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!
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?
Pretty good pink-ball test, huh? Brought back a few memories for us too..
Just as Ros Rogers would shut her eyes to every ball as son Chris faced up in his test matches, she got the same amount of nervous – and did just the same – for the Queensland youngster Matt Renshaw.
Few debut batsman have ever faced a sterner test – having to bat with just 12 overs to go on Day 1 with the opposition throwing the kitchen sink at the openers; and batting under lights when the new pink ball is supposed to wobble and seam all over the place.
He’s a bit gawky is Renshaw with elbows and knees jutting all over the place, but what a great job he did in surviving to stumps. If Steve Smith had to go in and got out in the gloaming, then a ‘nil-3’ whitewash was a much more likely scenario than the eventual Aussie win.
Ros and I are both pretty uncomfortable with heights, so Chris being conned into commentating from the top of the stand didn’t exactly thrill us. Good pic though.
Back here at the Village Green, the oval and pavilion have never looked better after our best-ever winter and spring rains. We lost just one day’s cricket through wet weather, and the pitch had excellent bounce, pace and carry. We’ve been able to stripe the ground Adelaide Oval –style – and the roses are in full bloom, especially the ‘Greg Chappell’ orange ones and the ‘Sir Donald Bradman’ bank that are the colour of cricket balls. The pink ‘Jane McGrath’s’ are also doing well.
We’ve a “Buck’s Weekend” booking in our bunkhouse this weekend with 16 or so guys extra keen to get out on the Oval.
Our Friday night cafés are increasingly popular with the locals and quite a few people from towns 30-40kms away – Kilmore, Seymour, Broadford Flowerdale and Yea – are coming out to sample Ros’s home-cooking, and sit on the balcony with a cool ale or glass of wine as the sun sets.