Thursday, 7 January 2010

Any other country...

Over the last 24 hours since Australia "won" the Sydney test I have entertained many conversations about how unbelievable it was and so on. Eventually the conversation has lead to match fixing. I know with any implosion the subject rears it's ugly head but when the side concerned is Pakistan, and the game was lost by grassed sitters and poor field settings it becomes a little more ugly.
I love test cricket and this game was an awesome advertisement for the validity of it but something in the back of my mind sits uneasily and I throw it over to the gentlemen on this site to give me some councelling.
Am I being silly or is there a distinct possibility that the Pakistani's might have thrown this one?
I look forward to your replies.

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.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

AWESOME.....and a retraction

Just got home from a hard days slog with the cricket in my earphones, fidelity boosted by the earmuffs... What can I say? nothing surely that any of the commentary has already said, it was awesome: Siddle's Gumption (for you stoph) and Hussey's professionalism were a highlight as well as Pontings confidence in his bowlers namely Hauritz who had gone for a few runs prior to tea.

Now the retraction... I blasted the first day pitch the other day and although I stand by the comments, the way that the game played out made for awesome listening.
Hang on...
Does that make it ok?
Was the pitch fair/true?
Is it like when Tails asked Punter about his decision about the toss after the game: "was it the right decision"? and the answer came back "it is now"
Am I glossing over what should be a polish for the Aussie cricket team?

I would have liked to have listened to the Hobart test with the series result in the balance but am stoked with the way we have won so... am going to go and have another 17,000 beers while the house sleeps.

Go cricket, you rock.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Lessons For The Cricket Punks

Among many other things, today was a day of lessons. Certainly, it was a day in which Australia played well but not well enough and of the lessons taught, one key lesson must be learned if Australia are to escape what appears inevitable defeat. It's an old fashioned value that three year old have little of but mothers emplore them to apply.

Patience. As they say, it's not rocket science but for two sessions, Australia was shown how to bat on this lively Sydney wicket. For under such circumstances, one has to play the real Test cricket of our forefathers and its therefore even more astounding that a young group of players raised on the money grabbing fifty over game and the filthy indecency of Twenty20, could show Australia's corn fed, high intensity, high calibre, academy bred elite how its meant to be when the pitch is willing and the conditions against the men who stand in pairs.

But they did and the did for two long sessions - long enough to gain control. By tea, Pakistan's position at 2-190 was several suburbs, let alone streets ahead of Australia's over and time eqivalent all out for 127 yesterday. In fact, so disciplined did they scrap with the Aussies, that it took until two hours into the day for a brain explosion to be apparent, when Farhat danced Watson, missed in an ugly swing and then wandered back at his own pace and was almost stumped by a throw from Haddin.

There after, it was back to the grind.

How Australia would have valued losing 0-71 yesterday in their first session. The second was more expansive, both openers leaving with the addition of 106 runs. Australia won the last session by taking seven wickets but the last four hardly counted as Pakistan's batsmen had been given the instruction to crash or crash through. So whilst they lost wickets, they also piled on the advantage in adding 141 after tea, swinging like a middle class couple in the sixties.

The day started badly for Australia with North playing dropsey at first slip to Farhat. The opener continued to play and miss but so did all in the top six with the exception of Yousuf, who just looked the classy batsman he is. Salman Butt top scored and if Pakistan win this, I hope someone is smart enough to figure his name in the MOM calculations. His 22 runs in the first session made Tavare look like a swashbuckler but like real estate, position or occupation was everything. His application of the backcut is such a rarity in the modern game that watching him execute it was a real treat.

When they missed, it was mostly to the luckless Peter Siddle who finished low on the wicket count and must surely wait for another day when the cricket gods will watch him bowl badly but give him a bagful. Siddle finished the day with more misses than an aging Sheik but kept on coming and apart from one wayward over just before tea, he was clearly Australia's best. The worst was Hauritz, who bowled darts at up to 95km/h, on a poor line and a poor length and at a time when Ponting and I were in strange agreement about the need for him to bowl.

He let us both down.

Bollinger was honest and quick and intimidatory. I still don't get the Johnson rush and thought he was disappointing. For mine, Bolly and Mitch should be buying Siddle the drinks tonight. Yousuf was distressed when he ran the ball off the face of the bat to Haddin. Yousuf was in complete control with his 46 off only 56 balls. I threw my head back too. Umar was in a terrible hurry and did little wrong in his rapid 49 and was out lbw on referral. He managed to turn Hauritz into Australia's latest four wheel drive - going 4x4 with the first four balls he faced! Australia fielded well.

Apart from Haddin's five catches, Watson held two beauties - one invoking the ghost of John Dyson but looking into the sun and another skier that would have been coming down between solar flares. He just keeps doing good things. Elementary, I suppose.

It dawned on me near the end - Ponting and Hughes only need a thousand runs to have a 1000 runs in a calendar year. Things to look forward to but not for my eyes. Sated, for now, my thoughts are turning to 12 months hence and England and I wonder ... will I get a ticket?

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.