Time Passing

Talking of the phoney war, it was great to listen to Michael Vaughan, Gladstone Small and Allan Lamb reminiscing about past Ashes series on the radio during the week.

The fact that, prior to their triumphant Test series in 1986-87, Mike Gatting's side only had three things wrong with them* has passed into English cricket folklore. So it was great to hear from Small that there were reasons for this. From the sound of it the side spent most of the first few weeks of the tour enjoying themselves, only putting their minds to the main objective of the trip the night before the Brisbane Test, which they went on to win handsomely. The clear implication was that the odd alcoholic drink was consumed.

This time, unlike the last time they were in Australia, England have the opportunity to prepare properly. But I suspect their methods of refreshment might be a little different.

Such is the passing of time and the change of eras.

* According to Martin Johnson, writing in The Independent, England's only faults at the time were that 'they can't bat, they can't bowl and they can't field'.


Of course, in this time of phoney war, the headline focuses on what he said about the possible outcome of the Ashes series, but this interview with Sachin Tendulkar by the outstanding Donald McRae is much more interesting and wide-ranging than it appears at first.

Among many nuggets is the following:

'I'm really focusing now on how I can get to the next level as a batsman. How can I get even more competitive? How can I get even more consistent? How can I get better?'.

As McRae says, he speaks with the aspiration and focus of a young professional, and, such is Tendulkar's famed modesty and lack of artifice, I've got no doubt that the comment faithfully reflects where he stands in his twenty-first year as a Test cricketer and his thirty-eighth on earth.

Of course, as a player ages, everything depends upon his physical faculties, and, good as the signs are, no-one can say how long Tendulkar's body will last. But the desire to go on and on is clearly there.

We haven't seen anywhere near the last of this great batsman.


Let's Get Ready to Rumble

The news that Jimmy Anderson cracked a rib during England's 'boot camp' about a month ago was as depressing as it was belated.

It's about time the sainted Mr. Flower realised that:

A. There's no need for England to imitate what Australia do any more. Australia aren't very good.

B. Cricketers training for cricket by doing other sports they're no good at - football, boxing - tend to get injured. Best just to leave them playing cricket.

C. Players who've been playing and travelling together for months on end don't need to 'bond'. They need to bond with their friends and family instead.

D. If you do insist on cricketers fighting each other, think about matching people according to height and weight. According to a good source (Michael Vaughan) Anderson was boxing Chris Tremlett, who, for all his famed lack of aggression, is a huge bloke.

No wonder someone got hurt.


When the Music Stops

Ricky Thomas Ponting is, in more ways than you can count, a typical Australian Test cricketer. Indeed, he embodies the emotional makeup of virtually any successful professional sportsman. He doesn't do sentiment, or regret, or wistfulness. Such feelings are the privilege of the retired player, who can afford to look back at his career in anger, sorrow or pride with the certain knowledge that it can't blunt the sharpness of the competitive response that's vital for survival at the highest level of the game.

But Ponting wouldn't be human if he didn't reflect a little on the way things have changed for Australia in recent times. This is a man who's played nearly all his career in a team without peer; for much of that time he has been its leader and its best batsman. Now, as the autumn of his own great career draws in, he finds himself in charge of a team which just can't do what it used to. He knows it, his team-mates know it, and now other teams know it too.

Ponting said back in the English summer that he was relishing the different challenges that captaining a lesser side presented. I've no doubt he meant what he said at the time, but that was before they were beaten by Pakistan at Headingley; their two recent defeats, the second ultimately comfortable, to India have nailed the coffin lid shut on the invincible years. The music has stopped, and Ponting is still holding the parcel. The only trouble is that he doesn't know what to do with it.

While the batting is still respectable, it is far, far more vulnerable than it ever used to be, and his attack is too dependent on a spinner he doesn't trust and a quickie so erratic that it would be a shock if he really trusted himself. For all the optimism, promise and doggedness of Watson, George and Hilfenhaus, they're just not good enough to carry an attack, especially in unfamiliar conditions. There are alternatives - Bollinger, Siddle, Lee, Smith - but nobody capable of intimidating opponents with their sheer excellence in the way that was second nature to Warne and McGrath.

For me the outcome of the Ashes series still appears magnificently uncertain. Home advantage will tell, and, as everyone knows, Australians are never beaten. England's batting is a concern, but they will have seen nothing whatever to worry them over the past two weeks.

For every uncertainty, though, there is a certainty. While today's outstanding innings was Cheteshwar Pujara's first fifty for India, it sure as hell won't be his last.


The Art of Cricket

I've always followed the county game closely.

Every season new names come along. They make a few runs or take a few wickets, and you notice them. Sometimes they go on to great things in the game, at others they fade from view and you forget all about them, perhaps occasionally wondering what happened to them when you flick through an old Wisden and their name catches your eye.

So it is with Elliott Wilson.

In 1999, Wilson, an opening batsman, broke into the Worcestershire side, making his maiden century against Middlesex at Worcester as the season's end approached. He followed this with two further tons in 2000, and, if the world wasn't quite at his feet, a career seeing off the new ball in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral beckoned (and that, my friends, strikes me as a pretty great way to earn your living).

Then it all went wrong. Wilson, in Australia to spend the winter playing grade cricket, sustained severe damage to his back as a result of a badly-administered injection. There were serious complications and he never played first-class cricket again.

Elliott Wilson is now an artist, and the gallery on his website reflects the depth and diversity of his talent.


Gould Will Live

Ian Gould is a friendly, avuncular man. I've been watching him around cricket for more than thirty years and he's always been like that. He likes a joke, and, despite the odd recent howler (of which more below), he can umpire bloody well. Players like him, and he's been one of the best recent additions to the ICC Elite Panel.

However, while allowing for his obvious and unquestioned impartiality, he would barely be human if he didn't feel a small hint of reflex pleasure when India flopped over the line yesterday. If they'd lost after he wrongly sent Ishant on his way then he would really have needed his sense of humour to deal with some of the stick that would have come his way.

He, and India, and Ishant, and the glorious Laxman, live to fight another day.

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