Monthly Archives: December 2018

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England deems practice too hard

Its batting has been streets behind Australia’s and it has been terrorised by Mitchell Johnson this summer, but England has snubbed an opportunity to iron out its problems ahead of Friday’s fifth Test.

While Australian captain Michael Clarke and most of his top six had a hit-out in the SCG nets on Wednesday, their opponents’ pre-match practice was restricted to a fielding session on the ground.

Down 4-0 in the Ashes series, and having been blown away by Australia again in Melbourne due to another poor batting performance, England has not picked up a bat since. ”I don’t think they’re in a great place to be perfectly honest,” said Australian vice-captain Brad Haddin.

”I think you can probably tell a bit of that in their fielding the other day. I think that’s the first thing to go when you’re struggling a bit. All the team stuff, all the one-percenters, they’re the first things to go.

”The batting and bowling is an individual thing, but I think the team stuff looked like it was breaking a bit the other day.”

England’s fielding reached a new low with captain Alastair Cook as guilty as anyone. He dropped a at first slip on the fourth and final day of the Boxing Day Test on the weekend. It followed another chance that Cook dropped after wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow failed to move.

Yet it is England’s failures with the bat that have been most damaging, clearing the way for Australia to dramatically turn around a

10-month period in which it had not won a Test. Only twice in eight innings has England managed to pass 300 in total and Australia boasts the top five run-scorers in the series, with Kevin Pietersen scraping into sixth place with 285 runs at an average of 35.62.

Australia’s eight hundreds for this Ashes campaign are matched by only one from England – an admirable maiden century by all-rounder Ben Stokes in Perth.

And the tourists’ shortcomings have not only been in the ranks of their specialist batsmen. While Australia’s lower order has produced important partnerships and got it out of trouble on several occasions, there has been little or no resistance to the onslaught led by Johnson on the England tail.

It lost 5-6 to be rolled for 179 in its second innings at the MCG, squandering its best chance of a win in this series.

But Haddin was reluctant to criticise Cook and the England leadership on Wednesday. ”It’s not my place to judge how Alastair runs his team. We have to make sure our own backyard is in order,” he said. ”I’m not concerned about moves he makes … it’s hard enough making sure we’re up for every game.”

Asked why England did not bat, its emerging leg-spinner Scott Borthwick said: ”No reason whatsoever. We just had a nice run around, a bit of catching and worked on our skills.”

The 23-year-from Durham was a mid-tour addition to the squad after the shock retirement of Graeme Swann before the fourth Test and is tipped to make his debut in Sydney. He disputed the perception that England is in disarray.

”The lads are sticking together,” Borthwick said. ”Like I say, we had a great fielding session and our energy was fantastic. We were running around taking great catches and everyone was patting each other on the back. The spirit is brilliant. We’re trying our best to get a good win in Sydney.”

As for Australia, Ryan Harris (knee) and Shane Watson (groin) did not train on Wednesday – Harris and fellow fast bowlers Johnson and Peter Siddle had a pool session instead – but there was optimism that they would be fit for Friday. If they are cleared, the other possible change to the XI is a recall for all-rounder James Faulkner in place of George Bailey.

”We would love to have the same group go out that we did at the start of the tour and if they are right to go, they deserve to come out in this fifth Test,” Haddin said.

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Federer a coup for Brisbane

Before Roger Federer hit his first match ball on Pat Rafter Arena this week, he had cuddled koalas, posed at scenic Kangaroo Point, joined Rod Laver as the special guest at an intimate $1000-a-plate dinner, met a starstruck Sally Pearson and her fellow Olympic gold medallists Libby Trickett and Natalie Cook, and pretty much charmed everyone in sight.

The Federer Show. Brisbane’s debut episode.

”The hurdler in particular, I think she was very excited meeting me,” said the 17-time grand slam champion in that way that can sound so arrogant but is usually just, well, actually how it is.

And Pearson, certainly, has been in good company. However much it cost to help lure Federer to Brisbane for the first time since he was a 14-year-old on a family holiday, it was money well spent.

”Roger transcends tennis. He’s a global brand and he’s the most popular player of all time,” says Brisbane tournament director Cameron Pearson.

”The anecdotal evidence that we’ve seen, and the feedback that we’ve been given, is that so many people that haven’t been interested in the sport are now interested in the sport and are coming to the event and want to pick up racquets. It’s quite incredible really.”

After a first-round bye, the top-seeded world No.6 played his opening singles match against Finn Jarkko Nieminen on Wednesday night, but the value-adding doubles idea was his own, and Wimbledon marathon man Nicolas Mahut the lucky invitee after a quick ringaround on arrival.

The fact that the pair beat top seeds Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in Tuesday’s opening round was a bonus, and not just for a veteran thirsty for early-season matchplay. ”He [Federer] said, ‘Do you mind if I play doubles’? I was, ‘You can do anything you want’. Do I mind?” laughs Pearson (not the hurdler).

”He just wants to play a lot of matches here in Australia and the weather has been very kind to us, so he’s getting out and getting acclimatised.

”The reality is he needs to play matches, he needs to play somewhere, and he wanted to play somewhere new and maybe somewhere that’s a little bit warmer [than the Middle East in January], and I guess Brisbane provides that for him.”

All of which represents the culmination of a determined recruiting drive that began in March 2011, and ended when the man who has spent more weeks at No.1 than any other landed safely – and, apparently, looking and acting as if he had disembarked from a five-minute limo ride rather than a long-haul flight from Dubai – on Saturday with pregnant wife Mirka and twins Charlene and Myla among a relatively modest entourage.

Federer, 32, had played in every Australian tournament besides this one during his career, and Pearson’s persistent negotiations with Federer’s long-time agent, Tony Godsick, finally paid off in June. It is a complex, expensive deal that is speculated to be worth close to the million dollars that the Swiss has reportedly been paid to play in Doha in past seasons.

No one is talking numbers, though, preferring to make this all about the legend who came to town, showed all the grace, warmth and class expected of the sport’s greatest ambassador, stroked a few co-operative marsupials, sold a lot of tickets, and is now into the business of hitting as many balls as he can manage before the year’s first grand slam starts on Monday week in Melbourne.

”Roger hasn’t played much in Australia outside of Melbourne in the last 10 years, so this is very rare,” says Pearson, quietly hoping that the first visit is not the last.

”So many people have said to me, ‘we want to see Roger Federer play before we see the back of him’, I guess. Hopefully that’s not for a few years and this is one of those opportunities.”

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Panesar calf strain opens door for Borthwick

England spinner Monty Panesar has strained his calf at training, strengthening the claim of Scott Borthwick to make his Test debut at the SCG.

Panesar will be assessed on Thursday, but it is believed England is set to call up 23-year-old Durham leg-spinner Borthwick as it looks to avoid a 5-0 whitewash.

It is not the first time England has looked to blood a young slow bowler in a dead-rubber Ashes Test, after Simon Kerrigan made his debut in the fifth Test at the Oval in August. The match ended in a draw but Kerrigan was slaughtered by the Australian batsmen – going for 53 runs from his only 48 balls in Test cricket.

Kerrigan hasn’t been seen since, with Borthwick instead called into the England squad following the retirement of Graeme Swann before the Melbourne Test.

Borthwick had a stint with Sydney first-grade side Northern Districts and was about to fly home when the call came.

Australian vice-captain Brad Haddin played alongside him for Northern Districts earlier in the summer and said Borthwick could expect a stern test.

”No doubt [we’ll get after him],” he said. ”It’d be an exciting time for him, but interesting to see how we approach him.”

Australia belted Swann in the first three Tests and Panesar was largely ignored in the Melbourne match – with captain Alastair Cook opting to bowl part-timer Joe Root ahead of him during Australia’s second innings.

But Borthwick said he welcomed the challenge.

”I’ll try and spin the ball and give it my best shot,” said Borthwick, who regards Shane Warne as his inspiration.

Borthwick is a born-and-bred Englishman, but that hasn’t stopped one Sydney family from claiming the budding leg-spinner as an ”honorary Australian”.

It might be a stretch for Australia to lay any dibs on the 23-year-old with the thick Geordie accent, but the local system can at least claim some credit for his rise.

As recently as the weekend before Christmas, Borthwick was plying his trade with Northern Districts in Sydney’s grade competition, before Swann’s shock retirement left the spinner on the verge of making his Test debut.

Borthwick is no stranger to Australia, having played a season in Adelaide’s grade scene and also spent time at the city’s Darren Lehmann Cricket Academy, where he received tutelage from Warne and Stuart MacGill.

Add that to the six first-grade games he has played with Northern Districts and that is enough for the club president to label him one of ours. ”I’d call him an honorary Australian and a decent Pom too,” Mike Langford said.

No matter how thorough Australia’s dossier is on Borthwick, few here would know him better than Langford, whose family has played host to him during his Sydney stint.

Borthwick was at the club’s Christmas party and due to fly home to prepare for the England Lions tour of Sri Lanka when he received a phone call from coach Andy Flower telling him to scrap those plans – he was needed with the senior squad rather than England’s development team.

Borthwick’s numbers with Northern Districts – 11 wickets at an average of 35 with the ball and 219 runs, including a century, at 31 with the bat – are respectable, but the Test arena is a massive leap.

”The standard in Sydney is very good, it’s very competitive,” Borthwick said. ”You come across some good players, especially when the state players are playing. I got what I needed to get out of it.”

Borthwick considers himself more a spinner than a batsman but with a first-class average of 31 in both disciplines he is clearly no slouch in either.

As a leggie on debut, he expects the Australian batsmen to attack him but is backing himself to spin the ball past them.

”When batters do come at you it gives you the chance to get some wickets,” he said.

”Being around the squad and on an Ashes tour really excites me and I’m thrilled to be here.”

With aap

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Queensland paceman Ben Cutting hopes to overcome bowling woes

Ben Cutting is vowing to spend his new year punishing himself in the nets in a desperate bid to recover from a horror bowling stint.

The 26-year-old’s fast-bowling prowess, especially in limited-overs matches, earned him a one-day debut for Australia last summer. But his start to the Big Bash League has been poor.

Of the 26 matches Cutting has played in the BBL, initially for Queensland and now for Brisbane Heat, his two most expensive spells have come in recent days.

On Saturday night against Hobart Hurricanes at the Gabba, the tall right-armer finished with 1-39, after Ben Hilfenhaus hit him for 10 runs off the first two balls of his last over to give the Hurricanes a dramatic win, having overhauled the Heat’s 3-209.

On Monday night, against the Melbourne Renegades at Etihad Stadium, the Heat again conceded 210 runs, with Cutting blasted for 0-51 from 3.3 overs.

While Cutting gave Brisbane’s chase some respectability by blasting five sixes in his innings of 40 from 19 balls, he was more disconsolate about his bowling than proud of his batting.

”We’ve given away 420 runs in 40 overs,” he said after the Heat’s 57-run loss. ”We haven’t bowled well. Our plans have been good, it’s just our execution [that has not been].”

Cutting said he felt for fellow seamer Alister McDermott, whose excellent night was ruined when he bowled two high full-tosses in the 19th over that were both whacked for six – and was subsequently taken out of the attack.

”That’s the nature of the beast in Twenty20,” he said. ”Sometimes it’s a bit of a runaway train with the ball … like it was a couple of nights ago at the Gabba as well.”

Since the start of last season, Cutting’s batting has improved dramatically, to the point where he scored a maiden Sheffield Shield century.

Across all three formats during that time he has struck 53 sixes, including 15 in Twenty20. In Brisbane’s three BBL matches this season he has already broken four bats.

The right-hander’s most impressive record is in the Ryobi Cup, in which he is averaging 49.6 and has a strike-rate of 158. In October, he blasted an unbeaten 98 from 48 balls against Victoria at North Sydney.

”I try to think of my batting from a bowling perspective,” Cutting said. ”I think, ‘What would I be bowling to me at this point of the game?’ and relate that to the field they’ve set and hedge my bets on where they’re going to bowl from there.

”I certainly enjoy batting more than bowling at the moment.”

While Cutting and his fellow one-day international debutant from last summer, Kane Richardson, are specialist seamers who bat well enough to go in at No.8, the Queenslander is not ”holding his breath” about earning another call-up to the national side.

”I’d like to think so, but the pecking order’s quite long at the moment,” he said.

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Ashes: Mitchell Johnson doesn’t plan to change a thing in 2014

Mitchell Johnson doesn’t deal in New Year’s resolutions. And when you’ve been travelling as well as the reborn Australian fast bowler over the past few months, why bother changing a thing?

Even as a new year has arrived, Johnson is still coming to terms with what he accomplished at the tail end of the last.

”I haven’t stepped back and had a look at it yet,” said Johnson, who has 31 wickets for the Ashes series with Friday’s fifth Test in Sydney to come. ”That’s something that when I’ve retired or finished this series, I can have a look at and be really proud of.

”I’m proud of it at the moment, but I don’t think it’s really sunk in. Even winning the Test in Perth I don’t think it’d really sunk in yet that we’d won the Ashes. That’s why I think we want to win 5-0 – we’ve got that hunger there. We want to go on with it so that desire is still there and it’s something we’ll look back in years to come and be really proud of and hopefully be one of the greatest teams to have played in the modern era.”

That final statement sums up what an astonishing turnaround Johnson and Australia have engineered this summer. He was in India nine months ago when the Australians were dubbed the worst team to tour there, and wasn’t even part of the squad that was then beaten 3-0 in England.

Number one in the world, a place in the history books – Michael Clarke’s Australians had kept their lofty ambitions in check for much of the series. But now that England is thoroughly buried and they have their own mojo back, they want to make sure it doesn’t go the way of Johnson’s ‘mo’, which will finally get the razor treatment after Sydney.

Just how realistic their goals are will be determined next month when they meet the world’s best side, South Africa, on the Proteas’ turf. It was in Johannesburg more than two years ago that Australia last won a Test away from home against one of the major powers of world cricket – South Africa, England or India – and their record on the road in 2013 showcased just how challenging they have found it to excel in foreign territory.

With a new lease of life, Johnson, 32, can hardly be blamed for feeling as if he can conquer the world.

”It’s just staying as fresh as possible mentally and physically. We’ve got a little bit more time off this year,” he said. ”So it’s just having those times when I’m able to get back home and do the right things back home.

”One of the big things for me has been to be able to keep my gym work up, keep that strength going, just keep being around positive people and keep enjoying my cricket. Which is what I have been doing over this past year. It’s pretty simple really.”

That is exactly what Clarke has endeavoured to do in his management of Johnson against England, with spectacular results.

Reaching speeds of 155.8km/h in the Boxing Day Test and having used the short ball for devastating effect since the series began Johnson’s hold over the opposition can be traced back to a basic tactical instruction from Clarke: bowl fast.

”My role has been very clear,” Johnson said.

”In the past I’ve felt I’ve had to play different roles and sometimes that still happens where you have to back off a little bit and maybe tighten it up a little bit. In general my role has been to go out there, bowl fast, be aggressive, bowl in short spells. I’m very comfortable with that.” An SCG wicket with a healthy tinge of green awaits him on Friday and against a hungry quick with an eye on a whitewash that could be more bad news for England. ”There was a lot of talk about 5-0 the other way,” Johnson said. ”I’ve been involved in a lot of losses against England [so] we really want to make it 5-0.”

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