Late wickets sink final nail in Pakistan coffin

Pakistan fought valiantly to push the game into a fifth day, but the loss of crucial wickets at important junctions has all but written off their late dash to the finish line.

Asad Shafiq’s hundred and the belligerence of tail-end batsmen Amir and Wahab have put Pakistan in with a fighting chance of defying the historical odds stacked heavily against them. Yet the probability of breaking the age-old record to crack Australia’s 490 is slim, and will require a one up on the heroics they displayed this evening.

Pakistan’s elder statesmen needed to be the one’s to guide the ship home, but they were both dismissed in a fashion that would have had coach Mickey Arthur pulling at his hair. Younis, with his wealth of experience totalling 110 matches, was able to keep Australia at bay for a session with a typically defiant innings, before playing a stroke born of frustration to become Lyon’s second victim. His brain fade, that came in the form of a reverse sweep, was labelled “ridiculous” by former Pakistan quick Waqar Younis in the Channel Nine commentary box. But it was more of a crime than an act of stupidity and may have been the catalyst that caused the pins to start tumbling late in the day.

IMG_1555.JPG
The grounds crew prepare the wicket at tea on Day One.

Younis Khan has the great ability to frustrate sides and opposition captains to the edge of insanity. He did it against England earlier this year at the Oval – a game Pakistan managed to win thanks to his score of 218. You could see Starc and Hazlewood’s frustration flowing from their ears. The short pitched bowling that followed was a byproduct of the pain that Younis and Azhar had managed to heap on in a matter of just two short sessions. But his reverse sweep, which came during a period of the innings that required patience and unfailing concentration, was unbefitting of a man with more combined test match experience than half the Pakistan side combined.

Misbah-ul-haq was guilty of similar crimes. The stroke that brought about his demise might not have been as extravagant as Younis, but the risk factor was practically identical. He pushed at a good length ball from Jackson Bird with all the might and flamboyance of an invincible and battle hardened cricketer but with the footwork of a newly born calf. It was a carbon copy of his dismissal in the first innings. A danger sign for the Pakistan stalwart who must find a way to play on Australian wickets again before his flaws reach a stage where they are beyond repair.

Australian captain Steve Smith will be sleeping uneasily tonight with the thought of ‘what if’ a reoccurring theme in his dreams. His own drops, including what would have been the prized scalp of centurion Asad Shafiq, have kept Pakistan in the contest and might yet prove to be bigger slip up’s than those that allowed former Olympic speed skater Steve Bradbury to take out the gold medal at the 2002 winter Olympic Games.

Pakistan are the underdogs who couldn’t put a foot right on the opening two days of a series defining test match. Australia are the grinning cheshire cats who shifted into cruise control this morning having set Pakistan a seemingly unassailable total. There have been some terrific tales of the little man overcoming the unbreakable giants: David v Goliath; England v Ireland (and the Netherlands); Leicester City v 5000/1 odds. But none would be greater than this if Shafiq can combine with Pakistan’s last remaining warriors to make up the remaining 107 run deficit.

Pakistan continue the trend of touring side woe under the Gabba lights

Pakistan made a resurgence early on day two but it was Australia who took the honours on an entertaining second day thanks to an inspired session of bowling from Hazlewood, Statc and Bird under the Gabba lights. The day began promisingly for Pakistan when they took the wicket of Steve Smith, averting any further damage that the previous day’s centurion showed signs of inflicting early on. But Handscomb, the man who played second fiddle to his captain for much of the first day, made sure that Pakistan wouldn’t be let off the hook, bringing up his maiden test century and pushing the Australian first innings total beyond 350. His technique is a little unorthodox, both in the way he sets up and the point at which he strikes the ball, and his fluency may have been stymied by a better bowling attack with greater variation. The all left-arm attack of Pakistan played right into Handscomb’s hands, with the angle across his body allowing him to run the ball off the face of the bat from deep in his crease down to third man. An area that proved to be particularly productive for him despite the protection Misbah had in place when he quckly became aware of Handscomb’s strengths. One must wonder how this technique will cope in countries like England where the ball swings a great deal more and the bounce is not nearly as high as what he will have experienced on the grounds he knows so well here in Australia. What was most pleasing about his innings was the patience and level-headedness he showed when wickets were tumbling at the other end. Lesser players would have looked to push the rate and reach their hundred before the well of tail end batsmen ran dry. But there was Handscomb, defending resolutely when the ball was pitched in a good area and attacking when the opportunity eventually presented itself. At no stage did he look to shelter his partner at the other end by rotating the strike to ensure he faced the majority of the deliveries at the back end of the innings.

img_1564
Fans, including myself, gather outside the Gabba nets to watch the players prepare for day two.

Everything about Handscomb, his temperament, mindset and willingness to take on the bowlers screams experienced test cricketer. But he is just 29 and hasn’t yet become a fully fledged member of this Australian side. The future is bright.

The success Pakistan experienced in the morning session was quickly extinguished when they took to the batting crease under cloudy skies with the lights on the cusp of taking full effect at a venue that has shown its night session to produce more wicket taking deliveries than the previous two day/ night venues. There were so many flash points throughout the day’s play that to cover them all would take up a great deal more than the usual 1000 words.

First came the continuation of the first day’s unusual field settings and inconsistent bowling lengths, before Wahab and Amir combined to clean up the Australian tail for an insurmountable total of 429. But that wasn’t without a terrific rearguard action from Bird and Lyon who provided the knockout blow that might yet ensure Australia bat just once in this game.

Then came Pakistan’s astonishing and unforeseen capitulation. What would be most disappointing for them upon reflection of each dismissal would surely be the way in which they were caught in the slips pushing at deliveries that in Australian conditions quite simply should not have been played at. This is part of the learning curve touring sides face when they reach our shores and they must be awake to these glaring deficiencies if they wish to return from this series in a state that isn’t far from where they left off in England. The entire top order, including experienced campaigners Misbah and Younis, were all dismissed in a similar fashion to deliveries pitched in a zone that forced them to play with hard hands when they should have been shouldering arm’s. Particularly during the early stages of their innings.

img_1565
The Channel Nine television camera’s in operation at the Stanley Street end mid-afternoon

Australia’s fast bowling cartel showed once again why the Gabba has become a fortress that touring sides despise. The bounce of the wicket caught Pakistan off guard and the procession of wickets that followed were all a product of their inability to adjust to the foreign conditions. Australia face a similar proposition when they tour India early next year. They must compensate for the low bounce and turn of the sub-continent wickets in order to avoid leaving with their tales fixed firmly between their legs. A feeling Australia know all too well of late. The steps are already in place for them to achieve, now it is simply a matter of the players executing their skills and repaying the selectors faith. There is no room for passengers in series’ such as these that could go awry and expose technical flaws no sooner than the players have stepped off the aircraft. Pakistan have shown a total unwillingness to battle and scrap like so many Australian side’s have on the road in the past, and have looked as adept at countering what the Australian’s have thrown at them as Nic Maddinson has looked a man who knows his place in the test arena. They are a team full of weak links that are on the brink of being the umpteenth touring side to get chewed up and spat out by the alien conditions. Sides from the sub-continent have tried and tried in Australia to find a method that garners a favourable result, but the result is often as frivolous as the attempt. Particularly at the Gabba, where Australia have remained unbeaten since 1988. Pakistan, from what they’ve shown us across the opening two days, look as if they are destined to suffer the same fate as many that have gone before them but without showing the same fight and perseverence under adversity that we have become accustomed to seeing from recent Asian touring sides India and Sri Lanka. It’s difficult to see where Pakistan’s runs will come from given the impatience that has made an epidemic like spread through their batting line up since the first test in New Zealand.

Pakistan’s plight allows Australia to dominate day one at the Gabba

img_15631
Shadows descend on the Gabba as the game moves into the twilight period

Australia could hardly have asked for a better start to the series. Each batsman who walked to the crease, with the exception of Khawaja who fell in the most inconspicuous of circumstances to the bowling of Yasir Shah, got at least a start and have set up the game nicely for Australia to build momentum going into the test match’s most crucial days.

Pakistan’s ultra conservative field placements, unthreatening bowling and lack of effort was evident throughout the day and has cost them dearly. New ball pairing Mohammad Amir and Rahat Ali produced too many deliveries over the course of the first hours play that failed to utilise the Gabba’s notorious pace and bounce, which allowed the Australians to build the foundation required to mount a significant first innings score. Warner and Renshaw looked at ease for the majority of their innings thanks to some rather peculiar field placings and bowling changes by Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq who, despite his age, looked out of his depth during the clutch moments. Yasir Shah, who came on in the tenth over of the day’s play and shared in a third of the 90 completed overs, was made to bowl to an ultra conservative field which featured three men deep on the leg side (long-on, deep mid-wicket and deep fine-leg). Perhaps it was a plan architected in the bowels of the away dressing room prior to the bowling of the first ball. You’d certainly hope for this to be the case given the number of deliveries targeted at the batsmen’s leg stump, and the number of shots played freely through the leg side. No test match spinner should be giving away that many runs so easily if his initial aim isn’t to have them caught sweeping or fending.

Smith’s hundred came as no great surprise but was a pleasing sight for an Australian side gearing up for a monumental tour to India in two months time. Pakistan’s impatience and incapacity to bowl one line, on one side of the stumps, led to their downfall and allowed Smith to play in a fashion that was not only devoid of risk, but let him ease into his innings by playing his natural game. For a large part of the day, Pakistan were unable to build up maiden overs and the pressure put on the incoming batsman was similarly non existent. Of course, the two are inextricably linked, and there was no greater sign of this then when Smith sent anything pitched short by Rahat Ali into the mid-wicket fence and anything full careering into the sight screens at either end of the ground. They didn’t bowl to Smith’s weaknesses, nor did they make a concerted effort to pepper away at a consistent line and they have payed the ultimate price as a result. Steve Smith is 110 not out at stumps. God only knows how many more he is capable of putting on tomorrow if Pakistan come out as uninterested and pedestrian as they did today.

img_15611
The lights in full effect at the Gabba on Day One.

At no stage, other than during the last ten overs, did Pakistan ever look as if they were ready and raring to take on the challenge of a young Australian unit on a wicket that gave them a fantastic opportunity to make early inroads. They were late to the party and the score had ticked over to a hundred for the loss of one wicket by the time they finally appeared to awake from their slumber. By this stage, though, the opportunity to take the game away from Australia had already past them by. They needed to set the tone early and fire warning shots at the fragile Australian dressing room that are only now recovering from the turmoil they underwent less than a month ago. But they weren’t reactive enough and couldn’t adjust to the conditions at their feet. If they are to play themselves back into this game (which looks unlikely at this stage) they must start by finishing off the Australian middle and lower order by no later than mid-way through the second session tomorrow. If Australia surpass 500 on a Gabba wicket that promises to quicken up with age, there may be no coming back. Particularly when you consider that Starc and Hazlewood are likely to be unleashed under the Gabba lights with a new pink ball in hand. An ugly scenario for Pakistan’s top order to negotiate after one and a half days spent toiling away in the field.

img_15561
It’s difficult to tell, but Smith and Handscomb are at the wicket in this photo.

Pakistan are a side capable of topping the world rankings once again if they find it within themselves to produce the performances we saw in England on a regular basis. Their lethargy in the field, indiscipline with ball in hand and lack of knowledge of local conditions has put them on the back foot in this series already. They look a side devoid of options in the bowling department and are easily swayed by the recent form of batsmen against opposing nations – as the field placings to David Warner exemplified today. The New Zealand tour has bruised ego’s, and the road to recovery following an error ridden first day is a rocky one.

Side Note – The Gabba also received a big tick for the attendees it managed to attract to the first day following calls for the grounds neck by CA officials and other commentators during the week. The innovations brought in by CA in partnership with the ground where instrumental in producing a crowd in-excess of 26,000 fans and has likely diverted attention away from Brisbane’s apparent declining interest in test cricket for at least the course of this test match.

There will be a more comprehensive wrap after play tomorrow on not only the game’s progress, but also a few things about the pink ball that caught my eye.

What’s in store for Australia’s junior brigade during the forthcoming clash with Pakistan

There will be plenty of minor sub plots for the cricketing community to sink their teeth into when the First test against Pakistan roles into Brisbane on Thursday. There’s the ongoing saga involving former Australian coach Mickey Arthur, and the discontent that continues to bottle up over the terms in which he and Australia parted ways, despite the fact that his axing can now be filed under ancient history. He’s now a bona fide and respected member of the Pakistan team who added a notch to his belt earlier this year when he coached the side to number one in the world. A remarkable feat for a man who was thrown out of his last major gig to a resounding ‘hurrah’ from the playing group and cricket board. Many felt that he was the source of dressing room disharmony, which makes his rise to prominence from the ashes of the wreckage that was his career all the more impressive. But his major goal would surely be to give Australia a dose of their own medicine and earn back a hint of the respectability he lost following the homework-gate saga. What better place to do it than on their home soil, in front of their home fans, during a period in which they are at their most vulnerable.

Mickey Arthur, Photo: The Indian Express

There’s also the curious case of Mohammad Amir – the comeback kid who has been put through the wringer on the road back to the national team following his involvement in a spot fixing scandal that occurred during Pakistan’s tour to England in 2010. He’s come along way since we first saw him back then as a meek, baby faced fast bowling prodigy being put behind bars alongside his captain and mentor in a cruel twist of fate that continues to divide the cricketing public. He might prove to be the thorn in Australia’s side, as he was the last time Pakistan let him loose on an Australian batting order.

That was 2010, and if he can find the form we’ve witnessed so far on his come back tour, which has seen him travel to England and then to the UAE for a series against the West Indies, this could be a break-out series which sees him reassume the mantle as one of the worlds most revered young fast bowlers. It was that way before he was led astray by the most influential figure in his young adult life, and he might well have his name up in lights for the second time in this soap-opera of a career if he can lead Pakistan to victory in arguably their biggest challenge since they humbled England in August.

For the Australian side, this series couldn’t take on any greater importance. They are the walking wounded who made the call for reinforcements a few weeks back and have been reaping the rewards ever since. But the young side remain as vulnerable as they were before their all important initiation in Adelaide, and their inexperience could well lead to their downfall if they are suddenly thrust behind the eight ball. How will an inexperienced middle order react to being 3/35 under lights with Pakistan’s opening bowlers swinging the ball around corners as the did in their tour match against the CAXI.

IMG_1259.JPG
The Gabba will be the venue for the first encounter between Australia and Pakistan.

There was a sense of beginners luck – which stemmed directly from the exuberance of youth – about the test win in Adelaide. The side had nothing to loose having already been handed their backsides in Hobart and any further losses would have simply been a continuation of recent trends, and hence, nothing for the public to cry foul about. But Australia have managed to steady the ship and they now must live up to their newly forged expectations by beating a side that looks fatigued and gun-shy after four months of globetrotting. The batting order had little answer to what the New Zealand bowling attack threw at them on the green seamers at Hagley Oval and Seddon Park. By comparison, Australia have an experienced and finely tuned new ball pairing, wickets with pace and bounce at their disposal and showed one again in the recently completed Chappell Hadlee series that their seamers are a class above New Zealand’s. If they can’t deliver with the ball and their volatile batting falters, Pakistan will take advantage of their shortcomings and they will quickly return to the position they found themselves in at the beginning of the summer.

I’ll be visiting the ground on days one and two and will report back with photos and a brief report at stumps.

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.

2103_Guptill_doubl_3240505b.jpg
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.

 

1370316452_house-of-cards
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.

62f8031db4f86e9d754fe4ab0fd6d3b2.jpg
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.

david_warner_celebrating_his_century_in_the_fifth_odi_against_india_at_the_sydney_cricket_ground_2016
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

.

361166-shane-warne.jpg
Warney’s celebrating…..The summer of cricket, it’s finally here!