Thursday, December 07, 2006

SPORTIN' LIFE: Martin Johnson on Adelaide

Daily Telegraph, 6.12.06

All sorts of theories have been advanced for the increase in global warming over the past couple of decades, but the boffins agree that it's largely man-made. However, while most have blamed aerosol cans and rain forest destruction, the most obvious suspect is the heat generated from Shane Warne's spinning finger.
Warne sent down the thick end of 90 overs in this match, and in the unlikely event that the Australians celebrated one of the most outlandish victories in Ashes history with nothing stronger than a pot of tea, they could have used Warne's business digit to boil the kettle. It was all the more remarkable for the fact that the same man who sent down an assortment of meat pies in the first innings, turned up for the second with a sackful of hand grenades.
There are two ways to play Warne, and somewhere between their two innings England decided to abandon the Fred Astaire routine which had served them so well for the first two days and switch to the kind of footwork that would have embarrassed a boxful of battery hens.
There's a new Monopoly game here in Australia, based on a cricketing theme, and they might now consider launching something similar for the English market. "Ashes 2005 – Advance (in open-topped bus) To Trafalgar Square". "Ashes 2006 – Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect £200. Go Straight To The Tower of London".
This was supposed to be a pitch so bland that, with Australia in the grip of a nationwide drought, you suspected the groundsman had done away with the watering can and prepared it with embalming fluid. However, the events of the final day in Adelaide were so morale-shredding that the only way you could now describe England as heading in the right direction is that they took off today on a flight to Perth. After this debacle they might as well keep right on going – past Singapore, over Asia, and not stop until they get to Heathrow.
There was every reason to believe from the way England batted in the first innings that the great man was about to finish his career as Shane Worn. It's a miracle he's still going at all at the age of 37, with a lifestyle that rarely sees him stray far from a packet of fags or a takeaway pizza, but not even Warne could have expected England to be so supine yesterday.
There are many ways of asking for trouble, but one of the better ones when Warne is spinning it yards is to just stand there and tug the forelock to him. It also resulted in one or two umpiring decisions going against England. When Jim Laker was taking 19 wickets in an Ashes Test in 1956, his appealing took the form of a series of polite inquiries, but modern cricket is not like that and Warne and Co were allowed to batter the officials into submission with more appeals in an over than Bob Geldof has launched in a lifetime.

Warne also managed to put one over on his nemesis, Kevin Pietersen, defying the laws of geometry to bowl him, from over the wicket, behind his legs, and hitting not leg stump, but off stump. It was almost as gobsmacking as the first ball he ever sent down in Ashes cricket, to Mike Gatting. No one has ever made a cricket ball behave like Warne does, not even Wilson of The Wizard.
It is hard to believe that an Englishman can ever have batted for 11 hours and 54 minutes in a Test match, as Paul Collingwood did here, and finished on the losing side, but Warne's performance effectively turned Australia's second innings into a limited overs run chase. And we all know how good England are at one-day cricket.
We wondered, for a moment, when Australia lost a couple of early wickets, whether England's think-tank had devised a plan of Baldrick-like cunning in its conception. Namely, that their best chance of winning was to bat like wallies, and lure the Australian batsmen into on orgy of adrenalin-charged destruction.
However, it would be hard enough to give credence to this scheme even if they had had a Warne of their own, never mind Ashley Giles. Worthy cricketer though Giles is, if England have brought Monty Panesar out to Australia in order to further his education, then Monty is coming on a treat in terms of future employment. Either as a porter, or a drinks waiter.
There was just one moment when Australia threatened to blink, when a bogged-down Michael Clarke had played out five consecutive dot balls against Andrew Flintoff. At this point Pietersen came up to yell some encouragement into his captain's ear, and when Clarke took three runs off the next ball, Pietersen was still so hyped up that he turned it into a seven with a ridiculous shy at the stumps.
England's last engagement of the day was a Robbie Williams concert in Adelaide, though an evening with the Barmy Army trumpeter perhaps ought to have been substituted by way of punishment. As it is, they leave Australia's City of Churches with barely a prayer in their mission to retain the Ashes.
The next few weeks threaten to be unbearable. As England's innings was in its death throes, Warne stood in the slips and shouted, somewhat curiously, to Glenn McGrath: "Come on, bowl him a ham and pineapple!"
Maybe it was some kind of code involving Warne's favourite topping, but one thing's for sure: England are now in for a long stretch of listening to cocksure Aussies taking the pizza.

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