The Little Master’s farewell & war between the old enemies

Welcome back men of gentle persuasion, and ladies who love or tolerate cricket. Only a few more days until the Ashes contest commences, so get the coronary surgeon on speed dial and book some leave from work. Five Tests in Australia, four in 2013 and one in 2014, and it all commences next week in Brisbane. Right now though, the game’s greatest batsmen of the past 25 years is playing his final ever Test Match in Mumbai.

Sachin Tendulkar

Enormous content will be generated in the wake of Tendulkar’s retirement. Eulogies and comparisons will trigger reflection and debate. The most prominent comparison will be between he and the late Sir Donald Bradman. I must assert that this is unnecessary. Both are brilliant batsmen, eternal legends of the sport, but the sheer gap in time between their careers and the vastly different conditions in which they plied their trade renders them incommensurable.

Tendulkar scored 74 against the West Indies yesterday and moving into Day Three, with the visitors 3 down and 270-odd behind on a 1st innings deficit, it’s likely we’ll never see the Little Master bat again. Perhaps the only man who can allow the world to see Tendulkar once more is West Indian legend Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who at 39 is playing his 150th Test. A rearguard innings from Shiv might see the West Indies force India to go around again, but it would have to be a timeless special. I hope the Guyanese hero can do it and with the big Jamaican Chris Gayle still in, there’s a slim chance.

I don’t think it should have ended like this though… a raging dispute between South African cricket’s CEO Haroon Lorgat and India’s BCCI has robbed the cricket world of what should have been an epic four or five Test match series in South Africa beginning on Boxing Day or in the new year. I argue that Sachin’s last stand would have been far more memorable had it been nutted out in the trenches of Test warfare against the world’s best, rather than in a hastily arranged “farewell” tour against an unprepared and relatively weaker West Indian side. Alas, scatter-gun personality politics and an unbridled BCCI gave us what we have.

Tendulkar’s record is stunning: he will have completed 200 Test matches, at least 51 Test centuries and amassed around 16,000 runs at an average over 53. He’s also knocked out over 18,000 runs in 463 One Day Internationals. He’s only played 1 international T20. Says a lot doesn’t it?

Goodbye and thank you Sachin, you’re a fine cricketer and a gentleman and as New Zealand’s former captain Daniel Vettori aptly described, “you’ve been in form longer than some of our guys have been alive”.

The Ashes Series in Australia

There’s no debate to be had on the assertion that England are favourites and Australia are underdogs. Beaten 3-0 in England only a few months ago, optimistic Australians have argued that there were many “moments” where we could have won Test Matches or forced a closer contest. Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Durham spring to mind, but let’s examine a few truths.

England possess more proven quality, and they did manage to beat Australia 3-0 without their best batsmen firing. Ally Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Johnathon Trott didn’t pile on the runs in the old dart. It was the fine batting of Ian Bell supplemented by a collection of notable cameos that saw England through, and it was the relatively poor, often collapse-prone batting of Australia that ensured we couldn’t sufficiently return fire at the crease. Australia’s revolving selection door, which fostered about as much stability as a contemporary Egyptian democracy, seemed not to assist the Australian effort.

Australia’s strength was its bowling, particularly Ryan Harris. Australian fans should be energetically fist pumping at the prospect of a fully fit Harris, while the English should take note that this man presents a genuine threat to their hope of retaining the Ashes.

Of course, Australia requires more than the fine effort and return of any one man. Australia’s batting must deliver big runs. Not just from Michael Clarke. I fancy that the mean innings scores in Australia will be higher. Even more runs will be required. A tall order for Australia’s lean order, but not an impossible prospect.

First Test,The GABBA, Brisbane

Australia have recalled Mitchell Johnson and added One Day Captain George Bailey to their 12 man squad for the first Test. Johnson was a destructive force on a recent ODI tour of India and has a massive opportunity to excise demons from past Ashes campaigns, hit back at critics and reinstall himself in a Test team that faces South Africa the other side of the Ashes. George Bailey has been selected on the basis of ODI rather than Shield form – not ideal in my view – but I do think the Tasmanian has the character, maturity and mental resilience to succeed at Test standard.

The new faces join a list of players, all of whom played a part in the 3-0 defeat in England.

I think the squad is about right. Obviously Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson are injured and Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja have been overlooked.

There’s some familiar speculation about Shane Watson’s fitness. Pending his fitness to at least bat, then I think James Faulkner will be 12th man and finally we’ll be picking a 6-1-4 formation. Four front line bowlers should be able to take 20 wickets.

England have had a long preparation in Australia, arriving in October and completing various tour matches. The only questions for them appear to be the fitness of wicket keeper Matt Prior and which fast bowler should accompany Stuart Broad and James Anderson.

It will be a cracking contest next week. There’s a lot of fierce storm activity in southern Queensland at the moment and I do fear this one will be interrupted by rain and possibly some golf ball-sized hail, so bring the driver and a few tees. A warning to English fans, the GABBA is nicknamed NAZI dome for the way its security and QLD police aggressively assert themselves in the lives of cricket spectators. The atmosphere will be great, but it would be so much better without the nanny state attempting to frog march 50% of patrons from the ground by Tea for a range of ludicrously petty “violations”.

Anyway, I’ll be there in Brisbane with a bunch of other cricket tragics, so I look forward to reporting pitch-side then.

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