Thursday, 30 December 2010

This Just In!!

Test side announcement to be delayed until 5.30pm.

Something big is brewing.

Ponting injured and won't play?

New captain to be named? That takes a board vote.

If it is Clarke I will lose my guts.

The Trouble With Ponting

For those who may not have seen it, reprinted here in full from The Cricket Tragics.

''I entered into discussion with the umpires about the detail of the decision, having viewed replays being shown on the big screen,'' Ponting said. ''I accept the discussion went for too long, and I understand the reasons for the dissent charge handed down by the ICC this evening.

''I was simply trying to seek clarification from the umpires regarding how the decision had been made after being referred to the third umpire. However, I would be unhappy if anyone thought I was being disrespectful towards the umpires as this wasn't my intention.''

Ponting's Full Defence on Sky News

The captaincy of Australia, it is said, is the second most important job in Australia. Perhaps it could also be said to be the second most privileged place in Australian society. It comes with expectations and responsibilities too but unfortunately, the incumbent has mostly just talked the talk in their regard.

Leadership is an odd thing. Their are many ways to lead ... by example, for instance. By standing out in harms way and beating one's breast and willing your comrades to stand with you. The examples by which one leads, however, are not chosen .. . yes I'll have that one, no I prefer not to do that ... leadership by example is a focus which never goes fuzzy at the edges and allows the leader to have time off. Perhaps this explains why Ricky Ponting so often fails as a leader and resorts to the ideas of others because he finds the glare in the spotlight too constant, too demanding?

The words and terms which Ponting uses to defend his actions on the second day of the annually most watched cricket match in Australia, are those of a man who refuses to accept failure, despite the obvious evidence that he has failed. Much of it is spin provided by the massagers of truth who know the Australian public wants to forgive their man - has to forgive their man - hence the references to the every man, club captains. It's enough to make those without an emotional sporting reference point dependant on the national team's success puke till bile rises and burns the honesty they hold to. My throat is still stinging.

There's deferral of blame too. So carefully inserted ... if he hadn't seen the replay on the big screen, he wouldn't have been so convinced ... therefore, its not Ponting's fault he went from short fuse to walking bomb. The cleverness here is that it's a claim that rings true.

In the end, Ponting says he's sorry, but he's still right about the Pietersen inside edge, because he saw it on the big screen. Cue The Beach Boys and "Won't Back Down" as fresh coats of Teflon are applied to his image by pleasant ladies and gents with wide smiles and so much to tell him about how wonderful he really is. The ultimate lie is to have the liar believe the new truth.

There is so much wrong with what he did but then so much more wrong with how his reaction was stage managed. It's all about us wanting to let this pass because our boys are under enough attack already from the Poms and its also about plausible deniability. If the media savages the skipper under such circumstance, they are unpatriotic.

Lets deal with a few facts. One player reacted to the ball passing by Pietersen's bat and it wasn't Ponting. Vision showed him being convinced into a referral by Haddin. The players watched replays shown ill advisedly on the big screen as the umpires were deciding Pietersen's fate. The replays showed a clear outcome and Aleem Dar communicated that to the players. The fact that Ponting couldn't allow it to end there is, as he has said, totally his responsibility. What followed was a petulant display which goes against a basic tenant of cricket which media and administrators have been breaking a lot lately, "the umpire is always right".

Why did he react with so little restraint?

The answer is only partly to do with the current state of play in a series in which his exalted position has finally failed to have evidence to support it - he has failed to make significant contributions with the bat in all but one innings and that was after the match was safe in Brisbane; he has dropped crucial catches at second slip where he once caught them as if shelling peas; his captaincy has been questioned as being bland and unimaginative as England have piled on runs.

To be truly derivative in seeking an explanation to to this brain explosion, a wander back over the last five years of Ponting's controversies give a truer reason for the refusal to accept the three umpires' opinion in Melbourne.

Ponting dislikes, even hates the use of technology in cricket and has spoken with passion about the shortfalls of its use. Again before this current series, he called on players to deliver an honest appraisal of catches that are a close call and to leave replays out of the decision making loop. He caused a storm in New Zealand when DRS equipment was unable to be used because of winds over 130k/h. In Bangladesh in 2006, Ponting hurled abuse at umpires Ian Howell and Aleem Dar over a referral involving Aftab Ahmed and lost 25% of his match fee when referee Jeff Crowe found him guilty.In the DLF one day series in 2006, he launched an attack on umpire Mark Benson when he reversed a decision to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar and match referee decided not to proceed to disciplinary action. Even in this series, Ponting became annoyed by a third umpire decision in Brisbane when he felt he had held a fair catch from Alastair Cook and it was overturned.

Technology and its proper application may be a sore point for Ponting but the problem isn't just that. In 2005, Ponting blew up with Dar when he was run out by England substitute Gary Pratt, claiming England had no right to have a fielding specialist acting in the role of "acting" 12th man. His tally of five convictions for dissent against umpires in his six years as Captain can't all be blamed on technology but may have some basis in the personnel involved. It was interesting that he chose to comment on how expert the umpires for this match are, as at least three of the five conduct violations have involved Aleem Dar as the other party.

Ponting has always lacked self-control and despite spin to cover his tracks, his short fuse was apparent well before his ascent to the captaincy. A black eye when his reputation was reduced to annoying pest by a jealous boyfriend at a notorious Sydney nightclub haunt and his penis flopping display in an Indian equivalent are just two of the less delightful examples of warnings which should have seen him confined to the ranks. Unfortunately, we entered an era when performance was everything and Ponting performances were better than any. In return, he has traded on his role as a means of supplying rocket fuel to his batting and becoming easily the most dominant batsman of his generation and likely its most dangerous.

Perhaps the worst example of his aggressive, in your face petulance which owes as much to his immaturity as to the willingness of Cricket Australia to tolerate it, was the home series again the Indians three summers ago. India came to Australia on equal footing with the confident Australians who had squashed England the summer before and were taking a bruising, winner take all approach to Test cricket. Perhaps, in some way, Ponting needed to adopt an approach that might compensate for the hole left by match winners Warne, McGrath and the influential Langer, who despite being the toughest cricketer of his generation, also knew where the line was and kept Ponting from crossing it.

India were crushed in the Boxing Day Test, Hayden making one of three hundreds against them that summer and the bowlers, including a young and inexperienced Mitchell Johnson, easily ran through them. In the second game in Sydney, Ponting two enforcer's, Hayden and Symonds, were a physical presence over the Indians but their off spinner, Harbhajan Singh refused to take a backward step and suddenly the two bully boys were screaming like eight year olds who were about to be found out by the teacher and the match exploded into alleged racial taunts and the sort of bad blood one would expect to find along the Indian/Pakistani border. Then when Michael Clarke took three wickets in an over, deep into the last hour's allotment, Ponting exploded in one of the crassest displays that misfortune would allow. Many observers, were appalled and some, such as Peter Roebuck, called for his head, rightly stating that this was conduct unbecoming.

Cricket Australia sat on its hands and changed its name.

How much is enough? Apparently no amount of regular poor conduct from the Australian Captain will move either the ICC or Cricket Australia or the selectors to make a move against him. Perhaps they should note the spontaneous booing which began after five minutes of the most recent bat-and-ball-go-home stuff in Melbourne and again directed at Aleem Dar. It was no longer just the Balmy Army singing jeers at a man they once admired and feared. Australians in the outer voiced their disapproval at being so poorly represented by the man with the biggest share of little man syndrome in Australian sport. Even Members hissed their contempt.

The ICC, having taken part and whole match payment from him repeatedly, continues to slap his wrist and provide no disincentive. Given the severity of this incident in Melbourne and its repeating nature, a suspension would have been more in order. In soccer, if you stack those yellow cards, it doesn't matter who you are, you watch from the sidelines. Cricket, with all its genteel pretensions can stomach no such thing, having to be forced to take action against obvious cheats only when the media applies pressure. Toothless tigers rarely worry the hunters.

The show is almost over but whilst you and I can hear the Fat Lady warming up, Ricky Ponting still thinks he'll smack England for 100 in Sydney and life will go on. He doesn't like losing but hasn't seemed to notice how often it is happening. His high performance Alzheimer's makes him forgetful of dropped catches and the regularity with which an opener stands, watching him leave for the sheds. He doesn't notice younger players who adore him rushing to his defence. The arbiter of "the line", Justin Langer, needs to move beyond his batting coach role and have a word.

For Ponting's sake and more broadly for Australian cricket, I hope this man whose batting genius has made us all gape at our own inadequacy, will think on the consequences and call it a day in Sydney. As much as I have disliked and critiqued his captaincy and his inability to lead, I'd still like the chance to wave him off at the SCG and reminisce on his behalf on great innings that belong, properly to the past. I hold no malice and would rather hold no regret.

The time is right Skipper. For once, step away from other's plans and suggestions, sniff the breeze and strut your stuff one last time and let us afford you the praise your sumptuous batting and wonderful fielding has well and truly earned.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Ashes Ratings - Australia

Goodbye (well, a maintained absence) to the urn. Well played England; two innings victories are not just fallen upon, they are earned with consistent pressure and there is no doubt England applied pressure with bat and ball in 3 of the 4 tests (so far) and got the results. Whereas in 2009 the series came down to a few key moments with both teams experiencing innings wins, this series has been won by the best team - who were the best by a stretch. Johnson and Harris gave real hope in Perth that our pace attack was indeed good enough to take 20 wickets. It was only good enough to do it the once. Sydney means nothing now. A level series is fine with England and I doubt they'll be as on task as they have been in Melbourne. I don't really believe much in any perceived importance of 'saving face' when the battle is lost so selectors may as well give youth a chance in my opinion.

With that here is Lefty's analysis of Australia's performance player by player with a view to the future.

His conversion rate illustrates his middle order style where his 50s will be more valuable. Put him at 6 and you may see some tons from him. I'm not convinced his bowling is really up to 15 overs when they're badly needed but as long as he's not relied on to be a main part of the attack then he'll be handy. He did make some important runs so, as always seems to be the case, it's hard to be, well, too hard on him. 7.5/10

Gritty and determined but his injury should spell the end for the crab man. Great servant upon his return to the test team but it will be hanging onto the past; which has been part of Aus' problem for 4 years, if he is brought back. Not all players get to go out on terms they'd like. 5/10

While everyone wants to see young fellas get a chance and succeed at the highest level his technique is too village. Having a good cut shot is more than helpful for an opener (or any batsman) but if the bowlers know they can bowl short at you or get you out by enticing the drive you have to compensate and he can't. More time for NSW and some big scores and he can be looked at again. 3/10

Great servant of the game. A liked captain, was a brilliant batsman and fielder. This is no longer the case. He may still be a very good batsman but at 76 or however old he is why would you move him to 5 or wait for him to regain form? The Ashes are gone and so should Ponting be. Thank you and goodbye. An unfortunate way to go out but if Healy got treated the way he did while still good enough to keep for his country then Ponting can't complain. 1/10

One of my favourite players who I've learned alot about batting from watching. This series he gave lessons in how not to bat in test cricket. Whether it's form, injury, shot selection or the lack of a girl friend he has looked undisciplined by feeling for the ball outside off. His 80 in Adelaide showed he's not a bad batsman but I'm unsure what the best course of action is with him. If he were to be given time in the seconds I wouldn't be upset. 3/10

My only 'right' call for the series. His style is so simple but effective. I was unsure whether he could bounce back and so thought 2 tests was fair for him to prove himself. I'd make him or Haddin captain and keep him for 2 years as a senior player for youth to learn from. He's always positive, obsessed with cricket and a leader of men I feel. If not for him this summer............ 9/10

Is shit. Is gone. Should stay that way. 0/10

Not a spinner but may become one. Not a number 6 but may become one. Worth a try but, like Hughes, technical problems are there for all to see and they are ones that get him out. Give enough outside off and he'll feather one. This is too easy to an international bowler. Back to shield sunshine and prove you're worth another chance. 3.5/10

Whatever selectors do please don't ask him to bat 6. It's a batsman's job and they get to field at point or slip; not be a direct part of 540 deliveries in a day. He may be good enough to bat higher but that shouldn't be how CA deal with the batting problems. England used to move guys around to problem areas and that just left a problem where the batman came from. He, with Hussey, can say 'I did my bit' but being a team game and the selfless nature he's demonstrated in the middle (unlike Trott who is out for team Trott only) this won't be much consolation. He came into a team on the down slide but has consistently delivered. He could captain and would do a good job. 9/10

One blinder of a test and two shite ones. In isolation perhaps not too bad but part of an 18 month pattern that shows he needs to work on consistency. In Perth I don't even think he was bowling to much of a plan as such. It's just that he was getting inswing and able to bowl in the right areas enough for 6 for. Too regularly he doesn't look like getting a wicket and goes for heaps. If he winds up getting 3 then you can say 'that's the way he bowls' but the prospect of getting those 3 is looking dimmer. 6.5/10

Workhorse extraordinaire who will not play again for Australia. Bloomed late and deserved a chance in the baggy green and got the most he could out of his bowling. Too little variation around his stock full bowling means he would always be a chance of having an average day against good opposition but rarely a poor one. Worst mistake SACA ever made was to deny him a 2 year contract. Unlucky bloke. 7/10

Well, unforeseen by me Bolly wasn't up to test cricket. Too much ODI and 20/20? Perhaps. On his day can be very serviceable but not likely to get bags. There's nothing worse to a captain than when a bowler says, 'I can't do it'. We may see him again but it will take some proving of his fitness and memories are short when it comes to being unable to stand up when you're needed. At least with bowlers! 2.5/10

The other enigma? Unluckiest bowler since Darren Gough? No. Honest outswing bowler with few tricks and not the bounce he needs off a good length to be more effective. He can do a job for you and get 2 poles but if noone else is striking he becomes too redundant. Very tough call but not the future me thinks. There's too many other quicks worth trying to persist with Hilf. Sorry mate, back to Tassie. 6/10

We love you cos you're Victorian. Most words to an Aussie chant which is deservedly directed to the Phar Lap of Australian cricket. Bowled fuller than the other quicks and got results. What a free lesson that others seemed too ignorant to observe. I didn't rate him before the Ashes (I mean ahead of some others) but he's improved - developing some later and also reverse swing and better control where he's asking more questions of the batsmen more often. If Johnson could take Siddle's free lessons Aus's pace attack would look far more damaging and the 3rd quick could then prove the difference. 8/10

Summation: isn't it funny how spin was thought to be a decisive factor ahead of the series and Swann really hasn't grabbed top order poles? One could say Aus badly missed a spinner but really the pace attack, as a group, couldn't do their job so what difference would a spinner have made in the first innings? The other main area where people thought the series would be won or lost was the top orders - England killed Australia here. The thing that could be most focused on though is the depth of the pace attacks. England used 5 out of their 6 quicks and every single one of them performed. In terms of English batting Collingwood is the only guy who didn't really perform his role well but even he took some great catches. England looked well drilled from the time they landed and it is right that they keep the urn. Australia should be looking at India next summer and spend the next 12 months looking at 5, 6 or 7 players they feel are the future of Australian cricket. I think some of these guys are Starc, Kawahja, Marsh (Shaun and Mitchell), Peter George and White (argggghhh, yes I concede - batting 5 for Vic now and undoubtedly the best captain in the country). You'll notice none of these guys open the batting for their state in 4 day cricket. I think this is where Aus will find the most problems for the next 12 months.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Is This Good for Australian Cricket?

With the impending retention of The Ashes in such devastating fashion in Melbourne we must address the issue of whether it will be good for Australian cricket. Will the selectors finally cede to a real rebuilding phase and make the changes that need to be made?

Will Ponting step down in the interests of his batting form? And if so will the selectors just give it to Clarke who is in worse form?

Will they swing the axe and make wholesale changes for Sydney or will they try to square the series?

The Australian public seem to be the more realistic of all. You only have to talk to the masses for a few minutes to realise they are more accepting of the harsh truth that we simply just don't have the cattle at the moment at any level to challenge the big boys.

The time for small changes in order to win a test here and there or pinch a series are over. We must plan for the medium to long term future and blood the players that can get us to where we need to be.

I am talking about the two main things on the horizon. The return bout against England away and the Test World Cup. Forget what is in between, especially the one day WC which should not involve our test squad at all.

Too many test batsmen are getting too many easy runs on one day decks and are fashioning their game at that level. When the time comes to actually tough out a session or longer the mindset is just not there.

Watson has done well this year but gets out too often when his team still needs him playing one day or T20 shots. Hughes does not have the technique or patience to handle the moving ball. Ponting is past his best and should probably be playing in his last series, as captain at the very least.

Clarke is not right and is guilty of loose shots either too early or to the wrong balls and has failed to deliver when his country has needed him too many times this series. I don't care what anyone says a T0 captain should not be the test captain. They are not even the same sport.

Hussey has been great this series and is no doubt having a purple patch, but for how long? Big scores give way to bad memories even when sustained under performing is involved. Surely everyone remembers he was one innings away from being dropped, probably forever.

Smith is not an allrounder at test level anyway and if the selectors wanted one that could bat they should have chosen White. If even to groom him for the top job if he makes runs.

Haddin I think is not the best gloveman in the country and has kept well this series but I can't help think he stays in the side for his batting more than anything. They are obviously hiding that fact by batting him below Smith but we all know he should be higher.

The bowlers are a whole different thing with pitches and such to take into account. I won't go there just yet.

So the real question is not if this is good for Australian cricket but "Will the selectors take that opportunity?"

Sunday, 26 December 2010

here we go!

What a show we are expecting!
Will it be a world record?
Did England "hiccup" last time?
Can we get that urn back?
Will it rain?
Punters finger? ...and can he get runs?

We're about to find out some of these answers on crickets blue chip day. so strap ya selves in Melbourne, DTW is at the G and the tartan is swinging free!