The more I think about it, the more significant Adam Gilchrist's innings seems in yesterday's World Cup victory. The rest of Australia's batsmen struggled against the Sri Lankan bowling - without Gilly's blistering 149 in a shortened match, surely Sri Lanka would've chased down Australia's total. When Gilly notched his hundred, he gestured towards the press box with his hand. I thought he was sticking it to some reporter that wrote a bad article about him (which surprised me considering what a good natured fellow Gilly is). But it turns out he was actually acknowledging the squash ball ball in his glove. That's right, Gilly squeezed a squash ball in his batting glove which apparently helps him maintain a correct grip and improves his technique. The idea comes from his batting coach Bob Meuleman:
"It is to stop his bat turning in his hand. I've worked with him for 10 years and he has an unusual grip in which his hand goes too far around the back of the bat. (The squash ball) is a great big lump in your glove but it means that you can only use your bottom hand in a V. It is hard to get around the back of the bat with it, which means he improves his grip.Well, I can't even play fourth grade so would a squash ball have me batting at World Cup winning levels? Sign me up!
I went to a squash centre before he went off and got him six squash balls that were a bit broken and were not as hard as a new ball. You don't want it to crush right down but be a bit flexible. He had a few hits before he went off for the World Cup. He didn't have the squash ball in and he hit them like he couldn't even play fourth grade. He put it in and he then hit the ball so well."
|Posted by JC on Mon 30 Apr||176 comments|
The only thing worse than sacrificing a night's sleep to watch Australia thrash a depleted Sri Lanka is to lose a night's sleep watching rain interruptions. To add insult to injury, I was forced to listen to country music on ABC radio while waiting for play to commence. Apologies to any country music fans but it truly was excruciating. When the game finally began (at 2.15am Brisbane time!), the match had been reduced to 38 overs per innings.
It was worth the wait. Adam Gilchrist was due a big score and decimated the Sri Lanka bowling. I know what regular cricket-bloggers are thinking - I must have fallen asleep during the rain delay and missed Gilly's innings. I'm happy to say that unlike his equally dominant Perth century, I caught every ball of this innings that somehow managed to shrug off the JC curse. That it happened in a World Cup final made it all the sweeter.
Gilchrist exploded in the 3rd over hitting a 4 and 6 off Vaas, who surprisingly failed to move the ball through the air. Instead, Vaas lost his line and was tonked for 24 off his first 3 overs. In contrast, Malinga hurried the batsmen, conceding 6 off his first 4 overs. I finally got to see Malinga in action and can see why he's become cricket's next superstar. He has raw pace, a quirky yet effective action and an instant guarantee of cult status - funny hair (after all, Guy Sebastion won Australian Idol largely on the back of his fro).
In the 11th over, Fernando dropped a sharp caught and bowled chance off Gilchrist. Gilly repaid the favour with a 4-4-6 off the next 3 balls. Murali was brought in earlier than usual in the 12th over and immediately had Gilchrist floundering. But the runs continued to flow from the other end, hitting two sixes of one Dilshan over. He brought up the century off 72 balls. One of my favourite shots was a lofted mishit that bisected two outfielders so precisely, they were only several metres apart when the ball struck the ground.
But Gilly's luck finally ran out when he skied to mid-wicket, scoring 149 off 104 balls. The rest of Australia's innings was somewhat of an anticlimax. The fact that all the Aussie batsmen bar Gilchrist struggled to middle the ball underscores just how incredible his innings was. Australia's total ended up at 4 for 281 off 38 overs.
Sri Lanka had a good crack at the run chase but rain, some dodgy umpiring, bad light and just too many runs defeated them. Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara put on a vigorous 116 run partnership and were on par with Australia's total. But when Sangakkara pulled Hogg to mid-wicket and Clarke bowled Jayasuriya, the writing was on the wall. Rain interrupted Sri Lanka's innings, just after Jayasuriya's wicket. Bad light caused another interruption before the batsmen came out to bat out the last 4 overs in gloomy darkness finishing at 8 for 215. I'm surprised a stadium hosting a World Cup final didn't have flood lights. According to the boffins operating the Duckworth Lewis calculator, Australia won by 53.694 runs.
The shambles of the second innings was somehow a fitting way to end what has been a shambles of a World Cup. Australia were deserved winners - they dominated not just this match but every game throughout the tournament. It was just a damp squib of a way to finish a World Cup. Of course the ICC can't control the weather but hey, let's blame it on them anyway. Australia have the cup three times running now, winning the last 2 without dropping a game and haven't lost a World Cup match since before my 7 year old daughter was born. And now I'm off to bed...
|Posted by JC on Sun 29 Apr||70 comments|
Graeme Smith had an interesting answer when asked whether South Africa choked in the semi-final:
"We certainly didn't choke. We were just not good enough. We were outplayed, and you have got to give them credit. To me a choke is when you get close to winning and you kotz up [throw up] on yourself. Maybe there were one or two loose shots at the beginning. The top order got out to good bowling."South Africa earned the chokers tag back in 1999 with Allan Donald's infamous brain explosion in the World Cup semi-final. I've included it here, if just for the reason that I still think embedding YouTube movies is cool:
After rewatching this footage, I almost agree with Virtual Gaz's assertion that Donald threw the match - his actions are either suspicious or one of the greatest chokes of all time. But I digress. Smith's answer got me thinking - is it all just a knee jerk reaction? I know I was thinking 'chokers' about 10 overs into their innings. Jonny asked in yesterday's post 'was there any way that South African could have lost this match and not "choked"?' Good question. I suppose if South Africa had set a valiant 300 then Matt Hayden chased it down with a blistering century, we might have conceded... nah, who am I kidding? We still would've called them chokers!
Usually in these types of discussions, the writer whips out an Oxford dictionary and pompously recites a definition. Well, I'm too lazy to go to the bookshelf so instead I'll quote the dictionary.com definition of choke:
"to become too tense or nervous to perform well"That sums up South Africa's batting nicely. After the wickets of Smith and Kallis (which I attribute to poor execution of an aggressive strategy - or maybe they just choked), the middle order collapse was due to anxious, insipid batting. The match was decided at the 10 over mark. The moment of choking doesn't have to be at the death with victory in sight. Steve Harmison choked in an over at Brisbane that set the tone for the rest of the series. England famously lost an unloseable Test match when they choked for one hour at Adelaide. Sometimes it can be an early choke that a team never recovers from.
|Posted by JC on Fri 27 Apr||216 comments|
The World Cup final will be between Australia and Sri Lanka as Australia gave South Africa a hiding, winning by 7 wickets. Graeme Smith won the toss and batted - things went steadily downhill from there in a classic demonstration of World Cup choking.
In the opening overs, Smith and Kallis were both clean bowled, advancing down the pitch. They seemed to have devised a strategy of aggressively walking at the bowler, hoping to unsettle the Australian bowling attack. Instead, the early wickets unsettled the middle-order who found themselves anchored to the crease. AB de Villiers nicked to Gilchrist then Ashwell Prince limply wafted at a wide McGrath delivery a la Flintoff 2006. Mark Boucher fell first ball, edging to first slip leaving McGrath on a hattrick (he missed out with the hattrick ball passing perilously close to Justin Kemp's off stump). South Africa collapsed to 5 for 27.
At this point, Ponting made the curiously defensive decision to delay the second power play. He took out second slip (after which several edges flew through that area). Considering Herschelle Gibbs was erroneously given not out early, South Africa's innings could've gone a lot worse. Kemp and Gibbs built a face saving partnership although Hogg had the wood on Kemp, beating the bat regularly with his googly. It was like watching Warne toying with Daryll Cullinan. Any hopes of a South African comeback were dashed when Gibbs edged Tait to Gilchrist.
At 9 for 145, Tait dropped Kemp at deep mid-on. However, I don't think Herschelle Gibbs will be sledging him about dropping the World Cup with Watson bowling Kemp 5 runs later. South Africa were all out for 149, their lowest ever World Cup total. It's hard to believe only 7 weeks ago, South Africa were ranked #1 in the world. But then, they didn't achieve that ranking in big tournament matches like the World Cup.
The Australian bowlers all contributed around with their 5 bowlers taking wickets. Shaun Tait bowled his career best of 4 for 39, McGrath took 3 for 18. I've been singing Sri Lankan bowlers' praises all tournament but its interesting to note the World Cup wicket tallies: McGrath on top, Tait equal 2nd with Murali and Hogg 4th. McGrath has retired from Test cricket and will retire from ODI cricket after the final on Saturday night. Considering his form at the moment, I wonder if his retirement will apply to Twenty20. The World Championship is only 5 months away!
Australia's run chase began with a hiccup - Gilly bowled for a duck. I'm not sure I can take credit for this one as I was away from the TV at the time (just walking into the room as it happened). Does the JC jinx apply when I'm on the verge of watching Gilly bat? On an aside, Chaminda Vaas must be licking his lips at the prospect of exploiting Gilchrist's vulnerability to the swinging new ball.
There was a few more hiccups along the way. Nel bowled Ponting and nearly burst a vein as he celebrated. Hayden skied Pollock to Smith at long-on. Then Michael Clarke (60 not out) and Andrew Symonds (18 not out) cantered the rest of the way home to notch a 7 wicket victory with 18 overs to spare.
There's only one downside to such a one sided match. Australia have progressed through the entire World Cup without experiencing any real pressure (you can tell I'm a glass-half-empty kind of guy to see that as a negative). Part of that was a deliberate ploy by Sri Lanka, resting their key bowlers (a ploy which could turn out to be a masterstroke). So how will Australia handle a tight contest and more challenging bowling in the most important game of the tournament? Bring on the final!
|Posted by JC on Thu 26 Apr||57 comments|
He's a great batsman in white hot form at the moment but sometimes Matt Hayden just rubs me up the wrong way. In the past, I've taken exception to his arrogance, psychobabble, dog disappointment and God blaming. However, for once I can relate to what he's talking about as he discusses Australia's intense rivalry with South Africa:
"As always when you're around an opposition side when you're playing a big game, there is an unusual tension; a friction, I guess. It's melodramatic in a lot of ways, good versus bad and all those kind of things. But we understand there is a lot riding on this. Two great countries like Australia and South Africa - you could play a game of dominoes, like the locals like to play here, and it would be competitive."The church I go to is Dutch Reformed and is positively infested with South Africans. In particular, there's one guy that never passes up the opportunity to sledge me (and I'm more than happy to reciprocate). I injured my knee a few weeks back and his immediate jibe was how weak Aussies were compared to South Africans. Conversely, when he lamented the matches South Africa had already lost at the World Cup, I reassured him they'd been well compensated for their losses. Tit for tat. Hopefully after tonight's game, I'll be one-up on him.
|Posted by JC on Wed 25 Apr||45 comments|
Turns out Sri Lanka easily accounted for New Zealand in the first World Cup semifinal (not to blow my own horn but I did call it weeks ago). Sri Lanka set a strong target of 5 for 289, led by Jayawardene's 115 not out. Jayasuriya was dismissed cheaply for 1 so it shows Sri Lanka do have the batting depth if he fails.
It was Sri Lanka's bowling where they dominated - as to be expected as they do boast arguably the best ODI bowling lineup in the world. Malinga is in great form, swinging the ball late and stifling New Zealand from the outset. From there Murali wreaked his customary damage in the middle overs, taking 4 for 31. The Black Caps eventually fell for 208, 81 runs shy of the target.
So assuming Australia defeat South Africa tonight (I'll be weeping tears of blood if I stay up all night only to watch them lose a semi-final), Sri Lanka's strategy to rest Murali and Vaas is looking brilliant (if unsportsmanlike). The Aussies may bluster about how we've already seen plenty of Murali and Vaas over the years. But not in these conditions. Can our batsmen adjust to them over the short time of a one day innings? Then there's the slinging Tait-like action of Malinga (or should I say Malinga-like action of Tait). He's hitting form at just the right time and I'm not sure the Aussies have ever faced him. I'm eagerly anticipating seeing how the in-form Hayden and Ponting handle Sri Lanka's three spearheads (knock wood, there's a semi-final to get through first).
|Posted by JC on Wed 25 Apr||76 comments|
Ricky Ponting has boasted South Africa face 'mission impossible' in Wednesday's semi-final:
"We are very confident and we will take a lot of beating in that semi-final. We are demonstrating that we are very dominant. We are batting well with some great partnerships and are right on track at the moment. We're going great."He also took the opportunity to sink the boot into New Zealand following their crushing 215 run defeat:
"I'd rather be in our dressing room than theirs. I'm sure they will be having all sorts of meetings over the next few days to talk about today's game. If they don't think that's going to affect them at all, then how is any psychological edge ever gained in any game? If we don't take something out of today's game, nobody ever can. We've just beaten New Zealand by 215 runs in a World Cup game, so they've got a lot of thinking to do."Australia's other known bully boy, Matt Hayden continues the verbal barrage, claiming South Africa are afraid of Australia:
"Last time we played better than them and you could tell by the looks on their faces they were intimidated by us. I definitely sensed that. It is an edge which came from many years of beating them. It was just body language. You could feel that they could feel it."There's a fine line between confidence and hubris. Australia have left that line far behind. I have vivid memories of a 60 Minutes interview with Ricky Ponting before the 2005 Ashes. The interviewer asked if Ponting was worried he'd be the captain to lose the Ashes. Ponting smirked in a "as if!!" kind of way. They turned up to England as if the urn was already theirs. The rest was history.
Australia are a better side than South Africa and are favourites to win. If they continue the good form they've shown this tournament, they will win. However, their greatest opponent is not South Africa but their own hubris. Let's hope our boys don't lapse into overconfidence after a series of easy victories on the way to the semi-finals (including shadow victories over a depleted Sri Lanka and injury plagued New Zealand).
|Posted by JC on Mon 23 Apr||77 comments|
It's good to see Brett Lee isn't letting his foot injury get him done, taking the opportunity to fly to India, networking with Bollywood producers. Reminds me of Monty Panesar, writing a book and releasing a clothing line while waiting to get selected for the Ashes. The bombshell in the otherwise fluff article is as follows:
Lee said he was writing songs for a new album and was amazed by the popularity of his previous single, You're The One For Me, performed with actress Asha Bhosle, which went to No.1 in India and South Africa.I'm not surprised he's working on a new album (cringing perhaps, but not surprised). I'm also not surprised that it went to No. 1 in India. But South Africa!?! I confess I'm not conversant with South African music - listening to Paul Simon's Graceland is about as close as I get. Brett Lee's Bollywood single is no Graceland.
|Posted by JC on Sun 22 Apr||34 comments|
I had a sense of deja vu when I woke to the news that Shane Bond was out due to a gastro illness (a likely story). On the plus side, I also learned the ANZAC rugby league Test was comfortably won by Australia (30-6). As for the cricket, Australia batted first and burst out of the blocks, painfully aware that the last two times we played New Zealand, they successfully chased down 337 and 347. We went 2 runs better today, reaching 6 for 348. Surely a chase of 349 would stump the Black Caps!
I'm starting to get philosophical about Gilchrist's dismissals. Yes, I do seem to have a jinxing effect (he was dismissed for 1 in the 2nd over). But on the plus side, it does serve to bring Ponting and Hayden, Australia's two form batsmen, together early. The New Zealand bowlers had no answer to Hayden's power or Ponting's timing and Hayden even nearly took out umpire Asad Rauf with a straight drive that smashed his watch (hope it wasn't a Rolex). When Ponting fell for 66 flicking the ball to midwicket, it was unexpected - he's been in such good form this World Cup, it usually takes a runout to dismiss him. Hayden scored 103 off 100 balls leaving me wondering if Granada will adopt him as a citizen similar to St Kitts and Nevis.
The run flow slowed following Ponting's dismissal but Clarke kicked things along again, striking three consecutive boundaries off Gillespie (who had a shocker with the ball going at 11 runs per over). Clarke's dismissal beggared belief. He struck the previous delivery to the midwicket boundary, striking across the line with great bat speed. The shot had me reflecting on how well he was seeing the ball when he shouldered arms on the next ball which struck middle stump. It was the cricket equivalent of falling on your own sword. Maybe he sacrificed himself to give the latter middle order more time in the middle. Or more likely, he caught a glimpse of a bikini clad Lara Bingle behind the bowler's arm.
Australia hit somewhat of a slump towards the end of the innings and looked to set a total in the low 300's, disappointing with the platform laid by Hayden, Ponting and Clarke. However, Shane Watson got things back on track, smashing an impressive 65 off 32 balls. He hit two sixes and two fours off one Gillespie over (the six over cover was sublime). Then he hit two more sixes in the final over including another beauty over cover. Not bad for an overrated pretty boy!
New Zealand's run chase was a huge anticlimax. Fleming began the run chase well, hitting Bracken over the mid-wicket boundary in the first over. But he was unlucky to be given out when Tait struck him on the arm with the ball ballooning out to the slip cordon. McGrath trapped Taylor with his first ball, pulling to mid-wicket. Pigeon now leads the World Cup wicket tally (while Hayden leads the run tally).
From there, the pressure of the run chase led to a steady procession of wickets. It also led to me giving up the ghost. Maybe if the Black Caps had a decent crack at a run chase, I might've fueled up on caffeine and stayed awake. Instead I dozed (and with ABC radio playing on the headphones, I dreamt I sat in on an interview with Malcolm Speed - very weird). New Zealand were all out for 133, a gaping 215 runs short of Australia's total.
It was a dominant win - exorcising the ghosts from the Chappell Hadlee Trophy just as the 5-nil Ashes win wiped away the 2005 Ashes. Next stop, South Africa on Wednesday night. If we take today's form into the semi-final, the Proteas won't know what hit them. If history is any indicator, Australia turn up for the big matches while South Africa tend to choke. Let's hope history repeats. As for New Zealand, they have to pick themselves up and face Sri Lanka in the semi-final. I wonder whether the loss has softened them up or will steel them for an improved performance.
|Posted by JC on Sat 21 Apr||78 comments|
The squads for tonight's ANZAC game (televised not long after Australia play New Zealand in rugby league) are starting to take shape. The good news is all indications are Bond and Vettori will play so I will be missing out on another night's sleep. The bad news is Jacob Oram will miss the game due to a heel injury. I've got a lot of time for Oram - when he hits his straps with the bat, it's spectacular stuff.
On the Australia front, Shane Watson will return from injury. You have to feel for Brad Hodge - in the three matches since Watson was injured, he hasn't batted once. I enjoyed the story where when filling out "occupation" on his customs form, Hodge put down "professional fieldsman". Not that he's bitter! Hodge may still get his chance though. Following news that Watson promises to go full throttle, betting odds of him lasting to the semi-final shot up to 500 to 1.
In what is a dead rubber, you don't imagine there would be much motivation for either side other than finding good form and momentum going into the semi-finals. But NZ coach John Bracewell is talking up the crucial consequences of winning the match:
"One of the reasons for ending up second is we get the preferential treatment in terms of the early (Monday) morning practice."Beware the Kiwis... there's nothing like the promise of an early practice session to put fire in the belly!
|Posted by JC on Fri 20 Apr||34 comments|
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