Cow Corner

The View From Down Under: Australia’s ‘stranglehold’ on captain Cook

Alastair Cook Melbourne AShes

After Australia took charge of the fourth Test at Melbourne, repeating a theme we've seen throughout this tour, the Australian media were predictably delighted at the prospect of a fourth victory in a row for Michael Clarke's side.

The theme in many of the Australian papers seems to be England's go-slow policy, with the rather unlikely figures of Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell scoring at such a plodding rate that it threatened Cricket Australia's bid for a world-record crowd.

Malcolm Knox wrote in The Age:

More people turned out for a cricket match than ever before; judging by the empty seats after tea, they also set a world record for the most people to leave one early.

Melbourne voted with its feet both ways: a yes for the excitement of the Ashes contest; and a no for what they were served up.

Pity those who left. With the second new ball, as the shadows lengthened, Mitchell Johnson's paralysing late spell rang the match like a bell, waking sleepers and turning the run of play in Australia's favour. England had proven earnest and diligent, but the result was no different.

Read the full story

----

In an unusual move, Malcolm Conn preferred to give the credit to the Australian bowlers, rather than criticise the 'Poms' for their apparent negativity.

Conn wrote in The Sydney Daily Telegraph:

It is cricket's equivalent of the sleeper hold. Unlike a raw fast bowler Ryan Harris doesn't skewer his victims but starves them of oxygen.He slowly tightens his grip, with the victim knowing that the fatal squeeze can come at any time.

In cricket's largest cauldron before a record Boxing Day crowd Harris took hold and refused to let go. Overcoming his chronic knee problem to play an unprecedented eight Tests in a row, including four in this series, he bowled eight overs in the opening session and just two of those 48 deliveries were scored from...

...with Boxing Day figures of 2-32 from 20 overs, Harris pushed further into elite company.

In 20 completed Tests, Dennis Lillee claimed 91 wickets and Jeff Thomson 94, along with Australia's first great fast bowler Fred Spofforth well over a century ago. To be so close to these greats is an extraordinary performance by Harris, given his patched-up body and late start in life as an international fast bowler.

He is now 34, an age when many an Australian paceman had faded or disappeared completely, yet Harris is at the peak of his powers.

Read the full story

----

Meanwhile, a mournful tale is told of Alastair Cook's form in the Herald Sun, as Mark Hayes writes of the 'stranglehold' that the Australian bowlers have over the England captain.

If all things were equal, Victorian Peter Siddle picking up the English captain as the first wicket on a Boxing Day Test would have been cause for riotous celebration. But things are far from equal this summer.

Alastair Cook, the barometer of the crestfallen England unit he leads, is in such bad form that his wicket has become more a matter of time than the motivation for a public holiday that it was on the previous Ashes tour three years ago.

The execution on Thursday took slightly longer than most of the previous times in the first three Tests of his wretched tour that has yielded just 181 runs in seven knocks at 25.8.

It's about as far removed from his dominant 2010/11 tour - when he clubbed 766 runs at an imperious 127.7 - as possible for a player of his talent and who once, at least, was revered for his powers of concentration.

But, a day after his 29th birthday and the candid admission that this Ashes debacle had exposed cracks in his captaincy, Cook was still a matter of "when" not "if" to the Aussie bowlers.

Read the full story

----

Rather than play tit-for-tat, placing blame on or giving credit to one party of another for the soporific play on day one of the Test, Ron Reed in the Melbourne Herald Sun preferred to pay tribute to the arena itself, the ground where the action took place.

A world-record crowd turned out at the MCG, with 91.092 officially announced as the attendance for the Boxing Day Test, and Reed claimed that the score was 'the second-most important' statistic on show.

Cricket Australia and the Melbourne Cricket Club were thrilled the Boxing Day Test pulled the biggest crowd in cricket history - 91,092.

That was 292 more than the 90,800 who watched Australia battle the West Indies on February 11, 1961, during one of the most popular and successful tours ever.

There were another 3000 or so more than the official figure in the ground: MCC chief executive Stephen Gough confirmed that players, team staff, accredited media, police, entertainers - including children - and ground staff were not included in the total count.

Read the full story

----

Kevin Pietersen

As for their opinion on England's players, Roger Vaughan in the West Australian rather floridly wrote:

Kevin Pietersen's week from hell hit its lowest ebb on day one of the Boxing Day Ashes Test when he appeared to swallow a fly.

He'd just been dropped for the second time in his innings.

Over the past few days he's also been called a mug and weathered speculation about how much pride he takes in playing international cricket.

And now one of the world's top batsmen was on his haunches, in obvious distress, with a packed MCG yelling at him to hurry up.

Read the full story

One doubts that, if a person was having a 'week from hell', the swallowing of a fly would probably not be the lowest point of it. But this is Kevin Pietersen, and hyperbole must reign.