The Reuters global sports blog
Well, cricket’s Champions Trophy is over and we’ve learned some new things while some age-old truths remain, namely number 1 in my list.
1. Australia are the best one-day side
If ever there was any doubt, the Aussies reaffirmed their power by beating New Zealand in Monday’s final. Their key asset is strength in depth. This time it was Shane Watson who won the game with a century but it could so easily have been someone else with bat or ball. Tim Paine impressed.
New Zealand missed injured captain Daniel Vettori badly while other sides are too reliant on one or two players. Graeme Smith did his utmost for South Africa but the hosts went out early and crowds understandably suffered.
2. A shorter tournament format works better
After the long, long World Cup in the West Indies in 2007, administrators may finally have cottoned on to the fact that cricket fans want short, sharp tournaments. South Africa was a success because of two groups of four, two semis and a final.
Before I was based here in Italy, I reported on quite a lot of cricket including the 2004 Champions Trophy and the 2007 World Cup.
Being out here, where Italian friends often confuse cricket with hockey or golf, means I completely missed the start of this year’s Champions Trophy.
Andrew Flintoff’s decision to forego a contract with England and set himself up as an elite cricket freelancer has provoked a fair amount of grumbling in the media, with words like “mercenary” and “snub” being bandied about all over the place.
But whether you consider Flintoff’s decision ungrateful or not, consider for a moment whether it might not work out to England’s advantage.
It can be a dog’s life being a cricket captain: adored and cherished, chastised and deplored in equal measure. If Ponting was the crown prince of captains after the first test in Cardiff, he became the pauper at Lord’s and is now very much in the shadow of Strauss at the Oval.
The second day of the final and deciding Ashes test could not have gone much better for the England captain, with the home side bundling Australia out for 160 inside 53 overs and closing day two on 58 for 3, a second innings lead of 230 after England were bowled out for 332 earlier in the day.
Heard the one about the English batsmen who just couldn’t resist nibbling at balls way outside off stump? It is an all too common occurrence and is the main reason why England fell short of a good first innings total in the deciding Ashes test.
Of course, flashing away outside the off-stump isn’t just a disease to afflict English batsmen, although the problem does appear to be more acute on these shores than any where else.
In the end the England selectors kept their calm, remaining cut off from the hyperbole that followed Australia’s demolition of the home side at Headingley, and made just the one change for the Oval, with Jonathan Trott chosen to replace Ravi Bopara in England’s fragile middle order.
Personally, I would have been happier to see Kent’s Rob Key getting a recall for his experience and proven grace under pressure, but given Trott was in the squad for the fourth test, it would have smacked of vacillation from the selectors not to stick with him. As it was, Ricky Ponting described Trott’s promotion as an act of desperation.
Andrew Strauss had a bad start to his day when he and his team mates were evacuated from their hotel at 5 o’clock in the morning because of a fire alarm. Unfortunately, that was just the start of a black Friday for the England captain.After days of assessing the fitness of Andrew Flintoff, Strauss and coach Andy Flower finally decided that the inspirational all-rounder could not be risked in a five-day match and it was announced that he was ruled out of the fourth Ashes test.
Strauss took part in a game of soccer on the Headingley outfield and watched in horror as wicketkeeper Matt Prior collapsed with a back spasm before retiring gingerly to the dressing-room for treatment.
Australia have far more limited options than England when they consider changes to their
battle-weary side for the fourth Ashes test starting on Friday at Headingley, with their main hope of fresh impetus resting on the fitness of Brett Lee.
England had the luxury of bringing in fresh blood on Tuesday, calling up fast bowler Ryan Sidebottom and uncapped batsman Jonathan Trott for the first time this series, while again putting Steve Harmison on standby in a 14-man squad.
A stunning day’s Test cricket, wasn’t it? If there was ever any doubt over the status of the longest form of the game then Sunday’s play will have washed away concerns.
You simply don’t get this sort of story told, with its twists and turns, at a Twenty20 match or a 50-over game for that matter. It had everything; wickets, runs, hostility, sledging and a dramatic finale that leaves a positive result to this rain interrupted Test match still possible.
Whatever momentum England had built up over Australia by scraping a draw in Cardiff and then winning convincingly at Lord’s, slowly ebbed away following an insipid display late on a truncated first day’s play of the third Ashes Test in Edgbaston, as Australia rattled along at almost four and a half runs an over to close the day at 126-1.
Ricky Ponting, beset by problems, will have been delighted with his sides response in the face of adversity.