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War between Equals – Ashes 2009

As the Ashes commenced this year, I was having a discussion with my Cricket buddies Tugga and PK (who by the way are an absolute authority over this game) as to who stood a chance this year to win the Ashes. A common conclusion was that this was a war between equals – not in terms of strengths but weaknesses.

In my 15 years of watching this game I haven’t seen an Aussie team this weak in terms of grit, talent, sporting spirit and strategy. Ponting is by far the worst captain I’ve seen. He is lost without the talented Gilly, Warne, McGrath, Langer & Hayden. I’ve not doubts on his credentials as a batsman, but he has serious flaws as a captain. He is not sporting enough to accept defeat, he is not brave enough to accept his side’s weakness, he fails to instill any kind of discipline in his team and he himself being such a sore loser is passing on that quality to his team. I’ve been an ardent supporter of the Aussie team since the days of Allan Border and the respect only increased when Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh ran this outfit. That is steadily vanishing with displays of Ponting’s Team, in terms of the game they play and the way they play it. His team sorely misses the stalwarts who hailed from Tugga’s school and kept the side in balance. Apart from a Clarke and Ponting himself , I cannot see a person who can turn the match around. I’ve watched very little of the new Aussie players in action but of the little I’ve seen I do not see this class coming of age soon.

England for long has been a weak test outfit but the one under Michael Vaughan showed some signs of improvement with some overseas wins and the much watched Ashes 2005 win. Flintoff and Pietersen could pave their way into any world outfit and are match-winners in their own right; making all the difference, in my opinion, to the English outfit. If the same side were to play a South African or the Indian team they would struggle. But playing a weak Aussie side gives them all the edge to play it at equal levels and give themselves a chance to regain the Ashes. There was this interesting article that PK passed on where Michael Artherton compared the two sides man-to-man and I agreed with most.

This is probably the first time that I’ll be supporting the Poms whole-heartedly against an Aussie team. I enjoyed the 2005 series and shifted my loyalties between both teams, but that was purely for the way both teams displayed outstanding cricket; not because I did not like the Aussie team. It was delight for a cricket lover and I can recall every moment of that series.

This time around it’s different and I’m hoping England wins this one. They have sustained the edge as of now. The 1-wicket draw in the first test at Cardiff set the tone for the series where the Poms have begun to believe that they can get this one right while Aussies are being shaken time and again by whom they thought were the lesser teams.

In the last 2 years they have played a total of 23 matches: Won 11, Lost 7 and Drawn -5. That is still a decent record but of the 11 wins – 6 are against the much weaker test teams SL/WI/NZ while Eng (1-0) & Ind (3-2) lead the Aussies in terms of total wins and SA tied with them at 3 wins each. The Aussies are losing more often than before and that is definitely a good sign for other teams and test cricket as well.

I’ve not seen a ball being bowled in this match and hence the shortened version on what I thought of the match. I thought England played exceedingly well to thwart the Aussies and put them under pressure. I fully support Strauss’s decision of not enforcing the follow-on, not many teams have dared after the most influential innings of the decade. Any smart captain would opt the safer way out rather than dig his own grave at the start of the Ashes and plunge his team to further depths.

I read in the cricinfo bulletin about Australia’s aspiration for a world record chase. 526 is any day an improbable target considering in the last decade only 6 times have teams won chasing 340 up , the maximum being 418. With 5 wickets gone on day 4 for 128, not even half the target on board; expecting Australia to chase this one was expecting a wee bit too much or alleviating the Aussie batsmen to heights they are currently not capable of.

Strauss led the way in the first innings and I was quite disappointed that the Brits had only managed 425 when they were at one stage 255/2. Nevertheless the bowlers made up with Anderson starring in the first and Flintoff completing his first fiver in 2 years aided by Swann. I cannot fathom why Flintoff is quitting test cricket but will continue to play ODIs and T20. That will make up for another blog post.

I heard Swann bowled quite beautifully and will catch up the highlights later in the day. Until the next one, England enjoy this one, but not too much because there are still 3 tests to go! Aussies can and will fight back. (I hope so too, at the end I’m a true cricket lover at heart and there is nothing more one wants than a hard fought battle between equals) The battle is won but the war is not yet over lest the Poms forget that!

Go England Go. I’m keen to read Ponting’s reactions now!

And to end, Dubai’s cable service is split into 2 program options– E-Pehla and Orbit Showtime. I’ve subscribed to E-Pehla Silver which is a sports package especially for cricket and now the Ashes are being telecast on Orbit. I cannot subscribe to both simultaneously, so you can imagine my frustration currently! I hate following the game on the internet. I cannot comment on how well or badly the teams played as I cannot see them play live. And if you cannot watch a match live, then you are pretty much banking on the opinion of others and building your analysis of the game on someone else’s view point. As a huge fan of the game and someone who loves to have an opinion on the game, it can get increasingly irritating! Either ways I’ll try to catch some glimpses on the net and put in my own views!

Hope you all are as glued in as I am!


A Hard Urned Victory…

That’s what the headlines on the front page of HT read today. It indeed was, for Vaughan’s young brigade.

I did not know a single soul who gave this team a chance to beat the Aussie Team. We were sure though that the Aussies will not have an easy victory. At the end of the drama, that began on 14th July, 2005 and lasted for one and half months the Poms were having the last laugh at all of us. They can laugh their heart out, they deserve it and they have earned it thanks to the stellar performances they put up.

Before I reminisce the series, I shall add one more person as Sunil and Michael pointed out to my Take a Bow list. Kevin Pietersen. What a knock! He completely mesmerized me. He and Flintoff make me wonder if I’m watching the Aussies in action or the Brits. Aggression and more aggression. They personify it. Yesterday it was that precise attitude that killed the Aussie hope of sneaking a victory on the last day of the match and keeping the “Ashes Urn”.

158 in 187 balls, 15 fours and 7 sixes. This, when your team was reeling at 126 -5, with only Collingwood and Jones to follow, before the tail began. He rallied his team along with Collingwood and Giles to 335! Unbelievable! What a moment in history to get your maiden century. What a series to debut in and most important of all, leave a fine mark on it! A debut that will be cherished by his countrymen for a long time just as we cherish Gavaskar’s debut in 1971 against the WI.

I must give a hand to Giles in this series. I’m no fan of his, he was run down by the media and critics alike but, he showed exemplary grit while bowling and batting. He added precious runs along with the tail and was instrumental in frustrating the Aussies.

The Aussies gave it all, McGrath, Warne and Lee (His figures don’t show, but how this man has fought in this series, that’s when you know you should not trust the numbers alone.) but they fell short.

Ponting has some serious thinking to do before he heads his team for the Super Series. So do Gilchrist and Damein Martyn. The Aussies have to go back and prove in the Super Series that they will go down as the Greatest Champions ever. None of us have doubts, but that will be one acid test and the failure to keep the Ashes will hit them hard. Not today, but once they land on their own soil. It really hurt to see the team down and out.

A Last Thought:
I don’t know if this thought crossed any one of you. When around 38-40 overs were left, England was at 258/7. If they had declared at that point; the Aussies would be left to chase 265 in 38-40 overs at a run-rate close to 7. It would be tempting enough. I would have loved to see what Aussies would have done in that situation. On the other hand getting them to bat and getting them out giving their final chase for the Ashes, Vaughan’s team would have dealt the final nail in the coffin.

Nice prospect. It would have been one hell of a scenario, a fitting end to the fantastic series. I was just imagining the scene.

But the Ashes victory was too precious to take that risk. Sigh!! We are left with the Ifs and Buts of the game and pondering what could have been. That for you my dear friend is the beauty of this game. The uncertainty that it has. The fact that it is a great leveler and no one is superior to it!

For the time being let’s join the celebrations with the Brits, celebrating Test cricket at its best!

Final Hours @ The Oval

There cannot be a better end than this. The series will go down as the best ever.

Yesterday, Australia looked good to take the lead. However, they were undone by Flintoff, Hoggard and bad-lights. A risk they took to force a win for themselves was not fruitful. Up against a resurgent English side and Flintoff lead a fine fightback bowling 15 overs unbroken from one end. He was relentless in his bowling and what a spell that was. It broke the back-bone of the Aussie batting! This should go down as Freddie’s Series. It has to!

Will Pietersen be the hero today? He has had a torrid time against Warne but, he is looking good to make up for it today!
Australia has not given up. They are fighting hard but, is it too late? Or will it be ‘So near but yet so far for England?

We will know today. Till then stay tuned! The heat is definitely on in the Ashes.

Take A Bow @ The Oval…

Shane Warne – The glorious leg-spinner. What a way to bid adieu to the Kingdom. This is, in all probability, his last test match on the English soil. What a series he has had with both bat and ball. Yesterday, when England looked to take it away from Australia, he brought them right back into the game twice. First time when he broke the Strauss-Trescothick opening stand and second when he had Strauss – The Century Maker, out towards the end of the day. That wicket brought back Aussie hopes which were taken away by the Flintoff-Strauss Stand.

Andrew Flintoff : Finally we have a genuine all-rounder. What a fine entertainer! I simply love the way he goes about his mission quietly and smiles back at his opponents innocently. I also love the way he looks back at his opponents straight into the eye, it has unnerved them quite a bit.

Andrew Strauss: He got out to a delivery similar to the ball of the century, bowled by the legendary leg-spinner in the second test. He was almost close to being labeled as the spinner’s bunny just the way Daryill Cullinan was. It’s not easy to face the Aussie tongues in the middle and certainly not easy to break the shackles of one’s mind playing against Warne. Cricket as we know is played in the mind too. But he tried and he fought hard. Two centuries in the matches to follow. The second one helped to pull his team out of trouble along with his other namesake. Certainly had a point to prove. 7 centuries in 19 matches is no mean effort.

P.S: This scene was particularly disturbing: No slips when pacers were on. 301/7 scared you to go into a defensive mode? Aussie Captain giving way too much respect to Giles & Jones. What do I make of it?

Trent Bridge Did Not Fall Down…

The Brits are thinking of changing the nursery rhyme ‘London Bridge is falling down’ to ‘Sydney Harbour came crashing down’. If England does not lose the battle in the last test, they will seriously consider that change.

  • For the first time in16 years they became the first team to enforce a follow-on on the Aussies
  • For the first time in 8 years they are leading the Ashes.
  • For the first time in 16 years they look good enough to win the Ashes.

This series is not for the weak-hearted. Just when you thought England had it all easy when they kept the target to 129, the Aussie bowling lead by Warne produced a fantastic effort. His yesterday’s spell was another proof of the great bowler he is!

I missed Flintoff’s century, the innings that probably swung the match England’s way. At 229-4 it was anyone’s game. Jones produced another fiver. Aus’s batting order has never looked so vulnerable before. 4 LBWs in first innings among top 5! Hayden, Martyn and Gilchrist’s sorry run continued into the second innings, just when you hoped they would produce something magical. Alas , it was not to be! It will be sad if this fantastic hard fought series goes away without an attacking trademark Gilchrist innings.

Ponting, Langer, Katich and Clarke all played well but none held out to produce a long knock. It is extremely tough to do that when you are following on. Just about why Laxman’s 281 @ Kolkatta Vs Aus 2001 and Botham’s 149* @ Headingley, Ashes ’81 will always be on the top of every list. Only three teams have won following on, all victories have come against Aus, sadly yesterday Australia could not change the history their way.

The chase was tense very tense, and I think England lost the wickets they did due to nervousness. At 57-4 when Pietersen and Flinotff came together they took the attack to the Aussies. When in Rome do as the Romans do, when playing against Aus, attack the way the Aussies do. Simple rule! The duo was going well till one over from Warne had Pietersen playing all over and in a horrible mess, and he got out to Brett Lee the very next over.

Flintoff looked still good to take England home, when Brett Lee’s place had his stumps rattled. It was sheer pace! Geraint Jones’s shot reminded me of the one Mongia had played against Pak in ’99 in Chennai after Sachin had got out. We had gone on to lose that match. Oh, that defeat still hurts! Over here though, the England tail was much more determined than we were and they did not let go of their chance.

Hoggard played a gem of an innings, only 8 but they were worth a hundred! He tackled Lee’s yorkers pretty well and when one was over pitched, he was quick to pounce on the full-toss opportunity and slam it on the off-side for four. Giles too hung around and did not panic. It was a fine effort in the end.

We are not celebrating Australia’s loss we are simply celebrating cricket’s victory. Truly none can be greater than the game, it is indeed a great leveler!!

What a setting for the final test! All that England has to do is NOT LOSE. All that Australia has to do is to GO ALL OUT AND WIN. It cannot get better than this!

You cannot afford to miss the FINAL BATTLE. Prepare yourself as the WAR nears its end!!!

Battle @ Bridge

It’s been a frustrating England summer for me. Flintoff and Pietersen are playing havoc with the Aussie bowling. I’m all excited to get home and rest on the couch glued to the TV set; only to find them off the field after battering the Aussie bowlers all over the ground. I manage to catch their innings only during the highlights post-match!

Finally, yesterday I was all upbeat that I was home just in time to see Pietersen bat and later Flintoff walk in. Only to see rain play spoil-sport as it had throughout the day! I did not get to see any fireworks live! Everyone knows the charm of catching a match live and the frustration of viewing the moments in highlights later, when the whole world has already seen it!

Today again they will kick off the day’s proceedings and I’ll see my woes continue!

England rains are weird as my sister aptly describes them. She has been there for 5 years and she craves for a rainy season like that in Mumbai (No not the sorts that happened on 26th July). One moment it was all dark and the rain pouring, the very next moment sun was shining brightly and none would believe that it had rained just a second before on the ground!

Day 1:
Aus will miss McGrath. They have not lost the two matches he played in. Psychologically, one point to England before the game began. England looked good to take hold of the match. I saw the wickets Shaun Tait grabbed on his debut and Trescothick’s bowled dismissal was what every fast bowler strives for.

Tell me if I’m wrong but for the first time I’m seeing a hint of worry, a trifle sense of loss and confused expression on the Aussie faces. So not them, so not the team I’ve been fascinated by in the last decade. Signs of mortality, old age creeping in?

Ponting, I think is getting sleepless nights. To go down in history as “That man, that captain, who surrendered the Ashes.”
Oh, how I would hate to be in his shoes right now!

P.S: I’ m waiting for the amazing comebacks they have shown time and again in the past, the will to rise from the dead. That’s what made them the greatest of the greats.
Come on Aussies Fight Back!

Lone Man Standing…

That just about puts Punter’s innings in perspective. Such grit and resilience! A fine example of leading his team from the front. For him, just for him, I prayed hard that the Aussies would draw the match!

I think post the match result, he will put this innings right at the top of his favourite list and I think it deserved a place there even if the Aussies had lost the match.

For all four days of the match the Aussies were outplayed by outstanding cricket by the Poms. Only Shane Warne had managed to put his hand up. Steve Waugh has left a valuable legacy with this Aussie team, that of playing with the tail-enders. Warne did it at Edgbaston and managed it again here. Lee also did not let the Edgbaston ghosts haunt him and along with McGrath survived probably the tensest 24 balls of their careers!

The way the Ashes is going; the weak-hearted should stay away from the television sets. The team that loses the series is going to give collective heart failure (as Mike Atherton said to Vaughan post yesterday’s result) to its fans at the end of this series.

England was always on top and almost drew home the advantage. I missed the initial wickets but the last two hours were extremely tense! Clarke and Warne along with Ponting looked like taking Aus away to a safe harbour only to lose their wickets at crucial moments! Warne’s wicket was a delight! Warne nicked Flintoff to the second slip only to see the ball slip out of Strauss’s hands, jump off his thigh, I’m safe he thought, but alas, the next second he saw himself being sent to despair by a superlative reflex catch by Gerraint Jones!

When Ponting got out, I skipped a heart beat!! It looked all over for the Aussies with 4 overs to go and Lee having McGrath for company. McGrath with his not so fine reputation with the bat battled it out with Lee and saved the match, the draw as good as any victory for them.

For the first time

  • I saw Lee‘s face disappointed when he hit two boundaries, that prevented him from taking the strike the next over
  • I saw the Aussies rejoice over a drawn match as if they had won it
  • It was hard to figure out that the result was a draw as England sulked what seemed like a huge loss to them, a golden chance blown away!

All’s not over for any team, England has given a superlative performance to comeback into the series and challenge this Aussie team. Aussies are looking vulnerable and have not been in their element in the last two matches.

Now is the true acid test for England & Australia. The Poms have to maintain their momentum, and back themselves to win the Ashes. A drawn series would do them no good as Aus would retain the Ashes. England will have to go out firing from all ends and leave no stone unturned!

Australia on the other hand is facing a huge challenge for the first time in two decades! They have a reputation to live upto! Can they comeback? A question they thought would never be posed to them! Do they have the answer to it? Only time will tell 🙂

As for us humble cricketing fans, we couldn’t have asked for more! Savour the series and enjoy the moments.

The Ashes – Part III

Day 1 witnessed some proud moments:

  • He surpassed 600 wickets on the very ground that was witness to a defining moment in his career; the place where he bowled the ‘Ball-of-the-Century’. He almost bowled it again to Strauss in the last test match. It was only befitting that the ground was a witness again to another glorious achievement by this man who brought alive the leg-spinner clan that was dying a slow death in cricket.
  • Out of a lean patch he couldn’t have asked for a better knock to come at a better time.
    166(215) I’m lost for words! Captain’s knock? Only time will prove!
  • What a delivery to get Hoggard out of the last ball. Perfect! He brought back his team in the game after not such a great day in field.
  • He got his expensive test match figures in a longtime. Batsmen getting almost 4 an over off him. Went wicket-less, luck was not his side, especially when he had the century maker bowled at 41 and the delivery was a no-ball!

Am I being too cryptic? Come on folks watch the Ashes to get the answers!


That’s exactly what the Poms must have felt after they snatched a two run victory over the Aussies yesterday.

There was a House-Warming ceremony at my best friend’s place. She had flown down after a year and since both sisters would be flying back again, her parents decided to have the pooja to invite all friends and family for the occasion. There was complete chaos when there were 80-odd people in the house and we “kids” (As we are still referred to, despite post-graduations, jobs, and marriages!) still managed to watch the last half hour of the match.

When we switched on the television set we were in for a few shocks:

  • First that Australia were still batting
  • Second that they were just 30–odd runs from the target (How in the world could that have happened? They required 107 at end of third day’s play and no recognized batsman left to get anywhere close to the victory target! But then with Aus anything is possible!)
  • Third that Warne had taken the attack to the Poms and Brett Lee and Kasprowicz (I feel a sense of pride everytime I get his name right:-)) were still doing the same!
  • Fourth that England were on the defensive to no.10 & no.11
  • Fifth that the England fans were emotional and involved! Boy, they’ve been so cold in the past, this was a pleasant change.
  • Sixth being the shock I would’ve got had Aussies won! ( England saved me the agony and thank god for that!)

My first immediate reaction was, “Guys, if England lose this, there is no way they will come back from this defeat in the Ashes!” Only to read today in the papers that someone else echoed similar thoughts. I’m again mighty pleased at myself, after all, a lot of the game is also played in the mind!

The England defeat would have been heart wrenching. The game so badly needs a change, and a challenge to the Aussie dominance. I’ve never rooted against Australia, they have always been my top favourites. But I was also bored seeing the same script echo day in and out, match after match, series after series (India- Aus series over the years being a fine exception, not the 2004 one, but we still managed a win, even though it was thanks to the devilish pitch at Mumbai).

There was no serious rivalry in the offing, the Ashes were dead and then this England team brought a ray of hope. I was not rooting against the Aussies, I was rooting for the game. The Aussie dominance though fascinating, could kill the game if it lasts longer. No sport has charm if there is no rivalry. Take any sport, a champion way ahead of others, simply destroys the charm of the game and the sport loses its audience. What’s the big deal about Sampras winning at Wimbledon, Schumaker winning the World Championship, Australia winning matches?

And then we, the humble sports lovers,look for those small events that are big deals! Kolkatta 2001, Adelaide 2003 was a big deal and so is this test win by England. For me it’s a huge deal:-)

Australia is struggling, how often have we heard this from their side? England is fighting back, Ashes are not going to be won that easily.The England team finally believes that its opponents are not invincible.

The Aussies are mortals after all! We had almost forgotten that fact hadn’t we?

P.S:Sorry, the last few posts have been about the Ashes, but it’s been exciting. It’s cricket, it’s one of my loves, it’s “The Ashes”, how can I not talk about it???

Saurabh has spun a nice story around it, God’s prophecies, Harry Potter, LOTR , and a few more tales and ya cricket too thrown in:-) Read it here.

Underdogs on their way…

Finally the predictions are coming true, finally the underdogs are on their way.

After seeing the delivery Strauss got in the last over on day 2 I was dead sure the lead of 99 runs that England had got would prove to be crucial in the end analysis.
Warne was the killer yet again and the pitch provided Engalnd some hope.Warne is on another milestone, which will be difficult to break. 600 wickets!!!Awesome!

Aus began well but the Flintoff turned the tide batting and bowling. What a player ans what an effort! The delivery Ponting got was the best in Aus innings, and Harmisson wrapped up the day’s play by getting Clarke out on a terriffic yorker. That sealed all hopes of an Aus victory.

England will finally be giving the Aussies a run for their money!This victory couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time in test cricket.

It is just what the doctor ordered! Read more here.

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