"First published on Kettle Mag
For those who hate cricket, the concept of a five day game is horrifying. For the lovers of cricket, it is heaven. The ebb and flow of Test Cricket, the 90 overs a day and the true grit and determination needed to be shown by every player and team brings out the true meaning of a test. So how come, in this Ashes, when there should have been a total of 15 days we have only had 10 or 11. The Third Ashes test was over in two and a half days, the first two over in four. What is happening with test cricket and how can we predict the Fourth Test with this uncertainty?
If England win this week they will regain the Ashes and their precious Urn - who would have thought? After the debacle of the whitewash last year, followed up by the calamity at the World Cup, England may see the good old days again very soon. I was confident of an England win this week and their current form meant that there would be a follow up from Lords. What was to follow however, exceeded my expectations and the match was close be being over in two days.
How both teams follow up is very important and as always, the lens is being keenly focused on the losers and their captain, Michael Clarke. It is funny how quickly things change. This is the same Australia that won the World Cup a few months ago and a country with an amazing home Test record. Their record away however, has not been great. It improved at the West Indies recently but away from home, Michael Clarke’s side have struggled greatly. Before the Ashes whitewash they were beaten by England 3-1 here, so maybe they should not be so hard on themselves.
But cricket is not fair and pundits and ex-players are quick to point the blame. Clarke’s record has dipped under 50 for the first time and his head is on the line. The selectors are rightly sticking by him currently as his record is too good, however this recent loss is unprecedented and given his 12 test losses as Captain, he is at risk.
Time for changeThere are other players who are also in the firing line. Shane Watson was dumped straight away for his lbw issues. Adam Voges with his experience of county cricket has not contributed all series and may be dropped for Shaun Marsh. Mitchell Marsh, drafted in for Watson, has also failed, and finally, Brad Haddin has been unable to regain his place after his personal issues.
One common factor which binds all these players is unfortunately their age. Named the ‘Dad squad’ before their travels it seems age is catching up with the team. This has been picked up by the Australian press and they want changes. On the other hand though, the young guns of Cummins, Agar and Khawaja are not be trusted and their lack of Test match experience counts against them. So what do the Aussies really want?
Simple really – a victory at any cost; the Australian way.
The key playersSo who will be the key players this week to try and lead their team to victory? A standout figure for me has to be Stuart Broad. Even during the debacle of the Lords test, Broad was still impressive with four wickets on a struggling service. With one wicket to go in order to reach 300 test wickets (the same as Mitchell Johnson), Broad unashamedly declared this week that his cricketing hero was Australian, Glenn McGrath.
In a press conference Broad said:
“As a young kid you get influenced by winning teams, don’t you? So Glenn McGrath is my hero and watching Australian players succeed, I enjoyed that.”
With Broad leading the pack and Steven Finn rejuventated, England certainly have wicket takers. Without their injured leader, Anderson though, the English bowlers need to step up their game.
Whilst talking about bowlers, there has been a mention that Peter Siddle may return for Australia. The current team have been leaking runs and the wayward bowling from Hazelwood and Starc last week heaped extra pressure on Mitchell Johnson. Siddle has the ability to keep the run rate down with great economy figures and has the knack of taking key wickets too. I think Lehmann however, will keep faith with the same attack and will make changes to the batting line up instead.
Australia’s key will be numbers 3, 4 and 5. Steve Smith is still the number one batsman in the world and sets the tone for a big innings for his team. His performance will either inspire Clarke and Voges (if he plays) or it will lead to the extra pressure on the latter two, who may not be able to handle it in their current state. The only way to change your form is to play your way out and time in the middle is vital. Time, this series though is not something that anyone has had, but now is the time to mark your area in the crease and stay. Stay long or go home!
I desperately want England to win, but I am not prepared to stick my neck on the line. Both teams have shown the ability to bounce back and expose the flaws of the other team. The toss is not key, but the start is and momentum is a strange thing in the game of cricket.
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