Heads roll when Australia loses a Test. In this case, not just a Test but a series. Not just a series but a home series. The last time we lost a home Test series was over a decade and a half ago. So a single scapegoat seems hardly sufficient...
But you have to start somewhere - let's kick off with Matthew Hayden. Not because he's the main reason for our loss but because I can't see him being part of the solution. His batting is reminiscent of Daryl Cullinan in Shane Warne's crosshairs. There was a desperation to Cullinan's batting - a sense of inevitability as it was only a matter of time before he was dismissed. So he went the tonk and if lucky, smashed a few boundaries before being dismissed.
Similarly, Hayden only has one answer - go hard at the bowling and hope for the best. In the 2nd innings, Smith noticed Hayden persisted in driving on the up so speculated with a short cover. Two balls later, Hayden obliged by bunting the ball straight to the fielder. Smith's strategy was as smart as Hayden's was stupid. Such a cavalier approach might work for a number 7 or 8 but not for an opener.
Normally, the selectors wouldn't drop Hayden mid-series - they've always displayed reluctance to drop players from the Test team (unless you're a spinner in which case you're lucky to get consecutive Tests). But as Sydney is a dead-rubber, this would be an ideal opportunity to blood a new player in preparation for the South African tour. Chris Rogers must be the front-runner replacement although the 20 year old Phillip Hughes would be an interesting long-term option. Considering the calamity of a home series loss, this is no time for conservative selection.
Now I've always been skeptical about Andrew Symonds as a Test player. There's no denying he's immensely talented and hits the ball harder than just about anyone else in the game. He's ideal if your team is 4 for 400 and requires a quick 50 to demoralise the opposition before declaring. However, these days Australia are more likely to be 4 for 40 (particularly with Haydos opening) and in desperate need of a grafting middle-order fightback. Andrew Symonds is not that type of batsman. Horses for courses, as they say.
Australia need to realise the golden age is well and truly over now - the blips are coming too hard and fast to be considered anything but a trend. We can no longer play in the manner we've grown accustomed to. What we need is tough, grafting players in the mold of Allan Border - who prize their wicket with a zealous passion. Having Gilchrist come in and hit a run a ball century (or sometimes a two run a ball century) was great while it lasted. Now we need to rebuild similar to the recovery process in the 80's following the retirements of Lillee, Marsh and Chappell. Let's hope the selectors can make some hard decisions before Sydney.
P.S. - while it's ludicrous selection swapping spinners back and forth like they've done over the last 4 Tests, I confess I would love to see Bryce McGain play in Sydney (but that'd be a legspinner bias).
|Posted by JC on Tue 30 Dec||71 comments|
I realised yesterday why Australia are on the verge of losing a home Test series to South Africa. It's because the Australian batsmen are still batting like they have Warne and McGrath in the bowling attack. In the good ol' days, the batsmen would strut out, smash 350 runs in a day then their champion bowling attack would skittle the opposition, giving the team a few extra days to relax by the hotel pool with the WAGs and kids.
But nowadays our bowlers struggle to take 20 wickets over 5 days, let alone the 3 day Tests we grew accustomed to. And yet our top order batsmen still carry on like its yesterday, thinking they can muscle their way out of trouble with aggressive counterattack. In short, our batsmen's egos are writing cheques our bowlers can't cash.
As well as the decline in our bowling stocks, other sides have improved. India now feature a scruffy haired teenager who has as one of his bunnies Australia's best batsman since Bradman. South Africa have arrived with the #1 bowler in the world, another bloke as tall and quick as Joel Garner and Ntini who is no mug either. Nevertheless, the Australian batsmen are falling to ill-discipline as much as quality bowling.
Australia should lose today. Sure, they could take 10 South African wickets for less than 150 runs. Maybe if they had Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Ray Lindwall and Dennis Lillee in our bowling attack. But when you have a trundling Hauritz, Brett Lee whose wickets always seem to fall on no-balls and the on-again-off-again Siddle and Johnson, well, I won't be holding my breath. Onto Sydney...
|Posted by JC on Tue 30 Dec||69 comments|
I've got a theory on JP Duminy. Consider that in his first two Test matches, he's batting at a Husseyesque average of 108.5 runs. Even more impressive than the statistics is the nature of his innings. Under extreme pressure in Perth, he played a match winning innings to guide South Africa to a historic victory. Similarly on Day 2, South Africa were dead in the water and he scored a maiden Test century in just his 2nd Test. All of South Africa (except perhaps Ashwell Prince) must be delighted at the emergence of this future superstar.
Meanwhile, Mike Hussey is a mere shell of his former self. In the same 2 Tests in which Duminy amassed 217 runs, Hussey has limped to 0, 8 and 0. When a ball was skied in his direction yesterday, he lurched around like a drunken sailor until the ball thudded into the ground metres away.
The most embarrassing moment I've ever had on a cricket field was fielding at cover. The batsman dropped the ball down near the pitch and took off for a quick single. Hoping to effect a run out, I scooted towards the ball, picked it up cleanly and in a single motion underarmed towards the bowler's end, Andrew Symonds style. However, I let go of the ball too late and it ballooned several metres over the top of the stumps. Every fielder on the ground erupted into laughter.
That embarrassment was nothing compared to Hussey's lurching fielding effort yesterday which will now be referred to as Husseyline. Unlike American political scandals that end in "gate", all infamous cricket incidents end in "line" invoking cricket's original dark scandal, Bodyline. Eg - Harmison's 2006 Ashes opening delivery to 2nd slip described as shoddyline. Or last year's Australia vs India drama in Sydney now remembered as Bollyline.
So how did Mr Cricket suddenly morph into Mr Bean? The only explanation I can come up with is Duminy has somehow stolen Mike Hussey's mojo. Can Huss get his mojo back and save the 2nd Test? And can Matthew Hayden save his Test career? Today we'll find out...
|Posted by JC on Mon 29 Dec||81 comments|
I must admit, I was surprised Siddle was selected for the 2nd Test. I expected Shane Watson to get the nod after Siddle's trundling effort in Perth. I was also surprised when Ponting threw him the new ball on Day 2. However, after his first over knocked over McKenzie at speeds up to 150kph, I could see what the Aussie selectors were getting at. His second spell was devastating and put Australia into a dominant position on the 2nd day.
Or I could take a glass half empty approach and wonder if Siddle's withering spell will only enable a South African victory down the track, Mitchell Johnson style. Unlikely though much will depend on whether the Saffer tail wags this morning. It wouldn't surprise me considering the seesawing nature of the Australia-South Africa cricket to date.
Then later today, we find out whether Matt Hayden will continue to have a Test career...
|Posted by JC on Sun 28 Dec||62 comments|
Day 1 delivered another tense day of seesawing cricket where neither team dominated. Most worrying for Australia is the continued form slump of Matt Hayden and Mike Hussey. Of course, Haydos is a form atheist so how can he lose something that doesn't exist? Mr Cricket suffering 3 consecutive failures is unheard of - especially disturbing is the indecisive manner of his dismissal, flicking his bat uncertainly to edge to Boucher. Mr Cricket is a pale shadow of his former self as his Test average plummets to mere mortal status (eg - in the early 60's).
However, a century from Punter was a relief (albeit ending abruptly on 101) and Michael Clarke while scratchy is still at the crease. It's no wonder he gets out in the last over of the day so often. It seems everytime Australia makes it to stumps, Pup is at the crease. You would have to say Australia's only chance of setting a 400+ score is if Pup can get his eye in this morning, bat himself into form and get somewhere near a century.
|Posted by JC on Sat 27 Dec||62 comments|
The Australia vs South Africa series was billed as #1 versus #2 - clash of the world's best. However, South Africa actually fell to #3 in the ICC Test rankings this week. Somehow England was worth more for India than South Africa defeating #1 Australia. I'll leave it to the ICC boffins in their ivory towers to figure out the maths.
As for our marquee Test series, all we have to look forward to is playing a side who just smashed us by 6 wickets in Perth, contain the best fast bowling attack in the world that have crapped all over our much vaunted top order and are threatening to dish out our first home series loss in a million years or so. But they're only #3. Guess you can't have it all.
|Posted by JC on Fri 26 Dec||81 comments|
Ricky always knew he'd get to drive the big machine one day. Everyone told him that he would. At first he just enjoyed riding on it with all of the other lads. Mark was the driver. He kept on adding bits to the machine until no-one could stop it. Then one day Mark put on a shirt and tie instead of his cricket kit and started telling people about how the machine worked, so Steve began driving instead.
Read the rest of this very well put together Christmas Fairytale over at The Old Batsman.
|Posted by Moses on Wed 24 Dec||42 comments|
I chatted with a few guys after our 1st Test loss at the WACA. The phrase "it's good for cricket" was bandied around. I also heard several guys pronounce the loss "set up the series". And there's always the positive of more ticket sales for the Boxing Day Test. That's right, Australians get philosophical after a Test loss. After series losses like the 2005 Ashes, we were so philosophical, we were pontificating like the freaking Dalai Lama!
However, I choose to engage in that other traditional activity after losing a Test. Finding someone to blame. It's surprisingly difficult this time around, as there is so much blame to spread around. The obvious choice is the Australian bowlers. Everyone wondered whether a bowling attack minus Warne and McGrath could take 20 wickets in 5 days. The fact that only 1 wicket fell on Day 5 seems to clearly answer that question.
But then again, even Warnie couldn't knock over South Africa the last time we played at Perth. So perhaps we should blame the WACA curator. Perth used to be an impregnable Australian stronghold. We'd schedule the 1st Test here just to beat the tourists into submission. However, we lost to India here last year and drew to South Africa previously - the only recent victory being against England. And that hardly counts. We need to fly England over again just to get back into our winning ways (and the way we're going lately, even that isn't a guarantee).
Or should we blame the batsmen? On such a batting friendly pitch, you could argue the difference between the two sides was Australia's habit of throwing away our wickets after getting a start. In contrast, the South Africans went on to post centuries in the 2nd innings. They showed Test cricket grit & determination while our boys fell to mental weakness and poor discipline. AB and Steve Waugh would be rolling in their graves!
But no, the reason for our loss can be pinned on one person. Mitchell Johnson. That devastating spell where he took 5 wickets for 2 runs was the big turning point in the game. At that point, South Africa were cruising for a huge 1st innings total - they would've batted for several more sessions. Then Australia would've batted into the 5th day and the game would've peetered out to a dull draw.
So Johnson's spell transformed a potentially dull 5-dayer into a thrilling, seesawing game of Test cricket in which we happened to lose badly. But at least it was good for cricket.
|Posted by JC on Tue 23 Dec||59 comments|
South Africa's remarkable run chase against the Australian's surely proves, as if any proof is needed, that test cricket is alive and well. It was one of the greatest Test matches I've ever seen, even though it lacked a close finish. And now Australia is number three in the test rankings! The cycle of cricket dominance is in a healthy state of flux.
When we add Tendulkar's awesome innings to snatch victory in an improbable run chase against the English, it's obvious that the innate delights of the five day game are intact. They say soccer is the beautiful game, but I fill my glass and toast the splendour of test cricket.
It's stating the obvious to say that the Twenty20 format can never provide the delights of test cricket. 50 over games can have tense battles, but there is something about long drawn out sagas. It's just like sex, short and sweet is fine, but there's nothing like prolonged love making.
So test cricket has had a really positive run and it is great to see such good crowds at the Perth Test. The Aussies certainly support the game in all forms and they're been richly rewarded with such a sterling encounter. It also means tests are making financial sense too. The paradox is India - but that's another story.
But one or two swallows don't make a summer and cricket still has broader questions to face.
How will cricket in Pakistan regain traction?
The effects of terrorism on cricket's viability on the sub continent (and yes, I appreciate terrorism isn't just a sub continent issue)
And still largely on the subcontinent, how will India manage its money mountains?
Will Allen Stanford's ego still need another $20 million game of cricket before he realises that splashing money around doesn't buy you friends, it merely buys you a better class of enemy.
And of course, will NZ win the wooden spoon as the worse test playing country on the planet. The tour by India in early 2009 will be fascinating. We may have an opener but I pray for some South African like resolve.
I have my Xmas wishes from a resigned Kiwi perspective. We may win against the hapless West Indies but, COME ON SANTA!
But things aren't that bad. My little boy Adam - who's just turned five - is developing his off-side play, and by the end of summer we may even see a cover drive from the little bloke.
|Posted by Perky @ cricketmystery.com on Mon 22 Dec||38 comments|
South Africa need 414 runs to win - the second highest run chase in Test history. While that sounds a lot, they also only have 180 runs to go with 7 wickets in hand. Should be a tight, tense day 5...
|Posted by JC on Sun 21 Dec||78 comments|
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