The Second Ashes Test
I am writing this week's Absolutely Plumb column, not because our friend Skankyrich has locked himself in a small room and taken a vow of silence after the extraordinary events of yesterday, nor because he has decided never to watch another game of cricket again, but simply because he was away on holidays for a few day. No, actually that is a lie. It is because he has locked himself in a small room...
Let us get one thing very clear, my friends: the second Ashes test in Adelaide should have ended in a draw. Simple as that. As to why this didn't happen, more on that later.
Due to deadline pressure and the supposed impending tame draw, I had pretty much composed this article in my head before the start of the last day's play. I had a list of the positives and negatives for England all worked out, to whit: Collingwood and Pietersen are both in fantastic form, Hoggard had bowled wonderfully well, meaning that Flintoff didn't have to do it all by himself, Jones hadn't dropped anything. The only negatives I could see were that Flintoff looked really tired even before he went off for treatment on his ankle, Giles was in the team and had dropped Ponting at a crucial point in the match, and despite being dominant with the bat they had taken 13 more overs to score 50 less runs than Australia had in their first inning in Brisbane.
For Australia, the positives were again Ponting, Hussey, Clark, the century for Clarke, the possible return to form with the bat of Gilchrist and the fact they had ended up only 50 or so behind on the first innings. The negatives were that McGrath and Warne had been hit all over the park, Martyn and Hayden continued to struggle and they would probably have to bat last to save the test.
So what happened?
Let me state categorically that the pitch did not suddenly develop cracks three inches wide on a good length, nor was there any variable bounce and as far as I am aware there were no snipers on the roof of the members stand threatening to take pot shots at the English batsmen if they scored a run. It all came down to attitude and self-belief. After day two, Australian coach John Buchanan were quoted as saying 'if we can get 700 we can still win this'. Not once did I hear anyone mention anything about avoiding the follow-on. Ricky Ponting was interviewed not long after he was dismissed for 142 in the first innings and stated that if Australia could get to about 50 behind England's score, they could still win. Contrast that with England's behaviour on the last day. Seven runs were scored in the 45 minutes before the first wicket fell and thirty runs in the first session (two hours!). The last nine wickets were lost for only 60 runs in more than 40 overs. Not one of the four Australian bowlers conceded more than two runs per over.
Both the tactics (if there were any!) and the execution were extremely poor. Suffice to say that another run per over would have been enough to save the Test for England, but what was wrong with coming out and trying to quickly set a target that was out of reach and then trying to put some pressure on Australia? At worst you have a draw and at best a series-levelling victory. Even when England was bowling, why on earth did Ashley Giles end up with the most overs, even more than Flintoff? The guy shouldn't even be in the team and certainly never looked like getting a swag of wickets or containing the run rate. All the hard work of the first few days was thrown away and then some. To recover from this defeat will take a miracle. Yes, it was a famous Australian victory, and as an Aussie I'm delighted, but it should never have happened.
Skankyrich, if you are out there, I know we had a bet of one pint per victory but I think you better have the one you owe me for this test. I suspect you will need it more than I will.