Famous Test Matches – England v Australia, The Oval, 1997

  In this post, we go back to the sixth and final Test of the 1997 Ashes series. Despite England showing early promise with a resounding win in the opening Test at Edgbaston, Australia came back in familiar fashion to win three of the next four Tests to retain the urn and win their fifth Ashes series in succession.

  Thus, this final Test was of no consequence to the series result as Australia had an unassailable 3-1 lead. However, the game produced a stirring low-scoring contest with some fascinating bowling performances.

  From their eleven which were beaten in the fifth Test by 264 runs, England dropped John Crawley, Dean Headley and Robert Croft and replaced them with Mark Ramprakash, Peter Martin and Phil Tufnell. Mark Butcher was also recalled.

  Australia too tinkered with their bowling attack, bringing in Michael Kasprowicz and debutant all-rounder Shaun Young in place of Jason Gillespie and Paul Reiffel.

wbLORDS97mcgrath_gallery__298x400    Glenn McGrath (c) took 7/76 in the first innings. He was the scourge of English batsmen throughout the series, finishing with 36 wickets (source – theage.com.au)

  After electing to bat, England began poorly, slumping to 24/2 with Glenn McGrath sending back openers Mark Butcher and captain Michael Atherton cheaply. Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain revived the innings with a 73-run stand for the third wicket before McGrath trapped the former (out for 36, the highest score of the innings) leg before.

  A depressing English collapse ensued, with 128/3 becoming 132/7. McGrath was in deadly form, as he mopped off the top six all by himself. Bowling fast and straight, his accuracy was found to be too hot to handle for the hosts’ middle order.

  Andrew Caddick and Martin staged a momentary counter-attack, resulting in Kasprowicz leaking almost five an over. However it did nothing to boost the innings, which ended at 180 when Kasprowicz dismissed Devon Malcolm for a golden duck.

  Left-arm spinner Tufnell then removed the Australian openers within 54 runs, including captain Mark Taylor who was looking in good touch during his 38. Australia ended the eventful first day at 77/2 and in control.

  Early on day two, Tufnell added a third wicket, that of Mark Waugh, to make it 94/3. Mark’s twin brother Steve then joined Greg Blewett and the two appeared to be taking the game away from England before Waugh’s dismissal limited their stand to 46.

  Tufnell then proceeded to give the Aussies a taste of their own medicine, as he made full use of a dry pitch – which was seeming to crumble already – to reduce them to 164/7, including the wicket of top-scorer Blewett for 47.

zzxp      Phil Tufnell gave England some consolation in an Ashes series defeat, taking 11/93 at the Oval to help his side snatch a 19-run win (source – paphotos/espncricinfo.com)

  England were right back in the contest. Ricky Ponting added 41 for the eighth wicket with Shane Warne, but Tufnell was in his element and he removed Ponting for a gutsy 40 to help bowl out Australia for 220, the lead restricted to 40. ‘Tuffers’ bowled unchanged for 34.3 overs including 16 maidens and finished with a memorable 7/66.

  In the second innings, England’s top three were sent back with the score reading only 26 – Kasprowicz taking two of them – and the hosts were still trailing by 14. They ended the second day at 52/3, leading by 12. The Test was hurtling towards a quick finish.

  Off the third ball on day three, Hussain was dismissed by Warne and the score now read 52/4. With such a pitch on offer for the guile of Warne, many England fans would have thought of yet another easy win for the Australians.

  But there was a glimmer of hope – Warne was far from fully fit due to a groin strain which occurred late on the second day. Graham Thorpe and Ramprakash (48) steadied the ship with a partnership of 79 for the fifth wicket. Kasprowicz ended the resistance by accounting for Thorpe for 62 – the game’s only half-century.

  This dismissal was the opening that the visitors needed, as Kasprowicz then made short work of the English tail. The last four wickets fell for three runs as England were bowled out for 163. Kasprowicz, playing just his fifth Test, took 7/36 and thus, three bowlers had taken seven wickets in an innings in the same Test for the first time.

001402   Michael Kasprowicz became the third bowler to take seven wickets in an innings in the Oval Test, bagging 7/36 in the second innings (source – espncricinfo.com)

  Australia’s target was a 124, but going by the pattern of the match it was not going to be an easy task. And so it seemed when Matthew Elliott was out leg-before to Malcolm to make the score 5/1.

  Taylor and Blewett took the total on to 36, but the combination of pace and spin from Caddick and Tufnell respectively kept up the pressure on the batsmen. Yet another middle-order implosion was witnessed, as Australia went from a steady 36/1 to a pathetic 54/5.

  Caddick got rid of Taylor, Blewett and Steve Waugh while Tufnell sent back Mark Waugh. Blewett was unfairly given out caught behind, as the television replays confirmed that there was no edge. Ponting was still there, and he kept his team alive by adding a valuable 34 with Ian Healy for the sixth wicket.

  However, Tufnell trapped Ponting in the front before Caddick took a return catch offered by Healy to reduce Australia to 92/7. Batting with a runner, Warne too was out quickly and as expected, the tail provided no resistance.

  The final wicket was that of McGrath, who was caught by Thorpe off Tufnell. Australia were skittled out for 104 and lost the Test by 19 runs. Caddick bagged 5/42 while man-of-the-match Tufnell took 4/27 to finish the match with a career-best return of 11/93. The match was over by 5.24 p.m on the third day – the first three-day Test at the Oval since 1957.

  This win, though not enough to stop Australia from laying their hands on the urn yet again, surely delighted England’s supporters. Given the state of mind in which England entered this Test and the total they were defending, it can be said that this was one of their most memorable Ashes victories. 

  But such victories were to be rare occurrences in the coming years as well. England lost the following three Ashes series by margins of 3-1, 4-1 and 4-1, stretching Australia’s unbeaten streak to a record-equalling eight Ashes series wins in a row. 

Match Scorecard

IN FOCUS – Ireland two wins away from a World Cup berth

  The Irish team are set to play a set of crucial matches in the Netherlands in the first two weeks of July. They will take on the Dutch firstly in a four-day ICC Intercontinental Cup game at Deventer from July 1-4, followed by two very important ICC World Cricket League ODI matches at Amsterdam on 7th and 9th July.

  Victories in both the WCL matches will ensure Ireland a spot in the 2015 World Cup. Presently, Ireland are on top of the table with 17 points, and need two wins from the remaining four games. By far the leading Associate nation over the last few years, Ireland have won eight and lost only one (against Kenya) of their 10 matches so far. In their latest WCL encounters, Ireland scored two victories over the UAE at Sharjah in March. They have a three-point lead in the table over the Netherlands, who have 14 points from 10 games (7 wins and 3 losses). Thus, these home games assume great significance for the Netherlands as well – they need three wins from their remaining four games to seal a World Cup berth.

000725c9-642     Gary Wilson acknowledges the crowd at Sharjah after Ireland beat the UAE by 6 wickets in their most recent WCL encounter in March (source – rte.ie)

  The top teams in the eight-team WCL will gain an automatic entry in the 14-team 2015 World Cup, to be played in Australia and New Zealand. For the remaining two berths, Nepal, Uganda, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong will join the other six teams in the WCL in a separate ten-team Qualifiers tournament, which is slated to be contested in New Zealand in 2014. The Netherlands themselves have a three-point lead over Scotland and Afghanistan, both of whom have 11 points each. As the WCL enters its final stages, the race for the top two is expected to get hotter with as many as six teams in the fray for automatic qualification.

  Ireland’s coach Phil Simmons had a point when he said without a doubt that these two WCL matches in Amsterdam are the most crucial his side will play this year. He added that while it is always fantastic to have fixtures against Full Members, qualification for global tournaments is the main goal, and it is vital that Ireland keep performing on the world stage and show everyone just how far Irish cricket has come. Simmons further said that his team’s objective is not only to qualify, but also win each of their remaining four games to finish with 25 points. Given their recent record and confidence, it is very likely that Ireland will win these two games and become the first of four Associates to qualify the World Cup. The Willam Porterfield-led squad for the two games is exactly the same which took on – and twice came agonisingly short of beating – Pakistan at home last month. Overall in ODI’s, Ireland have won six matches and lost just one against the Netherlands.

45220   The solid partnership of captain William Porterfield and coach Phil Simmons has put Ireland on the verge of playing their third World Cup in a row (source – icc-cricket.com)

  Prior to the WCL double-header, Ireland will play an Intercontinental Cup match at Deventer. In this four-day competition too, Ireland lead the table with 76 points, in the case having a comfortable 12-point cushion over second-placed Afghanistan. However, for all their relative success in the WCL, the Netherlands are placed 6th in the Intercontinental Cup, with a total of 36 points. Ireland’s last Intercontinental clash was in March, when they drew against the UAE at Sharjah, a game in which Ireland registered its highest ever team of  589/7 declared.  The squad for this match will bear quite a different look, as few of the key players will be on county duty. The team will be lead by Kevin O’Brien, who was also captain in Ireland’s recent 93-run loss to Australia A. Meanwhile, the Netherlands will be lead by Peter Borren in both the formats.

  After almost defeating Pakistan and impressing against Australia A, this tour will be yet another opportunity for Ireland to showcase their talent and in the process, achieve their goal of World Cup qualification, while also keeping up the pressure on the ICC to allot them more international matches against top opposition. 

IN FOCUS – Ten tumultuous years of Twenty20

  The commencement of the latest edition of England’s domestic Twenty20 tournament yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the oldest T20 competition in the world. On 13th June 2003, five games of the Twenty20 Cup were played across England to signal the arrival of cricket’s newest product, which was to become a golden goose in a few years’ time.

  The invention of T20 can be credited to Stuart Robertson, the then marketing manager of the ECB, who proposed a 20 over per innings game to county chairmen in 2001 and they voted 11–7 in favour of adopting the new format. The objective was to introduce a fast-paced cricket package to those who were finding county cricket monotonous, and enable spectators to watch a quick fun game after work. In the inaugural 2003 edition, Lord’s, the Mecca of cricket, was conspicuous by its absence, but the competition was nevertheless a success. Surrey, led by Adam Hollioake, became the first ever winners of a T20 tournament, defeating Warwickshire in a highly one-sided final at Trent Bridge.

2176883_1745073a     Adam Hollioake’s Surrey celebrate after winning the first ever Twenty20 Cup in 2003 (source – thesun.co.uk)

  Twenty20 cricket, just like the initial days of both Tests and ODI’s, motored along quietly for the first few years, generally seen as a hit-and-giggle format mostly restricted to the domestic level, albeit with a good degree of success and profitable returns to the cricket boards. South Africa started their own Pro20 competition in April 2004, while Sri Lanka had a two-day tournament of its own a few months later. The fans liked it, as a game was done and dusted in three hours and the atmosphere at the grounds was festive. Purists scoffed at it, lamenting about its ill-effects on the County Championship. For the administrators though, it was a dual reason to be happy – people were actually attending county grounds to near-capacity, and secondly, it had commercial viability. In the 2004 Twenty20 Cup, Lord’s hosted its first T20 game, between Middlesex and Surrey, and it attracted a crowd of 27,509, the largest attendance for any county cricket  game on ground other than a one-day final since 1953. The seeds of a revolution were sown. 

  Test cricket was seen as a secondary affair to the county season during its infancy, but the birth of the Ashes brought a new dimension to the game in 1882. One-day international cricket had not caught the world’s fancy until the Packer revolution altered the game’s dynamics between the first two World Cups. Similarly, the inaugural World T20 in 2007 can be seen as the slam-bang format’s watershed moment. The tournament was won by India, and it had an immense impact on the game. The BCCI, who were ironically the only board opposed to this format – in fact the board bigwigs were mulling not to send an Indian team to the World T20 at all – suddenly envisaged dollar signs all around them. The ‘rebel’ Indian Cricket League was the first to see an opportunity, but it was quickly brushed away by the BCCI, who had ideas of their own, as unofficial.

  In February 2008, different sections of the cricket community were either taken aback, amused or offended as the world’s best cricketers were actually auctioned at eye-popping prices at a five-star hotel. Cricket was turning corporate, as business houses and film-stars clamoured to ‘buy’ the cream of the cricketing world. It was a first-of-a-kind event in the history of cricket, and just two months later the Indian Premier League kicked off, and went on to become a huge hit with the fans as the BCCI and the cricketers laughed their way to the bank. Twenty20, which was just a pass-time, became the most lucrative option available to cricketers. England’s innovative idea was converted by India into a relentless assault, and how. Each four and six was now sponsored, commentators went over the top to create as much fabricated drama as possible, cash and sleaze became the order of the day. The IPL has turned into the Frankenstein of cricket in just five years.

download (2)         India’s win in the inaugural World T20 in 2007 proved to be the catalyst for the ‘tamasha’ called the Indian Premier League (source – in.reuters.com)

  The IPL however, went on to become a model for other nations to follow, who accordingly revamped their T20 competitions. The new Big Bash League, the Bangladesh Premier League and the Sri Lanka Premier League can be in some way considered as clones of the IPL. However, the IPL scores over all other T20 tournaments on many counts – popularity, star attractions and possibly, corruption too – although the BPL and the SLPL do not seem to be far behind in the corruption aspect, if recent happenings are anything to go by. Also in 2008 was witnessed the embarrassing Stanford fiasco and his near boot-licking by the ECB. Its creator Allen Stanford eventually was jailed for in a fraud case and the shambolic ‘Twenty20 for 20 million’ one-off game was thankfully done away with after a sole attempt.

  In a matter of a decade, Twenty20 has gone on to become probably the most serious threat to cricket as we know it. It is true that the public loves the format, especially in the sub-continent, and the format is a money-spinner for the cricket boards. However, the downsides are too dangerous to neglect. The biggest worry for the game is that players are being paid many times more to play three hours of meaningless cricket than they get while representing their country in a proper Test match. Today we are seeing lesser crowds at and cancellation of Test matches, shorter careers and an increase in corruption. Nothing wrong in the players earning a good sum of money, but they should get their priorities right – which is difficult when money becomes the sole source of motivation. Also, in spite of the players earning handsome amounts, we see a few of them succumb to the temptations of match-fixing. I can say with confidence that the corruption menace in the IPL is on a much wider scale than is known.

images (15)        The dark side of Twenty20 – fans protest against the IPL after the spot-fixing controversy rocked the game last month (source – iplzilla.com)

  With the amounts of money being offered, Twenty20 has become serious business for the cricketers and the administrators, however meaningless the games are. It is up to the ICC to ensure that the format does not erode the very ethics of this great game. The need of the hour is to ensure that conducive co-existence of the three formats in such a way that Test cricket remains the pinnacle and that each game has meaning attached to it. Unfortunately precious little is being done in this regard at the moment.

  T20 has brought a new audience to the game, but it does not need rocket science to find out whether these people will gradually get interested in Test cricket or not. How can someone who is introduced to cricket through the T20 format, be expected to appreciate the beauty of a Test match? Yes, it often makes for good entertainment, and it should be kept at that.

  It will interesting to see how Twenty20 shapes out to be in the coming decade. Will it suffer from overkill? Will its downfall be as quick as itself? Or will it kill off Test matches?

  Dicey times ahead for cricket. 

Famous Test Matches – England v Australia, The Oval, 1953

  With the Ashes around the corner, let us go down the years to 1953, the year of probably England’s most significant Ashes victory. England were going through an Ashes drought of nearly 20 years, having last won the urn in the Bodyline series of 1932-33.

  Moreover, in the three post-war Ashes series of 1946-47, 1948 and 1950-51, they were soundly beaten by margins of 3-0, 4-0 and 4-1 respectively. In 1953, England were led by Leonard Hutton, its first modern professional captain. 

  1953 was the year of the coronation of Elizabeth II and the public sentiment was optimistic. Coming into this fifth and final Test, the series was deadlocked at 0-0, with both the teams having had opportunities to take a lead.

  Alec Bedser’s 14 wickets in the first Test at Trent Bridge went in vain only because of the weather while in the following Test at Lord’s, Australia were denied by the obdurate pair of Trevor Bailey and Willie Watson.

  Even though the first four Tests were drawn, there were a few sensational passages of play, such as Australia’s second innings in the third Test at Old Trafford – another rain affected game – when the visitors slumped to an astonishing 35/8 after a first-innings lead of 42.

image_20130623112732

      Leonard Hutton, who was England’s first modern professional captain, led England to their first Ashes win in nearly 20 years (source – gettyimages)

  In the fourth Test, Australia again missed out on victory, falling 30 runs short in a game during which England’s negative tactics of employing defensive leg-side fields were criticised. Thus, it all boiled down to the Oval for the decider, played between 15th and 19th August, 1953.

  Australia won the toss and elected to bat. Captain Lindsay Hassett led from the front, scoring a solid 53 while opening the innings. He added 66 for the fourth wicket with Neil Harvey after his side were reduced to 41/2.

  However, the skipper’s dismissal, caught behind by Godfrey Evans off Alec Bedser, gave England the upper hand as the Australians went from a comfortable 107/2 to 118/5, and further to 160/7.The fiery Fred Trueman, brought in for this Test, was the wrecker of the middle order as he accounted for Harvey, Greame Hole and Jim de Courcy in a spell of sustained fast bowling.

  A late rescue act was performed by Ray Lindwall, who made 62 from number nine and ensured his side reached a fighting total of 275. Lindwall was involved in stands of 47, 38 and 30 for the last three wickets and was last out to Trueman, who returned 4/86.

  England began their reply sensibly on the second day, with Hutton and Peter May putting on 100 for the second wicket after the early loss of Bill Edrich. But just like the Australian innings, their captain’s loss gave the middle order the jitters. The score was 154/2 when Hutton was bowled by Bill Johnston for 82.

  Lindwall (4/70) continued his good game, snapping up the vital wickets of Dennis Compton and Tom Graveney in quick succession to make the score 170/5. ‘Barnacle’ Bailey stood up to the challenge again, as he remained unbeaten on 33 till the end of Day 2, the score reading 235/7.

Tony Lock

       Tony Lock, in tandem with Jim Laker, turned the contest on its head with a second-innings haul of 5/45 (source – guardian.co.uk)

  Bailey continued to hold fort on day three, before being the last man out for 64. His last-wicket stand of 44 with Bedser enabled England to get the lead and onto a total of 306. The game was evenly balanced at this stage.

  In the second dig, Australia were seemingly starting to take control at 59/1 in spite of losing Hassett cheaply to Jim Laker. But the Surrey spin twins – Laker and Tony Lock – had other ideas. The pitch was beginning to turn from the third day, as has traditionally been the case at the Oval, and the Aussies suddenly froze collectively against their guile.

  Off-spinner Laker dismissed Hole (LBW) and Keith Miller (caught by Trueman at short square leg for a duck), while Lock accounted for Harvey and Arthur Morris. In a stunning turnaround, 59/1 became 61/5 and suddenly England were on course to make history. Ron Archer (who top-scored with 49) attempted a recovery, putting on 50 for the seventh wicket with Alan Davidson, but it would not last long.

  The innings terminated at 162 with Lock taking 5/45 and Laker 4/75. The two bowled 37.5 overs between them compared to the pace bowlers’ 13. The entire innings lasted two hours and forty-five minutes. England required just 132 and ended the eventful third day at 38/1, losing Hutton to a run-out.

  A capacity crowd thronged the Oval on day four and they went home with fond memories of an Ashes-winning victory. Bill Edrich played like a rock, making sure that there were no unwanted hiccups. He put on 50 for the third wicket with Peter May, and remained unbeaten on 55. 

  May’s dismissal at 88 brought Edrich’s Middlesex teammate Compton to the crease, and the latter was destined to hit the winning runs which gave England the Ashes after almost 20 years.

England-win-the-Ashes-in--007       Bill Edrich and Dennis Compton make their way back through a jubilant crowd after guiding England to Ashes glory (source – guardian.co.uk)

  Compton (22*) swept part-timer Morris for a boundary to take the final score to 132/2, at seven minutes to three on the fourth day. The jubilant crowd swarmed onto the Oval even before the batsmen could head for the pavilion. 

  This Ashes victory was England’s first at home since 1926. The player who made the most impact in the series was Bedser, who took a then-record 39 wickets in the five Tests. The celebration of victory was widespread, as the drama of this memorable series was played out on the newly introduced black-and-white television as well.

  On Test Match Special, Brian Johnston galvanised an entire nation by exclaiming, ‘The Ashes! It’s the Ashes!’ as Compton hit the winning runs. Interestingly, the winning captain Hutton lost all five tosses. 

  In a heart-warming climax, both captains addressed the crowd and stressed the excellent spirit in which all the matches had been contested both on and off the field.

Match Scorecard

Watch a  visual recap of the Test

VIEWPOINT – A farcical final that was a fitting end

  It was only apt that the last match of the 15-year old Champions Trophy was in effect a Twenty20 game. For as we all know, the main reason of the ICC for bumping off this tournament is that they can cram in more irrelevant Twenty20 leagues into the calendar. The Test championship is of course, nothing but hogwash.

  The Champions Trophy final lost its significance as the final match of a ‘global 50-overs tournament’ the moment it got converted into a 20-over affair. In other words, it became just another Twenty20 international, like the ones that unnecessarily pepper the international schedule, like the one which has been bizarrely scheduled between England and New Zealand for tomorrow. It became nothing but a lottery, and the side which gambled more smartly ultimately won. It was as ridiculous as having a six-a-side final for football’s Confederations Cup. Especially after this fiasco, I wonder if anyone is going to miss the Champions Trophy at all.

2013-06-23T120258Z_1_AJOE95M0XH000_RTROPTP_2_OZASP-RAIN-DELAYS-START-OF-CHAMPIONS-TROPHY-FINAL      The dark clouds and rain covers made for a depressing sight at Edgbaston on the day of the Champions Trophy final (source – yahoo.com)

  All the ICC needed to do was schedule a reserve day for today, i.e June 24th, so that even if the game got interrupted yesterday, it could have been simply continued from where it stopped, on the reserve day. At least there would have been scope for a full 50-0vers final. But the ICC were keen on adding to their list of poorly-organised finals in multi-nation ODI tournaments. The most embarrassing instance was the 2007 World Cup final, where in spite of having a reserve day, it was insisted upon that the two teams, Australia and Sri Lanka, contest a 38-over match which ended in near darkness. In 2002, the Champions Trophy was shared between Sri Lanka and India when the game was re-started on the reserve day instead of just continuing it, leading to a double wash-out. Will the ICC ever learn?

  The final itself was not short of controversy. The decision which resulted in Ian Bell’s dismissal was shocking – even the commentators could not believe it. I wonder what third umpire Bruce Oxenford was thinking when he decided to give Bell out when it was clear to all and sundry that his foot was alright after all, and that the benefit of any doubt goes to the batsman. The decision might have cost England their first major 50-overs trophy. India won after some strange ‘out-of-the-box- thinking by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni – his  decision to give Ishant Sharma an extra over ultimately proved to be the turning point, as the lanky seamer took two wickets in two balls to begin England’s slide toward a 5-run loss, when the hosts had the match in the bag, needing 20 runs to win off 16 balls with 6 wickets remaining. 

IanBell_out_AP     Ian Bell was given out after a highly dubious decision by the third umpire (source – firstpost.com)

  The pitches on offer for quite a few of the games (including the final) were unusually ‘sub-continental’ in nature. Nevertheless, India no doubt played fearless cricket throughout the tournament, having been regarded by many as deserving winners, and I would certainly like to believe that. Hopefully, the farce was limited to just the organisation of the game.

VIEWPOINT – Australia cannot be underestimated in the Ashes

  It is a bit surprising to me that many soothsayers are predicting a handsome series win for hosts England in the upcoming Ashes, some even going to the extent of a prospective whitewash. While it is good to be optimistic, one cannot help but think that the touring Australians will at some point show their true worth in the series, and who knows, might actually have a go at regaining the urn itself. 

  The high expectations from England are understandable to an extent, given that their strike bowlers have hit form at the right time, and their batting line-up is one of the most solid in Test cricket at present. On the other hand, Australia’s batsmen, save for captain Michael Clarke, do not inspire much confidence, while in spite of a promising pace battery, the continued lack of an effective spinner gives a thin look to their bowling stocks as well. The recall of Chris Rogers (who has been in very good form for Middlesex), the desperation to fast-track Australian citizenship for Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed and the poor form of David Warner and Shane Watson – not to mention the off-field shenanigans by some of the players – are all being seen as indicators of a disaster waiting to happen.

michael-clarke    With him playing the dual role of captain and leading batsman, a lot will depend upon Michael Clarke and the manner in which he marshals his resources (source – .88db.com)

  However, recent Ashes series have often dispelled the notion of  any team being ‘pre-series favourites’. The best example is the epic series of 2005, where all it took to derail Australia’s campaign was a cricket ball, on which the great Glenn McGrath trod and ended up twisting his ankle. His bowling in the series was never the same again and he had to eat humble pie, for he had displayed sheer cockiness by predicting a 5-0 whitewash defeat for England much before the rubber got underway. Then in 2006-07, England were on course to fight their way back into the series in the 2nd Test at Adelaide, before a sensational collapse and Australia’s galloping victory chase paved the way for the hosts’ 5-0 clean sweep. In 2009, the final difference between victory and defeat for the Australians could well be put down to a last-wicket stand by the English tail-enders in the opening Test.

  Thus, when it comes to the Ashes, there is no team that can be called ‘overwhelming favourites’. This tag could have been applicable to the Australians of 1998-2005, and so they proved too. But that team was a true, world-beating champion side, surpassed only by the West Indians of the 1980’s. Let us not forget that the current England team is nothing like that  champion Australian team. They were rolled over by Pakistan in the Gulf not too long ago, and came were just a wicket away from a certain series defeat in New Zealand just three months back. Yes, they are the second-best team in the world at the moment, but they have quite a lot of ground to cover before they can challenge South Africa, as was proved in the summer of 2012. Thus, the three instances mentioned above suggest England have failed to win Test series against countries ranked lower than them at least thrice in the recent past. If they believe that the Ashes will be a walk in the park, they can do so at their own peril.

244130339   Australia’s Chris Rogers while playing for Middlesex. His form this season has brought some hope for his team’s chances in the Ashes (source – london24.com)

  Granted that Australia have never seemed so vulnerable in recent times, following their horror series in India and given their inability to find suitable replacements for Ricky Ponting and Micahel Hussey. But if you remove the Indian debacle, their recent performances are anything but abysmal. In their home summer, they nearly beat champions South Africa before  blanking Sri Lanka. And save for Hussey, that team bore an almost similar look to the one selected for the Ashes. In fact, if you compare Australia’s overseas performances of last two years to those of England’s, they actually turn out to be better, with series wins in Sri Lanka and West Indies and a draw in South Africa. Judging the team solely by their performances in India – where conditions were quite the opposite of those expected in England – would be a huge mistake.

  If there is one area where Australia have the potential to match up to England, it could be their pace attack. If this attack, which will be led by of the workhorse Peter Siddle, the very impressive James Pattinson and the tricky Mitchell Starc, find form as a group, then all Michael Clarke needs is support from two or three of his batsmen, which could be provided by the likes of Rogers and Brad Haddin – both of whom have had good success in English conditions. And as mentioned earlier, the fate of the Ashes has often hinged on the minutest of events – fortunes can change at any time during the five-match series.

  Chris Rogers hit the right note when he said that his team is being a bit undervalued in many respects according to him. The 35-year old, who has played just one Test so far, has logged 790 runs in 8 games in the county Championship thus far, sounded like a man who is quietly confident of his team’s as well as his own chances in the Ashes. And the battle-hardened opener knows his cricket, having scored close to 20,000 first-class runs.  

     Fifteen days to go then. 

SPECIALS – Ireland’s finest ODI wins

  If there is one Associate nation today that reminds us time and again of its capability of being a full member, it is Ireland. After years of second-class treatment to cricket, shunned for being an English sport, the Irishmen finally made their international debut in 2006, and have quickly risen to become, by far, the leading non-Test nation, leapfrogging countries which made their debuts much before them. Here, we look back at five of Ireland’s finest one-day victories, in chronological order:-

1) Beat Pakistan by 3 wickets, Kingston 2006-07

  Ireland came into this game in a confident state of mind, their second in the 2007 World Cup, following a dramatic tie against Zimbabwe. It was St Patrick’s Day, the day of the Irish patron saint. On the other hand, Pakistan had to win to stay in contention. What followed was one of the most shocking upsets seen in the game. Trent Johnston had no hesitation in putting Pakistan in on a green-top, and they were soon 15/2.

  The ship seemed to be steadying at 56/2 in the 13th over, but from thereon began a procession of wickets. The greenhorn Irish pacemen, Boyd Rankin (3/32) and Andre Botha (2/5) in particular, reduced the Asian giants to 72/6. Kamran Akmal attempted a recovery but he managed only 27, as Pakistan were skittled for a scarcely believable 132 in 45.4 overs. Remarkably, all ten batsmen were out caught.

Trent_Johnston1    Irish captain Trent Johnston is congratulated by his Pakistani counterpart Inzamam ul-Haq after Ireland’s win in the 2007 World Cup (source – cricket.vgreets.com)

  Chasing a revised 128 off 47 overs in reply, Ireland too became 15/2 when Niall O’Brien came out to bat. The wicketkeeper proceeded to play the innings of his life, scoring 72 in 107 balls. It seemed like a comfortable win at 108/4, when O’Brien was out stumped. This triggered a mini-collapse, and at 113/7, Pakistan were right back in it. Johnston joined Niall’s brother Kevin, and the duo made sure there were no further hiccups, reaching 133/7 in 41.4 overs, with the captain fittingly getting the winning runs with a six off Azhar Mehmood. This sparked off frenzied celebrations at Sabina Park – Ireland had qualified for the Super 8, while Pakistan were eliminated after just two games.

2) Beat Bangladesh by 74 runs, Bridgetown 2006-07

  Ireland claimed their second big scalp of the 2007 World Cup in this Super 8 game, which was inconsequential as both teams were out of the semi-final race. After deciding to bat, Ireland got off to a solid start, the openers William Porterfield and Jeremy Bray putting on 92. Porterfield went on to make 85 off 136 balls, while Kevin O’Brien’s 44-ball 48 ensured a healthy total of 243/8. Bangladesh then got off to a scratchy start and never quite recovered after being reduced to 48/3. The top score was Mohammed Ashraful’s 35 as all five Irish bowlers bagged at least a wicket. The innings came to an end in 41.2 overs, Bangladesh bowled out for 169. This win, Ireland’s second over a full member, ensured permanent ODI status for them. 

3) Beat Bangladesh by 7 wickets, Belfast 2010

  Bangladesh paid a visit to Ireland for a two-ODI series, this being the first of them. Ireland showed how much they have improved, scoring a highly professional and convincing 7-wicket win. After Bangladesh were reduced to 28/3, Junaid Siddique (100) and Shakib al Hasan (50) put on 107 for the 4th wicket. However Ireland always stayed in control, and tight bowling at the death kept the visitors to 234/9, Boyd Rankin (3/43) and Trent Johnston (2/24) being the best bowlers.

  In reply, captain William Porterfield again displayed his fondness for the Bangladeshi attack, putting on 118 for the opening wicket with young Paul Stirling (52) en route to a masterful 108 from 116 balls, and then a further 90 for the 2nd wicket with Alex Cusack (45*). Ireland reached 235/3 with 5 overs left, recording their first win over a full member on home soil.

4) Beat England by 3 wickets, Bangalore 2010-11

  The World Cup seems to bring out the best in the Irishmen. If the 2007 win over Pakistan signalled Ireland’s arrival, this heady victory over the old enemy showed that they were more than just giant-killers, and could upset any team on their day. This win, is till date Ireland’s most memorable in international cricket. England decided to bat on a flat track and were immediately all over the Irish bowlers, openers Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen (59) galloping to 91 in the 14th over.

  Part-time spinner Paul Stirling got rid of Pietersen to make the score 111/2, but that only brought together Jonathan Trott (92) and Ian Bell (81). The duo added 167 for the 3rd wicket and England were set for a mammoth score, before Ireland fought back a bit, claiming the last six for 49 in 7 overs, John Mooney being the pick with 4/63. England ended with 327/8, and Ireland needed something special to chase it.

obrien_1839085c      Kevin O’Brien’s assault on England in the 2011 World Cup led Ireland to their most famous win ever (source – telegraph.co.uk)

  The chase got off to the worst possible start as captain William Porterfield was bowled by James Anderson off the very first ball. Ireland rallied to reach 103/2 in the 21st over, but Greame Swann’s (3/47) triple strike derailed the middle order, and the score read 111/5 in the 25th over. England’s victory seemed like a mere formality. And then true Irish spirit came to the fore, in the form of Kevin O’Brien. The all-rounder turned the game on its head, and how. He reached 50 in just 31 balls, and then galloped to 100 off a mere 50 balls – in the process shattering Matthew Hayden’s record of the fastest World Cup hundred (66 balls).

  Cashing on England’s poor fielding and shoddy bowling (33 extras were given), he blitzed his way to 113 in 63 balls, with 13 fours and 6 sixes and put on 162 for the 6th wicket with Alex Cusack (47) to stun the opposition. He was finally run-out in the 49th over, by which time his team needed only 11 more to win. Mooney made a valuable 33* and also struck the winning boundary, as Ireland reached 329/7 with 5 balls to spare. This win was the highlight of the tournament, and the defeat of England brought immense joy to Ireland’s passionate supporters.

5) Beat Netherlands by 6 wickets, Kolkata 2010-11

  Ireland, who were out of reckoning for a quarterfinal berth, signed off their 2011 World Cup campaign with a victory, chasing down a 300+ once again. William Porterfield put in the Dutch, and the decision seemed justified when the score was 53/3. However, Ryan ten Doeschate made an impressive 106, putting on 121 for the 5th wicket with skipper Peter Borren (82*). Netherlands were bowled out for 306 in 50 overs, the last four wickets all being run-outs in the final over.

  Any doubt of Ireland chasing this big total was removed by openers Porterfield (68) and Paul Stirling, who amassed 177 for the first wicket in just 27 overs. Stirling creamed 101 off just 72 balls, while Niall O’Brien kept things boiling with an unbeaten 57. The target was rather comfortably achieved, the final score reading 307/4 in 47.4 overs.