Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Rafa lafa

Monday, November 24, 2008

Straya on the ropes(?)

Before the 2006-07 Ashes series down under - The Ashes II, for cricket fans who think things all began with Fred Flintoff - Gideon Haigh wrote:
Not so long ago, the Ashes looked a spent force as a cricket attraction, a monocultural, irrepublican irrelevance amid our modern sporting cosmopolitanism. Then, with a single delivery, the one grazing Michael Kasprowicz's glove en route to Geraint Jones at Edgebaston last year, the world turned topsy-turvy: the sacred soot was up for grabs, and finally changed hands after an Ashes series to die for.
Haigh went on to predict the 5-0 whitewash that ultimately ensued, as Australia firmly shut the lid on the can of whup-ass opened by Michael Vaughan's team in 2005. But, were one to engage in such a 'long-range forecast' now, looking ahead to next summer's baggy-green tour of England, what odds would be given for another truly 'sooty' contest?

Looking at England's patchy form, and even given KP's ascent to the captaincy, they would possibly be long. But then, whilst England circa 2008 couldn't buckle on the pads of the 2004-5 vintage, Australia's progress has been far from serene itself in the past twelve months or so. From Monkeygate to Punter's over-rate ordeal, the Aussies have slip-slided from a record-equalling 16 Test victories in a row (20 from 21, including the ICC super Test, post Ashes) to three wins in the last ten, including three defeats. The last time Australia lost three times in the space of ten Tests was 2000-01, which included two defeats in India during VVS Laxman's series mirabilis, and the traditional dead-rubber Ashes turn-around the following summer; but, interestingly, it also was immediately preceded by that initial bar-raising 16 Test run.

These things happen, eh? Throw another Pom on the barbie... But, as Australia struggled to victory over New Zealand at the weekend, the extent of their diminished stock became a little clearer. The two best performers in a brittle Aussie batting display were Michael Clarke and Simon Katich. Clarke will likely be his side's middle-order cynosure next summer, and has added maturity to his undoubted technique - yet he only averaged 37.22 during the 2005 Ashes. Katich, whose 131* effectively stuffed a Kiwi side that, as England gleefully discovered during their own summer, offer generous slip practice, seems established in Justin Langer's boots - but his average against England is a frankly un-Australian 26.30. Without Langer, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, Straya's record reads: P14, W7, D4, L3. Less Wallabies, this side are closer to Wallabeens.

Whether England and their man-o-war captain Pietersen can make capital from Australia's devalued line-up is the [insert sufficiently inflationary figure] dollar question, but it seems nailed on that the 2009 series will once again be far removed from the "monocultural, irrepublican irrelevance" that was the mark of Australia's 16-year dominance. Our antipodean cousins have consistently set the mark for others to strive for; however, this time it looks like they might finally be brought down to our level.

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