Tag Archives: Ashes

‘It was the quickest thing I had ever faced’

A chapter of cricketing history will come to a close in December as England play an Ashes Test at the WACA ground in Perth for the final time.

But before cricketing activities relocate to the new stadium across the Swan River, Steve Harmison, who played in two Ashes Tests at the ground, shared his memories of the famous arena with Elephant Sport.

An England cricket team first entered the WACA during the 1970/71 series and five days of play later, they left the West Coast disappointed with a draw. Eight years down the line Bob Willis and John Lever decimated the Australian batting order, England won by an unflattering 166 runs.

But in the 39 years and 10 matches since, England have not won a single Test in this bear-pit of a stadium; in fact, they haven’t come close.

Harmison is a man who’s only too familiar with this graveyard for English success.

He is the proud owner of 63 Test caps, gained between 2002 and 2009, winning two Ashes series in 2005 and 2009, and was once the number one ranked bowler in the world.

But being the best is no hiding place in the cricketing equivalent of Hades.

Blood pouring

“I’ve not got many good memories of that place, to be honest I’ve got a fair few bad ones,” laughed the 39-year-old paceman.

‘He got booed, but that didn’t make me feel any better’

Harmison first visited the western city in Test match colours during the 2002/03 series, where he was met with a rather aggressive introduction.

As expected, the pitch was hard, cracked and nasty. Spectators winced as a Brett Lee delivery spat off the surface and barged through the gap between Alex Tudor’s helmet and grill at 90 mph.

The English tail-ender hit the ground with blood pouring from his face. Lee even rushed over, instantly offering his apologies, such was the severity of the injury.

Tudor retired hurt; next man in was Harmison. “I remember getting bounced by Lee the ball after he put Tudor in hospital,” he said.

“He got booed, but that didn’t make me feel any better. It was the quickest thing I had ever faced.”

Harmison scored five before being bowled by Lee, his wicket handing victory to the Australians by an innings and 48 runs.

Welcome to Perth, Steve.

Greatness

When on form, Harmison’s thundering run up and high action made him one of the most feared bowlers in Test cricket.

Australia’s Glenn McGrath was accurate, Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan moved the ball in ways batsmen could rarely predict, but Harmison was frightening.

He may not have had the raw pace of Lee or Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar but, even on green English wickets, the Durham bowler could send a cherry down quick enough to ruffle any batsman – just ask former Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who Harmison infamously bloodied with a vicious bouncer during the 2005 Ashes series.

But the pitch and outfields are lightning quick in Perth’s batsman-friendly arena. Aggressive bowling can be nullified by equally abrasive batting, a lesson that Harmison and his bowling attack learnt during the 3rd Test of the 2006/07 Ashes.

Battered in Brisbane, abject in Adelaide, England had to make changes out west.

‘He went berserk’

In came the raw duo of Monty Panesar and Sajid Mahmood, the latter intended to attack with the short ball while captain Andrew Flintoff hoped Panesar’s left arm twirlers would be too tempting for the opposition to resist.

But rather than get out, in the third innings when the hosts were setting England a target, Australian wicket keeper Adam Gilchrist tucked in – scoring 102 not out in only 59 balls.

“He went berserk. It was the second fastest Test hundred in the history of the game [at the time], it was just ludicrous”

“When greatness is great there is nothing you can do – and, boy, Gilchrist was great that day”

“Poor Monty, Gilchrist just kept hitting them further and further. I was standing on the boundary, and even at 6ft 6′ I was wasn’t close to getting anywhere near them.

“He was hitting balls out of Perth, not just the WACA.”

Gilchrist’s savagery set the visitors an unlikely 507 for victory. Predictably England fell 206 runs short and with that the urn was gone. Celebrating the epic 2005 series win at Downing Street 18 months earlier suddenly felt like ancient history.

“It was one of those occasions where you walk off devastated, you have just lost the Ashes.

“But after a while when the series is over and your career is finished you think back to special moments, and being on the field when Adam Gilchrist did what he did, I still think, wow.

“When greatness is great there is nothing you can do – and, boy, Gilchrist was great that day.”

Selection

The build up to this winter’s Ashes contest was not without its dramas.

For months, the possibility of Australia not fielding a side at all became increasingly likely following a pay dispute between the players and their board, but those issues seem to be ironed out.

In the England camp, enough have been said about Ben Stokes’ evening escapades.

But, perhaps more worryingly, captain Joe Root took an unsettled squad down under with many positions yet to be filled.

“We don’t want question marks over anybody we have picked, the captain and coaches want to have debates over who to leave out rather than who to pick,” said Harmison.

“England need both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad to play all five Test matches. They have got nearly 900 Test wickets between them, it’s like leaving out one of [Glenn] McGrath or [Shane] Warne, you just don’t do it.

“There might be a lot of bravado and chatter saying Anderson isn’t what he used to be, but he is still as skilful as he has always been. And Broad will always stand up on the big occasion.”

Nightmares

With England already 1-0 down in the series following their loss by 10 wickets in the Brisbane opener, a win – or at least a draw – is imperative in Adelaide in the second Test.

The third contest of the five-match series begins in Perth on the December 14th, and the tourists can ill afford to be chasing victory at the WACA as they bid to retain the urn.

They must hope to exorcise any previous nightmares suffered out west.

And while the gates of the WACA may shut for good following the match, England must ensure that, when they depart the famous ground for the last time, the series is still wide open.

Steve Harmison photo by PaulSh via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Knight primed for England’s latest Ashes battle down under

England skipper Heather Knight has branded her side’s rise to the top of the world rankings as “an even bigger incentive” to do well in this winter’s Ashes series in Australia.

Knight’s side snatched the top spot from the Aussies following their World Cup triumph against India in July, wining a thrilling final in front of a capacity crowd at Lord’s by nine runs.

It meant Australia lost their place at the summit of the women’s game for the first time since October 2015.

But speaking at the launch of a new salad she has helped to create with London-based healthy eating outlet Squirrel, the 26 year-old (pictured above, centre) said that while success down under would consolidate England’s status, the team is chasing far more.

“To get to world No.1 is great but we want to keep pushing forward and keep pushing the women’s game in the right direction as well. It’s moving at such a pace, and to stay at the top we’re going to have to keep working really hard.

“The Ashes is the biggest rivalry in cricket and what you want to be involved in as a player.”

Turnaround

England have experienced a remarkable 18 months since Charlotte Edwards was acrimoniously removed as captain, with the leadership handed to Knight.

But coach Mark Robinson has guided the team through some troubled waters.

‘We’ve got a good core of girls in their mid-20s, which is quite nice looking to the future’
– Heather Knight

“When Robbo [Robinson] came in he told us a quote that sums him up perfectly: ‘My job as a coach is to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged’.

“He’s not afraid to give us a rocket if he thinks we need it, but he’s also there to try to get the best out of us.”

The former Sussex man has done something no England coach has ever achieved by winning a 50-over global tournament, with his style receiving high praise from Knight.

“He’s very much a people person, it’s quite scary how perceptive he is sometimes, but he challenges us when we need it. That balance works very well.

“We’re a very together group with a culture of honesty, we want to be honest with players when things aren’t going well.”

Next generation

England are fortunate to cross the globe with a settled squad, with 12 of the current line-up having tasted success in the previous thwarting of the Baggy Green in the 2013 series, a period which Knight fondly recalls as “one of my finest memories in an England shirt”.

Heather Knight
Skipper Knight has every confidence in her squad

“We’ve got a good core of girls in their mid-20s, which is quite nice looking to the future, but we’ve got a few senior heads. Katherine Brunt is the oldest [at 32], which she hates!”

But it was 18 year-old Sophie Ecclestone’s inclusion which came as something of a shock. The spinner only left school in the summer, but will challenge Danielle Hazell and Danni Wyatt to be the premier twirler in the squad.

“Sophie is a really great young girl, really enthusiastic but she often talks very fast and can be quite hard to understand! But she has spent a lot of time around the group and knows the girls very well, she is not shy, that’s for sure.”

“Sophie played in a lot of our warm-up games leading up to the World Cup and has deserved her selection thoroughly. I’m really excited to see what she can do.”

Heather Knight was speaking at the launch of the ‘Green Knight’ salad, part of the ‘Best In Field’ series of dishes from Squirrel. Images courtesy of KK Communications. You can follow Heather on Twitter 

Heather Knight

‘Let’s not make World Cup win a one off’

Accusations of under-performing in big tournaments are now a distant memory for Heather Knight and her England team after they defeated India at Lord’s in a nail-biting contest to win the Women’s World Cup for the second time in three attempts.

“To do it on home soil at Lord’s in front of 26,000 people, and millions watching all over the world, it’s what dreams are made of,” said Knight.

The 26-year-old is, however, not keen to dwell on that success. “We don’t want to stop here, it’s important to keep pushing, and we want to drive the women’s game forward.”

Women’s cricket has already taken tremendous strides in recent times – in the space of just 10 years, it’s seen a rise of more than 650% in new women’s cricket clubs.

The ECB’s Director of England Women’s Cricket, Claire Connor, is excited for the future, saying: ‘There is a great area of potential, especially with the arrival of the All Stars Cricket programme. The future is bright, that’s for sure.”

So how does it get better than this for the female game?

Spotlight

“Of course, the World Cup win is going to be difficult to top, it was such a great day for women’s sport and you don’t want that to be a one-off,” said Knight at the launch of a new salad she has helped to create with health food company Squirrel.

Heather Knight
Knight is relishing England’s upcoming Ashes challenge

“We recognise these sort of days don’t come around that often, and that’s why it’s vital that we keep the women’s game in the spotlight.”

That spotlight should continue to shine on the England team for some time yet as there is a small matter of an upcoming Ashes series in Australia, which Knight admits won’t be easy.

“It’s a tough place to go as you feel like the whole country is against you.”

“As everybody knows, the Australians love to beat the English, so that’s something you have to deal with, but we’re just concentrating on ourselves.”

Influential Australian captain Meg Lanning will miss the series through injury, but the England skipper believes the void left by her opposite number will be filled.

“Of course, any team in the world would miss Meg, but they have a great batting line-up as we saw in the World Cup, with many able replacements, so we’re expecting a tough battle.”

Determination

The Rochdale born right-hander has proven in her time in charge that she is exactly the person you want to lead you into such a battle.

She handled the fall-out from predecessor Charlotte Edwards losing the captaincy with professionalism and an inner determination to prove people wrong – all characteristics of this current England team.

‘We’ve got a lot of younger players and lots of potential, so we want to keep dominating for as long as possible’ – Heather Knight

So what of the future?

Long-term ambitions in sport often fall foul of fluctuating form and fortune, but Knight has no qualms in discussing hers.

“I want to continue as captain and see how far we can go. We’ve got a lot of younger players and lots of potential, so we want to keep dominating for as long as possible.”

One of those younger players is 18-year-old, Sophie Ecclestone. The Lancastrian missed last winter’s tour of Sri Lanka due to school commitments, but Knight believes she’s a star in the making.

“Sophie has a great future ahead of her with plenty of potential, and we’re looking forward to having her in Australia.”

England have recently overtaken Australia as the world’s number one-ranked women’s side, which will add some extra spice heading into that first ODI at Brisbane in late October.

Heather Knight was speaking at the launch of the ‘Green Knight’ salad, part of the ‘Best In Field’ series of dishes from London-based healthy eating outlet Squirrel. Images courtesy of KK Communications. You can follow Heather on Twitter