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The Star Online: Sports


Ashes to ashes: England inflicts defeat on Aussies

Posted: 07 Jan 2011 04:33 AM PST

SYDNEY (AP) - A series between the third- and fifth-ranked teams wouldn't ordinarily generate much buzz about the victor's potential to become the world's premier test cricket team.

But the Ashes is no ordinary series, and England's dominance over Australia was quite extraordinary.

England wrapped up an innings and 83-run win in the fifth test on Friday morning, completing a 3-1 series victory that contained an unprecedented three innings defeats for Australia.

It sparked celebrations for Andrew Strauss and his team on the field and around it, where the thousands of England's faithful traveling fans known collectively as the Barmy Army went wild at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Fair enough, too. It had been 24 years since England last won a test series in Australia.

Some members of England's Ashes squad weren't born when Mike Gatting's England achieved that in 1986-87. Some weren't even English. But many of them will be cherished household names in England now.

"We have become more dominant and certainly those last two test matches were as good as an England side I've played in has performed," said Strauss, who tips his squad to get even better.

"There are going to be injuries and other guys putting their hands up wanting to be part of the team but the majority of the side should be hitting their peak years in the next couple of years or so. That's encouraging for us."

A generation of England cricketers seemed to think it was impossible to beat the Australians in Australia. Strauss said that, if nothing else, this series had changed that attitude.

"We've proved that it's possible for English teams to win out here," he said.

"We've proved that you don't need a mystery spinner or a guy that bowls at 95 miles an hour to do it. You just need a lot of guys performing really well and consistently."

The 33-year-old Strauss, who was born in South Africa and moved to England as a boy, urged his squad not to take it easy now that the hard work had been done.

After winning the 2005 series at home, ending an Ashes drought that dated back to 1989, the English squad was awarded civic honors for its efforts and partied hard.

But the celebrations were short-lived, with Australia bouncing back to sweep the next series 5-0.

"We've overcome a barrier," he said, "but if we just turn up next time expecting to win we'll get the treatment we have for the last 24 years."

While some critics have dwelled on how inconsistent the Australians were, and how they've tumbled from the top to the middle of the test rankings in the short space of time since they swept the last Ashes series Down Under, credit must go to England.

Michael Clarke, standing in as captain for injured Ricky Ponting for the last test, conceded England had outplayed Australia in every facet of the game.

Australian opener Shane Watson agreed, saying England had the kind of balance required to be the No. 1 team.

Strauss didn't have the happiest tour to Australia four years ago, scoring only one half century in 10 innings after being overlooked as captain.

But he didn't waste the trip. He observed from close quarters how Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and the likes of openers Matt Hayden and Justin Langer - all since retired - operated.

"They were a great cricket side and there's certainly been some lessons learnt from them and hopefully we can go on and emulate what they've achieved," he said.

The England team management modeled their plans along those lines and have since turned it against the Australians, with the result being successive Ashes wins on home and foreign soil.

England's bowlers worked together as a unit to frustrate Australia's batsmen with nagging accuracy and some reverse swing.

The batsmen displayed a discipline that was almost nonexistent in their Australian counterparts.

Opener Alastair Cook amassed 766 runs but left almost as many balls as he played in order to hit the right ones. His three centuries in the series was as many as the Australians scored combined.

The tight bowling, composed batting and almost flawless fielding all contributed to England's lopsided triumph.

It was the first time in 31 years that England had won back-to-back test matches in Australia.

England's 644 in the first innings here was its highest total ever in Australia, and one of the four 500-plus innings it posted in the series. The English batsmen combined to post nine centuries in the series and five of the top seven averaged above 50.

Mike Hussey scored two of the three centuries from Australia and was the only local batsman to average above 50.

Jimmy Anderson took 24 wickets an average of 26 apiece and all the bowlers had economical rates.

That helped contain Australia, which experienced its worst first innings ever at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when it was bundled out for 98 in the Boxing Day test.

"I didn't expect to win three test matches by an innings, there's no doubt about that," Strauss said.

"What happens over the course of a series and certainly we found in 2006-07 is that once one side gets on top and wins emphatically once or twice than it's very hard to come back because their confidence is high and yours is lower.

"The teams sort of drift apart a little bit and that's maybe where we got to in this test match. We were as confident as I've ever seen an England team.

That's a great testament to what happened earlier in the series."

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Calm day for leaders in PGA opener

Posted: 06 Jan 2011 11:11 PM PST

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) - Jonathan Byrd and Carl Pettersson didn't miss a beat in the U.S. PGA Tour opener, both enjoying the views and surprisingly calm conditions in the Tournament of Champions to share the lead at 7-under 66 after Thursday's first round.

However, that wasn't the case for others: two-time defending champion Geoff Ogilvy had to withdraw with 12 stitches in his right finger, making him the first defending champ in 50 years to miss the winners-only event.

Fellow Australian Stuart Appleby was missing his putter. It wasn't in the bag when he showed up Thursday morning, and he sent caddie Scott Sajtinac to a nearby golf shop to get the closest he could find. With the price tag still glued to the shaft, Appleby opened with a 69.

Jim Furyk was missing a playing partner when Ogilvy withdrew, so he brought along Scott Carroll as a marker. The popular head pro at Kapalua got the loudest ovation of anyone on the first tee.

Above all, the Plantation Course was missing its notorious wind, which allowed for a gentle start to the PGA Tour season. "It's quite an adjustment going out there with no wind," Byrd said.

It was Byrd's first tournament since he qualified for the Tournament of Champions by winning in Las Vegas with the best finish of the year, a hole-in-one in a three-man playoff. After making five birdies on the front nine, Byrd holed out another shot.

This was only a wedge from 111 yards that caught the grain perfectly and rolled sideways about 4 feet and into the cup. "From there on, got a little shaky," Byrd said. "I didn't play great for about a three- or four-hole stretch."

Ben Crane was a stroke behind the leaders. He played bogey-free in the calm, overcast conditions with the sun trying to break through the clouds but never quite succeeding.

Furyk, one of only three players to have won at Kapalua still in the field, also got off to a quick start before he stalled and had to settle for a 5-under 68, leaving him tied with Bill Haas and Charley Hoffman.

Joining Appleby in the group at 69 was Anthony Kim, determined to plot his way through each round at each tournament, and doing a pretty good job of it except for the par-3 eighth. He chose a 4-iron, then changed his shot at the top of his swing and pulled it into the high weeds to take a double bogey.

"All of a sudden, I decided to try to make birdie - from 215 yards away," Kim said. "Mental error. I committed to every shot I hit today except for that one." Bubba Watson hit the longest tee shot on the 18th during a long drive competition Wednesday, and his driver again was the key club on the finishing hole Thursday - only this one was a driver off the fairway, setting up a 10-foot eagle putt for a 70.

The conditions were so serene that a dozen players shot in the 60s, and only two players failed to break par. One of them was Rocco Mediate, who made the turn in 41 and shot 79. The other was Justin Rose at 75. Ernie Els, who set the tournament record in 2003 with a 31-under 261, opened with back-to-back bogeys and rallied to get back into the game until a three-putt bogey on the final hole for a 1-under 72.

Pettersson qualified by winning the Canadian Open, but he wasn't satisfied with the way his year ended. Instead of shutting it down when he returned from the HSBC Champions in China, he went to work. Pettersson spent the last two months playing golf just about every day, whether that meant practicing for one hour or five hours, playing with buddies in North Carolina or taking golf trips to Florida.

"Probably worked harder on my game this offseason than I've done any other offseason," he said.

The course can play a little longer without wind. Pettersson usually hits a 6-iron into the 554-yard 17th hole, which is downhill with the trade wind typically helping. He had to hammer a hybrid Thursday, an example of how different Kapalua felt.

"I've been here since Sunday, and every day it has blown a little bit different direction, which messes with you a little bit," Haas said. "But I'm happy. I hope it stays like this all week."

Appleby is going to stick with his new putter. He's not sure what happened to the old one, but his instructions to Sajtinac were simple.

"I told him to get me an Odyssey putter," Appleby said, the brand he normally uses. "If you get me an Odyssey putter, I'll know what to do with it."

So what happens if he finds his old putter after opening with a 69? "That's how you really torment a golfer," Appleby said.

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