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I have had arguments with the Australian cricket hierarchy before. So here we go again. They are cock-a-hoop after beating someone – anyone – after a lean spell and are in danger of losing any kind of perspective. The Indians are currently a soft target and yet you might think they have conquered the world.
Remember that the only two bowlers who have played in all three Tests v India are Siddle and Hilfenhaus and their names ring a bell. Ah! Yes. They are the same chaps who bowled nearly 300 overs against England last year with combined figures of 20 wickets at an average of 52 runs each. Hardly world class.
Have they improved at all? Hilfenhaus – Yes. Mind you, he needed to with only 7 wickets at over 60 against England: Siddle - not noticeably. Hilfenhaus has found a way to get the ball to straighten more often – good for him, but the real difference has been in the surfaces they have been lucky enough to bowl on against the Indians.
In three Tests, of the 1350 overs scheduled for play only 861 have been bowled and, admittedly without counting, it seems probable that at least 800 have been bowled by the fast bowlers. Whatever happened to the glorious game, renowned for it's variety and twists and turns. It has just been one way traffic down a slippery highway, specially prepared to make the Indians look like learner drivers.
Commentators initiated a public poll on the last day at Perth asking whether leaving copious amounts of grass on the pitches was the right thing to do: and managed to achieve an 80% positive response. Their own opinions were just about unanimous in agreement.
Why was there no counter argument – what about the dearth of Australian slow bowlers. Will they ever encourage any spinners if they load the dice against them? Then there are the game's finances. Finishing 5 day Tests in less than three is hardly good housekeeping.
I just hope that the England hierarchy is keeping a close eye on what is going on down-under with a view to scuppering their one-eyed plans with a plan of their own.
They have a great chance to begin the process of establishing a “spinning” advantage in the Test against Pakistan due to start in Dubai in two days time. It is a long time since England played two spinners but now is the time to start with Monty Panesar in form with the ball on pitches which may be just the ticket.
There will be a natural reluctance to change the Ashes winning team balance of just four bowlers with Swann the only spinner but getting too set in your ways can be a weakness in itself. Talking as someone who suffered at the hands of the Indians in India many moons ago when they played just one fastish bowler and three spinners to very good effect, I urge England to play according to the conditions and not to any pre-conceived formula.
Meanwhile, it would be churlish not to mention new boy left handed Australian opener Warner. He played the innings of his life - the fourth fastest hundred in Test history. He looks to have a fine future in the game with his quich hands and generally compact style. I have only one warning bell. In the back of my mind. There are words written about Kevin Petersen after his stunning hundred at the Oval in 2005 = the innings that saved the match and ensured the Ashes. " Amongst all the plaudits there is the sobering thought that in only his fifth Test match, Petersen may already have played the best innings of his career for England. Here we are, nearly seven years later and that thought probably holds good.
The other superb element of the Australian victory was the close catching - right up there with the vey best over the years - including one of the definitive catches of the 21st century taken by Clarke at an apparently impossible height and angle above his head. Wow!!

Old Fashioned Virtues

Television replays and highlights programmes are a godsend to those of us who have the odd hour or two on our hands in retirement. There has been quite a rash of “ look back at the Ashes“ programmes, presumably generated in the UK, concentrating on England's recent victories. Good fun they are too, watching the old enemy suffering anguish rather than the other way round.
Now the Australians seem to be getting their own back, reverting to their own glory days with Shane Warne and Michael Slater dishing it out to the Poms with ball and bat. The man who caught my technical eye, however, was Steve Waugh with his trademark “square cutting” much in evidence.
Three things struck me, all concerning his foot movements: how far across he moved to cover the line of the ball, how far back he went and how he always kept his back foot strictly parallel to the crease. It was text book stuff from someone who was never considered the most elegant of players. Not that anyone doubted his basic skills.
Many of the moderns spend much of the time with both toes pointing up the pitch and it surprises me how often they seem to “get away with it”. But , if you think about it, it is virtually impossible to make a good move back and across unless the back foot is pointing in the direction you are going.
I wonder whether the Australian skipper Clarke had been watching the same clips, because it was early in his monumental knock of 329 that Mark Nicholas divulged the notion that the “parallel” back foot position was something he had been trying to master in practise. I was certainly taught that way as a nine year old by the martinet Headmaster – in fact all the young at my school were told to point the back foot to gully – or else!!
Apart from improving the range of your footwork, it tends to keep the upper body sideways at the same time (another old coaching tenet) and it was a treat to watch Laxman playing so fluently in the Indian second innings as a result of excellent left shoulder and forearm control of the bat. There are undoubtedly new elements in the game including reverse swing and the finger spinners ability to run the ball the “other” way, but for the most part the old adages of how best to play the game have stood the test of time.
Another instance of old fashioned virtues being “reinvented” was the theory that the Australian bowling coaches were responsible for the better length and line of the Australian quicks . Moving the emphasis across to off stump and OUTSIFE OFF seemed to be the order of the day – or in the words of Geoffrey Boycott, into the “corridor of uncertainty”. It seemed like this was a new theory and a new dawn. Maybe it is not so new after all – as I will explain.
By chance I sat next to an eminent landscape artist, specialising in gardens who happened to mention a distant ancestor who played for Nottinghamshire and England. He turned out to be a certain William Attewell who enjoyed a long and successful career 1881-1890. Of 429 matches, 10 were in England colours. Bowling medium pace he took nearly 2000 wickets at an average of 15. He was extremely economical (1.65 runs fer over) and had a strike rate of 55 balls per wicket.
Now comes the crunch. In a short profile it reads “ he used his abilities to perfect OFF THEORY, popular at the time, frustrating the batsmen, bowling to a packed off-side field. There are few new things under the sun they say and certainly not in cricket.

Deceptive commentators

It really gets my goat when commentators fail to tell the truth: when they embroider banal sporting moments, assuming that their audience will be none the wiser: when they purposely misrepresent the facts to fit the story they are determined to fabricate.
What brought on my displeasure, not to say disgust, was the TV coverage of the first days play in the New Years Test at the Sydney cricket ground. Throughout every session they insisted that the pitch was “ a good surface to bat on”, despite the fact that 13 wickets fell in the day.
Their agenda was to belittle the skills of the Indian batsmen and at the same time to magnify the abilities of the “superbly new found discipline and focus” of the Australian fast bowlers.
To any half knowledgeable observer the first day pitch had a fast grassy surface with moisture giving plenty of swing and seam movement, not to mention varying pace and height. It was, in fact a fast bowler's paradise. If they needed reminding what a “good pitch to bat on” really is, they only needed to switch Channels to the South Africa v Sri Lanka Test where only four wickets fell for 580 runs and it took another 100 or so before the next one. Did the two pitches look the same? Like hell they did. One obvious “green top”, one flat brown “belter” with not a twitch of help for the bowlers.
Individual moments of misrepresentation come to mind. When the very promising newcomer Pattinson came back for a new spell with Tendulkar well set, the new wonderman was not surprisingly a little tight, short of pace and wayward. None of these shortcomings were mentioned. Then he bowled a long half volley wide of the off-stump, another poor ball, only for Tendulkar to suffer a brutal inside edge onto the stumps.
Nobody said “ Oh! You lucky fellow. It is certainly your lucky day today.” No. No. The facts did not fit the fairy tale and he was heralded with another masterly plan duly fulfilled. Bah!
It all started early on when an out of form Ghambir played across a straight ball and nicked it behind. Easily done and simple to explain. But simplicity is too simple. " Pourquoi faire simple, quand on peut faire complique", as they say in these parts. It had to be a great ball “jagging” across, and, of course, due entirely to the bowler's skill – and nothing to do with the pitch.
The trouble with this kind of reporting is that sensible men like Mark Nicholas and Tony Greig get dragged into the messy depths of deception before they know it. Not to say that I was not a trifle disappointed in even them from time to time.
No wonder that I am sure I am possibly not alone in “muting” the commentary for much of the time, turning up the sound again only when there is doubt about a dismissal or near miss when the commentary team has better and quicker information to hand than the home viewer.
I recommend time spent watching games without the perpetual fictional chatter of the “men who know all”, while listening to some quiet pastoral music. A glass or two of a modest wine also goes down well = or so I am told.
Then there is the obvious matter concerning the Indian decision to bat first on winning the toss. In retrospect, it was a dreadful gaffe. But the arguments for bowling that first morning are compelling, to say the least. The Australians were fighting mad to prove that some good quick bowling in the First Test was more than a flash in the pan. And the main reason for not bowling first against Australia for the past 15 years was missing i.e. the threat of Shane Warne's devastating leg-spin on a worn fifth day pitch. Now they dont have a spinner worth sixpence. So asking them to bat first is no longer the poisoned chalice it used to be. Dhoni made an avoidable mistake.
Why was this crucial element of the match strategy not a pivotal matter for discussion? Why? Because the commentary team was wedded to the "good pitch to bat on" premise. They may be experts - at TV presentation to suit accountants - but they did the great game a disservice. It deserves better.