Tag Archives: Ashes

Women’s Ashes: Test Match Review

Forgive the hyperbole (this is a blog, after all, not the BBC), but how good was that? It may have been a fairly low scoring game, but I can’t think of a much better advert for test cricket, let alone women’s test cricket, than that game.

The best sporting contests are always the ones that ebb and flow, with one team seeming to gain control, before either giving it up or having it wrenched out of their hands. At the end of day 1 I felt England were marginally ahead; their score of 201 seemed light, but this was always going to be a pitch that favoured the bowlers and sure enough, by the end of play Australia had lost both their opening batsmen to Anya Shrubsole and England’s bowlers had their tails up.

Day two saw more damage, with test match debutant, Kate Cross getting two key wickets, before the Australian middle order finally got some traction with Ellyse Perry scoring a potentially match saving 71, helped along by Jodie Fields and Erin Osbourne. They were eventually all out for 207, a lead of just 6 runs. England’s second innings followed a very similar pattern to Australia’s first innings, as once again the pace bowling of Perry and Farrell destroyed their top order as England reached stumps at 18/3.

The pattern continued the following day as England’s gutsy middle order rallied,  including a very impressive 56 from their captain, Charlotte Edwards, who was batting at 7 having been struggling with a knee injury. England were eventually all out for 190, setting Australia a target of 185 to win the match. It really could have gone either way, but, as Australia went in to bat late on day 3 it was the bowlers who once again ruled, with Brunt and Cross reducing Australia to 57/5 by the close. On day 4 Australia needed their middle order to save them once again, but it wasn’t to be, as Shrubsole and Gunn made relatively quick work of finishing the match off.

England now have a commanding 6-0 lead in the series, meaning that Australia will have to win 5 of the 6 one day matches to win the series. In hindsight, perhaps the scoring system does need looking at, with the number of points available for the test reduced or the points available for the other matches increased (maybe 3 for the ODIs and 2 for the T20s), but it’s too late to worry about that now. Australia have a huge uphill battle, but they are now into their comfort zone, being ODI and T20 world champions, this series may still have some twists and turn left to come.

Key Points

  • Both teams will need to look hard at the performance of their top order batting, neither of which performed well. We are likely to see some changes for the upcoming limited overs matches anyway, but this may encourage both teams to revisit their tactics.
  • Though they now have a commanding lead,  Charlotte Edwards’ struggle with a knee injury is still a concern as not only is her batting key, she is also the most experienced player in the team, particularly in Australian conditions.
  • Kate Cross was a huge success on her test debut, giving England’s bowling a real boost, with wickets coming from all their fast bowlers. Australia’s seamers fared well, but they were more reliant on just Farrell and Perry, the latter also having to do more than her fair share with the bat.
  • As predicted, spin played little part in the game, but this could be more influential in the one day games to come.
  • The media coverage has been encouraging, with reports on major UK news outlets and lots of buzz on twitter, but the stadium was almost empty, which I found disappointing after good crowds attended the games in England last summer. Hopefully this will improve for the shorter format games to come.
  • One other positive point was the live video stream on the Cricket Australia website. Whilst it’s a shame there was no live TV coverage, this was a definite step in the right direction and could provide a model for coverage of minority sports.

2014 Women’s Ashes Preview

Heather Knight in action aT Wormsley during the 2013 Ashes (Image courtesy of Don Miles)

Heather Knight in action at Wormsley during the 2013 Ashes (Image courtesy of Don Miles)

To be brutally honest, I haven’t had any desire to write about The Ashes. It’s been thoroughly depressing, not just because England lost, but because of the abject way in which they did so. Australia have been an impressive unit, but such a one sided series does not make for compulsive viewing. Apart from Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes, not a single England player came out of the series with much credit.

All is not lost, however, and I’m not just talking about the upcoming One Day and T20 matches. This Friday sees the start of the Women’s Ashes, with a Test Match at the WACA in Perth. Like the men’s team, the women go to Australia as the Ashes holders, but they will be hoping for a very different outcome.

This series will follow the same format as we saw in England last summer, with one test match, 3 ODIs and 3 T20 matches. The winner is decided by a points system; 6 points for winning the Test match (2 for a draw), and 2 points awarded to the winner of each of the shorter format matches. England won the series in England by 12 points to 4; after drawing the sole test match, they dominated the limited overs matches, winning the ODIs 2-1 and the T20s 3-0.

The format is novel, and the reaction from the players has been positive. It makes for a good contest where almost every match should have some importance and it forces the teams to adjust their line up, tactics and playing style to the various formats over quite a short period. Hopefully, it will also provide a way of saving Women’s Test cricket, which is, sadly, now only played regularly between England and Australia.

Back to back Ashes series for the men have felt like too much of a good thing (particularly for England fans), but for the Women, the more concentrated burst of high profile matches should provide a useful boost. The last 10 years have seen big strides being taken in the level of support given to women’s cricket, and the level of media coverage has also improved greatly, but there are a myriad of challenges still to negotiate.

Cricket Australia have led the way in offering full time contracts to a number of its senior players, the ECB offer their players a basic level of remuneration, plus opportunities for various forms of coaching work within the ECB and through the Chance to Shine charity, but many still have to hold down other jobs. This is a limiting factor at the moment, but hopefully as time goes on and the level of attention, and more importantly, sponsorship increases, this should improve.

Though the series in England last summer was perhaps closer than the final points tally suggests, it was an impressive comeback for England after they had lost both their World Cup and World T20 titles to Australia during the previous 12 months. England’s women will have the advantage of watching the mistakes that their male counterparts made, and they have focussed extensively on training for what awaits them. This included spending a month at Loughborough using bowling machines to replicate the pace and hot conditions they will encounter in Australia.

They are led by Charlotte Edwards, who took over the captaincy in 2005 and is one of the most experienced and successful women ever to play for England. Opening the batting with Edwards in the test match is likely to be Heather Knight, who hit a match saving 157 in the test match at Wormsley in 2013 and has started this tour well, scoring 123 in the warm up game against Australia A.

England will look for big runs from their wicket-keeper/batsman Sarah Taylor, who is a very classy player, reliable behind the stumps and with a stylish, positive batting style. The experienced Lydia Greenway also showed that she is coming into this series with good form after scoring 76 in the warm up game in Perth.

Their bowling line up will be lead by Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, both of who have recently returned from injuries. Both are powerful pace bowlers and each have said they are particularly looking forward to bowling at the WACA. It will also be interesting to see whether Kate Cross, who impressed during the tour of the West Indies, can make an impact in this series. One of the benefits of such as varied programme is that both teams will have to be clever in how vary their selections to suit the various formats and conditions they will experience and to deal with any injuries.

England’s spin options are less convincing, especially with the recent decision by Holly Colvin to take an extended break from cricket. That leaves the two Danielle’s, Wyatt and Hazell, who will face a tough challenge trying to get the ball to come alive on the Australian pitches.

Australia's Sarah Elliot defends while Sarah Taylor stands ready (Image ourtesy of Don Miles)

Australia’s Sarah Elliot defends while Sarah Taylor stands ready (Image ourtesy of Don Miles)

As reigning World Cup and World T20 holders, Australia have a very strong squad, which, as well as being more comfortable in the conditions, will also have played a lot more competitive cricket in the lead up to the series.  Like England, they have a very experienced captain in Jodie Fields, who will also keep wicket.

Much is expected of their young, newly appointed vice-captain Meg Lanning, who is likely to be their main run scoring threat, but they have runs right down the batting order, from the likes of Jess Cameron, Alex Blackwell, Jodie Fields and even Ellyse Perry.

Perry, who has also played international football for Australia, will lead the pace attack and is likely to be a big threat to England’s hopes. Other dangers will include seamer, Rene Farell and spinner, Erin Osbourne. The young, but precociously talented Holly Ferling will almost certainly get a chance at some point in the series, but only time will tell how good she can be.

All in all, it is set up to be a closely fought battle between the two best teams in women’s cricket. The sole test match in Perth will be crucial as a win there will set that team up with a very useful 6-0 series lead. Personally, I think Australia might just edge it this time around.

A big thank you to Don Miles for allowing me to use some of his images in this arcticle. Those wanting to know more about the women’s game are well advised to check out his site www.womenscricket.net


Friday 10 to Monday 13 January – Women’s Ashes Test, WACA, Perth
Sunday 19 January – 1st ODI, MCG, Melbourne
Thursday 23 January – 2nd ODI, MCG Melbourne
Sunday 26 January – 3rd ODI, Bellerive Oval, Hobart
Wednesday 29 January – 1st T20, Bellerive Oval, Hobart
Friday 31 January – 2nd T20, MCG, Melbourne
Sunday 2 February – 3rd T20, Stadium Australia, Sydney


BBC Radio 5 Live Extra will have live coverage of most of the series, switching to online only coverage when it clashes with other events.

Sky Sports will show live coverage of the 3 T20 matches.


England Test and ODI Squad: C Edwards (Captain, Kent), A Brindle (Sussex), K Brunt (Yorkshire), K Cross (Lancashire), G Elwiss (Sussex), L Greenway (Kent), J Gunn (Nottinghamshire), D Hazell (Yorkshire), A Jones (Warwickshire), H Knight (Berkshire), N Sciver (Surrey), A Shrubsole (Somerset), S Taylor (Sussex), L Winfield (Yorkshire), D Wyatt (Nottinghamshire).

England T20 Squad: C Edwards (Captain, Kent), A Brindle (Sussex), K Brunt (Yorkshire), G Elwiss (Sussex), N Farrant (Kent), L Greenway (Kent), J Gunn (Nottinghamshire), D Hazell (Yorkshire), A Jones (Warwickshire), H Knight (Berkshire), N Sciver (Surrey), A Shrubsole (Somerset), S Taylor (Sussex), L Winfield (Yorkshire), D Wyatt (Nottinghamshire).

Australian Test Squad: J Fields (Captain, QLD), M Lanning (VIC), A Blackwell (NSW), N Bolton (WA), J Cameron (VIC), S Coyte (NSW), S Elliott (VIC), R Farrell (ACT), H Ferling (QLD), R Haynes (NSW), E Osborne (NSW), E Perry (NSW), M Schutt (SA), E Villani (VIC)

Australian ODI Squad: J Fields (Captain, QLD), M Lanning (VIC), A Blackwell (NSW), N Bolton (WA), J Cameron (VIC), S Coyte (NSW), R Farrell (ACT), H Ferling (QLD), R Haynes (NSW), J Jonassen (QLD) E Osborne (NSW), E Perry (NSW), M Schutt (SA), E Villani (VIC)

Australian T20 Squad: J Fields (Captain, QLD), M Lanning (VIC), A Blackwell (NSW), J Cameron (VIC), S Coyte (NSW), R Farrell (ACT, H Ferling (QLD), A Healy (NSW), J Jonassen (QLD), E Osborne (NSW), E Perry (NSW), M Schutt (SA), E Villani (VIC)

Follow The Ashes on @ByTheMinCricket

I will be live tweeting the morning session of day 2 of the Adelaide Test via @ByTheMinCricket – come and join us to keep up to date and feel free to get involved

              @ByTheMinCricket                                           www.twitter.com/ByTheMinCricket

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Alastair Cook – Hitting the High Notes

Alastair Cook at Trent Bridge during the 2013 Ashes (Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingness)

Alastair Cook at Trent Bridge during the 2013 Ashes (Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingness)

It wouldn’t be a proper Ashes build up without some outspoken comments from Shane Warne, and this time he has focussed his attention on England’s captain, Alastair Cook, who Warne describes as “boring and negative”. On the other hand, he considers the Australian captain (and Warne’s close friend), Michael Clarke (profiled by Stumped here) to be the best captain in the world, despite Australia not having won a test match since January.  The two are certainly very different, but what is it about Cook that has made his first year as England captain so successful and how is the battle with Michael Clarke likely to play out on the next 6 weeks?

Alastair Cook was born in Gloucester on Christmas day in 1984. He grew up in Essex but his musical talents gained him a place at St Paul’s Cathedral School, where he sang in the choir and learned the Clarinet. He was later awarded a music scholarship to Bedford School but quickly became more interested in cricket, though he maintains that the concentration and discipline required for his music has also helped his cricket. He learned his craft under the tutelage of form Nottinghamshire and England batsman, Derek Randall, who described Cook as a natural. So natural in fact, that at 14, he scored a century against his own school, while playing as a last minute replacement for a visiting MCC XI. Despite his focus on cricket and music, the young Cook still left school with 3 A Levels.

Having joined the Essex Cricket Academy at 15, he made his first class debut at 18, quickly establishing himself in his now customary position as an opening batsman. At 21 he made his debut for England against India and his impact was immediate, scoring 60 in the first innings and 104 not out in the second. Over the next 2 years he firmly established himself as an essential part of both the Test and One Day squads. 2009 and 2010 were less productive for him personally and as the focus moved towards the upcoming Ashes series in Australia, there was even talk of him being dropped. He had been trying to improve his technique, but the effect was that his performances got worse, until he finally decided to just accept what came naturally to him and almost immediately started scoring runs again.

His performance during the 2010/11 Ashes series in Australia was magnificent, scoring 766 runs in the series and averaging an incredible 127.6 as England retained the Ashes. Not surprisingly, he was named as one of Wisden’s 5 Cricketers of the Year in 2012. At the age of 28 he has already scored more test centuries than any other England player (25) and having already scored 7801 Test runs you feel that only serious injury can stop him beating Graham Gooch’s record of 8900.

It’s fair to say that his batting style is patient, rather than adventurous. During a test match against India at Edgbaston in 2011 he was criticised by Geoff Boycott of all people, for not scoring runs quickly enough. The truth though, is that Cook is a master at the traditional art of being an opening test batsman, able to adapt his game to a wide variety of conditions, often providing a rock solid base for other, more aggressive, teammates to build on. His temperament is calm, in fact he’s famous for hardly sweating, even in hot weather, meaning that his ball polishing skills have become a key weapon in England’s bowling attack.

When Andrew Straus retired in 2012, Cook was, for many, the obvious replacement and the England management agreed. His captaincy began with one of the biggest tests for any England team, a Tour in India, but Cook (and England) excelled and won the series, the first time an England team had achieved this feat in 28 years.

As well as the obvious pressures of winning matches, there was also the lingering Kevin Pietersen saga in the background. Pietersen is one of the world’s greatest players, but after his difficult spell as England captain and the furore over texts he sent to his South African friends whilst England were paying a series against them, there were questions about his international future. Cook oversaw Pietersen’s successful return to the England side, a return which, currently at least, is working well for all parties.

Pietersen and Cook could hardly be more different, which is probably exactly what England need. Cook may lack some charisma in front of the camera, but he seems to be a popular choice amongst his teammates and a calming influence in the dressing room. His early dealings with the media bordered on frosty, but as time went on (and results have gone his way) he seems to be growing more comfortable in the role.

He takes the same, cautious approach to captaincy as he does to his batting and this disciplined approach has been questioned most recently by Warne, but also by others during the Ashes tour in the summer, when even I felt perhaps that, facing a questionable bowling attack, England could have perhaps clicked up a gear at times, to try and finish off their opponents. Of course you’ll never please everyone, and so far, his approach seems to be working well so Cook would rightfully argue that it would be foolish to change it.

Playing against Australia brings inevitable comparisons with Michael Clarke, who, like Cook, is a fine batsman, but the similarities don’t go much further than that. Clarke is often praised for his inventive style of captaincy; trying out unusual fields and swapping his bowlers round to stop the batting side getting too comfortable. But then Clarke is captaining a side, which, with the exception of Clarke himself, is lacking in truly world class players. He has no real choice but to make bold decisions, and even when he has, it hasn’t helped their results.

Alastair Cook is luckier, in that he is leading a team with perhaps 4 or 5 truly great players, and no real passengers. There is a reason why Michael Clarke was able to name the England team, that is because it’s both a settled and an experienced team, which largely picks itself, while Australia are forced to search high and low for a credible bowling attack. All the time that Cook leads a team of such quality and manages to keep them motivated, it’s hard to see how anyone,  bar South Africa, can stop them.

Cook doesn’t need to take risks, in fact it would be mad to fundamentally change such a successful formula. The only question, perhaps, is what would happen if England were to wobble and find themselves 2-0 down after the Adelaide test, does Cook have the ability to turn things back their way? The truth is that we don’t know,  because he hasn’t been in that situation yet, but what we do know, is that despite the calm exterior, he has a deep desire to win and a keen sense of the historical significance of winning back-to-back Ashes series. This is not a man who is going to crack under the pressure.

The Australian media (and Shane Warne) will do what they always do, but you get the feeling that Alastair Cook is happy to just let them get on with it. He’ll speak to the press, of course, but if things go to plan in this series then he will make more noise on the pitch.

One Direction – England vs Australia ODI Series Preview

Apologies for long gap without an update, cricket has sadly had to take a backseat to more mundane matters in the last few weeks. In some ways it’s been well timed, as, with the exception of the two T20 matches we’ve enjoyed a bit of a natural lull, in the international calendar at least.

After an incident packed, but perhaps not a vintage Ashes series, we return now to One Day Cricket. In fact, it returned yesterday, with England playing a very enjoyable one-off game against Ireland at the beautiful Malahide stadium near Dublin. After Ireland put in a strong batting performance England’s batsmen faltered initially, with our less experienced international players struggling, but their blushes were saved by a match winning partnership between Morgan and Bopara, who both scored centuries to secure a six wicket win for England. A packed stadium, and a very creditable performance from Ireland meant that even though they lost, many in green will have considered it a successful day as they continue to work towards their stated goal of gaining Test status by 2020. It’s a lofty ambition, even for a team that is currently the highest ICC ranked “Associate” nation, and they are up against some significant vested interests from the sub-continent and an already congested fixture schedule.

Anyway, back to the upcoming series between England and Australia. There is a rather inevitable “After the lord mayor’s show” feeling about this series, and I know that many are struggling to get too excited about it, but for me there is plenty to whet the appetite.

For Australia, the series could prove vital in raising the morale of both their players and their fans before England journey down under for part two of this year’s Ashes double whammy. Under normal circumstances, there would be plenty of time for them to reflect and consider what changes they need to make, but they don’t have that luxury this year and they’re going to have to make quick decisions about their team and tactics before the first Test begins in Brisbane on November 21st. They have made one major decision already, with the controversial, yet strangely likeable David Warner being dropped from the one day squad after his poor performances this summer, though I suspect he may well return for the Ashes series.

I think Australia will feel they have a good chance of getting a good result in this series, even without Warner they have some good limited overs players and England have quite understandably decided to rest many of the players that played in the Ashes series. There have been complaints that by doing this England are giving the fans that have bought tickets for this series a raw deal, but I don’t think that’s fair. With another Ashes series imminent it makes sense to give our star players a rest, particularly when many of them have been been playing international cricket since the tour in New Zealand. Teams that aim to be successful for extended periods have to constantly look at new players and give them the opportunity to play top level cricket. I doubt we will see many fresh faces playing in Australia later this year, but in the one day team is often a stepping stone to test cricket. Lets not forget that the backbone of the Ashes winning team; Anderson, Swann, Pietersen, Bell, Trott and Prior are all now in their early 30s and will need replacing over the next 2-4 years.

Having said that, the bulk of the England squad is pretty familiar, with Chris Jordan of Sussex and Jamie Overton of Somerset being the only genuinely new faces to international cricket. Ironically, one of the most keenly awaited performances will be that of Michael Carberry, the Hampshire batsman is nearly 33, but has been in scintillating form this year for his county and will never have a better opportunity to prove himself as an international cricketer. Another man with much still to prove is Eoin Morgan, who will captain England in the absence of Alistair Cook. Until his century yesterday, his England form so far this year has been underwhelming, at 26 you feel now is the time for him to kick on and aim for a regular place in test team.

Despite resting many of the senior test players, England’s batting line up remains very strong, with Test regulars Pietersen, Trott, and Root plus the big hitting Morgan, Bopara and Wright. Their bowling line is is far less established and may be the weak link, but I still feel they have what it takes to make it an even more miserable summer for Australia.

The weather has been fairly kind so far this year, but the forecast for the opening two ODI’s in Leeds and Manchester isn’t looking great unfortunately.

Friday 6th September – Leeds (10:15)
Sunday 8th September – Manchester (10:15)
Wednesday 11th September – Birmingham (14:00)
Saturday 14th September – Cardiff (10:15)
Monday 16th September – Southampton (14:00)

England Squad:
Eoin Morgan (capt), Ravi Bopara, Jos Buttler (wk), Michael Carberry, Steven Finn, Chris Jordan, Jamie Overton, Kevin Pietersen, Boyd Rankin, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, James Tredwell, Jonathan Trott, Luke Wright

Australia Squad:
Michael Clarke (capt), George Bailey, Fawad Ahmed, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Faulkner, Aaron Finch, Josh Hazlewood, Phillip Hughes, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Clint McKay, Adam Voges, Matthew Wade (wk), Shane Watson

The Ashes 2.0

OK, here’s a question for you; which current senior England cricketer has the highest test batting average? Most people would probably guess at either Alistair Cook or Kevin Pietersen, right? Well you’d be wrong. With a test average of 49.09 it’s actually Charlotte Edwards, the captain of the England women’s team. I’m not trying to make a serious statistical point here, just showing that there is plenty of talent beyond the men’s team and that perhaps it would be a good thing if that was more widely recognised.

Thankfully, things are starting to change and there has been some good coverage in the mainstream press about the fact that today sees the start of the Women’s Ashes, with a test match being played amongst the beautiful surroundings of Wormsley Cricket Ground in Buckinghamshire.

The Women’s Ashes began in 1998 when a bat signed by both teams was ceremonially burnt and sealed within a trophy. However, the history of England women playing Australia at cricket actually goes back to 1934 when the first test series was played. Over the years the format has varied from a single test, right up to a 5 match series (as played in 1984). Australia has had marginally more success than England over the years and they are the current holders, having beaten England in a single test match in Australia in 2011.

The format has been totally reinvented for 2013, which sees a single test match being played, followed by 3 one-day matches and 3 T20 games. Points are awarded for each game and the points tally will decide the final destination of the trophy. It’s a novel format, but has it’s benefits in that they will be playing all over the country, hopefully allowing more people to attend the games. The 3 T20 games will be shown live on Sky Sports, and two of the T20s will be played directly before the Men’s games which should see them playing in front of big crowds.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have been very supportive of women’s cricket in recent years and the results have followed, with them winning both the World Cup and World T20 competitions in 2009 and narrowly losing the World T20 to Australia last year. The sport is not without it’s problems though, mainly caused by a lack of appetite for women’s cricket amongst other nations (the last test match that England played was the Ashes match against Australia in 2011). Things are moving in the right direction though and hopefully this series will increase the exposure even further. We can all do our bit by shouting about it from the rooftops and trying to attend some matches.

There will be live coverage via the BBC Sport website
The Women’s Ashes 2013

11-14 August: Only Test, Wormsley
20 August: 1st ODI, Lord’s
23 August: 2nd ODI, Hove
25 August: 3rd ODI, Hove
27 August: 1st T20, Chelmsford
29 August: 2nd T20, Southampton
31 August: 3rd T20, Chester-le-Street

Bad light, bad decisions and funny coloured balls

Like many cricket fans, I was frustrated when the umpires decided to take the players off for bad light on day four of the 3rd Test at Old Trafford. With bad weather forecast for the following day I was desperate for them to play as much cricket as possible in the hope of getting a result out of the game. Instead we saw England keep the Ashes, not at the end of a glorious run chase, or last wicket stand, but via a presenter in a studio telling us there would be no more cricket that day. After the inevitable big build up to this Ashes series, it was a rather damp squib, though a win for England in either of the two remaining matches should at least stop Australia questioning the final result.

Not only was I not at the ground, I was actually listening to it on the radio, so I can’t really comment on whether it was the right decision to stop for bad light or not, but many others, Jonathan Agnew and Michael Vaughan amongst them, certainly felt it was a bad call. With so much discussion about DRS in this series it was unfortunate that yet again the talk was more about the umpires and the rules rather than the game itself.

For me though, it raised an interesting question about Test cricket. We all accept that rain will stop play, but in an era where fans watch much of their cricket under floodlights, is it acceptable that bad light should stop test cricket? The grounds that host test matches must despair when the floodlights that they spent all that money installing can’t help them get a full day’s play.

I appreciate that the umpires have to consider the safety of the players, but at the same time they also have a responsibility to try and get as much cricket played in each day as possible, after all, test match tickets are not cheap (at least not in England). It was particularly galling that in this case the Australian captain was desperate to keep playing, even when Cook had given the ball to Broad and Anderson (Cook of course was quite happy to go off…).

The problem of course, is that the traditional red ball used in test cricket is hard to see under floodlights. Most one day and T20 matches are now played with the white ball, which works well at night, but unfortunately the white ball seems to lose it’s colour and deteriorate too quickly for a test match, where a ball needs to last for 80 overs. The other issue of course is that they don’t work well when players are wearing the traditional whites. Although the white ball doesn’t last as long as the red ball, the general opinion is that it does swing more, though it’s hard to judge how much of this is down to the ball and how much of it is down to the variety of conditions it’s used under.

A number of TV networks, the ICC and even the grand old MCC seem keen on the idea of day/night cricket, saying that it makes sense to have more cricket played at times when fans can attend and watch on TV. This is of course is partly a commercial desire on their part, and perhaps applies more to countries like India, where test cricket is in serious danger of being usurped by the lure of the shorter format of the game. One suspects that some English counties may also be attracted by the opportunity to get a few more bums on seats by playing day/night county championship games.

A number of tests have been carried out with coloured balls, mainly orange and pink. A pink ball was trialled for a dead rubber county championship match between Kent and Glamorgan in September 2011, and was quickly condemned by Kent’s wicket keeper Geraint Jones, who stated that it would make test cricket boring and too much in favour of the batsmen. Neither side’s bowlers had any luck getting the ball to move, though a slow pitch at the St Lawrence didn’t help. Overall the experiments so far have been mixed, but it’s something that should be given up on, with all the technology available it can’t be beyond the talents of the human race to develop a ball that works well enough under all conditions.

Even with the advent of T20, cricket retains its passion for tradition though, and both players and fans are often quick to dismiss change. Personally, I’m not completely sold on the idea of day/night test matches myself, but I’m not totally against it. However, if a new colour of type of ball can be found which can be used in all lights and can last the distance then it opens the opportunities not only for day/night tests, but might also be considered as an alternative for the red ball in normal use, thus meaning that no time is lost to bad light (at least at grounds with floodlights). I appreciate that some may feel it’s sacrilegious even to suggest this, but test cricket cannot stand still and if losing the red ball may allow us to see more games played in their entirety and create opportunities for more people to watch first class and test cricket then we’d be foolish to not consider it.

Michael Clarke – From Pup to Top Dog

His journey to the top of world cricket once seemed mapped out in front of him, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

Michael Clarke’s sublime innings of 187 in the third test could not have come at a better time. With England 2-0 up in the series and Australia seemingly in free-fall, it was beginning to look as though the more patriotic England fans predictions were going to be proved right and even those of us with a more pragmatic view were beginning to wonder. Looking at the Australian team prior to the series it was missing the clutch of superstars that have been it’s backbone for so long; the only name that shone boldly was their captain, Michael Clarke.

Born in Sydney in 1981 (what a vintage year that was…), he made his first class debut for New South Wales at 18, his early performances, whilst not earth shattering, were enough to attract the attention of the national team. He made his full international debut in a one-day match against England January 2003, where a useful 39 helped Australia to a win.

His first real starring role came when he made his test debut against India in Bangalore. An away series in India is hardly a cosy introduction to Test cricket, but the young Clarke took it all in his stride, hitting 151 and steering Australia to victory in the match and the series. Just a few weeks later he scored 141 in his home Test debut against New Zealand at Brisbane. His performances, which were aggressive, without being reckless, were already being compared to the greats of Australian cricket.

After such an impressive start, a dip was almost inevitable and unfortunately it coincided with the 2005 Ashes, which saw Australia lose a series against their biggest rivals for the first time since 1987. Clarke was dropped from the Test squad soon after, but not for long. By the time the next Ashes series came around he was back in his groove and played a starring role as Australia won the series 5-0. He then went on to play a solid role as Australia mounted a successful defence of the World Cup in the West Indies.

In 2008 he was made vice captain of the Australian team, his on-field career was only going in one direction, but the storm clouds were gathering. Instead of celebrating him as a working class boy made good, the press and the fans seemed to dislike what they saw as a playboy lifestyle with his model girlfriend and penthouse in Bondi. You could draw comparisons with David Beckham, whose celebrity lifestyle often seemed in danger of overshadowing his sporting career. In both cases the allegation is unfair; Clarke, like Beckham is a hard working professional, who takes his sporting career extremely seriously. He doesn’t drink, he keeps himself in excellent physical condition, and he even gave up playing international T20 cricket so that he could focus on the longer formats of the game.

Clarke was made captain for the final Ashes test in 2011 after Ponting was ruled out through injury, and when Ponting resigned as captain after the 2011 World Cup he was given the role permanently. His style is notably different from Ponting, the man who it seemed had been mentoring him for the job. He’s confident and tactically aware, but not perhaps a dominant leader of men, not yet at least. One distinct characteristic is his willingness to make brave decisions, trying out unusual fields and switching his bowlers around the make sure that the batting side never get the chance to settle.

Clarke has also successfully adapted his own style for test cricket, his performances may have fewer flourishes now, but they are more consistent. His timing and eye for a gap that lesser players would have missed, have helped him grow into one of the worlds greatest batsmen, particularly when facing spin. By 2012 his stars had well and truly aligned, scoring an incredible 4 double centuries in one year, including a magnificent 329 not out against India in Sydney. His performances that year were enough for him to be chosen as Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World for 2012.

Clarke’s problem of course, is that he is the best player in an otherwise average team, and his rise to captaincy coincided closely with the retirement of some of the men who had helped Australia gain such a fearsome reputation. As the current test shows, if Australia are going to rescue this series then Clarke will have to lead from the front. His score of 187 could propel Australia back into this series, but it’s still going to be an uphill battle.

Rumours of a fractious relationship with Shane Watson don’t help, and risk, once again, the off field stories dominating the coverage. If Clarke and his Australian team are to somehow emerge from this series with their heads held high then Clarke will have to score a lot more runs, and somehow find a way to inspire his teammates to raise their game. As a captain it will be his greatest challenge, but for it to work, he’ll have no choice but to see it as an opportunity.

Ashes 2013 : England – (Almost) Half Term Report Card

Despite how tired England’s players may have felt after such a dominant display in the second test, one suspects they might almost have preferred to carry on the initiative and go straight into the third test. Instead, Australia have a brief chance to regroup, lick their wounds and for their batsmen to score some confidence boosting runs in their tour match against Sussex at Hove.

The England players and management will feel rightly proud of the 2-0 lead they hold in this series, but I’m sure they will also be acutely aware that they’ve been playing quite a poor Australian team, and that there are still areas in which they can improve.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to cast my eyes over how the England players have performed so far.

Alistair Cook  6/10
Despite the teams overall success, Cook’s own batting has been forgettable, averaging just over 20 in the first two tests, and never really giving the impression he was settled at the crease.

Joe Root  8/10
Midway through the second test I imagine more than one journalist was drafting a piece about whether it was right to promote the 22 year-old to an openers role, only to hit delete after his incredible score of 180 in the second innings. Root exuded a calm, imperiousness in that innings, but he’ll need to improve his consistency if he’s to put questions about his fragility against the new ball to bed. Has also demonstrated an increasing confidence with the ball in his hand and it will be interesting to see whether he gets more opportunities in future.

Jonathan Trott  6/10
A player that firmly divides opinion, but who came into this series as one of England’s most consistent players. Sadly his performances so far in the Ashes have been hit and miss, putting in decent knocks in the first innings of each match (48 and 58) before going for a duck in each of his second innings performances.

Kevin Pietersen  4/10
After months of speculation about his fitness, and whether England could win the Ashes without him, Pietersen has been little more than a side story so. With the possibility than he may miss the third test due to injury, we have at least been reminded, once again, that one player does not make a team.

Ian Bell  9/10
If there was one player in the England side with an awful lot to prove going into this series, then it was Ian Bell. I’ve always been a fan, but there have been increasingly frequent moments in the last couple of years when I have questioned his place in the side. Two fine centuries have silence the doubters and are the sign of a man at the peak of his powers, let’s hope for more of the same.

Jonny Bairstow  6/10
A fine partnership of 144 with Ian Bell in the second test has been his highlight, but you can’t help feeling that there is more to come from him.

Matt Prior  6/10
Has been his usual consistent self behind the stumps, but disappointing in front of them. If Australia can rally then he’ll need to step up with more valuable middle order runs.

Stuart Broad  7/10
His bowling has been good, without perhaps ever looking truly dangerous, but he has proved a useful foil, ensuring that even when Anderson and Swann aren’t bowling the Australian batsmen have never been able to relax. Has also contributed valuable runs in both matches. The controversy over whether he should have walked or not should simply stand to remind us that first and foremost, the game is about winning.

Tim Bresnan  7/10
Brought in for the second match to replace the disappointing Steven Finn, Bresnan looked much more like his old self, taking 4 wickets and contributing some useful runs in the first innings. I think his all round contribution is deserving of a permanent spot.

James Anderson  8/10
Outstanding in the first test at Trent Bridge, with a pair of 5 wicket hauls, not quite as good at Lords, but still an essential part of the England attack and now deservedly held up as one of the two outstanding fast bowlers of his generation.

Graeme Swann  8/10
Decent in the first test then almost unplayable in the second, taking 9 wickets in the match. Much of the build up to this series has focussed on England’s two truly world-class bowlers and while some of the batsmen have misfired at times, it’s these two that have proved the real match winners.