Annoyance galore!, Sports?

Why you should read ‘Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts’

The cover says it all

Books about cricket are difficult to write. Firstly, there aren’t that many people who would actually read books about a game that could take 5 whole days and still end without a result. Secondly, the cricket genre usually involves journalists and/or former cricketers reliving a certain series (for example the Ashes, the World Cup), autobiographies and biographies (KP anyone?) or pages and pages of rules and strategies involved in the game of cricket. Articles and interviews are more popular in terms of cricket reading and therefore a cricket book about the stories and struggles of certain cricketing nations would be very interesting indeed.

For those reading this who have NO IDEA what the sport is, here’s a 5 minute brief on what the game is with a couple of definitions and a video!

Here’s the definition of cricket from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

“a game played with a ball and bat by two sides of usually 11 players each on a large field centering upon two wickets each defended by a batsman”

And here’s the definition of cricket from the Oxford Dictionary:

“An open-air game played on a large grass field with ball, bats, and two wickets, between teams of eleven players, the object of the game being to score more runs than the opposition”

The gist of these definitions is that this is usually a 5 day game (the shortened versions of the game usually range between 3 to 6 hours on a given day) involving 2 sets of 11 players, the aim of the game to score more runs (liken this to goals in football/soccer or points in tennis/badminton) than the opposition.

For a visual representation of the game of cricket, here’s BBC News’ 90 second guide to this game –

Now that you are caught up with the game and what it generally means, now comes the explanation of the members of the International Cricket Council (ICC) which is the governing body of men’s and women’s cricket, head quarters based in Dubai, UAE. It has 105 members divided into 3 categories – Full Members, Associates and Affiliates. The classification of members is based on the formats of cricket that they play and their own governing structure and administration.

There are 3 formats of cricket which are played:

1. Test cricket (a 5 day match that’s usually played in whites – the match ends either in a win when the bowling team has bowled out the opposition or the target amount of runs has been achieved. If neither is accomplished, the match is drawn)
2. One Day International (ODI) cricket (a one day game that consists of 50 overs being bowled by either side – the match ends when the bowling team has bowled out the opposition, prevented the batting team from reaching the target amount of runs in 50 overs or the target amount of runs has been achieved. A tie is accomplished when the 2nd team batting equals the score of the 1st team batting)
3. Twenty 20 International (T20I) cricket (similar to an ODI match but the number of overs bowled is 20 overs compared to 50 overs)

Now how does the classification of members depend on the formats of the game? Full Member nations are the only set of members who play ALL 3 formats of the game. Hence there are only 10 Full Members – Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies (which is a team made up of all the island nations of the Caribbean, specifically for the purpose of competing in cricket) and Zimbabwe

Associate member nations (some examples include Ireland, UAE, Afghanistan, Germany, Thailand, Uganda, Kenya) are different from Affiliate member nations in that the game of cricket is firmly established and organised. The latter have a growing presence of cricket in their nations but not as strong as the former. Both sets of members play only ODI and T20I cricket.

Now that you’re caught up on how this highly complicated game and organisation works, you need to know a few hard facts about this sport:

– The ICC competes with FIFA in terms of corruption and degrading the sport’s name
– England, Australia and cricket’s most powerful and richest board, India have essentially taken over the ICC in terms of daily running and managing of revenues and tour programmes (this ugly alliance is also named the Big 3)
– While the game of cricket is increasingly popular amongst the populations of the sub-continent, the ICC sure as hell don’t look like they even care about expanding the game to include more members and make this sport more global than ever

These views are not just my own but many that are included in the book that this post is all about – Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts. Written by freelancer journalists and avid cricket fans, Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller, this book encapsulates the love and passion that cricketers like Mohammed Nabi, Trent Johnston, Calum MacLeod, Khurram Khan and many more have for the game despite the ICC’s minimal efforts to provide them with support. guidance and even encouragement for the development of the sport in their respective countries. The book displays the irony observed in the ICC’s actions to make the game more lucrative which excludes such developing cricketing nations while at the same time spouting the company line about making the game more global and inclusive. Stories of how Irish cricket was forced to compete with the idea that it wouldn’t destroy Irish nationalism, Afghanistan’s rise from the ashes of foreign invasion and civil war and the utter ignorance that Chinese cricketers had to face when they tried to explain why they played cricket. Not to mention, the amount of time and energy put in to promote PNG cricket and how the potential of the USA to became an even bigger market than the likes of India deters it from pursuing the promotion of the game in earnest.

The question of Olympic inclusion is also brought up and this excerpt from the book explains it perfectly!

A perfect ending

As both writers manage to present the details of the journey of cricket in each country, they also provide anecdotes and heart-warming stories that make you want to grab the officials of this game by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. At least it made me want to do so! One of my favourite chapters was the PNG one. The description of the derelict surroundings that the association was set up in. And this particular excerpt where the writer ponders on how things could have been different if cricket had become as popular as baseball is today in the USA.

BCCI humour galore

But once you complete reading the final pages of the book, the realisation sinks in that no matter how much you might outrage and shed tears over the state of cricket in these countries and many more that haven’t been included in the book but are going through the same kind of turmoil and uncertainty, there’s very little that will happen. Unfortunately the control that ‘the big 3′ have exercised on the game means that while players of these countries support the development of these nations, their boards couldn’t give a penny’s worth of their time or money (and god knows they have it)

Just one example of how cricket is simply killing itself – ICC chief Dave Richardson stated that the Cricket World Cup should be played between evenly matched teams. Laughable as that statement was, he continued on to propose the idea of a 10 team World Cup, as opposed to the 14 team format that is currently in place for the ongoing 2015 World Cup. The performances of Ireland beating West Indies, Afghanistan vs Scotland being the closest game of the tournament so far and Scotland (who have NEVER won a World Cup game) holding their own vs New Zealand AND Sri Lanka was a slap on his face. (If you wish to read the full article, the link is here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/826327.html

In conclusion, the answer is simple: Cricket has been infected with a virus and there are only two options – either treat the virus and weed it out or the virus will kill the organism (cricket) from within. One guess as to what is happening currently.

My final and possibly one of the best endings to a book that I’ve ever read will end this post.

'Nuff said

P.S. You can buy the book at the following links

For readers in India: http://www.amazon.in/Second-XI-Cricket-its-Outposts/dp/1785310135

For readers abroad: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Second-XI-Cricket-its-Outposts/dp/1785310135

Also follow authors Peter Miller (@TheCricketGeek) and Tim Wigmore (@timwig_cricket) on Twitter for some unbiased and yet compassionate understanding about cricket beyond the Big 3 persona!

Mind takes over, Sports?, Uncategorized

RIP Hughesy……..

RIP mate.....

There comes a moment in life, a turning point, when everything that you have ever known changes. Your outlook on what you took for granted and even your random thoughts begin to take a different shape. I’ve had that particular moment now twice in my life. The first time came when my father passed away over 5 years ago. My entire world shattered and I was thrust into a completely different direction. I realised that life wasn’t easy to come by and as cliched as this might sound, you had to live every day like it would be your last. The 2nd moment came today when Phil Hughes passed away.

Now you’re all wondering – in what way am I affected by a cricketer’s death halfway around the world? Neither have I been to Australia or even seen this guy play in real life! How does his death affect me so deeply so as to classify it as a moment that changes my life? The truth is that while I’ve never met the man or been his friend, I, like the vast number of cricket fans who are in the same place as me, will deeply miss this particular player a lot. We saw him take the world by storm when he made his international debut vs South Africa and their legendary attack. We saw him support a young 18 year old boy in a record breaking 10 wicket partnership where most people remembered the other batsman. We saw him fight for his place in the Australian cricket team time and again even though every cricket fan (Aussie or not) believed he had earned a cemented spot in the team (despite the selectors and their decisions). But although to us, he was just a jovial and humble cricketer, he was more.

I won’t claim to know Phil Hughes more than what cricket I’ve seen him play or the stories I’ve read. I won’t change my opinion of the fact that he was one of the bright stars of Australian cricket and there was a lot of wrong done by him. I cannot claim to be more affected by his death than his family and friends, but I can share in their sorrow and despair. To lose someone close to you in a freak way isn’t ideal at all. It would, of course be better that we never lose our loved ones, but that world doesn’t exist yet. I’ve learned that when we do lose that loved one, always unexpected, we need to remember the good things about them – because frankly otherwise we might never realise how great they were and how much we loved them.

I still remember watching Hughes batting with Ashton Agar during the 1st Ashes Test at Trent Bridge in 2013. Here was a man who was plodding along nicely while the upstart at the other end was stealing all the attention. He never seemed to demand attention to his exploits, which were amazing and deserved more than the attention it got. He was the perennial exclusion. He still believed that he would be included solely on merit and never stopped working. The only side that I can claim to know of him is his cricketing side. But when I did hear the news in the morning, unabashedly I shed tears. It’s been almost a day and I still cannot shake the numbness that has built inside of me.

With the legends now....

A son, a brother, a friend, a teammate, a cricketer and a general nice human being – These are just some of the words that could be used to describe the man who is now slashing through point for 4 on the clouds. The man was supposed to take guard and do what he loved doing on December 4th at the Gabba. Instead, he’s now exchanging notes with the legends of the game, already passed. Words cannot describe how awful this entire episode has been and I wouldn’t even begin to imagine how it must be for his family and friends.

All I can say now is – Rest in peace, Phillip Hughes……..

P.S. Just comforting hugs go out especially to Sean Abbott who unfortunately was the bowler facing Phil Hughes when the injury occurred. Hugs…….

Don't worry, we will take care of him.....

Mind takes over, Sports?

Do I really want to leave?

It’s been 6 months into my new job and it’s been great so far. I’m having loads of fun at the office with 4 other guys and while our views (on most things) differ, I’m also learning loads from the people at work and recently concluded a rather satisfying experience covering the Asian Games from an Indian perspective for a pretty big client. During that time, my eyes were opened to the hardships and pain that these athletes go through and that spurred me to start taking my college applications for a post graduate degree in sports management seriously. Frankly I cannot stand how inconsiderate the authorities in this vast country are when it comes to managing athletes and the resources allocated to them. They couldn’t give a damn and would rather work towards increasing and adding to their coffers. But while I could go on a rant about the sports authorities in India and how good-for-nothing they are, that is for another time.

My primary focus is completing my college applications to Europe and Australia for a post grad degree in sports management. While I might not be able to get a job here because of how limited the scope is, I also understand that the valuable experience that I gain in working abroad will help me when I ultimately return to India and begin working to raise this country and the people who deserve it to its full sporting potential. But recently when I visited a career and college counselor office, the head of the office attended to me and registered a huge look of surprise on her face when I said that I want to do sports management. Her surprise increased when I said I didn’t play any sports but then her incredulous expression reduced when I referred to where I am currently working. Then since I was extremely well prepared to apply on the spot (I already had my colleges in mind and my documents in order) the Australian leg of the application process was complete but I still had my FIFA Masters application to complete.

I came back home and told the mother and she was happy because
1. She didn’t even realise that I had listened to her because she had been constantly telling me to finish them off
2. I had completed them all in one day and on my own

But certain questions arose both when I was talking to my friend earlier and when I talked to my mom about the conversation I had with my friend. The question of money – if I do get into the college that I want, will I be able to pay the fees? That’s the first question and then it spiralled from there. Will I get a good job or a job related to what I ultimately want to achieve? Will I be able to establish myself enough to come back to India and make a difference? Or should I just do a correspondance course in journalism and be done with it? Stick around here and choose the safe option of working in my current job and seeing other opportunities that might come my way. Yeah those thoughts have crossed my head.What the hell am I doing?

I’m scared and I’ve been scared like this before. When I went off to boarding school 5 years ago, when I moved back to India 5 years ago, when I started college 3 years ago and even when I started working 6 months ago. But the first was because I hadn’t stayed away from my parents ever, the second was because I wasn’t sure if I’d made a mistake staying back in India and the 3rd was because I had NO IDEA what the job had in store for me. But this is the biggest step that I’m going to be taking in life wherever it takes me (England, Switzerland or Australia)! Hell I might not even get in for all you know! And I have no idea what to do to make this fear go away except for the fact that I not think about it. But it’s not as easy as just saying it. I try to occupy myself with other things and god knows there is tons to do. But every now and then when someone simply mentions the topic of further studies, my mind travels to the possibility that I might go abroad to study but not get a job or the job might not be what I want or I might not even get in. It’s a scary prospect, this whole future crap and not knowing what has been laid ahead for you. I might believe in karma but I sure as hell don’t believe it leaving everything to the gods (as they say)

And therefore, I’m going to do everything in my power to achieve the goals that I’ve set out for myself and see where the path takes me!

Sports?

The brilliant year of sport…. And???

2014 is half done and already we have had 2 World Cups, countless bilateral series and 3 Grand Slams not to mention the F1 season also being halfway towards its completion. The domestic football leagues were wrapped up and are now 5 weeks away from resuming their new season. The Hockey World Cup final in the Netherlands finished just days before the FIFA World Cup Finals started and now we are just days away from a winner being decided there as well. For sports fans out there, this year has been a smorgasbord of entertainment to choose from. (Apologies if I haven’t mentioned other sports like badminton, rugby, golf)

But while I’ve graduated and started working (not so coincidentally, as a sports content writer), earning a living (or sort of, in my case) by doing your hobby makes you investigate yourself more. During the domestic Indian T20 league, I was required to follow each match and provide regular updates along with engaging fans on social media about the match happenings. Through that, I not only discovered that I had fallen MAJORLY behind on ALL my TV shows but I had also begun to scrutinize every movement that a player does. During this World Cup, my tasks aren’t as demanding but are somewhat of a similar nature to what I had to do 2 months ago. And the results aren’t exactly the same – in one aspect, the matches are only at a fixed time and that gives me time to do other things during the day. In another aspect, actually noticing certain nuances of the game helped me to understand the game better, watching it as a sports writer and not just as a fan.

In a way, this being my first job, I should feel extremely lucky to be doing something that I truly love and enjoy. While many people have said that soon I will start to lose the love that I have for watching and enjoying sport, having to constantly watch and write about it. Well, for one, that cannot happen simply because of the diversity of sport that I watch (as those reading my blog have understood) and two, as my career progresses, each year of sport will just be bigger and better (at least for me! 

Mind takes over

Happy New Year!

According to the Gregorian calendar that is followed mostly all over the world, 1st January of every calendar year is known as New Year’s Day which makes 31st December the previous day as New Year’s Eve. It comes like clockwork to remind us all that another year has begun and basically gives us a chance to start afresh. For many people, it is an excuse to drink a lot and simply have fun but the more serious think about all the actions that they have done in the past year and how they can change that for the better in the new year. They sort of look at it like a report card and how they are the teacher, the parent and the student, evaluating and understanding the rights and wrongs of the year.

A lot of things happened in 2013, especially for me:

1. I was VERY SURPRISED that we even came to 2013 considering I thought that the world would end in 2012 itself. Therefore in that sense itself, I feel lucky to actually be living at this time
2. This is my last year of official college education and therefore after this, it might be a very long time before I actually am present in a classroom as a student.
3. This is also the first time that I started working in an actual office and learnt the nuances of a workplace
4. It is also the year where I learnt that if you can put your mind to something, it will be successful – resulting in me receiving some job offers for after college.
5. This is also the year where I travelled to a place in Southern India called Kanyakumari, which is at the end of the peninsula of the South. According to my blog posts under the category ‘Sojourn of Tamil Nadu’, I saw the point where all the three water bodies surrounding the land and wass amazed with the fact that amidst this fast-paced world where we worry about little decisions and matters, there are some things in the world that simply don’t require us thinking about them so much.

It has been 2 weeks into the New Year and nothing feels different. Yet everything is changing very soon. In a matter of 2 months, I will be graduating and entering the work environment. My life as I know it will become very different in a matter of 5 months. But that is the spice of life – new challenges, new ideas, new directions.

Mind takes over

Christmas Time!

The entire significance of Christmas for me was very commercial in the beginning as I would see various sales and offers in shops, screaming out good prices for the Season to be Happy and Jolly. I also had various Christian friends but as I was small, I never really bothered to ask them. Our devotional centre would organise various programmes on the occasion of Christmas and my father would dress up as Santa with his big belly and his resounding laughter. It was only when I grew up and became slightly mature that I realised that Christmas is more than receiving gifts and having turkey and cake.

The entire point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who was the founder of Christianity and a saviour of the people. But many people nowadays seem to have forgotten the original reason for the celebration. Not that this blog post is going to be at all about preaching, it is simply going to be what I consider as Christmas. We never keep a Christmas tree in the house for the simple reason that the religion my parents follow is not Christianity. But at the same time, we celebrate all festivals in mostly equal measures.

The reason why I love Christmas because it is the one time of the year when the entire world is in celebration irrespective of which religion or community they come from. It creates a sense of happiness that isn’t present even on one’s birthday and at the same time brings people together, people who otherwise would have never associated with each other. It is truly the season to be jolly and happy. Another reason why I love this particular day is because there is an air of warmth everywhere I go. There has never been a bad Christmas for me, although for 5 years I would get sick without fail on Christmas Day.

The days before and after, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day respectively, also share their moments of enjoyment and happiness. The anticipation of Christmas Day on 24th December and remembering the fun times experienced the previous day on Boxing Day make the celebration of Christmas a 3 day affair. And what’s even more fun is that 1 week after Christmas is New Year’s!

Sports?

The Ashes – Well and truly won the second time (in 2013) around

By the end of August 2013, at Durham, England had won the Ashes for the 3rd consecutive time, for some of their players, their 4th time in an Ashes winning squad. For the Australians, it was another tour ending in the most horrible circumstances. The loss at Durham had extended their win-loss ratio of Tests in 2013 to 7 Tests lost away and one drawn. This equation was not exactly expected with how close they came to winning in Old Trafford (had the weather not intervened) and how they completely weren’t able to get over the line in Trent Bridge and Chester-Le-Street. England had realized by the time they came to the Oval to try and win this summer Ashes 4-0, a scoreline never successfully achieved by any English captain, that they had huge amounts of luck and grit on their side considering their highest scorer of the series, Ian Bell, was the only man who scored centuries consistently, Joe Root being the other centurion. Australia on the other hand, had Shane Watson, Michael Clarke, Chris Rogers and even David Warner coming close to that big 100. England knew that during the Oval match, Australia will not spare them Down Under and they needed to be ready.

Australia under Darren Lehmann during the limited overs series in England looked a different side. Confident, able to handle pressure and good performances, both individual and team, they looked to be ready to handle anything that came their way. A rather unnecessary limited overs series in India where the runs flowed and they rested their main bowler, Mitchell Johnson for the deciding match in Bangalore, considering the fact that they needed him for the Ashes Down Under and the entire point of the series was to become No.1 in the ODI rankings wasn’t possible at that point. Could this have been the possible turnaround that everyone was talking about? Australian players were able to get a couple of Sheffield Shield games under their belts while the visitors had to suffice with only 1 complete tour game against Western Australia which they drew because the other two fixtures weren’t completed due to rain (in November in Australia).

There was a lot of chatter about which the better-prepared team was and retired Aussie spinner Shane Warne and Ashes winning former English captain Michael Vaughan decided to come out of retirement for this specific purpose of pre-match sledging. But both captains, Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook, were prepared to do their talking on the field. Sadly only one captain and one team turned up for the match in Brisbane and it wasn’t the one that the Barmy Army supported. England were considered favourites not only for the Brisbane Test but for the Ashes as they began their campaign in spectacular fashion with a record saving 517/1 in the second innings to end the first Test at the Gabba with a draw. Alastair Cook’s double century and Steven Finn’s 6 wicket haul set the tone for the rest of the series in 2010-11 which they ultimately won 3-1, losing the only Test in Perth. This Test however begin slightly differently.

Brisbane – 21st to 25th November, 2013

Australia won the toss and decided to bat. Stuart Broad, fresh off playing almost no cricket save for a couple of T20s, a Yorkshire Bank 40 final with Nottinghamshire and the tour matches, picked uo a 5 wicket haul as the hosts were reduced to 100/5. Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson took their team from the brinks of a collapse to a respectable total of over 260, Haddin being run out in trying to complete his century. Then was to come one of the most spectacular batting collapses of all time. Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen all fell to short balls and fast, accurate bowling by Johnson with able support from Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris. In fact, the England innings wrapped up at 132 all out with Michael Carberry, making his Ashes debut and Broad being the highest scorers in their team. The second innings began awfully with David Warner and captain Clarke scoring centuries to take Australia to a lead of over 500 which the English couldn’t even score half of and Johnson did the rest, taking 3 more wickets to give Australia their first Test win since the win against Sri Lanka in December 2012 by a whopping 381 runs, a day early. England, humiliated in defeat, suffered another setback as established no.3 batsman Trott announced that he was suffering from depression and wouldn’t take any further part in either the Ashes tour or any upcoming series to try and find the reason why he loved the game. So from after the 1st game itself, England and Andy Flower needed to rebuild themselves in their batting, attitude and find a new no.3 – Ian Bell, a prolific no.5 or Joe Root, whose original position is batting at no.6 but has been tried out as an opener and done average.

Adelaide – 5th to 9th December, 2013

The site of the first win in the epic 2010-11 series for England and the site of a possible turnaround was there but not decided when they announced that they were going to play two spinners, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar. Stats had been brought out that except for the recent Ashes series and the 2012 series in Pakistan, England have always come back to win the series after losing the first Test – an example would be the series in India where they came back from the humiliating loss in Ahmedabad to come back strongly in the remaining three game, especially scripting a wonderful win at Mumbai. Again here Australia won the toss and posted a huge total of 570 with Haddin and Clarke again in the centuries while Harris, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers chipping in. The bowlers did an average job what with Chris Tremlett who was picked for the first Test being dropped for Panesar. In reply, England managed 3 double figure scores with Carberry and Bell getting half centuries and Johnson literally cutting the tail off starting with debutant all-rounder Ben Stokes. Australia, having already secured a sizeable lead, declared at 132/3, putting England in to bat with a target of 531 on the board to level the series. With two days to go and their captain out, Root and Pietersen set about defying Johnson and his army to put up a strong 50 run partnership before both were out and England ended Day 4 with Broad and an out-of-form but regaining confidence Matt Prior at stumps. No team has even won a Test being 6 wickets down and this was no different as England crossed 300 for the first time since the Lord’s Test in July where their thrashing of Australia seemed an anomaly at that time and now looked rather lucky as the hosts took an unassailable 2-0 lead beating England by 210 runs, this time.

Perth – 13th to 17th December, 2013

The one match that Australia won in the last series was to be the one that would hand over the precious urn back to the hosts after 3 successive series defeats since 2007. The Australian innings started rather shakily with a good run-out of Rogers and the quick wickets of Watson and Clarke. But Steven Smith stayed with Warner to build a good partnership and play a mature innings which saw him score his first century. It then saw an England performance that had only 2 out of the top 5 batsmen score single figures with Cook getting a gutsy half century only to get out against the run of play giving Australia a lead of only a 150 runs. This meant that when Australia came out to bat the second time, Warner and Watson both scored centuries in a manner not unlike their IPL playing days, just swinging and slogging almost every ball and Clarke declared at 369/6 giving England their 3rd consecutive 500+ total to chase, the first time it has ever happened in a Test series ever played between any two countries. This time another debutant stepped up as Ben Stokes got his first century and almost….Almost gave English fans back home some hope of atleast beginning their resurrection of this dreadful tour with good partnerships with Bell, KP and Prior. This time though, the tail again collapsed giving Australia back the Ashes with 150 runs as the winning margin. Another victim was claimed as Graeme Swann announced his retirement citing both not being able to win the Ashes again and recurring problems with his elbow for the reason. Many commented labelling this pull-out of England’s most successful spinner and most charismatic cricketer for years to come as ‘cowardly’ and ‘ungraceful’ whereas in my opinion, Swann decided to step out of the way when he gave away runs at a higher rate than he took wickets. His special ability was to take wickets or atleast stem the flow of runs when the pacers were being taken for a ride. Another interesting fact about this match was that Rogers hit James Anderson for a record 28 runs with 2 sixes and 2 fours, the only other person to do was Brian Lara.

Questions were raised by many former English cricketers including former captains Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss and prolific all-rounder Geoffrey Boycott on the lack of good fast and accurate bowling not unlike the lynchpin of Australia’s bowling attack, Johnson. Commenting on Flower and David Saker, England bowling coach, bringing 4 tall quicks that included Broad, Finn, Tremlett and Boyd Rankin but using only one consistently and one for the first Test although Finn was their most successful bowler in the 2010-11 series but not having played a Test since the hammering he took from Haddin in the first Test at Trent Bridge that almost brought Australia close to victory if it hadn’t been for Anderson’s burst. The good news was that Tim Bresnan was back to some sort of good form and would be able to pepper the cracks that would be caused by Swann’s absence. The focus for Cook and his team was to improve morale and take something away from this Test series besides voluntary retirements, burn-outs and sacking of responsible personnel. Changes had to be made and it was better that the MCG would be the site of that turnaround, albeit late in the series, at the same place where England retained the Ashes in the last series.

Melbourne – 26th to 30th December, 2013

Jonny Bairstow brought in for Prior and Panesar for the departing Swann were the only two changes made. Surprised as many were by the former, it was as drastic as Flower suggested in the post Perth press conference. England were put in to bat for the first time despite losing the toss and got themselves in a great position with KP and Bresnan batting at 222/6 at the end of Day 1 with the former looking his old self after a half century and the Yorkshireman looking defiant. It all collapsed in the first session of Day 2 but England actually won an entire day when they ended Day 2 with Australia 91 runs behind and England needing 1 wicket to wrap up the innings and possibly take a commanding position in a Test for the very first time. Unfortunately, everything went pear-shaped when the magician that was Haddin and no.11 Nathan Lyon forged a 40 run partnership that reduced the deficit to 51. England then got off to a good start with Cook getting a quick half century (by his standards) and Carberry looking unlike himself but solid. Then came the first batting collapse when Cook, Carberry, Root and Bell were all dismissed with minutes of each other, the last two wickets totally uncharacteristic of the players. It was again upto KP and his new wicketkeeper Bairstow to stave off Johnson with his fiery hand which led to some tension on the field with gusty winds blowing all over the MCG, that also saw world record attendance of over 91,000 on the first day. While KP was dealing with Mitch, Bairstow had to bear the brunt of it as he swung at a ball that edged to Haddin. Then began the second collapse of the day with the tail again going cheaply, 3 ducks all to a surprising Lyon who got his first 5 wicket haul in Test cricket and to 100 Test wickets. This meant that Australia had a target of 231 which they chased as if they were playing garden cricket with Rogers scoring a century and Watson scoring the winning runs, all for the loss of 2 wickets, creating another record of the lowest number of wickets lost in an Ashes chase. This meant that Australia had now taken a 4-0 lead and with England’s help were well on their way to a whitewash, not unlike the 2006-07 series that still haunts former all-rounder Andrew Flintoff and captain at that time Vaughan.

Disappointing as it was to see Australia win, the remarkable turnaround that they have seen under Lehmann is something to be applauded. Yes, most of their centuries have come in the second innings when they had a cushy lead to fall back on. Yes most of Mitchell Johnson’s 35 wickets in the series (before the 5th Test) have been of the tail and he has only dismissed top order batsmen 5 times in 8 innings. But the sheer confidence and fluency with which the entire team played is something that was seen by another team that won the Ashes the last time it was played in Australia in 2010-11. All that remains now for Cook and Flower is to make sure that the horrific whitewash of 2006-07 isn’t repeated.