Tag Archives: brisbane

The Ashes: Karma, pride and the pantomime press

England were completely outplayed in the first Test at the Gabba, and deserved their heavy defeat. But this is a long series, and Alastair Cook’s side have a history of bouncing back. They will need to draw on that over the coming weeks.

On the pitch, the match was won by the Aussie bowlers. Mitchell Johnson was quick and hostile, Harris and Siddle were steady and accurate and Nathan Lyon exploited a bouncy Brisbane pitch and scrambled English minds.

Away from the action, the traditional hostilities between these two old foes have resumed with a bang. Stirred up by Darren Lehmann’s radio rant, the Aussie media – in particular Brisbane’s Courier Mail – went for Stuart Broad. They refused to name Broad, referring to him simply as “a 27-year-old English medium pace bowler”. The paper attracted some fierce criticism for this approach, particularly from rent-a-quote Shane Warne, who described it as “ridiculous” and “childish”. This from the man who named Ian Bell after a character in American Pie and asked Paul Collingwood if his MBE stood for “Must Be Embarrassing”. The legendary leggie seems to be suffering a sense of humour failure in his old age.

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I would argue the Courier Mail’s “campaign” was a bit of fun, and actually turned out to be a marketing masterstroke. Editors spend hours scratching their heads over how to entertain and engage their readers, while increasing the reach and circulation of their paper. Very few campaigns in regional media are unique, and most “off-diary” stories are simply recycled ideas. After his eye-catching front pages had been seen around the world, the Courier Mail’s editor, Christopher Dore, issued a po-faced “defence” of his editorial stance. He described Broad as a “wickedly good cricketer,” saying his “dastardly deception” had cost the Aussies the previous series. You can almost picture Mr Dore rubbing his hands together and sniggering behind his desk. The whole thing could not be more of a pantomime if Christopher Biggins had popped up at silly mid off.

Perhaps more relevant to the rest of the series were David Warner’s comments on the third evening of the first Test.  “England are on the back foot,” he said. “It does look like they’ve got scared eyes at the moment. The way that Trotty got out today was pretty poor and weak.” Trott’s dismissals in both innings were disappointing, bounced out in inevitable fashion by a rampaging Johnson. It’s a technical problem, highlighted by some excellent bowling. Poor? Definitely. But scared, and weak? As the words came out of his moustachioed mouth, Cricket Australia’s press officer visibly cringed, perhaps recalling Warner’s history. Punching an opponent in a bar. Ranting at journalists on Twitter. Skipping a match he was due to play in to spend a day at the races.

Warner had his day in the sun at the Gabba, backing up his words with a belligerent century. I’m all for players breaking the trend for bland, media managed press conferences. But perhaps he should concentrate on his own game, and leave the “poor” “weak” English to concentrate on theirs. As that great sage Andrew Flintoff once observed, “This game has got a funny way of biting you up the arse.”

As England’s top order came crashing down on Friday afternoon, TV producers raced into the archives to sift through the folder marked “collapses we have known”. After Mike Atherton’s side were skittled for 46 by Ambrose and Walsh at Trinidad in 1994, the selectors kept faith with the same batting line-up for the next Test, the theory being “you got us into this mess, now get us out of it.” Alec Stewart scored two centuries, Angus Fraser took eight wickets and England won. Almost 20 years on, Alastair Cook finds himself in a similarly tricky spot. For the last three Ashes series England have largely had things their own way. Now their backs are against the wall and they must show what they are made of.

An afterthought: Towards the end of the match a stump microphone caught Michael Clarke telling James Anderson to “get ready for a broken fucking arm”. This comment is being reported in isolation and blown up by English newspapers. My view is that all sorts of things get said on the field in the heat of battle, and the players on both sides give as good as they get. No big deal.

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The Ashes: A winning habit

THEY say familiarity breeds contempt. Too much time spent in the same company – whether it’s chattering work colleagues, bickering family members or the same old strangers on the bus every morning – will eventually drive you mad. But in recent years the England cricket team appears to have discovered that the team that tours together wins together.

As the Ashes hoopla kicks into gear again, less than three months after the last series ended under the Kennington floodlights, this seems like a good time to reflect on how far England have come in the last 20-odd years.

In November 1990, Graham Gooch’s side arrived in Brisbane hoping to recapture the little urn. Gooch was injured and sat out the first Test, forced to watch as his side were bowled out for 194 and 114, losing by ten wickets inside three days. They lost the series 3-0.

Four years later they were back, with just two surviving members from that hammering  – Michael Atherton, now captain, and Alec Stewart. England lost the Test, and the series 3-1.

In 1998, Atherton and Stewart swapped captaincy duties and returned for a third shot at glory on the old enemy’s turf. This time they brought along two more battle-weary warriors from the previous tour, Graham Thorpe and Darren Gough. England escaped with a draw thanks to an almighty thunderstorm on the final day, but surrendered the series 3-0.

Stewart, who by this time must have claimed himself a regular window seat on the flight down under, took his final Ashes bow on the 2002 tour, with only Mark Butcher and captain Nasser Hussain remaining from the ’98 team. Hussain famously won the toss on the first morning at Brisbane and chose to bowl, firing the starting pistol for a 4-1 defeat.

In 2005, of course, everything changed. Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff discovered that winning was actually quite fun when you got used to it, especially when you could legitimately hit Ricky Ponting in the face.

Amid the champagne-soaked euphoria following that now legendary series, nobody seemed to much care about the future. So along came Brisbane…and the old curse struck again. From the team that started the 2002 series, only Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard remained in 2006. They watched Steve Harmison bowl the first ball to second slip, but neither of them would still be there at Sydney to witness the fifth nail in the whitewashed coffin.

These days, with England bidding for a fourth consecutive Ashes victory, it’s easier to list the players who have not survived the period between Australian tours. Cook, Bell, Pietersen and Anderson are on their third trip in a row. Of the XI that ground the Aussies into the dirt at the Gabba in 2010, only the retired Strauss and Collingwood are missing from this year’s touring party.

England have slowly but surely turned themselves into a cricketing family, a dynasty whereby as one player retires, another comes in to fill his spot – just as Steve Waugh’s Aussies used to do, in fact. It hasn’t all been plain sailing – they have yet to settle on a permanent replacement for Strauss at the top of the order and they don’t seem to know who should bat at number six – but it’s a world away from the touring merry-go-round of the 1990s.

Central contracts, better fitness regimes and an all-round professionalism have all contributed to England’s rise over the last few years. But one of the most important factors, often overlooked by fans and commentators looking for a quick fix, is consistency of selection.

There is talk that this England side – which will surely be judged in hindsight as being a golden generation  – is growing old. But don’t be surprised if the trend continues and most of them are back in Brisbane in four years’ time to compete for the urn yet again.

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