The Ashes has neared a crucial standing for both teams and all cricket fanatics, or Ashes enthusiasts, where it has come down to the final Test at the Oval.
This has been the injection of excitement Test cricket has needed. Now all the ECB has to do is lower the prices of tickets for test matches and for all the formats of the game to be regulated by the ICC, but I really see this Ashes series as a major turning point for Test cricket.
The IPL, while having it's benefits and the advantages I see it creating, has shown the risk the event runs at 'cheapening' cricket and switching traditional passion for the game into a Superbowl like parade. With the obvious desire for the IPL and Twenty20 cricket to move forward as a recognised sector of cricket, it has become even more important for the ICC to address the quality of cricket being produced and matches set out for fan's across the globe to follow.
This topic can be left aside for another day, but I'd like to focus this article on where the series stands and have a quick look at the standout player's.
But this series has been a roller coaster ride for Australian and English cricket supporter's and I cannot see people being deflated should The Baggy Green win the Ashes.
Sure, if it were the McGrath/Warne era of player's involved then yes, it would deflate a lot of follower's around the world.
But with the “Ponting Era” displaying a very different Australian team, who have endured many high's and low's following the 2007 ICC T20 Champions Trophy, it would be seen as more of an achievement for Australian cricket than previous critics' lines of, “another win to the Ricky Ponting and his bloody Australian's”.
This is actually a major factor as to why so much interest has been shown in this Ashes series, seeing how this team who really started out their journey at the SCG in the 3rd Test against The Protea's earlier this year and seeing how they would match up to England in their territory.
The stage has been set for one epic final Test match of the 2009 Ashes.
The Baggy Green had an unbelievable win in the 4th Test at Headingly where the game was done in two days and a bit. With an entertaining 8th wicket partnership between Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, it kept the game on for a bit longer to the relief of some English supporter's believing it would all go up in flames. They really claimed the spotlight in that session!
It's safe to say the bowler's got a bit carried away in trying to create one too many chances for the last 5 wicket's, and keeping it too line and length probably would have done the trick, which Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson managed to do, but atleast the crowd got some entertainment on a day where we all expected it to be done and dusted in a matter of overs.
The English lower order knew they also had a licence to have a bit of fun. So I don't think reading into Stuart Clark or Peter Siddle's bowling is needed given the circumstances. Just look at their impact on the 1st innings and nothing further needs to be said regarding the 4th Test. It was fitting for Mitchell Johnson to pick up the final scalp, claim a 5for and head to the Oval with one more chance to reposition himself as Australia's front line bowling fear factor. It was very enouraging to see Mitch find his feet and look a much happier and more confident cricketer.
I guess it was a situation of perform and focus on the game, or take a break and clear the mind. Mitch chose the right option as most of the issues that seemed to be burdening his game subsided from the public eye. At the same time I was hoping Hilfy would be the one to get his five wicket haul! One more Test to fight for it.
At this point of the series the Baggy Green have dominated the series with the bat and ball, but haven't been able to fully dominate pressure cooker situations.
In time experience for this developing side will take shape to manage such situations, but the statistics as to who leads the way definitely reflects the various individual efforts of the players.
The top run-scorers of the tournament stand as follows.
- Michael Clarke (AU); 6 innings, 445 runs, H/S 136, Average 89.00
- Marcus North (AU); 6 innings, 349 runs, H/S 125*, Average 69.80
- Andrew Strauss (ENG); 7 innings, 344 runs, H/S 161, Average 49.14
- Ricky Ponting (AU); 6 innings, 311 runs, H/S 150, Average 51.83
- Simon Katich (AU); 6 innings, 248 runs, H/S 122, Average 41.33
- Brad Haddin (AU); 4 innings, 243 runs, H/S 121, Average 60.75
- Matt Prior (ENG); 7 innings, 239 runs, H/S 61, Average 39.83
- Paul Collingwood (ENG); 7 innings, 225 runs, H/S 74, Average 32.14
- Alastair Cook (ENG); 7 innings, 203 runs, H/S 95, Average 29.00
- Andrew Flintoff (ENG); 5 innings, 171 runs, H/S 74, Average 42.75
Michael Clarke has been terrific, and continues to show (within the last 18 months or so) how he has matured as a cricketer with more responsibility and has taken a keener interest in leadership duties. His stats reflect his efforts and the vows to bury the 2005 batting skeletons. An observation shows he is not pushing at the ball as much, is waiting late on the swing and confident to play his shots aggressively, while maintaining his quick footwork to the operating spinners.
5 of Australia's top order comfortably sitting in the top ranks there, while only Andrew Strauss and middle-order Keeper/Batsman Prior are in any sound position.
The bowler's have had to work hard for their wicket's in this Ashes series, as both teams have had to toil quite hard for 20 wickets. Ben Hilfenhaus has been the standout of all the bowler's and has silently gone about his business, and after coming into the series as nothing more than one of the blokes from the South African Test series, he has become quite a tough customer for the English.
He is showing such a competitive attitude out there and even the most casual onlookers with this Ashes series would agree he has improved drastically.
For England it isn't as poor as their batting is reflected in the stats:
The bowlers listed have claimed 10 wickets or more:
- Ben Hilfenhaus (AU) 4 matches, 18 wickets, BBF 4/60, Average 26.38
- Peter Siddle (AU) 4 matches, 16 wickets, BBF 5/21, Average 29.50
- Mitchell Johnson (AU) 4 matches, 16 wickets, BBF 5/69, Average 32.62
- Stuart Broad (ENG) 4 matches, 12 wickets, BBF 6/91, Average 36.33
- James Anderson (ENG) 4 matches, 12 wickets, BBF 5/80, Average 38.91
- Graham Onions (ENG) 3 matches, 10 wickets, BBF 4/58, Average 30.30
- Nathan Hauritz (AU) 3 matches, 10 wickets, BBF 3/63, Average 32.10
I have mentioned several times that the tail-enders have really made a mark on the series, showing not only how much better tail-enders have become over the years, but also how crucial it can be to an innings in the most desperate of circumstances.
Cast your mind back to Michael Hussey and Glen McGrath against the Proteas in 2005/06! Remember JP Duminy and Dale Steyn's defining role in the Boxing day Test of 2008?
Think of the frustration's the Indian's lower-order gave Australia during the 2008 Border-Gavaskar series in India.
Here are some stats reflecting England's tail-enders efforts, and comparing the top to middle orders vs the lower orders.
England's tail-order vs their top order:
Tail (wickets 7-10) = 651 runs (967 runs from 6-10)
Top order (wickets 1-6) = 1513.
This is not a bad effort from England's tail order, who have contributed 651 valuable runs, where England's top order have given nothing too spectacular.
The Baggy Green however have amassed 2026 runs with the top order (Wickets 1-6) and what has been the major difference between them and England's top order?
513 runs folks!
Speaking of partnerships, it is interesting but known that Marcus North and Michael Clarke have thrice made centurion stands together of 185, 152 and 143 in this 2009 Ashes series.
Brad Haddin has also clocked in with either Clarke or North in big partnerships. Haddin/North 200, Haddin/Clarke 185. Gives Brad Haddin some extra venom to his batting baring in mind he is batting at 7th, and already has 243 runs having missed 1 match.
A bit of a break before the 5th Test at the Oval, so I am sure England will be monitoring Andrew Flintoff closely and all parties concerned waiting with baited breath for a green light to see Freddy in one last appearance.
Their batting will need serious assessment as Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook can only do so much.
As for The Baggy Green, the momentum is tremendous with player's peaking at the perfect time. The major factor that the selectors will be looking at will be the bowler's needed to get the job done, with Nathan Hauritz likely coming into serious consideration.
Feel free to debate this one, but I will wait for the eve of the match to see what word gets around.
Time for your quick singles to be picked up, here at the Baggy Green, Chirps and Quick Singles.
Over the next few days toss in a comment or send an email to me (in the sidebar you can find it):
What's been some your most memorable moments of this Ashes series?
Anything interesting you have noted regarding the teams, the series, the fans, the interest?
What would be your ideal scenario for the 5th Test? Etc.
As always a big thanks to all you blokes who share your chirps at the site!
One way for supporter's of the Baggy Green and this great game to voice themselves.