassie. I don’t know why Nevill presents on the field as a little boy/robotic type, but he doesn’t inspire confidence, and Paine put his hand up via the CA XI at precisely the right moment.
I can’t wait for the Ashes to start.
Meanwhile Cricket Australia keeps stumbling along
While announcing an Ashes sell-out, and no doubt in response to a question, its CEO tells us test cricket is in trouble worldwide. Back in May he told us grassroots cricket is in trouble and that the players were taking millions out of the game that should be directed there – and a few weeks later gave in to every one of the players’ demands – who’d got their backs up over what they saw as poor treatment of the state players who they believe (unlike CA) provide the necessary competition to enable ‘cream’ to rise to the top.
A few weeks back when promoting the women’s Ashes he announced CA has adopted a new strategic plan – after wide consultation of course. Women’s cricket is there; so too T20; Big Bash; grassroots as in junior cricket; and its high performance academy. Test cricket gets no mention, nor does ODI cricket, nor does state cricket nor Sheffield Shield in particular, and certainly not premier league/grade/pennant competitions which were once the bedrock of the game.
It smacks of the old East German laboratory hothouse system: find the best kids as early as possible and put them the ‘pathway’ of state and national academies and the game will prosper. My spies tell me that the CA XI of pathway kids playing the England tourists in Perth and Adelaide were all at sea when the ball began to move – “thrown under a bus” was the term used.
England coach Trevor Bayliss made it clear he was unimpressed that England should have agreed to a series of Ashes warm-up fixtures against a CA XI that was clearly the brainchild of the national talent managers in the academies.
But back to the Ashes series, woo-hoo!
I’m predicting Warner, Khawaja and Smith and similarly Root and Bairstow will do wonderful things with the bat, while Woakes will be the best bowler on show – and if he gets a chance, Overton will light up a game with any of bat, ball and in the field. But I’m also fearful one of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins will be out injured by the Boxing Day Test.
I’m tipping Australia will beat an underdone England in the first test, and under lights either side could win in Adelaide with England’s Broad a big factor if he bowls at dusk when the lights come on. Especially if Stokes is back (as currently seems a chance), England will win in Perth, draw at the MCG and win in Sydney. So depending on Adelaide, England will retain the Ashes either 3-1 or 2-2.
Any of you out there predicting a 5-nil? Any other outrageous predictions, as above?
It’s been flat out at the Village Green.
Cricket, conferences, camps and comps …
Over the last few weeks we’ve hosted a conference, school camps and plenty of cricket teams from far and wide as they get into their Spring training.
We love the different ways people enjoy our grounds. Josh’s recent bucks day (pictured at the top of the page) saw some relaxed social cricketing on a glorious day. Then last weekend, Jaci and her 16 friends stayed in the Bunkhouse and created a gala sports day. In groups of 4 they challenged each other in all sorts of bat and ball games (including cricket), as well as more stressful activities like orienteering and hill-climbing. Competition was very keen!
This week a bus tour from Sydney’s Asquith lunches with us, while Sunday has a cricket team from Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium (Test match venue) playing the Melbourne “Eccentrics”.
… and glamping
Our glamping project is gearing up too. Glamper 2 is just about ready to take bookings, and the roof and deck are built for Glampers 3 and 4. Our nearby sawmill owner has a couple of chippies with him, and watching them a work is great fun. A few people have tested out Glampers 1 and 2, and they loved them! The beauty of our countryside, and the comfort of luxury accommodation. What’s not to love?
The first week of footy finals was also first week of our cricket season – and the Antarctic weather brought some challenges.
The Thursday before, Spring was ‘busting out all over’, and our turf pitch was passing the bounce test very promisingly. But then the squally, wintry weather meant we had to have it covered for much of the time since to ensure a good pitch for our first cricket trainers for the season. It worked – Royal Park Cricket Club, St Bernard’s Old Boys and Deepdene Cricket Club all enjoyed good sessions.
And we’ve got high hopes for the grounds as the weather picks up. The outfield is the best it’s been since our arrival four years ago, and the surrounds as well, though the roses are some weeks away from coming into bloom.
Spring’s unconvincing entrance isn’t stopping weekend visitors from enjoying the surrounds. Our recent bunkhouse guests for Alex’s birthday spent some time taking on a ropes course and mountain-biking at Kinglake Forest Adventures – just half an hour away. They still had time to play cricket and footy on the oval, and enjoyed Saturday evening around our campfire.
As September moves on we’re looking forward to more mild days and fewer wintry remnants. Come back, Spring!
Lindy and Paul recently gave our first glampervan a test run. Lindy tells you about the weekend in this guest post.
Always had a roof above me, always paid the rent
But I’ve never set foot inside a tent
Can’t build a fire to save my life
I lied about being the outdoor type
I’m not quite as dire as the guy in that Lemonheads song, but certainly I’m no intrepid camper. I really love the IDEA of being away from it all, but at the slightest hint of wet tents and drop toilets, I’m heading for the nearest café. Hauling a caravan? No thanks.
But it only takes couple of hours into our stay in Ros and John’s glamping setup – warming our toes at the fire, watching the sun set across the valley – to realise that I may be onto my perfect version of camping.
Set back on a rise behind the rest of The Village Green property, the little 2-person glampervan is secluded enough to leave you undisturbed, but you can wander down to the Pavilion or find your hosts if you need them. Inside, the van is cleverly fitted out – kitchenette, TV and comfortable seats, a queen bed – all with a bit of a tiny house vibe.
And the most important interior detail as far as I’m concerned? The ensuite. No shivering midnight sprints in the rain.
The van is sheltered by a stand-alone roof, with a roomy north-facing deck, giving sun on the coldest days. On the second night, when a wild wind sprang up on, we hunkered down inside with our favourite DVD, none the wiser. The heater and electric blanket kept us perfectly toasty in the depth of the Victorian winter. A night like that in a tent would have been a whole other experience.
I wouldn’t blame anyone for going no further than the deck all weekend, except maybe to take a hike up Mount Buggery (yes that’s really its name) at the back of the property. Don’t forget to chat to the horse and alpacas on the way. There are also touristy options – we did the pretty 30-minute drive over to Yea, or if you like a bit of cycling take your bikes for a ride along the rail trail.
If you’re there on a Friday night, do what we did and wander down the track to the Pavilion for the weekly wine bar and cafe. Great pizza, open fire, and plenty of friendly Strath Creek locals. We even scored the free entertainment of resident Village dog Angus playing chasey outside with another furry regular.
We took our food for the rest of the weekend. The nearest shop is a fair distance, but isn’t that really the point of getting away? And between the BBQ on the deck and the van kitchenette, there’s everything you need for comfortable self-catering. Including a pod coffee machine.
And that’s how it went. Starting the day with espresso by the fire, watching the kangaroos file across the ridge, and ending it nursing a wine at the fire with just the frogs for company.
If this is glamping, I’m a convert.
We’re pleased to announce the Chris Rogers Cricket Camp is coming in December!
Chris will take time between commentating on the upcoming Ashes series against England for a fun-filled live-in camp here at his parents’ beautiful cricket ground an hour north of Melbourne.
Chris was voted Australia’s best player in the last Ashes series against England, and is now an Australia A coach. He’ll be joined by another former Bushranger, plus other qualified coaches for 3 days of personalised and group coaching and playing.
Christmas, jingle bells and kissing under the mistletoe might go together, but in the Aussie bush up our way Mistletoe is a killer.
Spy a dead or dying tree and invariably a quick search reveals the culprit as a mistletoe branch that somehow drains the tree of all its nutrients and so the tree itself dies.
The nearest of the four stately Yellow Box eucalypts overlooking our new house dam had a huge, prospering mistletoe branch that we’d not noticed until the dam went in. Not only did it worry us, it also spoiled the view.
But 10 metres of the ground above a steeply sloping bank, a ladder just wouldn’t reach.
Ros’s bridesmaid Sue Wilson from Tamworth called in yesterday and suggested throwing a rope over it and breaking off the branch. Why hadn’t we thought of that! And yes it worked.
So of course the joke goes…
Stand JR under the mistletoe and you might want to kiss the more attractive mistletoe instead.