Tuesday, August 25, 2009

England vs Australia 5th Ashes Test (2009) Day 4 Highlights

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Monday, August 24, 2009

'Sacking Ponting would be completely unfair' - Sutherland

Merv Hughes is one of the Australian selectors on tour.

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, has said sacking Ricky Ponting from the captaincy would be "completely unfair" and has praised his leadership through the Ashes. Australia lost The Oval Test by 197 runs and conceded their second Ashes defeat to England this decade.

"Ricky's had a very, very good series," Sutherland told reporters. "He's been under incredible pressure. I thought the dignity and poise that he showed in defeat was something that all Australians should be very proud of."

He also absolved the National Selection Panel (NSP) of responsibility for the defeat in England. One of the talking points in the post-mortem was the omission of the offspinner Nathan Hauritz, which captain Ricky Ponting and coach Tim Nielsen admitted was a blunder. Hauritz's counterpart Graeme Swann proved why a spinner was so essential on that pitch as he picked up eight wickets. Sutherland defended the team management for the final line-up, implying that not all gambles are likely to pay-off.

"I think everyone will be looking for people to blame. I don't think that in any way we can hold the selectors accountable for us losing the Ashes," Sutherland said. "At the end of the day, the players go out and do the business on the field.

"Only six or seven months ago we had a fantastic series in South Africa where we beat the No. 1 team in the world (2-1 in the Tests) with a pretty similar line-up. The selectors were hailed for their selection, I guess in some ways the perceived risks they took in backing young talent. I think it would be jumping to conclusions to be blaming the selectors for this."

Sutherland said it would be unfair to criticise the decision to play a four-pronged pace attack at the expense of Hauritz, while it was clear that Australia effectively lost the game when they conceded a huge first-innings lead of 172.

"That's something that the selectors can explain for themselves," Sutherland said. "Whether that had any bearing on the result of the game, who will know? We've lost the game by 200 runs, it's a pretty significant defeat, and having a spinner in the side wouldn't have helped us in the first innings, where we were bowled out for 160 and effectively lost the game."

With Australia free-falling to No. 4 in the latest ICC Test rankings, Sutherland admitted that plenty of work had to be done to reinstate their position at the top.

"I don't think Cricket Australia is under any illusions as to where this team is at. We're definitely in a re-building phase after losing some of the best players to ever play cricket for Australia, and right now, what you get with a young and relatively inexperienced team is some ebbs and flows in performance.

"We saw a little bit of that in the Ashes series. Our best cricket was very, very good, and our not-so-good cricket, in a couple of critical moments, were really the reasons why we let the Ashes slip."

Commenting on likely changes to the selection panel, Sutherland said at least one position in the three-man panel, led by Andrew Hilditch, will be converted to a full-time role.

"The selection panel is to some extent, professional already. We have in recent times had a review, where we are now moving to a phase of becoming more professional in our approach to selection. It's not just selection, it's a matter of identifying talent and being partners in the development of talent and I think that's part of the review and going forward we'll be moving towards having at least one of the selection panel full time."

However, he ruled out the possibility of appointing the captain and coach to the panel, on the lines of what New Zealand Cricket adopted on Sunday. "The captain and the coach are always heavily consulted before matches but the structure that we prefer is for the selectors to be independent and making their own decisions and to be accountable for selection on that basis."

Australia must face harsh reality

Ricky Ponting is faced with the challenge of lifting his Australian side back to the top of the Test rankings.

T-I-M-B-E-R. That loudly cracking gum tree at The Oval on Sunday was Australia crashing towards earth as they tumbled from first on the ICC rankings to a record low of fourth. Michael Hussey, the last man out, might not have reached the dressing room by the time the official email arrived, confirming what had been coming since Australia were so outplayed in India late last year. Ricky Ponting's world champion tag now lies in history next to the exploits of those from the Beijing Olympics.

That it was England who sent them through the trapdoor adds to the pain. After the game, Ponting was hurt and disappointed, but dignified and composed. The planning to move back up the ladder has already begun, and will be helped by playing Pakistan and West Indies at home over the summer. However, an era of severe inconsistency has followed the decade of dominance that began under Mark Taylor, continued through the Steve Waugh period and started to waver when a series of greats left Ponting stranded with an unrecognisable outfit.

Despite the defeat, their third to a major nation in less than a year, the influential figures in Australian cricket remain happy with the progress. James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, and Andrew Hilditch, the often under-attack chairman of selectors, have expressed their disappointment in the result without pointing any fingers. A review will occur - of course it will - but the pair remained committed to this regenerating outfit.

"I'm comfortable with where we are at," Ponting said as he wondered why things had turned so bad at The Oval. "We've been rebuilding for 12 to 18 months, with guys who have a few Tests under their belts who are still learning about the game. There couldn't be a better example for the young guys than the last couple of months. They all should be a lot better off for being part of this series."

That might work for the newer faces, who become toughened and gnarled in defeat, but it's unlikely to help the older players, particular Ponting, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke, who have now lost twice in England. They had their chance for revenge and failed against a far inferior outfit than the 2005 vintage. Only Clarke stood out consistently, but then he flopped in the final Test, first the victim of a rash drive and then to an unfortunate pin-ball run-out. A home series win in 2010-11 can't exorcise their England issues over the past four years.

What has been hardest to understand is the regular yo-yo of performance, something for which the inflated coaching staff must accept some of the responsibility. How can the coterie of hangers-on and strategic planners not see problems unfolding when they spend so much time with the squad? All drills at the daily training sessions are designed for peak performance under searing pressure, but the tracksuits were blinded by optimism following each strong Test before re-discovering reality the next week.

The fright arrives when the team loses so badly in two Tests after saying how well everybody is going, how great the "preparation" has been, how strong the belief is in the group. By manufacturing this in-public spirit, lying about team developments and hiding struggling figures until they gain a high-paying tell-all media deal, the followers and players feel nothing is wrong. None of the professionals sensed the threat of the crash.

"Excitement" was Ponting's buzzword in the lead-up to The Oval. He didn't want to talk about the pressure on his men because he didn't want his young players tensing up. It wasn't just the fresh ones who couldn't deal with the strain of a winner-takes-all game, but the experienced campaigners as well, particularly in the first innings when they were flattened for 160. Modern-age team psychology and management babble masks truth. If players are told they are going well all the time how can they cope when things, suddenly or slowly, turn bad? They need to learn how to deal with fact.

To move on this unit must start by forgetting the high of South Africa, the one-off steamy holiday romance earlier this year, and focus on what happened in England. The day-to-day problems, the failure to turn hours of talk into action and recognising the ability and limits of those in the squad, particularly the fast bowlers. This is an outfit that can't transform any situation into a win, especially under extreme conditions.

When it mattered most, they failed. It happened at Lord's, where they expected to take a 1-0 lead at their overseas fortress, and was repeated at The Oval in the most important contest. In between they hung on for a draw at Edgbaston and had the best of the conditions in Leeds. Ponting regularly said Australians play their best when their backs are to the wall. It's not true with this side, which is why it currently sits in fourth behind South Africa, Sri Lanka and India. Mighty England remain fifth.

Despite it all, Ponting feels hurt but sees sunshine. "We're definitely heading in the right direction," he said. "I'm really proud of the guys." A tour that began with a first-round exit in the World Twenty20 has been followed by a second consecutive Ashes defeat in England. That's more like a dead end.