Tag Archives: Test Cricket

Cricket Stuff – 10/01/10

C’arn Mr Roebuck!

I was at a barbecue gathering last night with some folks at Puncher And Wattman and the subject inevitably turned to cricket. It prompted a quick discussion on what people thought of this column by Peter Roebuck.

On the form shown at the SCG against Pakistan, Ricky Ponting and his team will be hard-pressed to recapture the Ashes. At present, they ought to be cast as outsiders. England have a long batting list and are managing to retain a narrow lead over a reviving South African outfit.

Admittedly, the Poms have frailties of their own: they lack a fast bowler, and need Kevin Pietersen to recapture his former powers, but they will not wilt in the heat or be cowed by Australia’s victories this season.

On paper, it looks good: four wins in five attempts and every reason to expect a clean sweep against shattered opponents in Hobart. But the tally is misleading. Australia ought not to read too much into their dramatic triumph at the SCG.

For most of the contest, Ricky Ponting and company were outplayed by the world’s sixth-ranked side. Certainly it was an extraordinary victory, but sober reflection removes it from the list of great wins likely to remain in the memory. Australia’s performance was too flawed to carry the weight assigned to it.

We just couldn’t agree with Mr. Roebuck’s position on the lesson to be drawn form the test. The way I saw it was that the pitch was diabolical, but Australia can still bat down to the tail. The Pakistanis were tentative and inexperienced and susceptible to the inevitable pressure. Ricky Ponting himself assessed that given how difficult the pitch was, he thought what the Australians were likely to do on the first day with the bat was going to be better than what the Pakistanis were likely to do on the last day.  As events panned out, Ricky Ponting was right.

You’d be hard pushed to argue the toss with a result that worked out just as planned, even if the process looked ugly. Given that part of the thinking was that the process would be ugly, it’s a bit much to argue that the ugliness of the process proves the side is deeply flawed.

But then Mr. Roebuck goes on to argue this point:

Certainly, Australia recovered from a much weaker position but even that tells a tale. Historically, turnarounds on that scale can only be achieved by incredible partnerships (Dravid and Laxman in Kolkata, Steyn and Duminy at the MCG) or momentous innings (Lara in the West Indies, Botham at Leeds) or stunning interventions with the ball. No such inspiring efforts were produced at the SCG.

None of the bowlers surpassed themselves, and Peter Siddle was downright ordinary. Nathan Hauritz invited batsmen to plunge into folly, and they obliged. The pitch did not break up, Pakistan did. Australia did take two commendable catches. Had Kamran Akmal had even a moderate match, though, the hosts would have been crushed. It was that close to calamity. Pakistan were the better side but did not believe it.

We just couldn’t come at how this was even a point. The way I see it, it’s a very well balanced side that can churn out runs with an even spread. They don’t come along very often. Ditto with the bowling. At most, it says the Australian team is not built on the ‘Stars & Scrubs’ model.

I remember those sides in the mid to late 1980s, back when the batting was Allan Border, David Boon and waiting on the potential of the Waugh twins to blossom, plus some serious scrubs. Even with Border mounting many a rescue, those sides lost a lot until the side got more balanced with the addition of the likes of Healy and Tubby Taylor, and then the Waugh twins finally did blossom.

Conversely, I wouldn’t want to count on single big partnerships and momentous innings all the time for a come back. If anything, the way the Australians did it shows the side is quite good and without an obvious weak link. But Mr. Roebuck argues this:

Nathan Hauritz’s contribution was almost as hard to pin down as Hussey’s. Clearly he has improved but he’s not suddenly Jim Laker reincarnate. Rather he is a fine cricketer and a game bowler. But batsmen won’t keep slogging catches to deep fieldsmen. All told, Pakistan lost eight wickets to skied hits.

Suddenly, Hauritz has taken five wickets in consecutive Test matches, results indicating the welcome and unexpected restoration of finger spin and flight. Yet he is no demon. He was never as bad as he seemed, and is not now as good as recent returns indicate.

The same applies to Australia. Alongside the misfiring Marcus North, the top performers seen at the SCG had been regarded as the team’s weakest links. Apart from Brad Haddin’s catch, the highlight of the match was Ponting’s decision to persist with Hauritz after lunch despite his previous over costing 12 runs. Otherwise it was a mixed bag. Did everything change? Or nothing?

Wouldn’t this suggest that the degrees to which the weakest links are considered weak, are a little over-stated? That, maybe the people they’ve selected are good at some aspects of the game enough to warrant their selection? The joke this summer has been that Hauritz has been the replacement level player, and anybody can get a 5 wicket haul once in a while, but the guy’s done it several times in quick succession lately, I think it’s possible he’s getting the hang of playing at the Test level.

Anyway, we all agreed the column was a real headscratcher from a writer we all respected, and wondered if he’s welcome in the Aussie clubhouse at all.

And One More Thing

Here’s another Roebuck column where he suggests Ponting is in decline. Judging from his age, it’s not surprising if he was, but then Allan Border and Steve Waugh played well, well into their late 30s, so I wouldn’t dismiss Ponting just yet.

Anyway, the thing I’ve noticed is the media vitriol against Ponting has been more snarky than when Kim Hughes was Captain and his side kept losing. A lot of it is criticism about his personal style, which I can live with because I don’t care if he’s a bit dismissive to journalists as long as he can play. But this business has been going on some time now and the guys at Puncher And Wattman thought it was because Ponting lost the Ashes in England twice.

It’s kind of weird to be singling out the winningest Test Captain on record and slamming him for the loss ledger. It’s like the practice of American sports journalists where they single out the best player of a team and blame them for a losing season, as if to say they should have been a super-duper star to bail out a bad team from itself all the time – which is the similar kind of analysis to Mr. Roebuck’s above. It’s just absurd.

The proper understanding should be that the Australian side is in a rebuild and it’s going to take some time to shake out the guys who are going to be there for the long haul. The task is harder all the more because Hayden, Langer and Martyn over-stayed their welcome and McGrath and Warne departing in quick succession has meant the side is starting from scratch. The Australian side hasn’t been this young since the Kim Hughes days or the 1980s Border sides before the ’89 Ashes tour. And you have to admit, Ponting has won a bit more than those guys in that era.

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Phil Hughes News

Breaking Records, Eclipsing The Don

The Aussie Phil Hughes became the youngest player in history to score a century in each innings of a Test as Australia cruised by South Africa. That’s pretty remarkable. Here’s the report.

The 20-year-old Hughes followed up his first innings 115 with an unbeaten 136 to break West Indian George Headley’s record set against England in 1930 and move Australia to 3 for 292 at stumps, an overall lead of 506.

Hughes could scarcely have been more impressive in besting Headley’s mark by almost six months, striking 13 boundaries and two sixes in a virtually chanceless innings.

In a day of milestones for Australia, Ricky Ponting earlier surpassed his predecessor Steve Waugh as the fourth-highest Test run-scorer of all-time behind Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Allan Border.

If this form stays good, the reconstruction of the Australian Test side seems to be going at a good pace. It kind of did better than Rachel Hunter’s advice about shampoo: it did happen over night.

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Take Me Out To The Ball Game

A-Rod Circus Continues

This week saw the WBC begin, and with it, some Yankees scattered to national squads. Jeter went to captain Team America and even took on the Yankees in a warm up match. A-Rod went to the Dominican squad, watched Jose Reyes and decided he looked the like of Reyes and said he wished he was with the Yankees. It was a colossally stupid thing to say because the press went to town on it.

After that, A-Rod went to meet the MLB authorities about his steroid admission, following which nothing seemed to come of it, except that now he is going to get hip surgery and will be out 10 weeks. During the last 72 hours it’s gone form a cyst to a torn labrum; from being able to play through the season with the injury, to must-operate-now.

One imagines that the MLB reps told A-Rod he has to take 10 weeks off, even if it wasn’t in their power to suspend him for steroid use when there weren’t any regulations against it. A-Rod in turn probably said, “fine, in that case I’ll get my hip looked at because it didn’t get any better this winter”.

Who knows?

The guy seems to be a headline magnet no matter what he does, and he does choose to do and say some stupid things that by their nature make him newsworthy in ways almost tangential to playing baseball. One wonders what kind of movie Billy Crystal would make out of the Derek Jeter- & A-Rod thing, having seen his take on Mantle and Maris in ’61*’.

The media is jumping the gun in trying to find a replacement, but there is no replacing A-Rod in the lineup. That’s the point of his $275m over 10 year contract. A-Rod didn’t grow on some tree, and even if he did, there’s not another one waiting to be picked.

World Baseball Classic Begins

It’s here again, the fast-tracked arbitrary international professionals’ Baseball Comp. For what it’s worth, this is the one Ichiro takes seriously – he’s never taken any interest in the Olympics, but he’s always been dreaming of this kind of competition. It’s fast-tracked in the sense that it’s only been 3 years since the last one (my, how time flies!) but from here on in, it is once every 4 years.

Japan won the last one and kicked off this tourney with a shutout over China. Korea beat Taiwan and everything is rolling now. Things are going as predicted even as we speak.Apparently it’s all part of a bid to repatriate baseball at the IOC. I can’t imagine two organisations more diametrically opposed in attitude than professional baseball the world over and the largely amateurism-worshipping Olympic movement.

I enjoyed baseball’s moment at the Olympics, but it just seems wrong to have those guys compete alongside people who need sponsorship from Uncle Toby’s to live while training. Even having professional Tennis in the fold with the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer alongside th Uncle Tobys Non-Stars is pretty daft. Worse still, even if say, Derek Jeter  or A-Rod were to turn up, it’s not like the Olympic audience is going to appreciate them more. Furthermore, winning the gold medal for their country at the Olympics is not going to be more important than… even the WBC. So really, they should all collectively let that one go. Baseball ought not go back to the Olympics – and it’s no great loss., now that there’s the WBC

The only thing is that the IOC should reinstate Women’s Softball. There’s no reason why those Uncle-Toby gals should be punished for Barry Bonds’ and A-Rod’s and Roger Clemens’ perceived faults.

Outrage In Pakistan

Not to do with Baseball now, but Cricket. The week’s big news was how a bunch of terrosist unleashed a hale of bullets on the visiting Sri Lankan team’s bus. Some guards and drivers were killed, some players were injured. The greater part of it hs been the shock of how they actually took to shooting professional athletes. Apparently there was a common understanding that athletes were off-limits.

I had no idea such a tacit agreement was in place. It was probably more wishful thinking.  That attack has torn asunder such day-dreams about world terrorism, and with it the notion that the Australians were somehow cowardly in not wanting to tour Pakistan. They had good reasons, as it turns out. Pakistan is likely to miss out on hosting a part of the 2011 World Cup. It’s a total mess.

On another level, you wonder why it took them so long to attack professional sport. It’s the pinnacle of our capitalist entertainment-led lifestyle ideology. There’s us sitting in our couches watching the big-screen TV, eating our fatty foods and scoffing nutrition drinks, as professional athletes earning mega-bucks do some athletic thing on screen; meanwhile angry bearded jihadist terrorists with minimal education and nutrition live in muddy caves polishing their AK-47s wanting to kill us all and take it all back to the Dark Ages.

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Phil Hughes Makes Australian Side

And Just Like That He’s In

What’s in a name, seriously? 20y.o. budding NSW batsman Phil Hughes has cracked the Australian Test side. He’s the youngest player since a teenaged Craig McDermott made the side in 1984.

The 20-year-old has been rewarded for a stellar season in the NSW side having scored 891 runs at 74.25, including four centuries and a highest score of 198.

His selection in the touring squad all but confirms he will become the youngest Australian since Craig McDermott to make his Test debut when the first Test begins in Johannesburg on February 26.

The Australian also understands that Bryce McGain, the 36-year-old Victorian leg-spinner, has also been chosen in the squad.

Since Hayden’s retirement at the end of the domestic three-Test series against South Africa, the question of who would replace the big Queenslander has been the biggest talking point in Australian cricket.

Hughes, who won the Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year award on Tuesday night, has had glowing reports from all quarters, including Greg Chappell who has worked with him. Steve Waugh also backed the young batsman.

That’s pretty cool news. As for the Yankee Phil Hughes, pitchers and catchers report in a matter of days!

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Once Were Dreadful

They Used To REALLY Suck

It’s so damn hot I can’ sleep. The Green Curry I cooked for dinner isn’t helping either. So I’ve decided to charge up my newish laptop and type some thoughts down about… cricket!

Australia secured a face-saving win in the dead rubber Test at the SCG. Amazingly, it took until the second last over to manage it, and the Aussies had to claim the wicket of Graeme Smith who went to the crease in pain with a broken hand. When it was all said and done, I had a chat to PJ and his gal Mu, only to find they were still pretty down about *how* the win was secured and how much they still intensely disliked Ricky Ponting.

It’s weird. I keep finding that Ponting gets scant emotional support from average Aussie cricket fans. You’d think he’d slept with their girlfriends (or boyfriends). They tell me that he might be a great batsman but he’s an arrogant captain who does not do them proud. All this got me to thinking about the last time Australia had to win a face-saving Test in Sydney and I think that was back in 1987. The Poms had whipped Australia in the Ashes series as the likes of Gooch, Botham and Gatting were doing a Victory lap. It wasn’t long after Kim Hughes had quit as Captain in tears. A reluctant Allan Border had been put into his place, and was heading a ragtag collection of questionable players that included some guy called Peter Taylor who was a spin-bowler they found from relative obscurity.

The couple of years preceding that 1987 Sydney Test were worse. Every Test seemed to bring a loss and every loss brought a barrage of press ridicule. Even a complete novice fan like me couldn’t miss the viciousness. Those were awful days for Aussie cricket. They seemed to lose and lose and lose – and the press took so much delight in ridiculing those squads. I imagine they’re the same kind of journos busily writing negative pieces about Ponting’s persona these days. Peter Roebuck was then, as he is today, full of wonderful insight as to what the Australian cricket selectors, team, and audiences were doing wrong against the proper spirit of cricket. Going to the Test in 1987 was a sure way to disappointment, because you knew that they’d get done.

The Sydney Test of 1987 then, was just as likely to end in defeat. Yet, somehow the ragtag bunch of Aussies pulled off an unlikely victory. It was quite the occasion; and had they had a player like Ponting back then, They sure would have won a whole bunch more.

The point is, Ponting right now might not look like it, but he’s actually been handed the same difficult task of rebuilding the Australian team, pretty much from scratch – and I don’t think he’s the worst guy for the job. If today’s desperate, loopy, borderline, dodgy win meant anything, it’s that the generational change underway has found purchase. The rookie bowlers did very well, and so perhaps we are beginning to see how winning in the post-Warner-McGrath era might look like. This is a very good thing.

Ponting In The Firing Line

When he wins, he’s described as arrogant. When he loses, he’s described ass sore loser. Yet, he’s cast from the mold of winning cricketers that Allan Border seeked to forge back in the late 1980s. Allan Border decided the chumming around had to stop. In order to win, they had to be rudely confrontational and not give and inch to the poms. It took David Gower by surprise in 1989, but the results showed through the years. Even during the Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh captaincies, Australia played a brand of hard-nosed, sledge-ridden, confrontational cricket. It is the aussie way. It’s only in this decade that some people have started to question whether this is necessary. Allan Border of 1989 would probably tell such questioners to stick a sock in their mouths and go leap off the Gap.

Ponting came into the squad as a 19 year old prodigy in 1994-5. It seems like not long ago, but it’s also seems like forever. This is a guy who grew up in that environment of Aussie cricket’s winning ways and he probably knows no other way. To criticise him for arrogance in winning is a little like complaining that winning isn’t good enough, that you have to win wit style as well. It’s inherently indulgent to ask that of a win. And to complain that he’s s sore loser when he loses is a bit much too. There’s nothing to like in a loss, when the stakes are so high.

People of other nations complain bitterly about the Australian approach to the game in the last 20 years, but Ponting has never shown that he is anything less than the best of the system that produced him as a player and captain. If other countries’ players can’t handle the heat, they should get off the field. I find the demand that Ponting be a better sportsman according to some idealised vision of a gentlemanly cricketing culture to be entirely misguided. The man is who he is, and I think he represents us very well. He’s there to win. Unlike the journos who move the metaphorical goal posts for the sake of a good story, he is out there foremost to win or lose, with the expectations of a sports-nut nation on its flagship sport.

We’ve always had hard-nosed guys captaining. It’ not like Bobby Simpson or the Chappells or AB or Steve Waugh were any less confrontational or aggressive for a win than Ricky Ponting. The exception was Mark Taylor who had a cultivated public persona, but he was the exception to the rule in as much as his public persona was so affable. Nonetheless he didn’t exactly take it easy on the field either. Why should Ponting be any different?

He’s now 32-33. He might not be around for a whole deal longer. He’ll probably see out the reconstruction of the Aussie side and that’s it. So like it or not, we’ve only got a little bit more of Ponting. Those two or three summers will go in a flash. It’s going to be a shame when he leaves, just as it was when AB, Boonie, Marsh, McDermott, Mark Taylor, the Waugh twins, Warnie and McGrath left, one by one. We might not see the likes of him again. The least we could do right now is to appreciate him for the glory of Australian cricket that he is, instead of complaining about his public persona. He’s much, much more valuable than that.

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Transition Phase Blues

Like It Or Lump It

Which ever way you look at it, the current summer of discontent for Australian Cricket is a function of the changing of the guard that’s been under way since the Ashes defeat in 2005. One of the things that’s amazed me during this time is not the departures of McGrath and Warne at the same time or the shock retirement of Damien Martyn or Stuart McGill, but the persistent selection of Mathew Hayden.

I have a running joke with an old school friend of mine wherein I say, ‘everybody knows Hayden’s washed up. I’ve been saying it since 1991 but he keeps proving me wrong.”lately he’s looked more like the guy who probably should go. Even some older, wiser heads are thinking the same thing.

In persevering with Hayden for the Sydney Test, Benaud said the selectors had missed a chance to introduce 20-year-old opening prodigy Phil Hughes in a dead rubber in preparation for tours of South Africa and England.

“I’m not sure how the selection for this next Test fits into the rebuilding program unless they have made a decision that Matthew Hayden is going to be there in the long term and that Nathan Hauritz is the answer to their spin-bowling problems,” he said.

“[Simon] Katich has assumed the senior opening role and I think they have missed an opportunity to use a dead Test to trial an opening batsman. It seems they are being nice to Hayden because he’s been a great player. Well, that is putting the individual ahead of the good of Australian cricket. It shows the players or the sentimentality are being put ahead of the hard-nosed approach that’s needed.

“When you have a heroic team, it is like the West Indies, people get edgy about leaving heroes out even if those heroes might be in decline. There is a sense of that about this selection panel.”

Anyway, it’s an added pisser for me because my newer Phil Hughes doesn’t get to make his Test Debut in Sydney. Certainly not this year. There’s even this bit:

Benaud was on the panel that picked Warne for an underwhelming debut in 1992 and said the current panel of Hilditch, David Boon, Hughes and Cox had been too conservative.

“Shane Warne, God bless him, came along and he took 1-150 in his first Test but we still took him to Sri Lanka,” he said. “Now Jason Krejza has been discarded for what I would call a more conservative option. You have to back yourself as a selection panel.

“How could they have been taken by surprise by MacGill’s retirement? He was as old as Warne. I think they have been tardy there. They’ve had an opportunity to be a bit more aggressive about trialling a young spinner and I don’t think anyone sees Nathan Hauritz as someone who is going to be a match-winner. Jason Krejza is head and shoulders above as a spinner and a cricketer.

“They’re in spin chaos to me.”

Greg Chappell, head coach of Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence and a former selector, was also involved with the panel that gambled on youngsters such as Boon, Geoff Marsh and Steve Waugh in the mid-’80s. He said the current selectors faced a choice. “The big difference between now and then is that in the ’80s, the next level of experienced players went to South Africa for the rebel tours so it forced their hand to go with youth and go to the next generation. I suppose that is the challenge now: Do they try and hold it together or go to the future?” Chappell said.

There’s no point holding it together for now if they can’t beat South Africa at home on the WACA and the MCG. At this point in the cycle of this team, they have no choice but to invest in the future players – and they’re certainly there. It’s often said that it’s hard to get into the Australian Test side so it should be hard to get out. To me, that’s a total non-sequiteur. The latter in no way follows on from the former.

The fact is, it’s hard to get in because the competition is fierce – an that is good. By the same token the competition should be fierce enough that an aging player should be axed as soon as they start declining. The problem is, this team’s veterans are greatly in decline and the young guys haven’t found their feet just yet. In this context, the team selectors have to wield a tougher knife.

We’re not talking about Mark Taylor hanging on for one series too long or not. We’re talking about a general mindset that isn’t engaged with what the Australian Test side is going to look like, one year, 3 years, and 5 years from now. In that sense, holding over Hayden for the 3rd test against South Africa is a terrible, terrible decision.

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