Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Two Cents

Thursday night local time (here in Indiana), England’s international cricket team will attempt to do something only two other English teams have done: win a Test match in Perth.

For my American friends who are new to cricket, this is something akin to trying to take out the Boston Celtics in the old Boston Garden. It just doesn’t happen often-at least, for England.

The pressure is so great for England to win because they have already lost two Test matches in this five-match series. If they lose one more, they will lose the Ashes series to Australia after three straight series wins.

You may very well say, “OK, Terry, everyone hates to lose, but surely winning three in a row, and four out of the last five, is something to be proud of? After all, you keep telling us this is like the Superbowl or World Series for these two countries.”

There is some truth to that. England has done marvelously well over the past few years … better than they had for quite some time. But, you see, this is The Ashes. And making it even more of a bog deal right now is the manner in which England has lost the first two Tests of the series. You see, they haven’t even been close.  There are many reasons for this: England’s batsmen have been in poor form for some time, and their problems all came to a head during this series; Australia fast bowler Mitchell Johnson has had a superb series, bowling as well or better than he has in his career; and Australia’s ramped-up intensity as they are determined to get back to beating England again (previous to their recent woes, Australia regularly bossed the Brits and, in fact, the rest of the cricketing world, and they have been desperate to stop the losing slide).

There have been many critics putting in their two cents’ worth about how England can get back into this series and have a chance to tie or win it. There have been various suggestions to drop some batsmen because they are afraid of fast bowling or unable to play it … and yet many of these same batsmen have dealt with bowling at least as fast and as good as Johnson is displaying. English Batsman Ian Bell has had very little trouble with Johnson because he is A) in form and B) playing as he wants to, and not into how the Australians and their media are trying to goad England into playing. Several of England’s batsmen are having technical difficulties because they seem to be trying to play in a way that isn’t best suited for them. It’s almost as if the pressure of having won three Ashes in a row has them on edge, and more susceptible to crumbling.

So my own two cents worth? Here it is, in five simple bullet points.

1-England must play its boring, slow-grinding game. Don’t play shots or get aggressive. Stand there and duck and weave and defend and frustrate the Australian bowlers. So what if they don’t like it? Um….that’s kind of the point. They complain about it so much because it was working.

2-Bring in Tim Bresnan. Bresnan has been there, done that in Australia, and seems to have a talismanic impact on the England dressing room. He gets wickets when England needs them, and holds down the runs when they need that. He can also bat.

3-Bring in Boyd Rankin. He seems to have something that the Australians don’t like. He has done well against them in ODIs, and would do better than either Finn or Tremlett.

4-Think about dropping spinner Graeme Swann and keeping Ben Stokes. Just think about it. Not saying it’s a shoo-in. Stokes’ batting has been better than Swann’s and Swann has been played well by the Australians. Perth probably won’t do him any favors, although maybe the high heat will help. He is also a big help in the dressing room, and can field, so this one is a 50/50 for me. One thing I would advise against: don't prefer Monty Panesar as spinner here. Monty is actually my favorite cricketer for pure enjoyment, but the prgmatist in me sees he would not do any better than Swann should England pick a spinner, and his fielding would be a detriment (just as it was in Adelaide, where he drop a catch that could have really put Australia under pressure to make a lot fewer runs than they did).

5-Remember, England: Don’t listen to the hype. Mitchell Johnson’s success in Adelaide was mostly against the lower order, which was to be expected. Whoever the bowler is, just play your game.

So there you have it. My ideas. Laugh if you like.

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