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Thursday, August 18, 2005

When a Draw is a Win

3.48am. Tuesday morning. My phone beeps, and I read the SMS inscribed upon it.

“Victory! A draw! My heart now recedes into my chest”
The sender, Dan Reilly, later exclaims how exciting it had been watching Australia fight for a draw after all those thousands of victories he has watched over the years. Oh, the innocence of youth. All it brought back for me was the pain of my youth, watching Australia celebrate draws as victories – and not celebrating very often.
Most people of my generation would especially relate the joy we felt when Mike Whitney, a 'ferret' of a batsman [for those not in the know, the 'ferrets' come after the 'rabbits'], was able to survive the entire final over of a Test match in Melbourne, enabling Australia to draw the match and win a series for the first time in four years. The bowler was Richard Hadlee, and the team was New Zealand. The Kiwi's for goodness sake! We celebrated a DRAW against NEW ZEALAND like we had WON!! The depth of the abyss can never be measured until you have crashed to the very bottom.
So – as much as Rocket enjoyed it, let's hope there aren't too many more of them.

What will it take to win this series? Australia will consider themselves favourites, if only for the fact that they only need to win one of the final two Tests to retain the Ashes, a drawn series being enough for them to do that. They will want to win the series outright to quell any speculation. England will consider themselves favourites, if only for the fact that they do have some sort of momentum, despite being unable to dislodge Australia with 108 overs at their disposal at Old Trafford.

When it comes to making changes to Test sides, Australia have been very reluctant to do so in recent times. They back themselves to perform, even if they have a player or two in the side who is struggling to contribute. This, of course, is fine when the team keeps winning. If the team is not winning, it certainly must make that task more difficult. England, on the other hand, have often chopped and changed their side. On this occasion, they have played the same eleven in each of the three Ashes Tests.

In an effort to win the final two Tests, you would expect both sides could make some minimal changes to their line-up.

England will probably only consider one change, that being selecting another bowler in the place of Matthew Hoggard. Despite picking up two wickets on the final day at Old Trafford, Hoggard still appears largely ineffective, and Vaughan appears reluctant to use him. If England are to retain the balance of their team as it is, with four bowlers plus Flintoff, then surely picking a bowler that the captain feels confident about bowling for more than 6 overs (as occurred in the first innings) would be a benefit. Chris Tremlett is the popular pick as 'next-best'. At this stage, it appears that the England selectors will stick with the eleven they have. To me, that would be folly.

Australia must now be on the verge of replacing ailing strike bowler Jason Gillespie. 3 wickets at 100 is a true indication of the struggle he has faced all winter. He has been given every chance to run back into anything vaguely resembling form, and has failed to find it. Loyalty can only reach so far, and the loyalty to Gillespie realistically expired some time ago. Interestingly, it has probably only been his batting that has kept him in the team this long, and it has been invaluable on two occasions.
The selectors will probably fall back on Michael Kasprowicz, another legacy of loyalty. It would, however, be nice to think that Shaun Tait might get a run. New blood is needed in Australia's bowling ranks. Surely the best place to learn Test match bowling would be with alongside Glenn McGrath.
Loyalty will no doubt keep Australia's top 6 intact, unless injury forces Michael Clarke out for Brad Hodge's debut. However, how much of a difference could Andrew Symonds have made if he was available for Test selection? Batting at six, and offering a genuine fifth bowler option, who can bowl both medium pace and spin, depending on the conditions? We'll probably never know – but, if the selectors were feeling adventurous...
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