Thursday, 7 January 2010

A Few Good Men

There's an old saying, often quoted by those who like to take short cuts to gain success - "the ends justify the means" - and I'm afraid this remarkable win in Sydney will turn around journalists and cricket followers, who will bay from the rooftops of the SCG that Ponting is King.

In doing so, they disregard a few essential truths. 1. Ponting should have bowled; 2. 127 was not enough; Australia, as a group, batted badly; 3. Fear and lack of self-belief lost this Test as much as courage and self-belief won it.

The Australia skipper said many things in victory yesterday afternoon which were consistent with the arrogance that we like to call confidence. Asking the press gallery to raise their hands if they had thought Australia would lose, for instance. When the hands went up he said "It comes down to results and we've got a great result here. So I look like a genius where I didn't a couple of days ago." Nothing like humility in victory ... nothing like it! He also claimed that his theory on batting first was he would back his side to score more in the first innings than the opposition did in their second. Do the maths Ricky, you didn't.

Underlining Ponting's remarkable first day choice was a pathetic bating performance by so many of the Australians in the four hours their first innings lasted. Pakistan earned their wickets but Hughes, Ponting, North and Haddin handed their wickets away in the first innings. Of the batsmen, Hussey stood up and then Hauritz and Johnson prevented a complete debacle.

I could rabbit on about Ponting all day as he gives you more than enough ammunition but the bottom line was his decision to bat was a bad one and victory doesn't change that bald fact. Australia didn't win because of anything Ponting did, it won because a small handful of players could find something extra, something beyond that which we expect.

Pakistan batted with great application to lead by more than enough on Day Two and the cascade of wickets late in the day was about quick runs at a time when they perceived themselves safe. It was one of cricket's delicious injustices that Peter Siddle could return 1-61 on a day of guts and great line. The ball must have glanced at the edge twenty five or thirty times as it hurried past to Haddin. He was clearly Australia's best bowler. Had Kamran Akmal been paying attention, he would have seen Haddin catch safely, despite having a sloppy day. Watson held a Dyson like beauty from Faisal Iqbal.

If we are to further our honesty, Australia climbed back into this match on Days 3 & 4 thanks to the continued great form of Shane Watson, who this correspondent has never rated but must now admit has become a fine player. This was his unluckiest near hundred, because it was made under such pressure and in the end, only a viper jumping from the pitch to bite his glove could remove him. The other man of note on Day three was the beleaguered Phil Hughes who played an innings of skill and uncharacteristic graft in his two and a half hour 37. The century opening stand removed half the deficit and restored belief. Ponting, Clarke, North and Haddin all went cheaply again and when the early tail was between Australia's legs, Day 4 dawned a gloomy one.

Then came the extraordinary but not uncommon modern tactics from Pakistan's skipper Mohammad Yousuf. For one hundred and fifty minutes of the lengthened first session, he had keeper and two slips and everyone else signing autographs on the boundary for the first four balls of each over, whenever Hussey faced, gave away a single and attacked Siddle for one or two deliveries. We might attack this tactic and we should but it's a standard for modern Test captains. We watched Ponting do the same against South Africa at this very ground last year. We saw it from both sides in England during the Ashes. It's a tactic born from one day rules which prevent it. Therefore, we shouldn't be barking insults and derogatory dismissal at Pakistan for using the tactic. Yousuf's stupidity was to continue to apply it well after it's useby date had made it rotten. It was a tactic born of a lack of self-confidence. Pakistan were frightened Australia might climb out of the hole and in being so, they passed them a ladder.

Hussey was Hussey for those two hours. Whilst "told-you-so's" were common after play, the one's with the biggest right were the Australia selectors who stuck with Mr Cricket when most had preferred to use short-sightedness as the yardstick. He milked Pakistan's lazy cow until her teats were dry and scored one of cricket's greatest centuries. At the other end, it was that bloke Siddle who batted with more front than Mae West and whether or not the numbers stacked up, this was his best Test innings. A better bat than Johnny Watkins but not as good as Bob Massie, he called on both of their SCG ghosts to maintain his composure at the centre wicket and do what he does best - get the job done. There's something about Victorians isn't there?

Faced with a moderate total to defend, Australia was all guts before glory as they kept at the Pakistani's, hoping to sow more discontented seeds among the falling confidence. There were two overs in it, in the end. With Pakistan steaming along at five an over, Johnson found the outside edge of Faisal Iqbal and then two balls later, induced Salmon Butt to glance to ball down the leg side where Brad Haddin took a superb one hander, way off in the distance to his right. The wobbly boot was on but with tea not long after, Pakistan should have settled under Yousuf's experience at the crease. They didn't. Yousuf blazed a lofted drive straight back at Hauritz, who lost bits and pieces from his left hand but somehow held the catch. Two balls later, Mishbar Ul-haq cut a ball straight to Hussey at backward point and the game was Australia's to win.

Ponting gets credits from me for his attacking captaincy on this last day. Attacking is what he does well and he should do it more often.

Hussey picked up MOM but any of Watson, Hauritz or that man Siddle might have. Throw in Johnson who had some telling moments. Churchill said it well ... never have so many owed so much to so few. Ponting, for the main was not among them and I will maintain, whether asked or not, his decision at the toss was the wrong one. He was saved vilification in the end by a few of his men who love that Baggy Green so much, that they were prepared to expose the bowling balls between their legs and work a miracle.


  1. Wonderful writing Lango and a pleasure to read.
    Amongst all of the plaudits in the media about "The few" Aussie exploits, I think that what is missing is the fact that Pakistan were to blame for the loss as much as Australia were for the win.
    Lacsadaisical captaincy when Huss and Didds were at the crease as well as Ul Huq, Yousef, Kamran, Sammy, Umar all giving their wickets away, or if not then not applying themselves to the task at hand.

    Shane Watson has been the subject of many jibes in this forum as well as outside of it but he has proved us all wrong...whether he should open for the rest of his career is another matter.

    Ponting did say he would back his batsmen to get more runs in the first inning than the opposition did in their last...they didn't.

    BUT: All he said was that he "would back them" and back them he did, he didnt assure that they WOULD make more runs just that he would back them. If there is any wicket going around in world cricket that supports his theory and any place to apply it then surely it is the SCG.
    As far as 178 being a moderate total to defend on the SCG let us not forget that the record is about 250. That is the most ANY team has EVER made in the fourth inning to win a game. 170 odd is a tricky target at any ground as Australia has found out more than once.
    As well as backing his Batsmen (regardless of whether they responded) he also backed his spinner, who just prior to tea was leaking more than the Sea Shepherd, knowing that he was the key to an unlikely win...far from having nothing to do with the victory, Ponting was the architect. People are just used to bashing him. He may not know humility but then again Bradman (and no I am not comparing them) wasn't the most popular of blokes either.

  2. Bradman worked at being a prick; Ponting is by accident.

  3. Thats it?
    Any-one else?

  4. no, i think you guys have summed it up well.

    for me, the test worked through many stages and moments where the result ebbed and flowed; can't ask for more than that, can we.

    critical moments/point for mine:
    the toss. clearly vanity got in the way off good judgement; i have castigated Ponting once before about bowling first... but if ever there was a time to go against the olod adage...

    Jonno and Haury first dip; does any other side have such genuine batting depth?

    Paki first innings/2nd day morning session; the only "boring" session of the test, but to those of us that feel we appreciate the depth of test cricket, a session that was needed to bring out the end result.

    the entire 3rd day; captivating/see sawing/etc et al

    Hussey! obviously his knock (must have found a 4 leaf clover under a rabbits foot on the way in that day!), but moreso the look on his face when he took the catch for Haury. Inspiration facial expression that for me sumned up the aussies resolve and determination to take this.

    ... and Hadds catch and Jonnos over that broke the roll. extracting that extra 1% is a trait that i thought may have evaporated from the psych after winning for years on pure talent... gladly, i'm wrong.

    Haury, showing that behind that baby face he is harder than the hobbs of hell! "you should go and have that looked at in the dressing rooms." "can't, gotta win this test!" top stuff, and my boy loved seeing him tough it out when the claret was running and then get on with the job... so did i!

  5. It's easy to reflect on results and dismiss the means, isn't it? I doubt Aus would have got over India or South Africa in the same circumstances.

    I'll concede Ponting could have bowled first but I think he has unwavering belief in his batsmen that he doesn't have in his bolwers. Perhaps Cardiff still hurts. If 8 of the 10 wickets had been due to the pitch making deliveries hand grenades 'could' would be 'should'. But they weren't. So I maintain batting first was fair enough.

    Aus got out of jail, no doubt. Even West Indies would have given it a better shake after making nearly a third of the runs before losing the first wicket. Rather than fighting back in Hobart I expect an innings win to Aus inside three days. That loss must have been soul-destroying for Pakistan.

    While the field settings Yousuf employed may be commonplace, I'd argue it's also commonplace to try something different when plan A hasn't worked in a couple of hours. When you're trying to keep a bloke on strike to target the other guy wouldn't you bowl a ball difficult to score a single off? Maybe a bit of width outside off stump isn't the way to go!

    Pakistan butchered the second innings. Siddle and Hussey looked so untroubled I expected Ponting to declare as they'd have a lead of 300 by the end of the day. Siddle played the innings of his career but bloody hell Pakistan could have bowled better to him. I should congratulate Siddle, though; he ducked short stuff, played through the line, worked to the leg side etc. Hussey looked brilliant but Kamran Akmal, what can you say? That is the worst fielding of any kind since Tuffnel came out here.

    After fighting in so many sessions on this tour I lost some respect for Pakistan after their batting effort in the second dig. They just needed one batsmen to hang around with the ball not doing the same dance as day 1. Umar Akmal could have been that guy but he lost his head and it was game over after his dismissal. To Aus credit they took every half-chance which you have to do defending a gettable total. So all in all almost a deserved victory. Almost.

    To Tassie we go for the finale of a great summer of test cricket in Aus.