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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flintoff's fling inspires England Ashes glory

Andrew Flintoff celebrates his run out of Ricky Ponting that sparked England's march to the Ashes.

Amid scenes of delirium unwitnessed in South London since the unforgettable summer of 2005, England's cricketers reclaimed the Ashes on a tumultuous fourth afternoon at The Oval, as Australia's brave resistance - led by a century of incredible mental fortitude from Michael Hussey - was unpicked, wicket by wicket, minute by minute, until, at 5.47pm, and with an expectant crowd willing on the moment of glory, Hussey prodded Graeme Swann to Alastair Cook at short leg to spark the celebrations into life.

At the moment of victory, all of England's players rushed into a huddle on the edge of the square - all except for one, that is. In his moment of Test retirement, Andrew Flintoff's first instinct was to seek out and console the crestfallen centurion Hussey, whose 121 from 263 balls had given his side a hope of salvation, but whose careless running between the wickets during a fraught afternoon session had been the single biggest factor in their demise. By calling for the single that led to the run-out of his captain and resistance-leader Ricky Ponting for 66, Hussey is unlikely to recall this particular innings with any fondness whatsoever.

Inevitably, it was Flintoff who stole the show from the Australians. He could not be the tub-thumping batsman of old in this series, while his bowling - though thunderous at Lord's - faded cruelly as the concerns about his right knee began to mount. But as a presence, and as a man who can make things happen on a cricket field, his spell has scarcely diminished. In a moment that is sure to be replayed for years on end, he gathered a firm clip from Hussey, steadied himself as Ponting hesitated fatally, then unleashed a fast, flat, unerring swing of the arm that plucked out the off stump with Ponting a foot short.

Though the decision went to a replay, Flintoff was in no doubt. He raised his arms in his now-habitual Kodak pose, and waited to be enveloped by his jubilant team-mates. It was a moment eerily reminiscent of Gary Pratt's series-turning shy at Trent Bridge in 2005, when Ponting once again was the fall guy, and it uncorked the tensions in the crowd as surely as the champagne was uncorked in England's dressing-room some three hours later. It brought to an end an unnerving stand of 127, and it shattered Australia's collective will.

Five balls later, their batsman of the series, Michael Clarke ran himself out for a duck after a clip off the pads ricocheted to Andrew Strauss at leg slip, and Australia could not recover their poise. Though Hussey was badly dropped by Paul Collingwood at slip on 55 off Swann, in Swann's next over, Marcus North dragged his back foot out of the crease as he swung at a big ripper, and Matt Prior, having gathered well high to his left, flicked off the bails almost as an afterthought. Their target of 546 had become a distant figment of their imagination, and at 236 for 5, their only remaining hope was to bat out the final four sessions of the series.

Brad Haddin chose pugnacity as the means to reboot Australia's innings, and he signalled his intent with two fours in his first nine balls, including a fizzing cover-drive as James Anderson overpitched. But Anderson might have dismissed him three times in a single over, including a regulation clip to short midwicket that was spilled by the substitute, Graham Onions. As he and Hussey took their seventh-wicket stand to 91, an ever-anxious crowd began to shuffle in their seats. On 34, however, his luck finally ran out, as he advanced down the track to Swann and picked out Strauss with a lofted flick to deep midwicket.

It was to be the game-breaking moment. Strauss, usually the coolest of characters in the field, celebrated euphorically as The Oval erupted once more, and seven balls later, the end truly was nigh. Steve Harmison - hitherto muted on a pitch that did not suit his style - extracted enough life for Mitchell Johnson to fence to second slip, where Collingwood, to his relief and joy, finally held on. Then, when Peter Siddle played around his front pad to lob a simple chance to mid-off, Harmison had his second scalp in the space of 12 balls.

That quickly became three in 13, as Stuart Clark fenced nervily to Cook at short leg, and though Hilfenhaus averted the hat-trick with a stabbed defence straight back down the track, there was no longer any way to stem England's tide of emotion. With Harmison stalking to the crease with a predatory menace unseen in Ashes cricket for four long years, the crowd finally dared to proclaim the Ashes were coming home. Fifteen balls later, they were.

After the ease with which Australia's openers had pushed along at four runs an over on the third evening of the match, England's day of destiny had dawned with more than just a frisson of anxiety in the air. But Swann claimed the initial breakthrough at the end of his second over, tweaking a succession of sharply spinning offbreaks past Simon Katich's edge, before nailing him plumb lbw with the arm-ball.

Swann bounced for joy in the middle of the pitch as a massive roar of relief and ecstasy erupted from the stands, but almost immediately the fervour morphed into a respectful standing ovation for the incoming Ponting, in his 136th Test and almost certainly his last in England after four memorable Ashes tours.

Before he had faced a delivery, however, England had struck again, as Broad this time hurried Shane Watson on off stump and beat the inside-edge of his defensive prod. Watson did not seem best amused at the decision, but replays suggested there was nothing wrong with the appeal at all. For all of Watson's impressive form in five innings at the top of Australia's order, it was nevertheless the fourth time this series he had fallen in such a manner. Food for thought as he works on his new career as an opener.

At 90 for 2 and with a jittery Hussey at the crease, England swarmed onto the offensive, with Swann camping four men around the bat at all times and at one stage sending down 28 dot balls in a row as Hussey prodded and smothered with desperate determination. At the other end, Ponting's eagerness to play the pull was tempered by his wariness of the vagaries of the wicket, although whenever he was tempted, he executed the stroke with the mastery that has made it his calling-card for the past decade.

In the first over after lunch, Ponting laced a first-ball full-toss from Broad through the covers for four, then tickled Swann around the corner to bring up a battling and brilliant half-century from 76 deliveries. Broad subsequently received a warning for running on the pitch to deepen the crowd's growing concerns, who had just seen Collingwood at slip parry a rare Ponting edge with his left boot. But then up popped Flintoff, and once he'd had his say, there was no holding back the inevitable.

How two run-outs turned the day

Andrew Flintoff's pain-filled body has weakened his main weapons but his right Andrew Flintoff's pain-filled body has weakened his main weapons but his right arm is one of the few major parts that hasn't been operated on and it was his bullet of a direct hit that shot the game back England's way.

Andrew Flintoff's rocket arm got rid of Ricky Ponting and brought his team-mates to life.

Can't bat, can't bowl ... can throw. Andrew Flintoff's pain-filled body has weakened his main weapons but his right arm is one of the few major parts that hasn't been operated on and it was his bullet of a direct hit that shot the game back England's way.

Both Flintoff's batting and bowling have clicked only once in his farewell series as he has battled a threatening knee injury. He can still frighten opponents with each discipline, just not all the time, and in this match he has been quiet, living off a well-won reputation in his last game without producing anything special with his usual methods. One side-arm hurl from mid-on changed his impact and ensured a lasting memory.

No, not as the poser who stood arms aloft, mouth opening and closing as he munched on his gum, as soon as the ball left his hand on missile-lock towards the stumps at the striker's end. But as the man who could grab a game with an act of beauty or destruction, depending on your allegiance. It took the third umpire a couple of replays to confirm the dismissal, but when OUT appeared on the scoreboard the ground throbbed.

It wasn't a tailender who had been removed, but Ricky Ponting, the in-form captain who was worrying the home side in the impossible chase. Flintoff has often taken the biggest wickets, including Ponting five times in 15 Tests, but not like this. Around the field he has looked heavy-legged and more like a 50-year-old than the 79-Test veteran aged 31.

For the moment that Michael Hussey pushed Steve Harmison to Flintoff's left at mid-on, the speed of the allrounder's feet didn't matter. He picked up the ball cleanly and flung it back, catching the slow-starting Ponting, who had been called for the run, about five centimetres short. Hussey quickly put a hand on hip in disbelief before staying at the bowler's end while the decision was made. Knowing it was his mistake, his back stayed turned as Ponting walked off at the end of the 127-run swim for safety with Hussey.

At the same time Flintoff was being mobbed. After an insecure opening to his career, Flintoff has grown used to being the centre of attention and it was the last time a ground would cheer spontaneously at his Test brilliance. Flintoff came on to bowl shortly after but did not have any impact, finishing with one wicket for the game and a total of 29 runs.

Six balls after Flintoff's run-out it was Andrew Strauss, a batsman who has had the biggest impact on the direction of the Ashes, who matched his team-mate during another freakish dismissal. Michael Clarke was as unfortunate as Jonathan Trott on the opening day.

Starting against Graeme Swann and not feeling overly comfortable, Clarke went down the pitch to his fourth ball, hitting hard and on to the short leg Alastair Cook's left foot. The rebound went to Strauss, running in from leg slip, and his underarm beat Clarke's return by millimetres. It was frighteningly close even though Billy Bowden didn't call immediately for the replays. They showed a bat on the line and Clarke went the same way as Ponting.

Both the captain and vice-captain had become the tourists' first run-out victims of the series in unrepeatable circumstances. The Australians will consider themselves seriously unlucky but that is generally the feeling of a losing team. The pitch, the umpires, the gods of cricket and the world have been against them at The Oval. Not so for Strauss, Flintoff and their ecstatic followers.