James Pattinson

Graeme Smith retires, Australia on brink

Australia command proceedings in Cape Town and South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith has announced his retirement from international cricket.

Smith has had a brilliant career. He concludes having played 117 Test Matches averaging 48. He has been a solid opening bat, fearless leader and capable tactician. He has led South Africa to the top of the ICC Test Rankings. The Proteas haven’t lost a Test series since the 2008-09 southern summer.

Leadership duties may have taken their toll on Smith. He has been captain for 109 of those 117 Tests after being installed as the boss at just 22. Cape Town is his home ground and it’d be nice for him and his nation if he could craft a big score and save his side from defeat.

Australia on the brink of victory at Cape Town?

Australia can beat the number 1 side at home. Two days remain in the 3rd and final Test. Bar miracles, the hosts cannot win. Let’s face it they’re a bowler down with Dale Steyn injured. Unless Morne Morkel rips through Australia’s second innings tonight in a bout of absolute ferocious mayhem and South Africa’s batsmen tear down what would be at least 300-350 runs, then a draw is their only hope for salvation.

Australia lead by 234 runs with 10 2nd innings wickets in hand. They’ll bat aggressively tonight. Michael Clarke will go for the kill by declaring in due time for his bowlers to rip into the Proteas. They’ll have 4 or 5 sessions to survive the onslaught.

And what an onslaught it will be. During the first two sessions on day 3 Australia’s bowlers routed South Africa’s world class top order. Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson took 7 wickets with precision and persistent hostility.

Don’t touch the ball!

At one point shortly after lunch yesterday du Plessis blocked one away near his feet. He politely picked up the ball and threw it back to the bowler. A half dozen Australian fielders frantically swooped delivering a chorus of tirades.

“Don’t you dare touch the f****** ball” was the gist. For 30+ years Australian Test teams do not permit opposition batsmen to touch their ball. Some might call this unreasonable or unbecoming of gentlemen, but it is deeply psychological and Test cricket is psychological warfare. Arguably their ball policy contributes to an arsenal of weapons, which are strategically deployed to grind opponents into dust.

A toilet break

Until last night I have never ever seen a batsmen leave the field of play on an unscheduled break, let alone in the middle of an over, to go to the toilet. I didn’t think it was permitted, especially 15min into play after a 40min lunch break. Faf du Plessis crabbed off and left everyone standing about the middle hands-on-hips for 5mins. The stump mics were quickly turned down by the broadcaster when du Plessis returned to another spray (no pun intended) which Supersport commentator Mike Haysman described as “colourful”.

Bowled out

The sharp needling continued. A short time later Mitchell Johnson snicked out AB de Villiers. JP Duminy didn’t last long, but Philander batted well with du Plessis.

Nathan Lyon had a right to be aggrieved twice when Brad Haddin missed stumping du Plessis and Alex Doolan failed to take a catch at bat pad 2 balls later. The canny du Plessis-Philander partnership amassed 95. The Proteas did not evade the follow on target of 294, but they did successfully exceed the limit within which Michael Clarke would have enforced it. I think that was around 220. South Africa were eventually bowled out for 287.

Conclusions

Australia will go for the win. Of that there can be no doubt. Michael Clarke is an aggressive captain and they’re desperate for success after a mostly tumultuous 2012 and 13. If South Africa can drill into the Aussie top order early this evening it will deepen interest in all three outcomes. Australia has proved it can collapse like a straw house in Cyclone Yasi. For this reason I expect stoic batting at first and then a canter for quick runs and a wave from the pavilion.

Graeme Smith will begin his last innings at some point today. For cricket’s sake I hope he is able to manufacture a memorable finale.

Welcome to Cape Town: best ground in the world?

Newlands at Cape Town is a firm candidate for the best ground in world cricket. On Saturday it hosts one of the most anticipated Test matches in a decade. Aside from the rife speculation about the teams, I am utterly engrossed in this monumental contest and cannot wait to see if the Aussies can bounce back from being razed by South Africa.

I’ll probably harm my own performance in club cricket by staying up very late watching every ball. But any self respecting cricket nut cannot miss this. The series is level at 1-1 and South Africa clench the ascendency. They battered Australia at Port Elizabeth.

South Africa’s batting was supreme whereas Australia’s middle order didn’t turn up. They fell to pieces in the 4th innings chase of 449. At 1/150 they were a slight chance, but the loss of 9 wickets for 68 runs brought them to their knees. South Africa beheaded them with ruthless conviction. The Proteas executed them a bowler short too. Wayne Parnell tore a muscle and was unable to bowl. On a feather bed wicket suited more to patient batting than blast-em-to-pieces fast bowling, Australia’s brittle order was shredded by Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and part-time spinners.

Openers Warner and Rogers made 173 of the 2nd innings 216. That’s frightening. Rolled for 216 coupled with a first innings failure of 246, it’s clear the batting needs to improve. But, so does the bowling.

Ryan Harris looked absolutely knackered and Johnson was unable to kill people on the slow wicket. Nathan Lyon bowled a thousand overs and without a fourth seamer the Aussies had to “unleash” David Warner’s lollipops.

Tampered ball?

David Warner has suggested that South Africa inappropriately handled the ball. More specifically he referred to the way wicket-keeper AB deVilliers “wiped” the rough side of the ball with his gloves. The implication is that the Proteas deliberately scuffed up the rough side of the Kookaburra to induce more swing. South African officials rubbished Warner’s claims. Coach Russell Domingo stated that Warner’s “disappointing” remarks had “added an extra 10 per cent motivation to the [South African] guys”.

Team Changes

For me Shane Watson must replace Shaun Marsh and bat at 6. Marsh has 6 ducks in 11 innings. Four from years ago, but a pair at Port Elizabeth. Alex Doolan stays because Australia must procure a proper number 3. Ryan Harris misses out for James Pattinson. Harris is brilliant, but needs a rest and Pattinson can become a superstar. He is that good.

The hosts need to replace Parnell and might go back to Ryan McClaren who was concussed by Johnson in the first Test. They might also go for Kyle Abbot who destroyed Pakistan last year in his only Test.

Newlands the greatest

I elevate Newlands as the most spectacular ground in world cricket because of its sheer beauty. To watch a Test there is a dream of mine. I have experienced Australian grounds. I’ve seen Tests at Lords, Kensington Oval and Queen’s Park in Barbados and Trinidad. Newlands would eclipse them all. Tabletop Mountain provides a stunning canvass and classic stands lead to grassy hills shaded by huge trees. Don’t miss the stunning scenery or the sparkling cricket.

Who should play for Australia next?

The ten day break between Lords and the upcoming third Test at Old Trafford is like an oasis for Australia. A bounty of space and time devoid of Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann. There’s been no time for relaxation, jelly and ice cream though. A section of the touring party has been battling Sussex at Hove, while the rest receive counselling.

Some of Australia’s fans are in need of counselling too after we copped a seventh defeat in ten Test Matches in London last week. With James Pattinson returning home injured, David Warner piling on 193 for the A side in Pretoria, and Ed Cowan posting 66 and a 77 not out against Sussex, heart rates remain high with conjecture raging about Australia’s XI for the next Test.

Australia’s immensely bad batting, which I discussed in depth in the Lords Preview and again in Australia’s Invertebrate Batting, has generated vociferous commentary. If we analysed some of the propositions circulating, we’d have about fifteen different 11s. I’ve made my feelings clear about the big picture and some of the factors affecting Australia’s batting demise, but with some radical ideas frisbeeing about in relation to who should play next, I’m in the conservative camp when it comes to selection for the remainder of this series.

Stick with the squad

You can’t go ringing up blokes and dragging them in from all corners with inadequate preparation, and dump them in the middle of an intense Ashes contest. Some people have demanded “bring in young guys and start building”. This popular line is trotted out in all sports, whenever things aren’t great, but it’s a shallow throwaway. This is already one of the youngest assemblies of Australian Test players in the past 25 years.

Mishandling our player resources is now a habit that requires breaking. The last thing we need to do is inhibit some young lad’s development by having him terrorised by England’s attack in front of the Barmy Army, who will be deployed in force for the first time this series at Old Trafford.

You don’t develop players in the Test team, you develop them in First Class cricket and pick accomplished and proven candidates to play Test cricket. Clearly this hasn’t happened for Australia with recent selection lacking philosophy and consistent logic, so it’s time for some continuity.

Chopping and changing is something to avoid in these circumstances

He’s a strong candidate and it looks likely he’ll play in Manchester, but I believe David Warner should not be rushed back in on account of one score for Australia A. Over 1300 runs were scored in that match with 3 centurions, a double centurion and a collection of worthy starts. This indicates the pitch was like the Great Eastern highway.

Warner scored 33 in the second dig and reports suggest he had to be separated from a heated confrontation with the opposition wicket keeper. He was sent there for disciplinary reasons and to fix an ailing attitude. Has the penny dropped for Warner? I’m not sure, I’d tell him we want another hundred for the A team when they play Sth Africa A again on Wednesday, but I believe he’s just arrived back in England to rejoin the squad so it seems he’ll play and hopefully prove me wrong.

As for the top order that failed at Lords; We can argue that Phil Hughes shouldn’t have been brought back so soon (or at all) and that Watson is an opener, a number six or a T20 specialist. Simon Katich should not have been deposed in 2011, but he should not be brought back in now, and we should not play Mathew Wade (0 & 30not out v Sussex) – a future wicket keeper who should bat at 7 – as a top six batsman.

Ed Cowan was dropped after the First Test so to reinstate him in the Third creates a revolving door and perpetuates a culture of self-preservation and fear.

Frankly, there should only be two certain changes for Old Trafford

Jackson Bird or Mitchell Starc in for the injured Pattinson and Nathan Lyon in for Ashton Agar. Naturally, this assertion lacks detailed pitch and weather analysis and the fitness of our players could affect selection come Thursday, but I’m hoping for some continuity both in the line up and the batting order.

My Old Trafford XI

Watson, Rogers, Khawaja, Clarke, Hughes, Smith, Haddin, Siddle, Harris, Lyon, Bird. (12th man Starc)

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