Thursday, 14 January 2010

In Between Red Wines

I saw little of the first day from Hobart, as I will likely see little of the remaining days but in between my wife's sips and spits at the various wineries around Victorian's Rutherglen, all the glimpses I got on the large screens prominent inside each of the cellar doors were of Ricky Ponting. By that stage of the afternoon, he was pushing those purposeful singles and slicing those cover dives and yes, even smashing those pulls and hooks.

Highlight packages and radio commentary suggested his day hadn't always been as such.

The man immortalised in a sub-editors nightmare which declared "Ponting To Keep Pulling" had done just that and again, should have been wondering on Ian Chappell's advice, early doors, in the southern most of Australia's cricket playing cities. He wasn't because Pakistan can't always play like they did on the first day in Sydney - in fact, they rarely do. When the magic happens, they can be world beaters but that's the trouble with magic, sharp eyes will always undo sleight of hand.

So pull and hook Ponting did but it was awful for an hour, with shots played and missed and a sconer all in the mix. Older he is, perhaps even jaded as his thirties wane but never forget, he is Ponting. The ICC says he's the best of the last ten years and frankly, looking at the time period, disagreement could at best be churlish and at its worst, stupid. I saw enough around tea to recognise the younger man in him and it was good. I have been his critic over other things, but never his batting. Today he passed three figures for the 39th time and I both salute him and shake my head at the figure. I had watched Greg Chappell make 24 and thought that remarkable and that master run accumulator, Allan Border make 27 mostly heroic hundreds.

Ponting is better than any of them. In fact, having watched them both, I can place only Tendulkar beyond him - two grand masters by all means and me left to make a hard decision.

At the other end, offering no false shots, no scramble, Michael Clarke was poised and frankly beautiful. I saw one pull shot from him and it was just a sweet swing of the bat to a ball that was only to pleased to speed to the boundary. No butchery like we might see from his Skipper just twenty odd metres away. Clarke really is classy. He may be the new Walters or the new Chappell but who cares - he's Clarke.

Australia too strong and Ponting looking at his Test highest tomorrow.

More wineries and skinny dipping for me.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

What to do with a dead rubber

And so the Aus summer moves to sunny Hobart for the finale in what has been an incredible summer of test cricket. With so many pundits declaring the West Indies a far from formidable force (one even declaring after Brisbane they should be stripped of test status) and the unpredictability of Pakistan a 'known' quantity, this summer has produced cricket few would have expected possible. What is even more amazing is the fact that Aus have won 4 from 5 tests. How often the results do not truly indicate the state of play! A miracle turn-around (and negative tactics plus capitulation) plus a batting effort to save a test have prevented a very different scoreline for Aus. Ian Chappell made an apt observation about Aus cricket pointing out that despite world best players exiting its side, it still knows how to win when it gets a sniff. Pakistan may need to learn this with a young group with a great deal of talent; to do this they must play more test cricket. West Indies are beginning to rebuild from almost scratch. Chanderpaul will retire very soon but they have found players who can score freely and hold an end. In the bowling stocks it's important to remember they didn't have one of their strike bowlers for the whole series and lost the other after the first test.

So, what was my point? Ah yes; the dead rubber. I must admit that usually I advocate for such matches to give 'fringe' players a run and get some match practice into those who have had a lean summer. In the case of the bowlers I think all have done a job and could well deserve a rest. This is, of course, not possible and probably stupid. Johnson has bowled so many overs that I think there's a case for giving him a break. He plays all forms of the game! Bollinger is proving his worth and Siddle may need to still prove his. I get the feeling that Siddle will forever be scrutinised more than most; likely because he will have the Darren Gough syndrome whereby he doesn't get the poles next to his name to reflect his effort. On the batting front only Watson can say he has performed consistently, with Katich coming back from an injury and therefore likely to regain his place. Of course if you leave out Watson you also lose valuable overs. So, little change to the batting lineup then. The middle order has been awful at times. Hussey can hold his head up after playing a major role in giving Aus a chance to win in Sydney. North, Ponting and Clarke could do with some time in the middle.

Summation; give Johnson and Watson a break. Put in Shaun Marsh or Phil Hughes and, well, who takes Johnson's spot? While the Aus bowling lineup is quickly finding its feet as a unit I'm not so sure there are the bowlers circling the Shield comp. Geeves and Mackay have looked promising, Laughlin and Nannes perhaps? The key is how these guys step up to test cricket. I guess there's only one way to find out. Another player who has done the yards is Hauritz. Although he seems to hurt himself every time he plays he's backed it up again and again. Personally I sense that CA is keen for him to be an almost permanent fixture of the Aus 11 and will seek for him to get as many overs in the middle as possible. With the latest injury being a left finger, leave him in and bowl the proverbial out of him in Hobart.

Looking ahead Aus heads to New Zealand for two tests and of course some limited over stuff. Then we wait til next summer for the Ashes. In between of course there are various ODI and 20/20 tournaments. While Aus will remain a frequently playing test nation, it appears it cannot avoid being a victim of limited over fascination. After the second test in NZ there is only the first test against England to look forward to. For the players who make up the Aus limited over squads and test squad there is no chance of playing county cricket. They can only hope to get a run for their state before the Ashes starts. This infuriates me. Batting the middle overs of an ODI or playing 20/20 full stop does not prepare you in any real way for test cricket. Nor does bowling 4 overs with power plays. It's a vicious circle for mine as players like Ferguson, Hughes et al can play all year round but find it hard to get and cement a spot in the Aus side, while national reps can struggle for the baggy green but have few opportunities to fine-tune in longer versions of the game. I wish CA still treated 20/20 like the gimmick it is and just use guys like Warner who will never play test cricket.

We'd all be great administrators, wouldn't we!