Go back to Cricket 2005

Written by: Rik

Date posted: August 4, 2013

It doesn’t actually take that long to work out that a cricket game isn’t any good. The signs are there before it’s even released, and in the demo, but you convince yourself that the full game will be different. After a couple of hours, though, that sinking feeling sets in: you’ve wasted your money.

Sometimes you persevere in the hope that things will get better, but just turning the game off and leaving it alone is an option I appear to have favoured more in recent years. From a review perspective I could probably tell you most of what there is to know based on initial impressions, but I guess I should probably do things properly.

So, here’s my proposal: I resolve to play through a full Ashes series, and just see what happens. Based on past experiences of terrible cricket games, the major obstacles to finishing are: getting incredibly bored of bowling, and ragequitting following an inept batting performance. I’ll get around the first by making use of the autoplay feature, although I promise to complete at least two full innings bowling ‘properly’. As for the second, I’ll accept the consequences, however laughable they may be. I have no expectations of success, and anticipate a heavy 1989 or 1993 style thrashing, but would like to have at least one five wicket haul and one century to show for my efforts.

The potential for anyone being interested in this piece is fairly minimal, but it’s my way of sustaining some interest in the game. For a lark, and to further alienate anyone unfamiliar with the real-life game, I’m also going to write match reports in the style of the Wisden Almanack.

So, let’s see how we go:

 

1st Test, Lords: England 128 (Flintoff 40) and 204/3 (Vaughan 82*, Pietersen 80*) beat Australia 137 (Martyn 36*) and 192 (Hayden 85; Flintoff 5-52, Hoggard 4-52) by 7 wickets.

Toss: England, who chose to field.

Only as England romped to victory amid a flurry of second-innings boundaries from Vaughan and Pietersen did a match that was otherwise characterised by tense and often attritional cricket finally explode into life. Quite what prompted the batsmen to suddenly start playing with such uninhibited freedom, it is difficult to say; it was almost as if they had suddenly discovered a way to hit sixes over long on and were able to repeat the stroke with metronomic success.

Ashesdiary1It was quite a contrast from the game’s earlier exchanges, with the first innings attempts from both sides amounting to little more than some poking and prodding, with the odd injudicious stroke thrown in for good measure. Having won the toss and inserted the opposition, England strangled the batsmen with a disciplined line and length; if only they had not strayed so often in overstepping, Australia would surely have been dismissed for under 100. The home side’s seamers appeared largely interchangeable in their approach, but Hoggard’s inswing caused the most problems, and he finished with 5 wickets. Giles was included, despite the green pitch, but contributed little of note with the ball.

England fared little better when they batted; their top order was decimated by the opening bowlers before Thorpe swished across the line at the part-time spin of Katich, surprisingly introduced into the attack ahead of Australia’s two other frontline spinners Warne and MacGill, and was LBW. The selection of an attack with three spin bowlers on a green pitch expected to swing and seam appeared a serious misjudgement; England’s only spinner, Giles, bowled five overs in the match, although when Pietersen was bowled by MacGill to make it 51-5, the decision seemed to have had little ill-effect.

Ashesdiary3Flintoff and Giles staged a recovery of sorts, aided by the lack of turn for the spinners and the large gaps in the onside field, allowing them to pick off singles with the leg glance with relative ease. A comical run-out denied Flintoff his 50, and the tail soon followed, putting up little resistance along the way. When Australia batted again, England seemed determined to repeat their tactics from the first innings, but this time their opponents displayed greater patience. After the early losses of Langer and Ponting, Hayden and Martyn played fluently to add 88. Just as Hayden threatened to take the game away from England, a bizarre sliced drive looped into the air and he was caught at gully.

With Hoggard and Flintoff demonstrating the greatest potency, and showing few signs of tiredness, Vaughan bowled them unchanged throughout the third afternoon, and they responded by sharing 9 of the 10 wickets to fall. Australia collapsed from 141/2 to 192 all out. Based on their first innings showing, a target of over 200 still seemed a big ask for England, especially after Strauss and Trescothick fell to the new ball and Thorpe was bowled by Warne for 10, but Vaughan played confidently to stabilise the innings, and together with Pietersen, who hit an astonishing 12 sixes in his innings of 80 from only 39 balls, the two right-handers took England to victory at a canter.

Rik: That was, to be frank, hard work. If bowling in helpful conditions isn’t much fun, then it’s going to be extremely dull if the sun shines and the pitch is good. I’ve done my stint now; I suspect I’ll use the autoplay feature in future matches. (On the positive side, though, I have my five-wicket haul already.) Batting wasn’t much better – at one point I thought the only run-scoring shot you could play safely was the leg glance, but in the second innings I found some more – although I was slightly alarmed by the ease with which I managed to finish the match. Perhaps some bigger batting totals are on the cards later in the series. Full disclosure: I got drunk when batting in the first innings and forgot to save: I was bowled out for 114, but I don’t think re-loading gave me too much of an advantage.

 

2nd Test, Chester-Le-Street: England 158 (Warne 5-63) and 188 (Trescothick 44) beat Australia 155 (Katich 49, Martyn 46) and 180 (Langer 53; Harmison 4-67) by 11 runs.

Toss: Australia, who chose to field.

England sneaked a narrow victory in a stodgy match that offered little for spectators to enjoy. The home side packed their team with batsmen, although bizarrely Pietersen was not among them, omitted following an administrative error that caused him to be overlooked in favour of Bell. England also left out Anderson and replaced him with Collingwood, further strengthening the batting line up, although in the end the Durham man contributed little. Australia, meanwhile, retained the same side that lost at Lord’s.

Ashesdiary4England struggled with the bat. Trescothick clipped firmly to the leg side, only for the short leg fielder to warp backwards in order to catch the ball in improbable fashion; Vaughan drove to mid on, while Strauss and Thorpe both perished to the leg spin of MacGill. Flintoff and Jones added some middle order runs before the tail capitulated swiftly to Warne.

Australia secured only the narrowest of first-innings leads, despite England seemingly being captained on auto-pilot, and although the frankly strange decision to give Bell a significant amount of bowling was rewarded with an unlikely 3 wicket haul, it seems likely that Australia could have been further restricted had more overs been allocated to the three main fast bowlers at England’s disposal.

When England batted again, their approach was characterised by a determination to play longer, more considered innings than they had managed so far in the series. Despite the early loss of Strauss, the other top order players all battled hard, but ultimately none was able to play a significant innings. Trescothick seemed determined to sweep, but it ultimately proved his undoing, while Vaughan was dismissed by a preposterous delivery from McGrath that rolled along the ground.

ashesdiary8Three of the top seven succumbed to run-outs (although at least two of these seemed a little marginal, despite the involvement of the third umpire) and the tail offered little, meaning that despite a promising start England were again dismissed for under 200.

A target of 192 proved too much for Australia though, and despite contributions from Ponting, Langer and Martyn, once Harmison had dismissed four of the top six, the tail fell away badly, with Warne and Lee, the most capable of the lower order batsmen, subsiding to the dubious bowling talents of Bell.

Rik: I’ll say it again: Hard. Work. The pitch here (‘Damp’) was even harder to time the ball on than in the last match, and my predictions of posting a decent total were way off the mark. I was trying as hard as I could in that second innings, but as my batsmen built scores, the opposition restricted the easy singles on offer and that led to some fairly desperate shots (and attempts at a run). You might say that sounds realistic, but it’s not realistic to only have three or four shots that it’s actually safe to play. Still, despite that, and some fairly moronic AI captaincy, we’re 2-0 up in the series.

 

3rd Test, Old Trafford: England 217 (Pietersen 67, McGrath 5/87) and 219/4 (Pietersen 100*) beat Australia 191 (Clarke 73) and 239 (Katich 80) by 6 wickets.

Toss: Australia, who chose to bat.

England secured the Ashes with victory here after chasing down a challenging target with ease. For this they were indebted to Pietersen, recalled after his unfathomable omission in the previous Test, who top scored in both innings and secured the first century of the series so far.

Ashesdiary10Australia secured first use of a good-looking wicket, albeit under overcast skies, but could only post yet another sub-200 total. Had it not been for a 123 run partnership between Clarke, who came into the side to bolster the batting in place of MacGill, and Gilchrist, it could have been much worse, and 191 could be viewed a decent score only in the context of an Australian recovery from 51/5. England, who surprisingly retained Collingwood ahead of Bell, fielded only four frontline bowlers, but rarely appeared to be struggling for options in the field.

The English reply began promisingly as Trescothick and Strauss were given good value for their attacking shots by the Old Trafford pitch. Unfortunately the partnership was broken by yet another foolish run-out, before Vaughan drove tamely to cover without scoring. McGrath was the most dangerous of the Australian bowlers; Pietersen seemed most at ease at the crease in making an aggressive 67, but even he was dismissed by the Australian great, who took four of the top six English wickets to fall. With hopes of a substantial total, and lead, fading, it was left to Giles to drag the score over the 200 mark.

Australia seemed to be on course to set England a demanding total, only to be scuppered by another clatter of wickets, this time at the tail end, as 201/4 became 239 all out. A score of 214 was no simple task for a side that had only passed 200 in the series for the first time in this match, however. Once again England’s openers got off to a good start, but neither went on to make a substantial contribution. Strauss looked settled and in sublime touch, but chipped a catch to cover, while Trescothick mindlessly slog-swept Warne to Lee at deep square leg.

Ashesdiary9When Vaughan departed at 75-3, the game was in the balance, but Pietersen and Thorpe doubled the score in confident fashion. Pietersen looked particularly fluent, slapping the part-time spin of Clarke into the stands for successive sixes in the bowler’s first over, but then Clarke had his revenge by having Thorpe caught behind, a deserved reward for a tight spell of bowling.

With Flintoff at the crease, it was touch and go whether Pietersen would secure enough of the bowling to have a chance at a hundred, but the all-rounder played in relatively circumspect fashion while his team-mate went for his shots. With the century secured, Flintoff reverted to type, and secured victory (and with it, the series) with a mighty blow over long on.

Rik: A better pitch seemed like the ideal opportunity to secure a century, but although there was some tangible difference detectable, on the whole batting still didn’t seem all that easy. Fortunately for me the computer doesn’t seem all that clever either, and the series is over as a contest, but it would still be nice to make a total of 300+. Frankly, the whole thing is getting pretty dull now.

 

4th Test, Edgbaston: Australia 395 (Langer 82, Ponting 71, Giles 4-90) and 75-1 beat England 353 (Thorpe 121, Pietersen 65) and 116 by 9 wickets.

Toss: England, who chose to bat.

England’s extraordinary second innings capitulation allowed their opponents a comfortable victory and left the England management wondering whether their decision to schedule a mid-Test victory parade was indeed the correct one.

Ashesdiary13Indeed, once England posted their highest score of the series, and their first of over 300, they appeared to lose interest in the match, first allowing Australia to surpass their total before sleepwalking through a dreary second innings collapse.

None of this seemed on the cards on the first day as England batted with greater purpose than either side had managed previously. Once again, they initially made hard work of things; both openers departed after making a promising start, before Vaughan was caught behind off Warne to leave the home side on 70-3 midway through the morning session.

Pietersen and Thorpe staged the recovery with a partnership of 134 for the fourth wicket. The former had enjoyed the most success of any batsmen in the series thus far, but in fact it was the left-handed Thorpe, whose previous contributions had been typically dogged and determined but without a substantial score to show for his efforts, who displayed greatest fluency, punishing the Australian bowlers, particularly Gillespie, for overpitching, with some accomplished cover-driving.

Pietersen, rarely becalmed for long, unshackled himself by smashing Warne over long-on for six, and played with characteristic aggression thereafter, although it ultimately proved his undoing when he slogged the Australian leg-spinner up in the air and was caught for 65. Flintoff came in and carried on in a similar fashion, although he was fortunate not to be caught at deep square leg before he had scored.

Australia had controlled Thorpe’s scoring by spreading the field and using the part-time spin of Clarke to test his patience. However, when fielders were brought in for Flintoff, he was able to keep the scoreboard moving by picking the gaps and hitting over the top, relieving some pressure from his partner, who ultimately achieved his 100 by hoisting McGrath over midwicket for successive fours.

Ashesdiary14England’s hopes of posting a total of over 400 were hit when Flintoff, caught off Clarke for 33, and Collingwood, run out after two near-misses, both departed in quick succession. That brought Jones to the crease, who was greeted by the sight of Lee, bizarrely unused until this point, marking out his run-up. The England wicket-keeper rarely looked in control, and was forced to wear several painful body-blows, but he managed to contribute a useful 45 in a partnership of 83 with Thorpe, who seemed happy to accumulate at a steady pace.

When both were dismissed, the England tail soon followed, and from there it all started to go wrong. Australia batted well to go past England’s total, dismissed their opponents for a paltry 116 second time around, leaving them with a negligible target to chase down.

Rik: I used autoplay for three out of the four innings here, and I’m mildly miffed that the computer made such a mess of the match for me. I don’t know whether that’s a deliberate thing, to stop you using it instead of actually being good at the game, but the batting collapse in the second innings certainly came as a surprise. I’ve achieved all my goals now, and won the series, so I sort of wish I could stop now.

 

5th Test, The Oval: Australia 394 beat England 85 and 115 by an innings and 194 runs.

Toss: England, who chose to bat.

Surrey members, and the cricketing public in general, were incredulous at this performance, which came after England elected to make eight changes from the side that played in the previous Test.

Ashesdiary17Chairman of selectors Rik was unapologetic: “We’ve won the series already, this is a very dull game, and quite frankly we can’t be bothered with this last match.”

Such an attitude was evident in the team’s performance. A revamped line-up, seemingly chosen at random, could only make 85 after batting first, and, having watched Australia amass their highest score of the series, fared little better in the second innings.

Despite the series victory, there was no presentation ceremony, which was probably for the best given the chorus of boos and catcalls that accompanied the fall of the final England wicket.

Rik: Well, there you go. Turns out, I couldn’t manage five whole matches, and just whacked the whole thing on autoplay. I feel a little bit like I imagine Steve Harmison did after he agreed to write an Ashes diary of the 2006-7 series, which began with him bowling one of the worst opening deliveries of all time, and ended in a 5-0 thrashing. It seems like a good idea at the time, but after a while, you just wish you could stop.