I have no idea how many readers of melchett mike have the slightest interest in cricket, that most noble and fascinating of all sports, but the events of the past few days have given me little choice but to indulge my frustrations.
This time last week, England were one good Test match away from winning back the Ashes from Australia, and holding the little urn (left) for only the second time in twenty years. A victory in the 4th Test at Headingley, the venue most suited to “English-style” bowlers, would have put England two-nil up in the series with only one Test to play.
But, in spite of having lost their best batsman Kevin Pietersen to injury, and with talismanic all-rounder Andrew Flintoff a serious doubt, England’s spineless selectors infuriatingly stuck with the same underperforming batsmen. In fact, England were only one-nil up in the series because the Aussies had fallen way below their usual high standards. But, with the Ashes there for the taking, the English selectors bottled it.
And, surprise surprise, England were bowled out for a pitiful 102 in their first innings and, this afternoon, for 263 in their second. Australia, who scored 445 in the only innings they required, won by an innings and 80 runs. So, the series is tied at one-all, and it is now all down to the 5th and final Test at the Oval on Thursday week. As the holders, the Aussies only require a draw to retain the Ashes.
Current openers Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook are probably the best England have. Following them, however, comes Ravi Bopara (right), who has now scored a measly 105 runs in the first four Tests. Quite frankly, he looks like he couldn’t play with himself. Ian Bell, at number four, appears terrified every time he walks down the pavilion steps, while Paul Collingwood, although a tough competitor, is not quite a Test number five. In their combined six visits to the crease during this 4th Test, the gormless trio amassed the grand total of 16 (yes, that’s sixteen) runs. With wicketkeeper Matt Prior – who has batted commendably above himself – having to come in as high as six, it completes a most depressing picture for England cricket fans.
Even if this isn’t England’s worst-ever top order, I certainly can’t recall a poorer one. Perhaps I have unreasonable expectations, having grown up spoilt with the riches of English batting talent: Geoffrey Boycott, Graham Gooch, David Gower, Mike Gatting, Allan Lamb and Ian Botham (even though they rarely all “fired” together). And, in reserve, you had my all-time hero, the mercurial Derek Randall (above left), Graeme Fowler, Chris Broad, Tim Robinson, . . .
Geoff Miller, England’s insipid head of selectors, is as totally uninspiring in the role as he was in that of spinning all-rounder (in 34 Tests between 1976 and 1984). The central contracts system, too, has a lot to answer for, encouraging perseverance with continual failures, such as Bopara and (to a lesser extent) Bell, rather than giving a chance to in-form county players. Okay, everyone knows I am a Kent fan, but the gutsy Rob Key (above right) – who had scored 123, 270 not out, 25 and 110 not out in his four previous visits to the crease (and with a respectable average of 31 in 15 Tests) – should have been given the nod for this 4th Test.
Anyhow, it is no use looking back. But, if England are to have any chance of regaining the Ashes, Key or 39-year old Mark Ramprakash – averaging over 90 in this year’s County Championship, and who would be playing on his home ground – must be selected for the Oval (I would play them both).
I am praying for a miracle, because, with the Aussies’ tails now up, a minor one at least is what it is gonna take.