Saturday, December 4, 2010

Layer 394 . . . Tests, Talent, Ability, Experience, Luck, Confidence, Virtue, Intelligence and Cricket

Having gone to bed with the lunch score on 80 for 1 it was amazing to wake up and find that the day had ended with England not only still batting but on 315 with only two wickets down.

Not surprising - just amazing.
Cook had made another undefeated century and Pieterson was approaching his first century and best score in about two years.

And let's remind ourselves - this is against Australia, in Australia.

However, the real pleasure is not really to do with who the opponents are. The real joy is in seeing a group of very fine sportsmen playing superbly well as a team, and as individuals. They've worked hard to get to where they are, and they deserve to be doing this well.

We sort of knew that Australia are no longer the force they were a few years ago, when Warne and McGrath were in their prime.

What we didn't know was whether this England team had matured to the extent that they were ready to defend the Ashes in Australia. What we've waited for is to see a group of excellent English (or England-qualified) players in their sporting prime playing to their full potential.

Take Cook, for example. Strauss has always said he had no doubts about Cook's calibre and his ability, but many did doubt it when he was going through a very hard time earlier this year - seemingly with faults in his technique, and often falling victim to bad luck.

Not any more. His luck has changed for the better: he's not been giving snicks when he's played and missed, and his mishits have avoided fielders. Not that there have been very many of them. In this series he's now scored over 400 runs for only once out - which is phenominal, especially for an opening bat. Even when he's given a chance to a fielder the catch has tended to go down. Luck really does seem to even itself out when you have class and ability.

You can go right through the team and say dozens of positive things.

Strauss we already knew about. He gets better with age and experience, and the captaincy has been an inspiration rather than a burden to him.

Trott is starting to really worry the Aussies. They can't really cope with his confidence, calmness, unflappability, judgement, stamina, concentration and determination, to say nothing of his cricketing brain. His brilliant run-out when fielding in the Aussie first innings was a bonus.

Pieterson is changing from a talented biffer and slogger, who was a tad too full of his own brilliance, into something approaching measured, balanced, and thoughtful. His travails of the past two years have seemingly caused him to shed some of his ego and arrogance. His continuing willingness to take huge risks in his quest for personal glory was starting to piss off everybody. Having been dropped from the team he's been forced to reflect on his attitude and his willingness to harness his talents in the most appropriate way for the benefit of the team as a whole. He now knows that Morgan is waiting in the wings, ready to step in at the first opportunity or any hint of self-inflicted failure.

Collingwood - Mr Dependable - may now be able to play with more natural aggression  - if he gets a chance to bat that is  - instead of having to play cautious consolidation  or recovery or resistance innings.

Ian Bell has always played well when he's not having to bat under pressure to survive and to make a decent score because of the failings of the other batsmen. He's matured with hard experience, and is now a complete batsman, capable of brilliance against any opposition.

Matt Prior is now the best and most dependable wicketkeeper/batsman England has had in ages. We've known from the start that he can make big scores, and the initial doubts were about his skills behind the stumps. However, he's become a very good keeper over time - not faultless, but no more error prone than the other high-class specialist keepers.

Graeme Swann one of three all-rounders in the team. He can bat very effectively, and has taken part in some incredible batting rescue acts. He's also become a superb spin bowler - easily in the top three in the world.

Stuart Broad, on his day, is a terrific all-rounder. He's played some real blinders with the bat, and he's capable of knocking over top-class batsmen with his class bowling.

Jimmy Anderson has worked long and hard to become a genuinely feared strike bowler, with a combination of pace, control and swing.

Steve Finn is the least experienced of the bowlers but one who's already shown he's got buckets of potential and enthusiasm. He's already taken plenty of wickets in his short time at the top.

The Ashes 2010: Jonathan Trott racks up seriously impressive figures

Batsman equals England's highest Test average as he helps tourists pile on the runs against wrongfooted Aussies

by David Hopps

No England batsman in history has a higher Test average than Jonathan Trott. Herbert Sutcliffe matches him exactly, but the rest of the great names trail in their wake. You may suspect such a statistic cannot be taken seriously. But Trott will take it seriously. He is a serious man.

Twenty innings is the accepted minimum at which a Test average is deemed to be significant and Trott has now played 26. His average has swollen to 60.73. When you make a hundred at the Gabba, it does tend to have a positive effect on your statistics.

Add in their unbroken stand of 329 in the first Test at The Gabba and Trott and Alastair Cook batted for more than nine-and-a-half hours and scored 502 runs before Australia managed to split them.

The Ashes 2010: Centurion Alastair Cook stays cool to fry Australia

Cook follows 235 in Brisbane with unbeaten ton in 37C heat

Shivnarine Chanderpaul has batted as long without being dismissed more than once, but Shiv apart, Cook's breaking of the 1000-minute barrier is almost unique.

In each Test, he has been mentioned in the same sentence as Don Bradman, which is not a bad way to start an Australian tour. In Brisbane, his unbeaten 235 broke Bradman's record highest score at The Gabba. Here, he drew level with Bradman by recording his 15th Test hundred by the age of 26, a feat that only Sachin Tendulkar, with 19, has surpassed.

There has never been an England Ashes tour like it for smashing batting records set by the famous names of yesteryear. Cook's 371 runs and rising without being dismissed had already outdone Wally Hammond's record before he resumed his innings on the third day.


by Vic Marks

Alastair Cook has a damn good case for a pay rise. After seven days of Test cricket England's opening batsman has been absent from the field for the sum total of 11 overs.

By the end of play Cook had batted for 22 hours in the series for 438 runs and one dismissal.

Cook had entered into that wonderful, rare bubble in which the batsman glides along as if everything is happening in slow motion – especially the progress of the ball towards him. He merely played every delivery on its merits, tapped the crease and then waited for the next one.

Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen joined in the affair and by the close of the second day England were 317 for two and already in possession of a lead of 72. This game rarely goes to plan. But for two days England have adhered so closely to their blueprint that minds are boggling, particularly one suspects the minds of the Australian captain and selectors.

Cook's union with Trott, if combined with what they achieved in the second innings at the Gabba, was worth 502 runs and lasted 574 minutes. Here they had added 173 runs when Trott was eventually caught at midwicket for 78. But in came Pietersen eager to make his mark and all the Aussies could do was sweat some more.

Australia had been pummelled.


Personally I've waited decades to enjoy the sight of an England cricket team that's not only capable of making huge scores against the likes of Australia, but can do so with flair and ruthless application.

It's icing on the cake that the team members seem a very likeable, very balanced, very mature and a very grounded bunch. Spiritually and emotionally intelligent.

All that remains is to keep up what they've begun, and to carry on getting better.

And for Pieterson to sort out his hair issues - facial and otherwise.

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