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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The umpire speaks back

Today's Offsiders included a segment about cricket umpire Simon Taufel, who was recently voted the top official at the Australian sporting awards, even though he's unable to officiate in tests involving Australia (ODIs except for World Cup finals are OK).

The interview with Barry Cassidy (not Casidy as the website says) is worth watching (or reading when the transcript is posted), not least because Taufel comes across as assured, articulate and diplomatic. John Harms, one of the panel, said that he has a future in politics: a backhanded compliment, yet not one that could be paid to many current players in many sports.

I've previously said that Australian cricket followers should see more of umpire Taufel in tests. He will officiate at the World Cup but, as he confirmed today, not in the final if Australia is playing, which is a pity.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lancashire supporter adrift in Adelaide

Today, as I was trying to navigate my way around or through the barriers which have been erected in the east parklands for the petrol heads' big days out next weekend (aka the Clipsal 500), I asked a passerby by for directions. He was on even less familiar ground than me as he turned out to be a Lancastrian (or Mancunian), which I'd have deduced before he spoke had I looked closely at his attire. He was wearing an Old Trafford cap - with a cricket pavilion - and he somewhat sheepishly admitted to being a Lancashire cricket follower, though his bright red shorts suggested that he might have had more than a passing interest in Manchester United F C.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The bar raised even higher but NZ still clear it

In the final Chappell-Hadlee match at Hamilton today Australia's 5/346 from 50 overs featured a magnificent 181 no /166b from Matthew Hayden, the highest ever ODI score by an Australian. Yet it was still not enough to hold New Zealand who recovered from 4/41, then 5/116, to reach 9/350 in 49.3 overs thanks mainly to Craig McMillan (117/96b) and Brendon McCullum (86 no/91b) who put on 165 in 147 b for the 6th wicket.

For all that it was the closest of the three games, but from an Australian perspective the underlying problems revealed in the series, especially the bowling deficiencies, remain. In the tournament the Australian bowlers took 13 wickets (today a wicket fell to a run out) for 836 runs in 752 legitimate balls. Hardly World Cup winning material.

New Zealand seem to have played above themselves and, it goes without saying, must now hope that they can maintain their form in the World Cup. At full strength (and I'm not quite sure what that is given their talented but injury prone playing list) they ought to be a match for any other team they're likely to meet in the Caribbean.

Scorecard

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Soccer's big day sends warning signals to cricket

The major sporting event today in Melbourne, or Australia for that matter, was not the charity cricket match at the MCG featuring Shane Warne and other celebrities which was televised by Channel Nine. It was the soccer A - League final down the road at Docklands Stadium, in which Melbourne Victory thrashed Adelaide United 6 - 0 in front of a 50,000+ crowd.

Two interesting matters arise from this: interstate sporting rivalry and the relative popularity of sports in Australia.

In yesterday's Age Greg Baum had a thoughtful piece about the longstanding sporting rivalry between South Australia and Victoria. He explores the historical background, which means essentially cricket and Australian Rules football, to show that the tradition has been around for a long time.

Today on ABC TV's Offsiders ,which now thank goodness has a website ,the panel discussed the attendances at major sports in Australia. Soccer (I'm still resisting the push to call it "football") has become much more popular following its restructure a couple of years ago into the A-league with city-based teams replacing the old ethnic-based ones who for so long inhibited the game's development. As most of the season is played during the summer the game is emerging as a major threat to cricket, which has just enjoyed a season in which the Ashes attracted the highest attendances for more than 20 years. This is unlikely to be repeated in the foreseeable future, so soccer will almost certainly become the best attended Australian summer sport next year and may remain so for some time.

A transcript of the Offsiders panel discussion has not, as I write, been posted but it is promised. The statistics, and many of the panellists' comments make interesting reading (or viewing: see the website for details of how to do so). Cricket Australia is on notice. I shall return to this topic soon.

More woe as Australia unable to defend 336 against NZ

After today's game in Auckland, NZ should be over the moon, Australia very worried, and the rest of the cricketing world indulging in a spot of schadenfreude.

Australia's 4/336 from 50 overs (Michael Hussey 105/ 84b, Brad Hodge 97 no/86b) seemed a winning score, even to the local radio commentators, though their tune started to change as the Black Caps reached 2/102 from 98b. The third wicket fell at 113/118b when Peter Fulton joined Ross Taylor to keep the momentum going with a 115/116b partnership, which ended at 228 when Ross Taylor went for 117/127b.

At this point the target was still formidable: 107 from 75b, but NZ had wickets in hand. Craig McMillan rode his luck (dropped in the outfield and caught off a no ball) to biff 52 from 30b as he added 85 in 46b with Fulton. From 5/313 it was relatively easy progress to a 5 wicket win with 8 balls to spare.

Scorecard.

The Chappell - Hadlee series is now dead, and Australia seems to have lost the knack of winning for the moment. Its attack is a major concern as the bowlers have taken only 5/485 from 455 (legitimate) balls. Fortunately for them they have several warm up games to lift their game before the serious World Cup business starts. Of course, after the results of the last few days both England and NZ will be much more confident themselves.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Australian one day team still looking for another win

Yesterday New Zealand rebounded from their disappointing tri-series in Australia to wipe the floor with a weakened Australian team by 10 wickets: 0/149 (from only 27 overs) against 148 all out (49.3 overs). The only pictures of the game I've seen were a few seconds on tonight's ABC TV news, so I can't really comment much (but will say that I much prefer the predominantly green costume used by Australia here to the canary yellow one which has made a comeback across the water).

What must be worrying the Australian management is the number of injuries to key players: Andrew Symonds, Michael Clarke and now Brett Lee are out of the present series and looking doubtful for all or part of the World Cup. The middle order batting cupboard is starting to look understocked, while the bowlers need some better performances in the remaining two games to bolster their collective reputation.

Scorecard

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I must

Look at what happens when I go overseas for a few days: England win three games on the trot, against New Zealand by 14 runs to get them into the finals, then, to my, and I believe many others', surprise a last over four wicket win against Australia followed by a second victory in a rain affected game which required recourse to the Duckworth- Lewis method.

As coverage in Singapore was almost zero I'm not able to comment further, though the remarkable turnaround in England's form has made me wonder whether my presence in Australia had acted as a jinx upon them. Joking aside, I congratulate the England team on its success and will eat humble pie for a while. Australia now has some challenges facing it as it prepares for the World Cup. More about this anon.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Cricket 192, soccer 3

Not the scores but, according to ABC Online, the numbers of people ejected from the cricket and soccer matches played yesterday in Melbourne . About the same number (47-48,000) attended the Australia - NZ ODI at the MCG and the Melbourne Victory - Adelaide United A league semi-final down the road at Docklands Stadium.

Of the cricket ejectees, 21 were turfed out for infringing the recently imposed ban on the Mexican wave. Today's Australian (online at News.com.au ) has a report by Andrew Ramsay illustrated with a graphic photo of an alleged offender/ protester being removed.

Ejections aside, the attendance figures reveal how popular club soccer in Australia is becoming. Sure, the game was the second leg of a semi-final which the local team had to win to proceed to the grand final, but the lure of the sport seems to be increasing despite the conscious (and apparently successful) efforts to develop a national competition with geographical rather than ethnic based teams. The soccer stadium in Adelaide, which not so long ago was refurbished with a lot of government money, holds, I believe, only about 15,000 people. Perhaps big matches could be played at the Adelaide Oval? This would help SACA towards its goal of attracting major sporting events as well as cricket.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Australian batting power and self-belief too much for Black Caps

Batting first, NZ for a time looked as if, despite the early loss of skipper Fleming (9/14) they'd post another 300 + score. Lou Vincent (90/113) again showed that he thrives on the heightened competitiveness of playing against Australia; he was well supported by Peter Fulton (60/81). The added 151 for the second wicket, and in doing so made the Australian bowling (and at times the fielding) look threadbare, apart from Shaun Tait (10 - 1- 26 -1) who bowled with great pace and considerable accuracy, and perhaps Michael Clarke (9 - 0 -45 -2) who broke their partnership.

The Black Caps faltered a little as the final overs approached, and 260 or 270 looked their maximum feasible score until a flurry of hitting took them to 7/290, which was still a commendable achievement.

History suggested that Australia would not get the runs, because of the magnitude of the task and the size of the playing arena . The wicket didn't play too many tricks, and the Australians came out with their self-belief in evidence: Adam Gilchrist kick started the innings with 29 in 28 balls, part of a partnership of 56. Enter Ricky Ponting who produced yet another dominating innings (104/113). Although the required run rate rose to more than 8 an over at one point Brad Hodge, given another run following the injury to Andrew Symonds (which is now looking World Cup-threatening) , understandably took time to play himself in, but finished with a flourish, albeit not enough to complete his century. He was left not out 99/ 123 but his confidence was restored and, most important, Australia cantered home by 5 wickets with 10 balls remaining. The NZ attack, didn't perform consistently enough: even Daniel Vettori was punished later in the innings, while Jacob Oram's bowling has been most disappointing.

So, with one England - NZ game to go in the preliminary round, who will play Australia in the finals? Clearly the big issue is whether England can continue their form about face. Despite today's performance NZ were not disgraced but they'll need to think carefully about their bowling. Oram is worth his place for his batting alone yet has in this series (and at other times) failed to pull his weight with the ball. Of course there are one or two (perhaps more) England players of whom similar things could be said. If I had to pick a winner I'd back the Kiwis, if only because they've been more consistent than England, but...enough for now.

Scorecard

Saturday, February 03, 2007

England redux

After The Advertiser via its online outlet Adelaide Now had suggested a contest for a wooden spoon between the, to date, weakest international and domestic teams (England and South Australia), England against my, and I think just about everyone else's, expectations rose like Lazarus and defeated Australia.

England est redux, if I may make so bold with my schoolboy Latin.

No, I'm not joking, here is the official, or at least Cricinfo, scorecard.

The Channel 9 wise men, Messrs Nicholas, Taylor and Healy, in their pre-match comments agreed that 220 would be a reasonable score on the SCG pitch. How then did England make 7/292 from 50 overs? Well yes, they rode their luck, eg an easy catch dropped by Shaun Tate, but to give them due credit Ed Joyce beat against the current of expectations by scoring a century (107/142), while there was some handy support from several others. The Australian bowling did not live up to its reputation for unremitting accuracy, with ODI debutant Shaun Tait bowling inaccurately but at high speed and Glenn McGrath, Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clark conceding more runs that is their custom. The fifth bowling slot, shared between Clarke, Symonds and White, did not deliver much. The fielding also, apart from gross errors such as Tait's dropping an easy chance at deep backward point, lacked the usual Australian zest, so a few more runs than would normally have been allowed were conceded.

Australia began their innings with the wind knocked out of their sails by England's unexpected resistance and the loss of Adam Gilchrist to Liam Plunkett's first ball. They were never able to mount a half decent challenge, though not too many people would have written them off until Mr SnickitCricket (Michael Hussey)was out at 137 (or perhaps later. Wickets fell and they were dismissed for 200 (Symonds had retired hurt) in 38.5 overs. This is the score we've been accustomed to seeing from England.

Is England's performance a new dawn or an aberration? Impressive as it was I gained the impression watching the first part of the game on television that Australia had mentally eased off, perhaps partly to minimise the risk of injuries to key players and partly because they expected another tame English surrender. That didn't happen but I'd expect Australia to come out fighting in the next game, that is to say today was an aberration.