Monday, December 18, 2006

The Remaining Ashes

The test finally concluded. It was a test by fire, acid and what you have. To re-gain the Ashes, I think, can be more satisfying than winning it for the first time. And that's what captain Ricky Ponting has achieved. Hats off to him and the entire team.

At the same time, I hold the Aussies responsible for making the game of Cricket extremely perfect. It hardly gives me pleasure watching flawless Ponting or Hussey pick up runs. With no mistake all through the day, it is simply boring to watch. The commentators don't have much to chew upon, and the cricket analysts are left without any suggestions for improving a particular shot. No wonder, the results are as expected.

On the other hand, it gives me tremendous joy watching heroic efforts by the English batsmen, especially Bell, Collingwood, Pietersen and of course, their leader Andrew Flintoff. These guys are certainly more human than their Aussie counterparts who never fail to perform. Ashes series of 2005 had one of the most memorable Test cricket performances in the history of the game. Why? For both sides showed far better human traits - making mistakes, learning from them and coming back as a stronger team. Going by the current Aussie form, this 3-0 start to the 5 Test-match series was more or less expected. On the final day of the second test at Adelaide, when the Aussies turned tables within half-a-session on the visitors may be called one of the best (or worst, depending on the side which you are supporting) turn-arounds in the recent times. For some time in the last innings, chasing 160-ish, paltry total, Aussies showed glimpses of their humanity. Until Hussey took the game away, it was still anybody's game. A very exciting finish was on the cards; till the immaculate accuracy (which only a machine may achieve) struck in the form of Hussey, who going by his current form, is certain to scale dizzy heights very soon.

The sports analysts', or even the live commentators', choose not to comment much on their batting performance. They give out little hints about the dropping shoulders (seen sparingly on the second day of second Test and mid-second session in the final day of third Test), and I guess the English provide them with enough material to talk about. This is not to say that the panel is biased towards one side or the other, but to emphasize the lack of chances offered by the Aussies.

The world champions do deserve the Urn after the clinical performances for fifteen days. A big part was played by the batsmen, and vital parts were played by the ever reliable duo of McGrath and Warne. When Australia are batting, it seems so easy that I can't help but think that the Englishmen would relish the conditions and answer with equally good batting performance. But come their chance, and it seems an altogether ball game. McGrath (excepting the first innings performance at Adelaide) and Warne easily tear through the English ranks: be it the opening pair, middle order or the tail, it hardly has posed any threat. It is not that the English batsmen are out of form--- Bell, Collingwood and Pietersen are in excellent touch; and the second innings hard-fought century by Cook also justifies the observation--- yet as a team, they have failed to deliver. The fielding has let them down when they have posted a good score; bowling has let them down when they are expecting to set themselves a comparatively easy total to chase. All games are multi-disciplinary, cricket being no exception. To win a long race, all cylinders must fire to the optimum performance, yes, and at the same time. This has been a rather well-known worry for the coach and captain.

"Boxing day test has huge importance and we are looking forward to it," is something captain Flintoff, the man-of-the-series at last year's Ashes triumph has said. If England want to regain some pride and conclude this very difficult tour on a rather high note, they must imitate Aussies in terms of accuracy and consistency. England may have lost the Ashes (I would not say that Australia won them back - for the obvious mistakes England has committed and which has caused their own downfall), but I am sure they have not lost their heart.

To bounce back from a heap of defeat is also something that can be called human. Aussies regaining the Ashes they lost last year can be a very good example of this (however, in doing this, Aussies have lost the label of humanness and picked up that of in-human!). Pietersen's fighting grit and Cook's patience can be taken as two striking examples. And if they can achieve that, I am sure, they will return home Ashes-less with their heads high.

The Aussie perfection, though exciting at times, has become monotonous, there is no reason why the fans will quit following the remaining two tests in the series. When the English team is on the field, in Test cricket at least, I get a feeling that something exciting is always round the corner. For the first three matches this excitement has proved to be favourable towards Aussies, yet there is no reason why it cannot favour the English side. I am predicting that the series will end 3-1 for the Aussies; and despite having lost the Ashes, England will take home a lot of things, which after all I must say, historically has been their habit.

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