Cricket Australia

How do you survive 150kmph thunderbolts?

To witness the South African top order being steamrolled would be rare. Busting a gut to stay awake last night I capitulated and missed M Johnson driving the heavy roller straight through the Proteas’ front gate. Did you see it?

Of late, batsmen appear to be entering the infamous Bermuda Triangle when Johnson grabs the leather cherry.

Graeme Smith, Faf du Plessis and Ryan McLaren were lost at sea under the cyclonic storm of Johnson lifters, bouncers and fullish swingers. Smith played defensively from the crease to a ball he thought was about chest height. It kept coming. At his face. He had no choice but to turn the head and use the bat to defend the door to his soul. The ball smacked the splice of his bat and shot off over the slips. The entire cordon took off in pursuit and Shaun Marsh took a ripper. Alviro Petersen surrendered meekly, slashing at a wide one. Faf du Plessis was shocked out by a 150kmph lifter which he attempted to fend away. It spat out to second slip. New boy McLaren had his castle obliterated, playing well outside the line of another Johnson thunderbolt. The effervescent Peter Siddle took the prized scalp of Hashim Amla, adjudged LBW on review. Nathan Lyon removed a counter-attacking JP Duminy, brilliantly caught by Johnson (who else?).

I guarantee South Africa will fight back. They require 57 to avoid the follow on and they’ll get it. AB De Villiers is the best batsman in the world and is 52 runs. He’ll resume tonight with a very sore forearm after Johnson struck it hard on a mistimed pull. I’d be out for weeks if it were me. AB is tougher than I.

As long as Robin Peterson plays the role of foil, the Saffers can push on. Vernon Philander can bat. I feel that AB might drag them along toward 250. Anything beyond is game on, because Steyn will get those crazy eyes whirring for Australia’s second innings and his buddies Philander and Morkel will supercharge their efforts to get the hosts back in it.

Over at the Basin Reserve in New Zealand India won the toss this morning and asked the Black Caps to bat. MS Dhoni got it right. His quicks knocked out the hosts for 192. India are 2/100 in reply. The Kiwis lead the series 1-0 after securing an absolutely stunning victory in Auckland last week. NZ made 500 and knocked India over for 200. Then the Kiwis self-destructed and were bundled out for 100. India nearly chased down the 400 required falling 40 short. Who on earth believes Test matches are boring? Get a life!

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Unbeaten and unable to win: South Africa

Unbeaten in 5 years the Proteas exude strength and brutality, but history reveals they might be unable to win against Australia. South Africa are the best Test team in the world. They have not lost a Test series since 2009, but they haven’t beaten a touring Australian team at home since 1970*. This is their best opportunity and perhaps the last one this side will have before age and form dissolve them.

The last team to defeat South Africa in a Test series was Australia. The two played out a brilliant series in Feb-March 2009, which Australia won 2-1. Australia’s win was partly set up by destructive bowling from Mitchell Johnson and aggressive quick-fire batting by Phil Hughes. Since then both players have been in and out of the side suffering from undulating form. Six months ago it would have been ludicrous to suggest these two would be on this tour. Johnson is a certainty to play tonight, Hughes is not.

I’d like to see Moises Henriques included for Watson, but it’s likely that Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan will play. Both average in the mid 30s at First Class level. If you can understand Cricket Australia’s selection logic you’re a better person than I – Marsh is ranked 30odd in Shield runs this season. He scored 60 in a T20 and was rushed into the Test side. Reasoning Doolan’s selection is easier. Australia are desperate to discover a genuine number 3. Doolan is one, but is he good enough for Test cricket?

Punters across the cricket world are salivating ahead of the pace battle. Unleashing hellfire fury at startled batsmen on hard, bouncy green top wickets is the stuff that gets any fast-bowling enthusiast shaking with excitement. I’m anticipating two pace bowling batteries firing high quality ordinance, but am sure that batting will decide the series. How will Australia’s slightly shaky top order respond to Steyn, Philander and Morkel? What will a reshuffled South African batting order do to cover the loss of cricket’s greatest ever all-round player, Jaques Kallis?

The first Test at Centurion begins tonight Australian time. As previously stated I’m tipping a 1-1 draw and a savage exchange. Perhaps adding to the excitement will be the status of the stump microphones, which for South Africa’s last home series against India were permanently left on for the pleasure of television viewers. Naturally this might have a moderating effect on the players’ conversations, but plenty of interesting stuff was sprayed about in that series. This one should be no exception.

I love the needle, crave the battle and am relishing the opportunity to escape from life’s nagging realities for a few hours each night to consume this contest.

* It is noted that Australia did not tour South Africa between 1970 and 1994 due to apartheid. Australia’s first post-apartheid tour occurred in 1994. That series ended in a 1-1 draw. Two “rebel” tours occurred in 1985 and 1986 led by Kim Hughes. Both tours won 1-0 by South Africa were not sanctioned by cricket’s governing body in Australia.

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Rediscovering the romance of Test Cricket: The Future

Daniel Brettig at ESPNcricinfo recently wrote that the International Cricket Council will meet soon to consider a two-tier Test Championship.

The concept could include promotion and relegation and facilitate the introduction of Ireland and Afghanistan. On the provision they can compete the inclusion of new nations is positive, but the two-tier system could starve 2nd tier sides of lucrative series against the big guns.

There’s a lot of detail to consider. Underpinning those considerations is the pseudo format-conflict dividing Cricket. The rise of T20 has been astronomical, but it threatens the game’s future.

The Romance of Test Cricket

To me, watching a good Test Match is to consume a great novel. There’s depth in the plot and thick, unpredictable layers of sub-text. Parallel stories feature an incredible range of characters. Villains and heroes challenge prevailing ideas and philosophies. Some thrust themselves into the fray during the initial chapters. Others develop with more complexity as the days pass. Eventually they crash through the story, drastically altering events.

Some of these novels emerge from the pack as classics. Great Test Matches create memorable series, which become an historiography of the world’s most captivating sport. They remind us of great players who, as protagonists, shape remarkable stories.

Test cricket is psychological warfare. It is made of up infinite battles pitted through the expression of tactical deployments, field placings and bowling plans. Human abilities clash with environmental conditions. The pitch changes and players work frantically to manipulate the behaviour of the ball. This occurs right around the world in some of the most challenging and diverse locations. South Africa and India. The Caribbean islands and the north-east coast of South America. Australia, New Zealand, England, the Middle-East and Pakistan, and on an island in the India Ocean. Contrast this beautiful complexity with the “other cricket”.

The Limitations of T20

T20 can be compared to flicking through a shallow, commercially confronting low-brow magazine. The pitches are all the same. The role of unique environment is diminished. We drown in multiple editions from the sub-continent to Australia and the format is increasingly predictable. Ramp shots, reverse sweeps and unbridled slogging.

Look! There’s fireworks and endless saturation advertising, again. See enough of this and you feel as if you’re thumbing through the same old cartoons and hearing bad dad-like jokes again.

Don’t get me wrong. Clearly T20 is here to stay and it has a big role to play in cricket’s future, but if Cricket isn’t careful they’ll kill the golden goose. Cricket cannot be shortened, tarted up and trotted out to dance in front of commercial interests any more than it already has. Cricket must be careful not to overplay the T20 card, especially at the expense of Test Match cricket.

The Future of Cricket

There is opportunity for Cricket to reassert the spectacle of Tests. The format has existed for over 120 years. It has adapted, but not enough. It must evolve further, but is starved of quality attentive administration. A reassessment of priorities and fresh strategic posture is needed.

One critical problem is that cricket’s fringe dwellers – the not-so-committed fans and new fans attracted by the saturation advertising attached to T20 – have wholeheartedly bought into the implication of cricket’s current global message: Tests are boring, uneventful manifestations of an era gone-by.

The ICC must discover some teeth inside its mouth. It must bite back at some of the selfish commercial pressures and debunk myths. It should initiate an holistic strategy to assist the masses to understand and appreciate the complexity of Test Match through progressive administration and radical marketing. So it can take precedence in schedules and rise again as the greatest game of all.

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Pakistan v Sri Lanka & the nostalgia of cricket in Pakistan

Pakistan and Sri Lanka are producing some cracking cricket during their three match series in the United Arab Emirates. The 2nd Test in Dubai is sparsely spectated though, and this leads me to ponder why.

The UAE is Pakistan’s home base and the obvious neutrality of the venue is one reason why there’s few spectators, but can more be done to attract a crowd?

It’s a real shame Pakistan cannot play at home. As a youngster growing up in Australia I fondly recall Australia’s tours to Pakistan, particularly Australia’s defeat in 1994, which I followed via press updates and eventually through Wisden. Pakistan toured Australia in ’95 so their players were familiar to kids at the time. We recreated the battles in the street by imitating Akram, Malik, McDermott and Boon.

During the ’94 tour Pakistan won a nail biter by one wicket at Karachi with big performances from Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and current England spin coach Mushtaq Ahmed.

In the following Test Saleem Malik scored a double tonne, which ensured a draw at Rawalpindi. Michael Slater, Damien Fleming, Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan excelled. During Pakistan’s epic 2nd innings every Australian player – except Ian Healy – had a bowl. Yes, even Mark Taylor and David Boon rolled the arm over. In fact, opening batsmen Taylor and Slater took wickets! The third Test at Lahore was also a draw. Pakistan won the series 1-0.

They had some good players. I imagine that tours there were extremely challenging, but equally rewarding. I think Australia’s last tour occurred in 1998, a 1-0 victory for Australia – Peshawar providing the scene for Mark Taylor’s 334 and a big series performance from Ijaz Ahmed and the introduction of youngster Shoaib Akhtar.

In a nostalgic and perhaps rose tinted sense tours to Pakistan and the West Indies seemed to be the epitome of tough international Test Match cricket. It’s a massive loss that international cricket isn’t played in Pakistan and West Indies struggle from poor governance and administration, un-helped by the ICC and India’s selfish scheduling of T20 tournaments.

In Pakistan the instability and threat of violence means that cricket seems an impossible and a luxurious frivolity in comparison to the issues facing their people. I hope that cricket can return to Pakistan in the near future, because that will mean things have substantially improved.

Pakistan v Sri Lanka, UAE 2013-14

The first Test in Abu Dhabi was a draw after a mighty backs-to-wall fight back from Sri Lanka forced Pakistan to hold out on the last day. The Dubai Test is through 2 days and the cricket being played is world class standard. Both teams possess excellent cricketers so it’s a shame there’s less than 3 men and a dog watching.

Surely the Pakistan Cricket Board, the ICC and local sports officials can do more to get punters into the grounds. The UAE is well known for having large populations of tradesmen and labourers from the sub-continent. Strike up partnerships with large employers, subsidise tickets, provide adequate public transport, improve advertising and promotion, get the players out there engaging the people and get them through the gates to watch the amazing cricket being played by these teams.

The ICC’s Future Tours Program has Australia scheduled to play Pakistan in October this year. What can Cricket Australia do to help the PCB get on the front foot and promote the series?

Probably a heck of a lot more than it will do under James Sutherland, that’s for sure.

Pakistan-Australia Test series set to be downsized

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The Adelaide spectacle – 2nd Ashes Test 2013-14

Do you have any plans for the weekend?

Cancel them. England resume tomorrow on 1/35 and they’re chasing a mountain of Australian runs. At first, the bowling will be fresh and fierce and then tactically relentless, the batting should be stoic and the contest will paralyze spectators.

Australia will rue the missed chance from the last ball of day 2. Michael Carberry found himself on strike after Joe Root bizarrely took off for a mindless single on the second last ball of the day. Carberry was unable to connect bat with ball and would have been given out LBW had Australia reviewed the original not-out decision. Carberry survived Root’s capricious run.

Australia’s Adelaide innings

Far for from being impulsive Australia’s batting card indicates collective contribution. Only Steve Smith missed out. At 5 for 270odd at stumps on Day 1 honours were said to be even. I probably had England ahead on the basis that 450 seemed par for the Adelaide Oval.

I missed the first day’s play while participating in a conference. All day I dreamed of the conference’s conclusion and the afternoon’s drive to cricket training where my car’s radio and the famed ABC commentary would catapult me from corporate slogans and into modern, sporting warfare.

My radio wouldn’t work. Seething is one expression. There were many others screamed at fictitious technological gods and slow drivers too. Nonetheless I caught up on the day’s play during the late night sports news.

Graeme Swan remarked buoyantly that if England claimed early wickets on Day 2 then they could exert authority on the Test Match.

By the Tea Break on Day 2 the Australian captain’s crafty century drove England into submission and forced the holders of the precious Ashes Urn to wait patiently for an innings declaration. Vice captain Brad Haddin more than chimed in with a studiously crafted century of his own and when tail ender and Australian fast-bolwing spearhead Ryan Harris knocked up a casual 50odd off tired English bowling, the declaration finally came.

Australia had set England 570 runs.

England’s innings so far

Mitchell Johnson was unleashed late on the second day and given a mandate to attack England’s opening batsmen. Bowling in excess of 150kph Johnson terrorised Michael Carberry and Alistair Cook. The latter had his stumps torn from the ground and looked more than all at sea trying the fend off the red leather assault. The England captain seemed as if he was in outer space and will probably consider staying there if his side do not bat for at least the majority of day 3.

The amazing game of Test Cricket

The Ashes kicks off tomorrow at 10am Queensland time, but get yourself in front of the television at 0745am.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the Test Match between West Indies and New Zealand. The Caribbean tourists had won the toss and sent New Zealand in to bat. The host team embraced the invitation to score runs and blasted over 600 and then skittled the West Indies for a paltry 213. Required to follow on the West Indies looked down and beaten, but in a twist that even the finest pundit would not have been able to predict, the tourists remain unbeaten in their second innings and will take a 47 run lead into Day 5. Darren Bravo is not out on 210.

That match promises an entertaining conclusion and the changing fortunes of the sides beset by brilliant individual performances is yet another example of how great Test Match cricket really is.

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Australia Resurrected – What about the sledging controversy?

Australia have annihilated England in an amazing First Test at Brisbane. The magnitude of this victory is so great that early observations point toward a possible shift in continental cricketing power. With four Test Matches to go in this series there’s a long time before any compelling assertions can be made about that, but the writing is on the wall for England.

The rivalry between these players is immense and I have no doubt that England will attempt to stage an aggressive fight back. Australia will be ready.

The needle

On Saturday night David Warner accused England of being scared. England’s captain Alistair Cook refuted this and believes Warner’s comment was “disrespectful”. He is probably fair in his assessment that sledging should be kept on the field of battle. I detected a slight agitation from the normally composed England captain and I sense that England’s dressing room will be bristling about this defeat and some of the incidents. Quite a bit of savage needle was exchanged in the middle.

Update: Now that Johnathon Trott has returned home to England with a stress related illness Warner’s comment is attracting even more attention and criticism. I think it is outrageously harsh to pin any blame for Trott’s circumstances on David Warner. He wasn’t to know Trott’s state of health, which is likely to expand well beyond any comments about cricket performances. Trott seems to be a good bloke and he is an exceptional cricketer. I wish him well and hope he has a speedy recovery.

Michael Clarke gave James Anderson a significant spray late on the final day and some media have suggested he overstepped the mark, but I say leave it to the players. They know the limits, they know what is proportionate and as Clarke has said “he gives as good he gets”. England have certainly given it. James Anderson is one of the most prolific sledgers going around.

This is high stakes professional cricket and it is a massive rivalry. Let’s not forget that there are two umpires out in the middle and they are the arbiters, not the random punters phoning radio stations on a moral crusade.

Update: The ICC has since fined Clarke 20% of his match fee. I find this to be a popular reactionary measure issued only because the stump microphones were erroneously left on and the broadcaster beamed the sledge “get ready for a broken f*&^%$g arm” into lounge-rooms.

Both captains received extra treatment from bowlers and surrounding fielders.

The resurrection

On the fourth and final day, with the match on the line, Mitchell Johnson chose to get stuck into the England captain and didn’t hesitate to remind the Barmy Army about his resurrection. And what a resurrection it is. Johnson was slaughtered by England fans and media during the 2010-11 Ashes series and was criticised for his supposedly weak mentality.

It’s clear this man possesses a strong character and a supreme work ethic. To return from where he was – out of the side and on the alleged decline – is an outstanding personal and professional achievement. In this Test he scored over 100 runs and was dismissed only once. He took 9 wickets with some huge scalps thrown in. It was rather fitting that the match ended with him taking a catch off his own bowling. I thoroughly enjoyed his hostility. It reminded me of the great West Indian quicks I recall from growing up. Long may it continue.

Are Australia back?

Australia have snapped a streak of nine Test Matches without a victory and they’ve done it with sensational style. There’s a lot of cricket to go before we say Australia are back though.

The victory was completed with notable contribution from all eleven players and this is vital. The form of David Warner, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and the bowling effort from Johnson and Lyon is ominous for England. In the past 18months Australia’s Test team has resembled a metropolitan bus stop. With various players coming and going and shifting up and down the order. In stark contrast Australia now looks solid. The revolving selection door may just have slammed shut. Suddenly it is England who will consider changes.

I note that Sky Sports in England is running a poll asking readers to vote whether Johnathon Trott should be dropped.

Update: If David Warner should be targeted for criticism, will sections of the English sports media be singled out too? Some immediately after the Test defeat, launched a savage campaign to sack Johnathon Trott.

There will be questions about Chris Tremlett and Joe Root, but mainly because England may consider an all-rounder or extra spinner at Adelaide.

Pending fitness, Australia shouldn’t change their team. George Bailey must be given the entire series to prove is he cut out for a top six Test batting spot. Nathan Lyon sparked the collapse of England’s batting on Day Two and took the vital wickets of Cook and Prior on Day Four. Peter Siddle consistently beat the bat and snared the prized wicket of Ian Bell on the last day. Ryan Harris remains Australia’s spearhead bowler. Steven Smith contributed an invaluable 32 runs in Australia’s faulty first innings and Chris Rogers is Australia’s rock.

England’s batting

Six wickets for 9 runs in 53 minutes on Day 2. England simply didn’t bat well enough in this Test Match. They lost 4/10 after the thunderstorm had passed on Day 4 and eventually 6/37 to lose. They failed to score 200 in either innings on a good cricket wicket and Stuart Broad was the only player to score more than 8 in both innings. Bad batting and brilliant bowling combined with well executed tactics ensured England perished well short of par.

The record of most of England’s players indicates they will respond. If there’s one player who might break Sachin Tendulkar’s record 51 Test centuries it could be Alistair Cook. He has 25 and is 28, but Cook has four 50s against Australia in his last 12 Test innings, and no centuries.

The England captain needs to lift if his team are to fight back and retain the Ashes.

Kevin Pietersen is another who must lift. He has 1 century and three 50s against Australia from 12 innings in 2013. Johnathon Trott has two 50s and no centuries against Australia in 12 innings. The time is nigh for these batsmen and Adelaide is the pitch. If they cannot redeem themselves there then the chorus of discontent will reverberate loudly.

Update: It seems England’s obvious choice to replace Trott is Johnny Bairstow with perhaps a likely reshuffling of the batting order. Tim Bresnan is another candidate, but it seems England require a full-time batsmen.

Closure

I had a cracking time watching the First Test in Brisbane. I had to leave the ground early on the final day when the hail stones hit. Alas, I had to return to my home port for work on Monday. I was able to catch the last few wickets on the television at the airport. As I entered the Qantas Club lounge at Brisbane I was greeted by roars of joy as hundreds of people in the lounge were huddled around televisions cheering on Australia. Those who think Test cricket is dead, think again. It is alive and thriving and so is this Test Series. See you all next week for the Adelaide preview.

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Reacting to the Ashes defeat in 2010-11 – Deja Vu in 2013?

I recently located a piece (maybe it’s a rant) I’d written in the wake of Australia’s humiliating 3-1 defeat to England in the home Ashes Series of 2010-11. It’s interesting to see how little Cricket Australia has done between then, and now (the selection panel and coach have changed). People are writing similar things two and half years later. How can Sutherland keep his job?

13 January 2011

James Sutherland, Tim Nielsen and Andrew Hilditch have avoided taking any responsibility for what is happening in Australian cricket. We’ve just been absolutely hammered by our bitter rivals on home soil and their reaction is not in perspective. Sutherland is more interested in appeasing sponsors with flash in the pan 2020 matches than promoting the specific interests of Shield and Test cricket. Hilditch is only interested in his interpretation and personal standing. Nielsen is not a leader of men in the same mould as Andy Flower or Bob Simpson and subsequently cannot establish a tough winning culture. Our team were absolutely rattled against England, psychologically battered.

The current misguided PR and PC driven culture of Cricket Australia is reflected in the dressing room and it is taking an enormous toll. The focus is all wrong and it stems from these administrators. Test Match cricket is a technical game, but it also requires strength of character, because it is often a game of tactical and psychological warfare.

England utterly dominated the technical and psychological aspects. Did the administration give our players the best opportunity to prepare and execute these skills? I think not. Some might say these observations are knee-jerk, but there are many of us who have been highlighting problems with systems, structures and cultures in our game since 2007 and earlier. These “leaders” have not taken any responsibility, they do not listen and their reaction to this loss solidifies the fact they are not up to the massive task of restoring Australian cricket back at the top. While I’m at it, Australian fans need a serve too.

We have been butchered by a travelling army of English fans and they have utterly embarrassed this nation by turning each and every Australian ground into a manifestation of England. Their support was first class, Australia’s barely existed – and at a time when the team needed it most. Anyone who doubts the compelling impact of this support, well, go and ask the players of both teams. Australian cricket requires change and improvement on and off the field, and on both sides of the boundary fence.

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