Raising the bar

Posted in npower Ashes Series 2009

Even as a spectator, I got wobbly knees when Straussy went out for the toss at Cardiff.

As a player, I remember thinking about the game the night before, waking up, and then just wanting it to start. It has been a gripping Ashes so far, thanks in no small part to the unpredictability of each Test.

Having won the toss at Cardiff, it looked as though England would knock up the runs. But Australia had other thoughts, as they always do. England failed to get to 600, the visitors did not, and piled the pressure on their hosts in doing so. Only the efforts of Paul Collingwood and, of course, Monty Panesar and James Anderson at the crease earned England the draw.

The Test at Lord’s was charged with an air of apprehension. Having not won an Ashes Test at the ground since 1934, nobody knew what would happen, especially following our narrow escape at Cardiff just a few days before.

Even England’s good start had a ‘too good to be true’ feel to it, having not lost a wicket after the first hour. And then we decided, probably taking into account injuries in the camp, not to make the Aussies bat again. But thankfully the weather didn’t intervene, Freddie did, ably assisted by Swanny, and Strauss’ game plan came good.

Freddie’s retirement from Test cricket after the Ashes, given what he has said, comes as no great surprise. He knows what his body can take and he will no doubt enjoy the rest and treatment he’ll receive between now and Edgbaston.

He was clearly struggling on the evening of the fourth day so to bowl for an hour and a half at 90 mph on the following morning in that state was nothing short of phenomenal. It was great to see the crowd give him the support he deserved on the final day.

KP’s absence from the rest of the series will of course be a loss but at this level you have to be able to play without your best players. England’s players and fans should take heart from the fact that the side has won Test matches without Freddie before.

KP being injured will give fringe players the opportunity to stake their claim for future selection but also give current members of the squad the chance to stand up and be counted. The knowledge that he will be out for the rest of the series settles the replacement, settles the line-up and ends any media speculation.

Bell looks likely to be Pieterson’s successor and would slip into the batting order nicely at three, just in front of Ravi Bopara who would drop to four.

Bell is a class player, though sometimes frustrating. He will have to get gritty, almost Ponting-esque, hitting the bad balls and defending the good. While he hasn’t faced this Australian line up before, he has experience against the Aussies and has the benefit of facing a side currently low on confidence.

Andrew Flintoff & Peter Siddle

Freddie's performance with the ball on the final morning at Lord's, considering he was injured, was phenomenal

In the absence of Brett Lee, who may even be out for the next two Tests, Mitchell Johnson was expected to take the lead. Despite his experience, he has lost his radar, leaving Ben Hilfenhaus as the spearhead of the Australian bowling attack. The decision to play only four bowlers, while hugely successful in South Africa, did not work at Lord’s - all need to be firing for this to work.

During the Test at Cardiff, I had the pleasure of going to the npower Cricket in the Park event held in Southampton. There was a big screen to enjoy the big game and a Sky Sports coaching zone complete with batting and bowling nets, video analysis and coaching pointers. There’s even a Buxton kids’ zone to give the youngsters and the parents a break. If you haven’t already, click here to see when it is coming to a park near you.

I’m still waiting to hear about my shift behind the bar at the Edgbaston Test. If enough of you vote on the TwelthMan website, I’ll be mucking in to pull a few pints at lunchtime. I’m looking forward to talking some cricket with the fans, so get voting.