Sunday, 3 January 2010
New Year Cricket in Sydney
I must admit, I've been a distant correspondent this season, perhaps with due cause owing to the small matter of releasing my first book in publication. Even so, I've been unusually quiet. There's something about being there that sparks ones interest though and through the showers and a on again off again and again day at the Sydney Cricket Ground, I found myself excilerated and in need of writing what I experienced. For those who have sat at a major gound and watched fortunes ebb and flow as conditions and effort come together, with know that you don't watch cricket in its live form, you experience it. The day started with three and a half hours of waiting, for although international cricketers will stand in the rain and practice their skills, they won't play in it. As the big white shroud was removed then replaced then removed then replaced, the sheep and goats stood for comparison. Some grumbled, some contemplated leaving, some even booed, but the real devotees sat quietly and contemplated. They formed plans and waited to see how they stacked against the Skipper. Meanwhile, Channel Nine went back to normal programing and friends resorted to sending me text messages to find out what was happening at the ground. By 1:30pm, most had worked through the calculations of weather, conditions and mottled green pitch and watched the coin flick, rise and come down Australia's way. Even those raised on the maxim that you always bat when you win the toss (unless the conditions are perfect, the opposition on the back foot, your bowlers rampant and the pitch very likely to last the distance ... in which case, you bat anyway) had reached the conclusion that Ponting should ask Pakistan to bat. He didn't. In the end, it was his inability to quickly respond to changing conditions and fear of gambling that made him play safe. Of all his captaincy failings, its the one he's least responsible for. What followed was a top order masacre, during which the top seven totalled 53 and Johnson and Hauritz 59 of the remaining 74 until a total - if that word can be applied to such a small sum - of 127 was reached. Four of them played bad shots but all of them were subjected to great bowling. Phil Hughes failed. He failed to score but he failed to impress in any of the ten deliveries he faced, which was, nine more than he deserved. Dropped first ball in the gully by Umar Akmal - an absolute sitter a ball-shy five year old would have been accepted to swollow - he waved the bat and hopped about until edging the ball to second slip for no such second chances. He had been handed the worst of the conditions to bat in but he looked like a man in so much of a hurry to run after and catch a bus that he disregards the conditions and gets run over by a taxi in the attempt. Having been heavily critical of the selectors when he was dropped, he showed no evidence they were wrong today. Mind you, he lasted nine balls longer than Ponting, who turned his first ball from hip to hands, straight to Umar Gul at a deepish square leg. Watson was Sami's third victim soon after and Australia was relishing in the Skipper's choice at 3-10. Hussey batted well for 28 and Clarke got a corker of an off cutter from Asif which hit the top of middle stump but North and Haddin joined the list of poor shots and 6-51 it innings destroyed. Johnson (38) and Hauritz (21) added an enterprising partnership of 44 but with Asif (6-41) now cutting a swathe through the Australians after Sami's early haemorage-causing opening spell, they eventually bled out on the generously grass-covered black soil of the centre wicket. As one texting correspondent asked, how could Sami have a Test bowling average of 50 plus? Pakistan saw through a few fiery overs from Doug Bollinger. Again, whilst the cricket world acknowledges Mitch Johnson bowls better with a slightly older ball, wasn't this an obvious time to throughout the gameplan and let him loose for two or three overs? In the end, wouldn't any of "Australia's most successful captains" have done that? Throughout the day, Yousef did an excellent job leading his men, although a tighter reign on Umar Gul might have proved prudent. He certainly appeared to have his knickers in a twist at the Australia lower order and at one stage held up the bowler to walk from backward point to the batting end and offer batting advice to Nathan Hauritz and gave Johnson a big serve soon after. Yousef moved his bowlers about well, midful of the cool day and the need to go for the jugular. Palistan are well in charge.