Guptill must be allowed to play his ‘natural game’ if NZ are to derive the most from his unique talents

The techniques of David Warner and Martin Guptill shared one startling similarity in the recently completed ODI series between the two old foes: they both strike the ball with immense force that is only rivaled by the world’s finest. Of course, to this day, one has gone on to establish himself as a respected, level-headed and widely lauded test batsman while the other has always been a thereabouts test cricketer and an indelible flame with a penchant for delivering whirlwind performances in the shorter formats. The latter settles into his innings by playing with a textbook straight bat to deliveries pitched on a good length. His large stride ensures he makes contact with the ball under his eyes allowing him to time the ball and pierce the gaps with surgeon-like precision. He is a picture of balance and concentration, both in his stance and when executing a shot, that should serve as an unblemished template for the younger cricketers who are looking to replicate a flawless technique. You read this and expect Guptill to be the ideal test match opener for New Zealand and a giant of the modern game, but he averages a miserly 29.38 in more games than you can poke a stick at and has recently been dethroned by a younger, more conservative batsman who has shown plenty of signs in the early stages of his career that he won’t be giving up his position without a say.

David Warner was once the gung-ho merchant who wouldn’t make the grade as a test match batsman due to his reckless temperament and flawed defence. Since then, he has gone on to become one of Australia’s finest test openers and has held his position at the head of the Australian batting order for five years. Every adversity and roadblock that has been thrown in his direction to put the brakes on a steadily growing career – from the infamous bar punch thrown at England’s Joe Root to homework gate on the Indian tour of 2013 – has allowed him to blossom into the 57 match test player that we see today making hundred after hundred with a technique pulled from the heavens. Despite popular belief, his defence is paramount to his game and is what keeps that average of 48.08 continuing in an upward trend. His expansive stroke play, which earns him all the plaudits, is there to compliment his resolute defence and push along the rate when the game situation requires it. He has acquired the perfect balance between aggression and conservatism which has laid the foundation for his transition to test cricket and his subsequent success.

Warner and Guptill, while differing in terms of personal idiosyncrasies that set their techniques apart, both posses the unique ability to hit the ball like a tracer bullet to the boundary with scant regard for where it may have pitched. One has been able to convert the form they found in the white ball formats as a fresh faced Big Bash sensation into sustained success at test level, while the other has barely been able to keep their head above water. Sure, Guptill has played most of his test match career on green seaming wickets at the Basin Reserve and Seddon Park – two venues that aren’t regularly associated with the word’s ‘batsmen’s paradise’ – but excuses needn’t be made when you see the damage he can inflict on an opposition with the coloured clothing on his back. Remember the 2015 World Cup, that score of 237 at the Cake Tin and the brutal manner in which he went about dispatching the Windies to all parts of the ground (and out of it) with an apparent disregard for losing his wicket? The cleanness with which he hit those boundaries was the coup de grace that ended the West Indies campaign and was very much on show in every innings he played during the Chappel Hadlee series. But, like a werewolf at midnight, the sight of the red ball transforms Guptill into a form that is almost unidentifiable against the standards he sets in one-day and t20 cricket.

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The celebration following ‘that’ knock against the WI in 2015. Photo: The Telegraph.

The idea that slips into one’s mind when they witness the differences between the Guptill playing the shorter form and the less popular Martin who plays test cricket, is that he seeks to conform to the mindset held by traditional opening batsmen. Bat the entire first session, edge a couple that evade the slips but garner a boundary, and get through the new ball to give your middle order batsmen the greatest opportunity to mount a significant total. The cliches go on, but this is simply not the criteria New Zealand cricket should use to assess Guptill, and it is certainly not the ideas he should be fed as gospel if they wish to get the most out of his boundary hitting ability. When Warner came to the conclusion that his role within the side was to play his strokes from the outset, without fear for the outcomes this may produce and the judgement he may receive from time to time, there were marked improvements in his game. Untill New Zealand adopt a similar mantra for Martin Guptill, he will remain an underutalised quantity who has little impact on the game. He must be given a license to play with the freedom Australia afforded David Warner after they realised the traditional ‘knicker and nudger’ role, exemplified best by messrs Rogers and Cook, wasn’t suited to his enigmatic style of play. New Zealand has an experienced middle order that can cope with the loss of an early wicket and are capable of building an innings around the more conservative and pure stroke makers like Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor. It’s a risk they must take if they are to utalise the unteachable talent they have at their disposal in the form of Marin Guptill. He’s a game-breaker worth far more to a national team than any highfalutin IPL contract might hope to put a price on.

India v England, Day Two Preview

You won’t be receiving a great deal of analysis from me on the second day’s play. Exam time is upon us and that can only mean one thing – this blog takes a reluctant backseat, and my time spent watching cricket is sadly reduced.

However, I will leave you with a brief comment. England will be more than satisfied with the position they have managed to get themselves into, and even more pleased with the fact that they have set the tone for the entire series by taking the upper hand in this game. It is so crucial that a touring side gets off to a good start on the opening day, particualrly in India. There was a stat discussed on air yesterday that no team had surpassed three hundred on the first day of a test match in India for over 20 games. I doubt a team has lost just four wickets on the opening day for some time either. The media, even if their eyes were firmly fixed on the political happenings in the United States, will cease berating the English side for their Mirpur ‘disaster’ and begin lauding what was a productive start to this test match, and tour. We’ll wait an see if this is simply a fleeting moment of praise, or whether England are capable of bucking the touring side ‘curse’ and sustain the strangle hold it currently holds on day one of twenty-five.

Two of England’s premier batsman have played themselves into form. England have been looking for Moeen Ali to take up permanent residency at number five and the early signs are that he won’t be shifting from that position anytime soon. A hundred, of which he is just a miserly single away from attaining, will boost his bowling confidence as well. For my thoughts on Joe Root’s knock, it’s probably best that you peruse my tea time update from yesterday.

In the other camp, India must be wondering what on earth the groundsmen were thinking when they prepared this Rajkot wicket. There’s no spin, very little rough and plenty of live grass. Ravi Ashwin was the pick of the bowlers with his two wickets, but didn’t look particularly threatening at any stage outside of his opening spell. Mishra, on the other hand, offered up ten unimpressive overs of first class standard. At his best he extracted turn that troubled the batsmen. At his worst, particularly late in the day, his bowling was pedestrian. I can’t see him playing a major role on this wicket and England might go after him when a declaration is imminent. If it gets to that point.

So, onto day two then. Feel free to post your comments below. As I said, I will be attending to other things throughout the day so won’t have the opportunity to write up a match report.

‘House Of Cards’ – Australia v South Africa First Test Preview

Yet another summer of cricket is almost upon us and much like the lead-up to last year’s series against New Zealand, which also started in early November, the majority of the cricketing fraternity couldn’t be less fazed. They’ve grown disillusioned with a team whose players have become ‘increasingly harder to like’, and incensed by the state of the batting friendly wickets around the country that continually produce ‘monotonous contests’. After all, wickets across Australia have been far from result inducing for the best part of half a decade now. CA must be concerned about this. Not just the state of the wickets, but the gradual decline in interest and the subdued build-up that comes along with it. The support for the national team in the test arena is slipping annually and the selectors, broadcasters and administrators are all part of the problem.

Cricket diehards like myself wait with great anticipation for the summer cricket. But our patience with the establishment is also thinning. This is mainly due to the current selection protocols. The excessive staging of meaningless T20 internationals that clog up and prolong an already jumbled and unorganised season of cricket. The inexplicable rest/ rotation policy and the fact that the administrators no longer seem to care enough to promote test cricket. Especially not to the levels we have seen afforded to the BBL in recent years. Oh, and the day/ night tests. There are countless other things I wish to admonish that I’m sure i’ll find reason to voice at some point during the summer. I didn’t even touch on the comments made by Rod Marsh in justifying Joe Mennie’s selection. Nor what I see to be CA’s biggest problem – their communication with the playing group.

But these issues are all a distraction at this stage. They’re the subjects that make up a contrived backdrop which frames and adds intrigue to an under appreciated and under anticipated series. If the results on the field begin to go south, the concerns will immediately resurface and the public will go searching for a scapegoat to take the fall. If the results go Australia’s way, you won’t hear a peep out of anybody. Not the media, not the fans and most certainly not in the forum’s and by the bloggers who are more concerned with tangible evidence in the form of statistics. It will be brushed under the carpet until the next time Australia lose their way. But as we all know, and as has been the case in the past, if the off field house isn’t in order, the performances on the field tend to suffer. And suffer they might well do this season.

 

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Do Australia have their house in order? Or is it one lusty blow from collapse?

We’re a day away from taking on South Africa. The same side that just caused us great humiliation in a five-match one day series away from home. Sure, its hardly grounds to judge form on, but they look primed. They have an established batting order, a seasoned bowling cartel and a captain that has previous experience on Australian soil. In truth though, their test match form over the past few seasons bears an uncanny symmetry to that of Australia’s. They haven’t been far off the mark away from home. While on fast, seaming wickets in South Africa, they’ve maintained relative dominance over the touring side.

Much like Australia, there are still a few unsettled positions in their line-up. Mark Taylor touched on the fact that Australia might be negotiating their way through a transitionary period. If this is the case (although you can hardly cite it as being a transitionary period given that the ‘questionable’ selections have been in and out of the side) South Africa are in the same boat. They have their stalwarts, their reliable old heads in Amla, Duminy, Steyn, Elgar and du Plessis. You know, the one’s who claim their prerogative is to ‘cut off the head of the snake’. But they also have their weaker links, if you can call them that, who have limited experience in our conditions beyond the odd ‘A’ tour. Australia posses a very similar mix of youth, experience, untapped talent and players yet to prove themselves as indispensable options.

You get the feeling that Australia’s bowlers are a tad underdone. Going into a six match test summer means that there’s breathing room, maybe a couple of innings worth, to recapture the form and rhythm that’s been temporarily lost through their time spent ‘resting’ at the request of CA. Our test bowlers haven’t played since the Sri Lankan tour of August, and the early November start means limited preparation was had in the Sheffield Shield. No bowler has bowled with a red ball in a competitive fixture for close to four months. An administrative oversight, or rather, an intentional reconfiguring of fixtures that stems from the rush to have the ODC out of sight and out of mind as early as the season’s and television broadcasters allow. Yet another example that revenue trumps the performance of the national team in this age of crippling wealth. But I shan’t harp on this point any longer. If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, and aren’t fed up with hearing about the board’s agendas, the post can be found here.

There comes a point where we must return to the selectors decisions to truly identify the sources of weakness in the Australian line-up. You might be forgiven for believing Rod Marsh has lost the plot when you run your eyes over the squad. You might even consider that he is taking liberties now that his time is almost up as head selector. Keeping in with the house of cards theme, cynics will tell you that Marsh is of the Mad Hatter ilk, and that the selection meeting was had in a setting akin to a tea party where he uttered the words ‘I haven’t the slightest idea’, at which point he resorted to pulling names out of his hat to fill in the remaining places. But I won’t be a party to this line of thinking or partake in any further wise cracks at Marsh’s expense. In fact, I don’t believe Joe Mennie’s selection was as illogical and unwarranted as it has been made out to be. Not when you consider his form in the Sheffield Shield and the impact he can have at the WACA. Last year’s test series against New Zealand showed us that the highway’s dished up at Australian venues are the most batting friendly the world over. Their tame. They lack any great seam movement and as soon as a batsman is set, bowlers are nothing more than cannon fodder. We’re forgetting though that the WACA is still the WACA. A ground touring sides resent. A ground the poms have a horrible record at. A ground that Australia’s fast bowling brigade of yesteryear loved for the assistance it provided to bowlers with a large frame and high release point. Joe Mennie is of similar height to Lee, McGrath and Johnson, who all made great use of the WACA surface. The high arm action allows a great deal of bounce to be extracted from the wicket, causing unaccustomed touring batsman to take great discomfort and dificulty in scoring runs on the front foot.

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A mad tea-party or a selection meeting?

As for the reasoning used by Marsh to justify his selection, perhaps we can put it down to a faux pas. The day bowlers edge out other bowlers based on their batting ability is the day all faith is lost in the Australian top order. This isn’t one day cricket. The fourth seamer shouldn’t be relied upon to score bulk runs. That’s up to the top six, and, to a lesser extent, the wicket-keeper at seven who, I might add, should be picked first on keeping ability then on whether or not his batting holds merit. When Marsh made this statement, he made us acutely aware of the fact that certain members of the top six aren’t performing, and so, a bowler who can score late order runs has been drafted into the side to compensate for the top order’s failures. It also helps save the hides of the selectors who will be put into the spotlight if who they’ve selected under perform. Well no. If a batsman isn’t scoring the required runs, he needs to be dropped. We shouldn’t be sacrificing bowling quality to ensure there’s a lower order buffer that will prevent us from being bundled out for under 200 if things go awry at the top. More accountability needs to be placed on the Khawaja’s and the Marsh’s of the world because our batting, pure and simple, is the key to our winning this series.

Without De Villiers, South Africa’s bowling looks marginally stronger than their batting. That’s not to say their batting won’t feature. With the likes of Amla and du Plessis bolstering their top four, they are bound to churn out a number of runs across the three match series.

Warner and Smith are Australia’s key men. From what we saw in Sri Lanka, to what was witnessed in the Shield last week, these two have in tow the entire batting line-up. If our middle order is exposed to Steyn and Rabada early, the innings could fall in a heap and the pressure transferred immediately to the Australian quicks who will be made to bowl from behind. Starc, Hazlewood and Siddle are all confidence bowlers. They are at ease and are more attacking when they’ve got a significant lead to bowl to. When the game begins to slip, they become impatient and go looking for wickets in clumps. This only gives the South African batsman more run scoring opportunities in the form of half-volleys and long hops dished up through pure frustration, and South Africa have plenty of men who can frustrate. Players who don’t become flustered if their rate of scoring drops below fifty or if they’re struggling to rotate the strike. Like we’ve seen in recent seasons, things could get seriously out of hand for Australia if batsmen get set on docile wickets. You can see now why their batting holds such great importance in this series.

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How many runs will we witness this man score this summer?

 

Which leads me to Australia’s big ‘non-selection’ Joe Burns. I said before the teams were released that he needed to be there. Many disagreed with me. Others were on the same wave length. I’m honestly searching for reasons why Marsh was given the nod ahead of Burns, other than the obvious explanations; home ground advantage yada yada. Clearly they see Burns as an opener and nothing else. But I don’t think he should be pigeonholed as such because if he is, and Marsh finds his niche at the top, it doesn’t matter how many Shield runs he plunders, there will always be others ahead of him vying for the same role. We saw in the first test last summer that he has an expansive game, particularly against spin, to compliment what he offers in the way of accumulation. The issue is that our middle order consists of Smith, Voges and Marsh. Two who have hardly put a foot wrong in a home series and the latter who has a second string to his bow. If Khawaja and Marsh fail in consecutive innings, he will be whisked back into the side. If not, and they perform consistently, we might see Joe Burns usurped by batting prodigies Bancroft and Peter Handscomb as soon as the next Ashes series.

I won’t try to predict the series victor at this point. You simply cannot judge a teams performance, or an individuals for that matter, until at least one test match has been completed. I tried it with England’s tour to South Africa last year to differing degree’s of success and don’t plan on doing it again. So until then, enjoy nine’s coverage of the cricket. Summer is finally here

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Warney’s celebrating…..The summer of cricket, it’s finally here!

 

Calypso Kids – A Preview Of The Frank Worrell Trophy 2015

The last time the West Indies toured Australia for a test series, Kevin Rudd was the incumbent of the nations top job (for the first time), the #hashtag twitter phenomenon hadn’t yet taken off and the West Indies were ranked a miserly 8th on the ICC Test Rankings. The year was 2009. Since, the cricketing world has seen stars born, heroes’ made, ashes won and, to the disheartening detriment of West Indies cricket, the prominent emergence of franchise based competitions. It should serve as no surprise they haven’t been back since.

Cricketing talent within the West Indies has stagnated at the hands of an incompetent board. Their inadequacy has triggered ‘world-beaters’, Gale, Bravo and Sammy, to pursue a more lucrative, viable career in T20 cricket. And who can blame them. Once again the Windies land on Australian soil ranked 8th in the ICC test rankings, just above Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, with an overwhelming expectation of failure from an unheralded, unpropitious 15 man squad.

“Their inadequacy has triggered ‘world-beaters’, Gale, Bravo and Sammy, to pursue a more lucrative, viable career in T20 cricket.”

Cricket has never witnessed such a colossal fall from grace. Since its tantalizing, sumptuous pace went missing in the mid 2000’s, cricket has been largely void of a positive West Indian presence in the headlines. But that’s not to say an ‘inferior’ West Indies lineup can’t make inroads on Australian wickets.

The Potential

The West Indies lineup boasts two of the world’s premier fast bowlers, Jerome Taylor and Kemar Roach. If early indications of a green wicket in Hobart do come to fruition, Taylor and Roach could have Australia’s brittle middle order in some trouble with a swinging ball. Knock off the top three, and all of a sudden their bowling to a guy who’s loitering on the edge of replacement and two brothers who are battling to keep their test careers alive.

Although their batsmen seem to take an equivocal approach to batting at times, there’s serious potential for them to take advantage of a somewhat underprepared Australian bowling lineup. The absence of Mitch Johnson through retirement and Mitch Starc through injury has reduced Australia’s potency with the new ball. If relatively established test cricketers Darren Bravo and Marlon Samuels, who hold reputable averages of 40.91 and 34.82 respectively, can spend long periods at the crease, they may come close to drawing a test. For the West Indies, it’s a combination of application and a happy-go-lucky approach where their batting thrives. If we don’t see this during the series, the West Indies may well float further up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

“It’s a combination of application and a happy-go-lucky approach where their batting thrives.”

This tour will not so much be about the West Indies winning matches, but rather winning back the respect of the cricketing public with improved results on the field. The West Indies may be able to live without cricket, but cricket certainly cannot live without the West Indies.

Teams

Australia: David Warner, Joe Burns, Steve Smith (c), Adam Voges, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wk), James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Coulter-Nile (12th)

West Indies: Unnamed