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Ashes Series Set To Serve Up Great Tests, But Not Greatness

A tense final hour saw England finally show some resolve and grab a draw from the very depths of defeat, but the dramatic conclusion only served to highlight the lack of widespread class in either side…

Bopara and England will have to match Australia's intensity (Photo: Getty)

Bopara and England will have to match Australia's intensity (Photo: Getty)

England escaped defeat by the slimmest of margins on Sunday, as James Anderson and Monty Panesar—England’s No. 10 and 11 respectively—formed an unlikely yet defiant 69-ball final stand to deny an Australian side from a victory that they looked destined to take for much of the final day.
It was a dramatic end to the first Ashes Test of 2009, and the first Test match ever to be held at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens.
Much credit for the “great escape” must go to Paul Collingwood, whose valiant six-hour innings (during which he compiled the slowest England 50 in 14 years) got England to within sight of the finish line.
Ridiculed four years ago by Shane Warne as he collected an MBE despite only contributing 17 runs to England’s Ashes success, Collingwood looks like a man determined to have a big impact on the series this time around.
Absolutely mortified by his dismissal—caught feeling outside off-stump and ending up spooning a catch to gully—that prevented him seeing the job through to its conclusion, the 33-year-old should not be too down-hearted.
Nevertheless, the tense conclusion to the Test should not detract from the simple fact that Australia managed to gain the upper hand on England within three days of the first Test of a five Test series—and this is not even a great Australian side.
“In the end it was close, closer than we would have hoped for and at one point we looked dead,” Collingwood told Sky Sports in the game’s aftermath. “There are some happy people in that dressing room now. Realistically though we know we have to improve for Thursday.”
Nathan Hauritz is an average spinner at best, and while Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson are both threatening bowlers, neither would have challenged Glenn McGrath for strike-bowling supremacy in years gone by.
The fact that such a weak bowling attack, by Australia’s high standards, still managed to out-fox England’s upper and middle order, is not a good sign for the remainder of the series.
England—possessing of their own distinctly average bowling lineup in the form of Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, and Graeme Swann—will hope that a move back to the more familiar Test surroundings of Lord’s will reinvigorate all aspects of their game.
“We’re just thankful that we managed to get away with it,” England captain Andrew Strauss said at the post-match presentation. “We’ve not given away too much momentum, which is important in back-to-back Tests. We are just very, very thankful to get a draw and we can take pride in the fight we showed.”
England’s batsman will look forward to arriving at the home of cricket, bringing with i the likely prospect of a few runs. Only Ravi Bopara should provide real worries for the selectors, and the young No. 3 looks like he only needs one decent knock to give him the confidence to remain competitive throughout the rest of the series.
It is the toothless nature of the bowling attack that might need more than a change of scenery to address.
Steve Harmison—at his best a truly world-class fast bowler—is in the squad for the second Test and might well get another chance to take on the Aussies, against whom he has a bittersweet history, once more.
If he doesn’t make the starting 11 for the next Test, in replacement of one of the spinners (surely, despite his heroics, Panesar), then his Durham teammate Graham Onions surely should.
These are decisions for Andrew Strauss and the England selectors to make, although, as a captain, Strauss does not inspire confidence in the way Michael Vaughan did.
While Vaughan seemed to have the ability—and the courage—to actively make things happen for his side during crucial periods of matches, Strauss seems to be an altogether more reactionary leader, preferring to try and respond to events as they come.
Strauss does not strike you as a natural leader, and you feel after Kevin Pietersen’s antics last year he became captain through a lack of any other options.
In the annals of time, his captaincy will probably not be remembered amongst the greats. Although the ECB might be quivering at the prospect, Pietersen will surely re-assume the captaincy before too long.
With it, perhaps England will develop the sort of hard-nosed intent that characterises Australian teams. At the minute, that seems the major difference between the two sides—Australia are ruthless, intimidating, and abrasive.
England, while comparably talented, seem too nice to get involved in a real dogfight. Perhaps that will develop as the series, and the personal rivalries, progress.
Regardless of future events, England can take heart from the fact they have come through the inevitable early baptism of fire without any tangible damage being done to their series prospects. The junior members of the squad now know what the Ashes are all about, and the senior members have had the opportunity to see what the new faces in the opposition squad are all about.
From what has been seen so far, neither side should be scared of the other.
One the evidence of the first Test, it cannot be denied that the quality of the two teams is far diminished from the 2005 series.
But if the 2009 version continues to serve up dramatic finishes like Sunday’s, then it is doubtful too many casual observers will be that bothered.

England escaped defeat by the slimmest of margins on Sunday, as James Anderson and Monty Panesar — England’s No. 10 and 11 respectively — formed an unlikely yet defiant 69-ball final stand to deny an Australian side from a victory that they looked destined to take for much of the final day.

It was a dramatic end to the first Ashes Test of 2009, and the first Test match ever to be held at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens.

Much credit for the “great escape” must go to Paul Collingwood, whose valiant six-hour innings (during which he compiled the slowest England 50 in 14 years) got England to within sight of the finish line.

Ridiculed four years ago by Shane Warne as he collected an MBE despite only contributing 17 runs to England’s Ashes success, Collingwood looks like a man determined to have a big impact on the series this time around.

Absolutely mortified by his dismissal — caught feeling outside off-stump and ending up spooning a catch to gully — that prevented him seeing the job through to its conclusion, the 33-year-old should not be too down-hearted.

Nevertheless, the tense conclusion to the Test should not detract from the simple fact that Australia managed to gain the upper hand on England within three days of the first Test of a five Test series — and this is not even a great Australian side.

“In the end it was close, closer than we would have hoped for and at one point we looked dead,” Collingwood told Sky Sports in the game’s aftermath. “There are some happy people in that dressing room now. Realistically though we know we have to improve for Thursday.”

Nathan Hauritz is an average spinner at best, and while Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson are both threatening bowlers, neither would have challenged Glenn McGrath for strike-bowling supremacy in years gone by.

The fact that such a weak bowling attack, by Australia’s high standards, still managed to out-fox England’s upper and middle order, is not a good sign for the remainder of the series.

England — possessing of their own distinctly average bowling lineup in the form of Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, and Graeme Swann — will hope that a move back to the more familiar Test surroundings of Lord’s will reinvigorate all aspects of their game.

“We’re just thankful that we managed to get away with it,” England captain Andrew Strauss said at the post-match presentation. “We’ve not given away too much momentum, which is important in back-to-back Tests. We are just very, very thankful to get a draw and we can take pride in the fight we showed.”

England’s batsman will look forward to arriving at the home of cricket, bringing with i the likely prospect of a few runs. Only Ravi Bopara should provide real worries for the selectors, and the young No. 3 looks like he only needs one decent knock to give him the confidence to remain competitive throughout the rest of the series.

It is the toothless nature of the bowling attack that might need more than a change of scenery to address.

Steve Harmison — at his best a truly world-class fast bowler — is in the squad for the second Test and might well get another chance to take on the Aussies, against whom he has a bittersweet history, once more.

If he doesn’t make the starting 11 for the next Test, in replacement of one of the spinners (surely, despite his heroics, Panesar), then his Durham teammate Graham Onions surely should.

These are decisions for Andrew Strauss and the England selectors to make, although, as a captain, Strauss does not inspire confidence in the way Michael Vaughan did.

While Vaughan seemed to have the ability — and the courage — to actively make things happen for his side during crucial periods of matches, Strauss seems to be an altogether more reactionary leader, preferring to try and respond to events as they come.

Strauss does not strike you as a natural leader, and you feel after Kevin Pietersen’s antics last year he became captain through a lack of any other options.

In the annals of time, his captaincy will probably not be remembered amongst the greats. Although the ECB might be quivering at the prospect, Pietersen will surely re-assume the captaincy before too long.

With it, perhaps England will develop the sort of hard-nosed intent that characterises Australian teams. At the minute, that seems the major difference between the two sides.

Australia are ruthless, intimidating, and abrasive.

England, while comparably talented, seem too nice to get involved in a real dogfight. Perhaps that will develop as the series, and the personal rivalries, progress.

Regardless of future events, England can take heart from the fact they have come through the inevitable early baptism of fire without any tangible damage being done to their series prospects. The junior members of the squad now know what the Ashes are all about, and the senior members have had the opportunity to see what the new faces in the opposition squad are all about.

From what has been seen so far, neither side should be scared of the other.

One the evidence of the first Test, it cannot be denied that the quality of the two teams is far diminished from the 2005 series.

But if the 2009 version continues to serve up dramatic finishes like Sunday’s, then it is doubtful too many casual observers will be that bothered.

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July 13, 2009 - Posted by | Sport | ,

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