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Monday, December 29, 2008

South Africa on course for match and series win despite lone hand from Ponting : Second Test Day 4

South Africa 459 and 0/30 need a further 153 runs to defeat Australia 394 and 247 (R Ponting 99, D Steyn 5/67): Second Test Day 4 at Melbourne Cricket Ground.

At the start of today's play Mark Nicholas, introducing proceedings on Channel 9, got the series sponsor's name wrong (it's not nPower). He corrected himself quickly, which was more than the Australian team, apart from the captain and a couple of others, was able to do.

The movement of the match out of Australia's reach continued in the first hour when the score went from 0/4 via 0/37 to 3/49. Matthew Hayden seemed to be finding some touch when he drove Dale Steyn to short extra cover for a not entirely convincing 23; Simon Katich played himself in then snicked a wide one to the keeper; Mike Hussey was given out caught when the ball touched his helmet (and nothing else).

Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke steadied things, not without some awkward moments until, and then beyond, lunch. But Clarke, in contrast to the first innings, surrendered his wicket cheaply to a poor ball from Steyn. Andrew Symonds, Brad Haddin and Brett Lee all failed (the last two after showing some brief promise) making Australia 7/180.

Mitchell Johnson dug in and supported the captain who, conscious of his team's predicament, became more introspective as he moved towards his second century of the match. He was caught at short extra cover for 99/169b (7x4). While this was not a flawless innings, Ponting had worked hard enough to earn his second century of the match, but it wasn;t to be.

The last two wickets, thanks to Johnson's 43 no/ 85b (5x4) added 35, leaving South Africa to amke 183 to win.

Brett Lee, determined as ever, opened the bowling, and bowled Neil McKenzie off a no ball. At the other end Graeme Smith was in ominously good touch, scoring 25 of his team's 0/30 at stumps.

Rain is forecast for Melbourne tomorrow. If it prevents a South African victory that will be a greater injustice than Ponting's dismissal for 99, unless, and this is a very big unless, Australia can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of their burnt expectations. Not likely I think, notwithstanding the other reversals of fortune in this series so far.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Duminy and tail turn tables on Australia: Second Test Day 3

Australia 394 and 0/4 trail South Africa 459 ( J-P Duminy 166, D Steyn 73, G Smith 62, P Siddle 4/81) by 61 runs with 10 wickets in hand: Second Test Day 3 at Melbourne Cricket Ground.

I was wrong. Again. What a turnaround!

South Africa went from a shaky 7/198 to 459 all out as Jean-Paul Duminy compiled an authoritative and almost nerveless 166/340b (18x4). As these stats indicate, this was an innings demonstrating great concentration and a mature judgment of when to attack.

He was supported first by Paul Harris's 39/67b (4x4), then by Dale Steyn's confident and, given his batting record, surprisingly fluent 76/191b (9x4,1x6).

The Australian attack, which was missing the injured Brett Lee and lacking a fully fi Andrew Symonds, moved from innocuous to inept, with moments bordering on farcical. Mike Hussey made the breakthrough, taking his first wicket in Test cricket after 53 runs had been added. From 8/251 Duminy and Steyn added 180 for the 9th wicket while Duminy and Makhaya Ntini rubbed salt into the wounds with a 28 run partnership for the 10th.

The Australian fielding didn't help. Hussey's failure to get near a lofted shot which he couldn't pick up in the sun was captured by the TV cameras and replayed many times. It looked ugly, especially for these days of limited overs cricket, and would have boosted further the confidence of the Proteas as well as diminishing that of the Australians.

Matthew Hayden and Simon Katich survived 3 overs at the end of the day. While a 58 run deficit may not seem many it's hard to see Australia, so many of whose shortcomings have been exposed in this series already, recovering enough to win the mach. To do so they'll have to play like South Africans.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

South Africa stumble: Second Test Day 2

South Africa 7/198 (G Smith 62, P Siddle 3/24) trail Australia 394 ( Ponting 101, M Clarke 88 no, S Katich 54, D Steyn 5/87) by 198 runs with 3 wickets in hand: Second Test Day 2 at Melbourne Cricket Ground

Australia's last 4 wickets added 117 to take them to 394 all out which looked to be reasonable in the circumstances. Michael Clarke was much more assertive than yesterday, adding 52/51b to finish with 88no/208 b ((4x4, 1x6). Dale Steyn was the best of the South African attack, finishing with 5/87 from 29 overs.

The South Africa innings was held together by Graeme Smith's 62/113b (6x4) as his top order teammates, Jean-Paul Duminy ( a determined 34 no) excepted, failed to live up to expectations and reputations. The Australian attack was, unlike the second innings at Perth, consistently probing and was rewarded for some intelligent bowling. Peter Siddle, on his home ground, was two or three notches above his Perth standard. He certainly justified his selection to the doubters, of whom I was one.

Australia are clearly on top at present; South Africa's resilience, so amply demonstrated in Perth, will tested again tomorrow...and beyond.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ponting century keeps Australia in game: Second Test Day 1

Australia 6/280 (R Ponting 101, S Katich 54, B Haddin 40) v South Africa: Second Test Day 1 at Melbourne Cricket Ground

Australia were once again indebted to Ricky Ponting for a superb 101/126b (10x4 1 x6) to keep them in the game against a persistent and frequently menacing South African attack. While Simon Katich, Brad Haddin and an out of sorts Michael Clarke gave handy support Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey failed again.

350 may be a good score on this MCG wicket. It is still within Australia's reach but tomorrow Clarke will need to build on today's scratchy 36 no/157b (only 1x4) and
muster the lower order.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

South Africa triumph against the odds and my opinion: First Test Day 5

South Africa 281 and 4/414 ( G Smith 108, A B de Villiers 106 no, J Kallis 57, H Amla 53, J-P Duminy 50 no, M Johnson 3/98) defeated Australia 375 and 319 by 6 wickets: First Test Day 5 at Perth .

I was wrong . I thought the South Africans would choke. Not one batsman today buckled under the pressure applied by what was only an intermittently hostile Australian attack (Mitchell Johnson an exception). A B de Villiers's innings of 106 no/ 186b, 9x4 was the highlight of today's play, but he was well supported by Jacques Kallis and Jean-Paul Duminy who all bjuilt on the platform erected yesterday by Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla.

This result will rattle Australia. Will they improve? They can't get much worse, but why Andrew Symonds didn't bowl is beyond me. This is not an excuse: well done South Africa.

Any suggestions as to an appropriate recipient for the $100.00 I promised if South Africa won? Perhaps one that operates in the Republic (preferably not a politician's re-election fund).


Cricinfo coverage

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Smith's century leads South African fightback, but is it enough?: First Test Day 4

Australia 375 and 319 ( B Haddin 94, J Kallis 3/24, P Harris 3/85) v South Africa 281 and 3/227 (G Smith 108. H Amla 53). South Africa need anotehr 187 runs with 7 wickets in hand: First Test Day 4 at Perth.

A fascinating day's play. Brad Haddin's ebullient 94/136b, 7x4, 4x6 seemed to put the match well beyond South Africa's reach, yet Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla added 153 for the 2nd wicket to put their team back into contention. Smith's injured elbow seemed to impede his movements a little at times but also reinforced his resolve. His 108/147b, 13x4 was the almost perfect captain's response to the situation. It fell short of complete perfection because the situation of the game, and the fact that his team have only five (maybe Mark Boucher would make a sixth) proven performers with the bat, meant that he should have made at least 150.

Hashim Amla's 53/112b, 6x4 provided valuable support but again could have been more given that he had played himself in. This is not to discount the impressive bowling of Mitchell Johnson (again) and Brett Lee in the final session. When Peter Siddle and Jason Krezja replaced them the pressure eased and, as Jacques Kallis went after them in the final overs and some Australian shoulders drooped (and hands fumbled, the huge total once again looked gettable.

Tomorrow should be another fascinating day, but I'd expect Australia, provided they keep their heads, to work their way through the Proteas. If I'm wrong I'll donate $A100 to charity (I may also do so if I'm right).


Friday, December 19, 2008

South Africa keep fighting but still look likely to lose: Second Test Day 3

Australia 375 and 7/228 (B Haddin 39 no,J Kallis 2/19) lead South Africa 281 (M Johnson 8/61) by 322 runs with 3 second innings wickets in hand: Second Test Day 3 at Perth.

South Africa were able to refocus after the previous day's late collapse, but the damage which Mitchell Johnson did then looks too much to prevent an Australian victory. Johnson took one of the two wickets on offer today as Mark Boucher and nos 10 and 11 showed more guts and determination than some of their teammates had to add a further 38 runs. Johnson finished with 8/61 from 24 overs, one of the best ever bowling performances by an Australian (and achieved against good opposition).

Australia's second innings began better than its first did, even though Matthew Hayden (given out caught by the umpire when replays showed he hadn't hit the ball) and Mike Hussey failed again. Brett Lee also failed to reach double figures, but each of the other six made between 25 and 39. Not good scores but enough, together with the 94 first innings lead, to put Australia well in front.

The South African bowlers kept plugging away. Jacques Kallis (2/19 from 11 overs), Dale Steyn and Paul Harris each took 2 wickets. Graeme Smith kept the pressure on, but I felt that he could have bowled Morne Morkel for more than 11 economical overs. Once again A B deVilliers was outstanding in the field: his slip catch of Lee off Kallis was unbelievable (look for it on YouTube). At the end of today the Proteas could hold their heads higher than yesterday, but it will take an even greater improvement, including at least one century, if they are to win from here.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Johnson rips through South Africa: First Test Day 2

Australia 375 (S Katich 83, M Clarke 62, A Symonds 57, M Ntini 4/72) v South Africa 8/243 (J Kallis 63, A B de Villiers 63, G Smith 48, H Amla 47, M Johnson 7/42) : First Test Day 2 at Perth.

Mitchell Johnson's spell of 5/2 (yes, that's 5 wickets for 2 runs) from 20 balls near the close of play put Australia well on top after South Africa had looked quite good chasing 375 (a total augmented by a cocky 34 run last wicket partnership).

Only Neil McKenzie of the top five failed in the strict sense, as the other four all reached the forties (Graham Smith's 48 being his highest score in a Test here). Yet none was able to go beyond 63. Solid as both Jacques Kallis and AB deVilliers were (and Kallis needed a score after modest performances elsewhere this year) their dismissals, each caught behind off Johnson for identical scores within 3 runs of each other were the crucial ones setting the Proteas on the slide from a promisingly comfortable 3/234 to a feeble 8/243.

Johnson always looked dangerous, though perhaps only he believed that he could produce that burst of 5/2. Jason Krejza's 1/102 from 25 overs was a mixed bag: a great ball to bowl Hashim Amla and break a menacing 90 run stand for the 2nd wicket, many others which were flighted well into the breeze then turned and bounced, and some rank bad deliveries.

South Africa may be rattled after their collapse, and if they can't regroup quickly they'll probably lose the match by a large margin. Judging by their performances against England and India earlier this year they should be able to do better, but whether Australia now has the wood on* them is a question which may be answered on Day 3.

* = an Australian colloquial phrase meaning "to have an advantage over someone" (source Australian National Dictionary)


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Australia recover from disastrous start...after a fashion: First Test Day 1

Australia 9/341 (S Katich 83, M Clarke 62, A Symonds 57, B Haddin 46, M Ntini 3/66) v South Africa: First Test Day 1 at Perth.

Typical Perth conditions: a fast wicket, the sun shining and the Fremantle doctor kicking in, helped produce a most interesting day's Test cricket, in which the advantage swung from side to side.

At the end of the day honours were roughly even but notwithstanding their appalling start (3/15, including ducks from Ricky Ponting - first ball - and Mike Hussey) Australia would probably feel that they lost a couple of wickets more than they needed to.

The next lowest score was Mitchell Johnson's 18, yet nobody reached three figures. Simon Katich (83/151b, 7 x4, 1x6), Michael Clarke (62/141b, 7x4) and Andrew Symonds (57/68b, 6x4) all came to terms with the wicket and the South African bowling for long enough to promise more.

The Proteas seemed to lose direction as Katich and Clarke added 149 for the third wicket, but regrouped to dismiss them both in the space of 2 runs. Symonds and Brad Haddin (46/68b, 4x4, 2 x6) added a pugnacious 93 but a number of wickets fell to injudicious strokes, some of which were induced by good bowling.

Makhaya Ntini was especially impressive: after being driven effortlessly by Matthew Hayden in the first over he had both him and Ponting
caught in the slips soon after, and returned late in the day to dismiss Haddin, well caught in the deep by Jean-Paul Duminy, the debutant and late replacement for the injured Ashwell Prince. Paul Harris also bowled well into the breeze: some of the other spin bowlers who have appeared in Tests recently could learn a thing or two from him. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel had their moments (Morkel more than Steyn) though Jacques Kallis was disappointng.

Tomorrow South Africa will bat. It will be interesting to see what kind of fist they make of the conditions and the relatively raw Australian attack.


Monday, December 15, 2008

India chases and gets 387 to beat nonplussed England: First Test at Chennai

India 241 (MS Dhoni 53, A Flintoff 3/42, M Panesar 3/69) and 4/387 (S Tendulkar 103 no, Yuvraj Singh 85 no, V Sehwag 83, G Gambhir 66) defeated England 316 (A Strauss 123, M Prior 53 no, A Cook 52, Harbhajan Singh 3/96, A Mishra 3/99) and 9/311 dec (Strauss 108, P Collingwood 108, Z Khan 3/40, I Sharma 3/57) by six wickets: First Test at Chennai.

I've seen a lot of this match on television: today I was glued to the couch, watching as the Test slipped, then was wrested from, England's grasp.

Until the final session of the fourth day England were on top. Batting first they mustered, thanks chiefly to Andrew Strauss (123/233b, 15x4), Alistair Cook (52/116b, 5x4) and Matt Prior (53/102b, 1x4), what looked like a reasonable score. When India batted good bowling and fielding (including a sharp Monty Panesar c and b), together with some casual top order shot selection reduced them to 5/102 and 6/137 before MS Dhoni (53/82b,5x4) and Harbhajan Singh (40/58b/7x4) added 75 for the 8th wicket.

Even so, 241 was a sub-standard reply, and after an early wobble to 3/43, Strauss again (108/244b, 8x4) and Paul Collingwood (108/250b, 9 x4) added 214 for the 4th wicket. Collingwood was 6th out at 277 and a declaration, or at least some quickfire scoring, seemed imminent, but it wasn't to be.

The game began to drift and when the declaration came it appeared to be too late.

But Virender Sehwag had other ideas. He came out with all his considerable armament of shots blazing and frightened the daylights out of the England team with a crackerjack 83/68b, 11x4, 4x6. The bowlers, except for Andrew Flintoff and Graeme Swann, wilted.

Sehwag was dismissed before stumps but he'd shown what might just be possible on the final day, which saw India 1/131 needng another 266 to win on a pitch which seemed to be wearing, even though the Indian spinners hadn't extracted much from it on day 4.

The final day saw India work methodically towards their goal. While everyone except Rahul Dravid played a part, the cornerstone of the innings was Sachin Tendulkar's 103/196b,9x4, a masterclass in how to win a game which seemed for so long to be beyond his team's reach. His strokeplay was assured, his defence watchful and his focus on what needed to be done sharp. Only Flintoff, the best of the England bowlers in both innings, troubled him more han occasionally. He was well supported by Gautam Gambhir's solid 66/139b, 7x4 and Yuvraj Singh's aggressive 85 no/131b, 8x4, 1x6.

I thought that Yuvraj, who in the first innings had effectively been sledged out by Flintoff (though Steve Harmison claimed his wicket), would be a weak link in India's chain, but I was wrong.

After lunch the score kept ticking over and Tendulkar looked increasingly settled (and determined). England needed at least one, then two, then three quick wickets to keep in the game. Swann had VVS Laxman, who'd looked ominously in touch, caught at short leg for 26/42b, 4x4. 4/224. That was the last wicket to fall as Yuvraj, who might have been caught behind once and adjudged lbw on another occasion, with Tendulkar took their team to an assured and, despite England's dominance of much of the game, emphatic victory.

The result was not unexpected, though the manner in which it was achieved was a very good advertisement for Test cricket.

England will need to regroup quickly before Friday if the Second Test is to approach it in quality.
After their performances against Australia and now England, India are to my mind clearly the best Test playing nation at present. Which is in a sense ironical given the sub-continental obsession with 20 over cricket.


Cricinfo coverage.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Passages from India

The Weekend Australian has reprinted two interesting pieces from The Times, one by Mike Atherton, another by Simon Barnes


The most tempting thing in the aftermath of terrorism is to exaggerate the danger and the effects on daily life. After all, if you want to drive into Lord's the day before a Test match, you have to let the sniffer dogs do their bit there as well. As it happened, I didn't have my pass on the day I arrived here, but I managed to walk through the gates of the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium and out to the middle without anybody asking to see it. The chief sports writer from the Daily Mirror (and you know it's a big story when the “chiefs” arrive) got in by showing his FA Cup pass.

Madras is 825 miles (1,329km) from Mumbai, more than 12 hours by rail and God knows how long by bus. Language and cultural differences are vast enough to make Lancastrians and Yorkshiremen seem like blood brothers by comparison. Might as well be another country.

There is no sense that Madras is in mourning. People here have a very matter-of-fact view of life and they are going about their business: earning a crust, cooking meals, playing sport, looking after the kids and generally getting on. Most Indians haven't got time to dwell and ponder.

Sheila, the bookseller in the Taj, reckons that business is a little slow for the time of year, but Haribabu, who has worked here for 18 years and now mans the patisserie stall, reports a fine trade in chocolate truffles and black forest gateaux.

Outside, on the Nangambakkam road, the sellers of fruit and dhosa (crêpes) are doing good business, girls from the Sacred Heart High School are hurrying to their lessons, people are chatting and spitting underneath the “do not spit” signs, the drivers of the death-on-three-wheels (tuk-tuks) are winding their way through gaps you don't think exist, and families ride, helmetless, three or four to a bike. 'Elf and safety wouldn't like it.

Down at the Marina beach, which runs the length of the city, all manner of activities are taking place. Joggers are braving the afternoon heat and the air quality, which the World Health Organisation reckons is seven times the recommended levels of pollution. Children are flying kites and there are dozens of cricket matches going on. More than 200 people lost their lives during the tsunami at this beach in Madras, many of them children playing cricket, so they know a bit about getting on with things here. After the tsunami, the beach was washed away, but it is back now, wide and sandy, all 12 kilometres of it.

At the ground, K. Parsatharathy, the groundsman of 35 years, sits on his roller looking unconcerned that a Test is about to start. He'd have liked to have a bit more time to work on the pitch, but he shrugs and says it will be pretty much like all the others he has prepared here: some pace and bounce early on, with plenty of spin later. His staff, women in bright-coloured saris, sit close by, chatting and waiting for instructions.

Cricketers are practising in the nets, but over in the pavilion there is a bit of a commotion because Kevin Pietersen and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are about to unveil the series trophy. Before they do, the big cheese from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the sponsor, wants to say a few words and she blathers on about RBS's wealth-management service (as if anybody has got any money left these days), its global portfolio and the important role RBS plays in local communities. You feel like saying, “Come on, love, forget the cricket and just lower your mortgage rates.”

Then she's done and she asks Pietersen and Dhoni to unveil the trophy. All of a sudden there is an almighty scrum as dozens of cameramen, photographers and journalists surge towards the captains. Reg Dickason, the England security adviser, has seconded his son into action on this trip (and that tells you all you need to know about how the security business is doing very nicely out of this show), and it is his responsibility to guard the England captain. Dickason Jr has a look of sheer panic as he finds himself on the wrong side and he tries to fight his way through the scrum. James Avery, the ECB's laconic media officer, leans against the wall, smiling. This is India, after all, and chaos is a given.

All this was happening yesterday in Madras, much like any other day there when Test cricket is on. Cricketers practising, bankers bull*****ing, columnists writing, locals getting from home to work and back again in a variety of ways, children playing cricket on the beach and chaos unfolding.

That is what happens after the terror. And today, the Test begins.


Sport and terrorism are two of the main growth industries of the past 40-odd years and it is inevitable that they have from time to time come together. More often than not, sport has responded by carrying on. Some will argue that this is mostly about not wanting to lose money; others will argue that it's all about politics; no one will argue that such points are not a factor in the decision to carry on.

But all the same, carrying on feels right. Defiance feels right. The restoration of normal life feels right: not crassly and coarsely and insensitively, not in any pretence that the sport is more important than matters of life and death, but because the return to sport after a period of terror is both a blow against terrorism and the sort of comforting normality we need after times of trouble.


The sport continued after the pipe bomb exploded at the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996, which killed two and injured 111. Rather more questionably, the Olympic Games of 1972 carried on without interruption during the killings, the prolonged siege and then eventual airport shoot-out in Munich, a time in which it appeared that the allocation of gold medals was more important to the International Olympic Committee than the murder of athletes.

But in most cases, the decision of sport to carry on in the aftermath of terror feels right, and is right. It is seldom that sport has been the specific target of terrorism: Munich and the bogus bombs of the Grand National are about as close as it gets. If sport ever became a regular and specific target of terror, we would have to rethink everything.

But it is not. All the same, sport cannot take place without the security industry dominating most leading events, and we accept this as a matter of routine. We are aware that the price of fighting terrorism is eternal vigilance; we are in the process of learning about the price of eternal vigilance.

Sport is a weapon against terror; a weapon on the side of the ordinary, the amusing, the trivial. That is not to deny, still less to trivialise the devastation caused by the terrorists, rather, it is to put them in perspective. There are wicked people in the world, but there are also people prepared to graft out 123 runs in a day's cricket. Sport can't defeat terrorism unaided, but it can certainly celebrate the truth that terrorism doesn't create anything but terror. So three cheers for the England cricket team, and three more for the India team; I hope they both win. But then they already have.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Dizzy speaks out

Jason Gillespie in The Sunday Mail/Adelaide Now speaks out about what he sees as the faults of the cricket world:

Former Test fast bowler Jason Gillespie has accused Cricket Australia of deserting some of the country's finest players in favour of the wishes of Indian officials.
Gillespie condemned a decision to keep him out of Australian domestic cricket as "a joke" and said Cricket Australia was kowtowing to the powerful Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The South Australian paceman – banned from first-class cricket in Australia after signing a three-year deal with the non-ICC sanctioned Indian Cricket League – also criticised Indian cricket chief Lalit Modi.

He said he believed Cricket Australia would not stand up to Modi and the BCCI.

"Unfortunately, they'll side with (India's) board rather than support players like `Kasper' (Michael Kasprowicz) and myself who've played for our country for many years," Gillespie said of Cricket Australia's treatment of former Test stars now playing in the ICL.

"They're far too worried about the ramifications of not being nice to the BCCI ... it's a joke.

"They've basically said to us: `No, we don't want you.'

"Cricket Australia are ... concerned about massaging their relationship with the BBCI."

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Mail, Gillespie:

EXPRESSED a desire to return to cricket with the SA Redbacks.

DECLARED Test cricket was on its last legs outside of Australia and England.


Gillespie, who played 71 Tests, returned to Australia from ICL commitments last week, leaving India just hours after the horror of the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

His experience on the subcontinent has left him with the belief that for much of the cricket-playing world, Test cricket is doomed.

"Test cricket is in trouble, there's no doubt about that," he said.

"I can see a time where countries will be bypassing Test cricket altogether.

"With more Twenty20 Leagues, it will go the way where representing your country will take a back seat. For Australian and English players it will always be the pinnacle, but I'm not sure it's the pinnacle for any other countries.

"All other countries don't see Test cricket as the be-all and end-all any more."

Gillespie spent the winter playing for Glamorgan in the English County Competition before joining his ICL team, the Ahmedabad Rockets.

During that time, the 259-Test scalp veteran worked feverishly with both teams' younger bowlers and developed an interest in coaching.

But even assisting Australia's next generation of tearaways may be forced off Gillespie's agenda.

"I was talking to (Australian head bowling coach) Troy Cooley before and he's keen to get me into the Centre of Excellence but I'm hoping these ridiculous rules of Cricket Australia don't extend to coaching because I think that would be quite sad."

Despite the Mumbai attacks, Gillespie remains intent on returning to India for the ICL's next series in March.

There's a large dollop of self-serving here but he does make some good points. In Adelaide we have just seen a so-called Test match between Australia and a New Zealand team which was weakened by the banning of several players, notably Shane Bond, because of their involvement in the ICL.
Update 15 December
The Weekend Australian revisited the issue.


Gillespie, who signed with the ICL last season and promptly retired from the SA Redbacks to avoid Cricket Australia sanction, is distressed by the treatment of India's banned ICL players.

The 71-Test paceman tells of how his Ahmedabad Rockets team-mate, former India international Reetinder Sodhi, was treated when he fronted up to watch a recent club game.

Security was called and Sodhi was frog-marched out of the ground. "He can't even go and watch a match," an incredulous Gillespie, 33, said this week. "He got escorted away from a club match because he's ICL.

"They can't play anywhere. The only place they can play cricket is in the street or in their own backyard. They just can't play anywhere."

Then there's the case of batsman Bhima Rao, 21, who dominated one ICL Twenty20 game with multiple run-outs and catches from his station at point.

"He's one of the best fielders I've seen, in any cricket," Gillespie said.

As an ICL player, the promising Rao is ineligible to play for India, so fans of establishment cricket are starved of his athletic displays in the covers.

"I just find it incredibly disappointing that a lot of these kids will never get the opportunity to play for their country.

"It's ended their first-class careers.

"They're massively disappointed. These kids, their goal is, like any other kid, they want to play for India.

"They're just so willing to learn and they hang on your every word.

"Some of these players are good enough to play for India."

Gillespie believes Indian cricket's governing body, the BCCI, would not enforce the ICL ban so stringently if Indian cricket was not blessed with a depth envied by every other cricketing nation.

The cold divide gripping Indian cricket has yet to take hold in Australia - but it has touched the game here.

Cricket Australia banned Gillespie's Ahmedabad team-mates Ryan Campbell and Murray Goodwin from playing in the annual Lilac Hill picnic match in WA last month.

"That is ridiculous. That is just silly. On what basis?

"I think Cricket Australia, they value the relationship with the BCCI far too much."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The talented (and focused) Mr Cricket

In last weekend's Australian Peter Lalor wrote about Mike Hussey's determination and application

Hussey waited 11 years and compiled 15,313 first-class runs before getting a sniff of the baggy green. It is doubtful that anybody on this side of sanity has applied themselves so totally to the goal of playing Test cricket. At times, Hussey may have drifted close to the other side of that line.

He practised day and night and then sometimes in between. He sought advice from all and sundry and then a few of sundry's mates. He listened and he practised and he made lists. List after list after list. Everything in his life appears to revolve around notes and plans and goals. To this day he is still the same.

He has a Sleep Plan, (no coffee in afternoon/lights off 9.30pm/don't panic if you wake in the night and so on), a day plan, a career plan, a captaincy plan, an Ashes plan, a plan for this and a plan for plans.

Even John Buchanan was surprised by Hussey's diligence. When the former coach asked the players to send him some thoughts on the eve of the last Ashes, the West Australian replied with a 20-point list, complete with sub-headings and subsections and finished the email by saying he looked forward to more feedback from his team-mates and maybe could squeeze in a visit to the Centre of Excellence.

Amy, his wife, is too familiar with Hussey's structured existence, having been scheduled in at certain times of the day when they dated. She tries to keep him on track.

"When I start going off on these weird tangents, when the pressures right on, she has this way of just bringing things back to simple, basic elements and nine times out of 10 she is generally right," Hussey said.

And, yes, he knows that in the past he has gone a bit too far.

"Sometimes it got out of hand, but I haven't been too bad in the last few years because I know my game a lot better now and I understand what I need to do to get my game right.

"Certainly I think when I'm home and I've got a long list of things to do that day, things around the house, Amy will just say 'can we just throw the list out for one day, just have no plan today' and I get a bit frazzled, definitely."

Monday, December 01, 2008

McCullum's aggressive fightback in losing cause highlights NZ batting ineptitude: Second Test Day 4

Australia 535 defeated New Zealand 270 and 203 (B McCullum 84 no, B Lee 5/105, M Johnson 3/29) by an innings and 62 runs: Second Test Day 4 at Adelaide

The New Zealand top order threw in the towel as, in the face of some hostile bowling in the first session, the team crumbled from 0/35 to 5/83. Brett Lee bowled especially well, while Stuart Clark maintained pressure from the other end and was unlucky not to pick up a wicket and Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Hauritz kept up the pressure against embarassingly weak batting. The highlight of the morning was Ricky Ponting's catch to dismiss Jamie How. Don't take my word for it: click on the link to judge for yourself.

Another wicket fell immediately after lunch before the lower order batsmen supported Brendon McCullum in adding 119 for the last 4 wickets. This didn't prevent the defeat which had looked inevitable since halfway through the first day, but it did show what, with more application, might have been.
McCullum's innings began cautiously. Not until number 10 Iain O'Brien joined him and showed some defensive skill, did he begin to hit out. The pair added 50, of which O'Brien's contribution was 0 from 38 balls, before McCullum kept the inept Chris Martin from the strike while they added another 22 before Martin inevitably succumbed to Mitchell Johnson for yet another duck (and pair).

McCullum was left not out with 84/134b/14x4, 2x6. Had one or two of the top six been a third as good as him Australia would still have won but would have had to bat again.


Cricinfo coverage

Update 2 December

In today's Australian (not yet online) Mike Coward has a good summary of New Zealand's performance in the Test. His views, with which I concur, are summed up in the headline "Vettori has right to feel affronted by lacklustre team" and the first two sentences

By its rank ineptitude the New Zealand cricket team has publicly offended its captain, Daniel Vettori, and rendered Test cricket another disservice.

Young, raw and naive the team may be but there can be no excuse for the lily-livered batting which abruptly ended proceedings yesterday and ensured the Trans-Tasman Trophy reamins in Australia, where it has resided for the last 15 years.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

329 runs, 7 wickets, 2 centuries, Australia on top: Second Test Day 3

New Zealand 268 and 0/35 trail Australia 535 (B Haddin 169, M Clarke 110, R Ponting 79, M Hussey 70) by 230 runs with 10 wickets in hand: Second Test Day 3 at Adelaide.

Apart from one over from Chris Martin in which he took two wickets and reduced (if that word is appropriate) Australia to 5/247, the rest of the day's play saw New Zealand ground into submission .
The highlights were centuries from Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin: Clarke's a classical top order batter's innings of 110/239b/11x4, Haddin's a feisty and frequently frenetic 169/222b/24x4,2x6 which should have dispelled any doubts about his ability to handle the demands of batting at test level.

The New Zealand attack was innocuous. Daniel Vettori bowled himself for 59.4 overs (too many of them over the wicket to right handers) and today only picked up one wicket for plenty, though he dropped a return catch from Brett Lee before he'd scored. Chris Martin, Iain O'Brien and Tim Southee trundled honestly while Aaron Redmond tossed the ball up, spun it and was hit, yet was compensated with two lower order wickets.

With two days to play New Zealand cannot expect to save, let alone win the match. I hope they go down fighting, which Redmond and Jamie How's positive approach (assisted by Brett Lee's no-balling waywardness) in the 9 overs before stumps seemed to promise. But 9 overs do not a cricket match make.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

No century, otherwise according to script as Australia build: Second Test Day 2

Australia 3/241 (R Ponting 79, M Hussey 69 no, M Clarke 43 no) trail New Zealand 270 (B Lee 4/66) by 29 runs with 7 wickets in hand; Second Test Day 2 at Adelaide.

New Zealand's hopes of getting a competitive score, generally assumed to be at least 350, were exposed as lurid fantasies in the first session as Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson took the last 4 wickets while only 8 runs were added to the overnight total.

Australia's reply was pretty much as expected given a perfect day for cricket, a typical Adelaide second day pitch and the calibre of the opposition attack. Only Matthew Hayden's failure to score a century in his hundredth test (he was run out for 24) and Ricky Ponting's lapse in pulling to Ian O'Brien to midwicket when he was 79, turned out to be minor blots on the Australian copybook. Daniel Vettori was a cut above the other bowlers but he's already bowled 28 of his team's 79 overs (for 1/54) and there are still 17 wickets to take. The match should last all of tomorrow but it's hard to see it extending much beyond that.


Friday, November 28, 2008

New Zealand throw game away after lunch: Second Test Day 1

New Zealand 6/262 (A Redmond 83, R Taylor 44) v Australia at Adelaide.

New Zealand won the toss and sensibly chose to bat. They negotiated the first session well, perhaps surprisingly well, against an Australian pace attack which didn't really threaten despite cool, cloudy conditions which looked conducive to swing and a hapless spinner, Nathan Hauritz, who looked out of his depth as he conceded 29 from 3 overs (17 from the first).

1/101 at lunch was as good a platform as the Black Caps could have expected, but they then proceeded to dismantle it. Ricky Ponting kept Hauritz on, which looked, as Sir Humphrrey Appleby might have said, a courageous decision. But the fourth ball after the interval pitched a little short and Jesse Ryder swatted it hard to Michael Clarke at midwicket. 2/101.

Aaron Redmond had started slowly against the quicks yet warmed to Hauritz before lunch and tried to continue in the same vein afterwards. But Ponting had plugged the gap at deep midwicket and when Redmond tried to hit Hauritz there again Andrew Symonds took an excellent running and leaping catch leaving NZ wobbly at 3/130. 83/125b/14x4, 2x6 was an impressive knock but when Redmond seemed to have the measure of the Australian attack it seemed if not a failure then mildly disappointing.

Peter Fulton and Ross Taylor did something to restore the equilibrium by adding 64 before Fulton pulled a short ball from Symonds to mid micket. 4/194, then 5/200 as Taylor, who'd looked fairly composed and played some fluent shots, was adjudged lbw to Stuart Clark.

Brett Lee, who'd looked a bit lacklustre earlier, turned on an impressive spell with the old ball. He bowled Daniel Flynn for 11, leaving the Black Caps a well below par 6/228. As the sun came out for the last few overs with the old and the first few with the new ball Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori held out until stumps.

Australia are on top and I can't see any reason why they won't be able to proceed steadily (or perhaps even swiftly) to a victory from this point.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

An hour suffices to give Australia victory: First Test Day 4

Australia 214 and 268 defeated New Zealand 156 and 177 (R Taylor 75, M Johnson 5/39, S Clark 4/43) by 149 runs: First Test day 4 at Brisbane.

Despite the unexpected victory last night of the New Zealand Rugby League team in that sport's World Cup, the country's cricket team didn't produce a similar upset today. In fact they surrendered more easily than I expected against an Australian attack reinvigorated by playing at home and against weak opponents. Mitchell Johnson (5/39 from 17.3 overs) and Stuart Clark (4/43 from 17 overs) were outstanding: Brett Lee, who made the initial breakthrough yesterday, was less effective.

If the Black Caps were to have a chance Ross Taylor needed to build on the foundation he'd laid yesterday and at least one of the other batsmen would have to stay with him while he did so. But, unlike Michael Clarke and Simon Katich in Australia's first and second innings, Taylor didn't add enough runs to threaten an unlikely victory. Nor were any of his colleagues able to stay long. Still Taylor's 75/128b/9x4 (and his 40 in the first innings) showed both his own quality and the deficiencies of his colleagues. Only Daniel Flynn of the top order order batsmen was worth his place. It is hard to see much scopre for improvement before the Second Test. Brendon McCullum should be capable of better things but the others? I doubt it.


Cricinfo coverage

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Katich sets up Australian victory: First Test Day 3

Australia 214 and 268 (S Katich 131 no, C Martin 3/69) v New Zealand 156 and 6/143 (R Taylor 67 no, S Clark 3/23) . New Zealand require 184 more runs with 4 wickets remaining: First Test Day 3 at Brisbane.

Simon Katich carried his bat through the Australian innings for a masterly 131 no/245b/16x4 which has put the match out of New Zealand's reach.

The Black Caps didn't help their own cause by dropping Katich twice and generally losing their focus as the last two Australian wickets added 82. Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark showed some of their upper order teammates a thing or two about batting.

The Black Caps were never going to get close to, let alone overhaul, a target of more than 300, especially after losing 4/49. Only a partnership of 84 for the fifth wicket between Ross Taylor (67no/101b/9x4) and Daniel Flynn restored some self-esteem and took the match into the fourth day. But when Flynn and Grant Elliott were dismissed in the literal and metaphorical shadows of the scheduled close of play any notions of an improbable victory evaporated.


Friday, November 21, 2008

16 wicket day as batting of both sides crumbles: First Test Day 2

Australia 214 and 6/131 lead New Zealand 156 (R Taylor 40, M Johnson 4/30) by 189 runs with 4 second innings wickets in hand : Second Test Day 2 at Brisbane

Stuart Clark bowled the first ball of the day to Aaron Redmond, who snicked it to Ricky Ponting at slip. New Zealand 1/7. Then Jamie How and Jesse Ryder added 37 before Brett Lee bowled How for 14. 2/44.

There followed a steady procession as the last 8 wickets added 112. The Australian bowling was tight and, as the scorecard suggests, more than enough to see most of the NZ batsmen off. Only Ross Taylor 40/51b/7x4 and Daniel Flynn 39no/ 80b/7x4 held out for long.

Chris Martin bowled the first ball of Australia's second innings: it moved just far enough to get the
edge of Matthew Hayden's bat and go through to the keeper. There followed a repeat of the first innings with Simon Katich on this occasion replacing Michael Clarke as the sheet anchor. Only Mike Hussey was unlucky to be given out caught behind when replays showed the ball brushing his pad and missing his bat. The other dismissals, including Michael Clarke's run out, were relatively soft, though the NZ attack bowled steadily and was well supported in the field.

Katich, now 67/117b/9x4 is probably the crucial player for the third day, when the match will, weather permitting, almost certainly be decided. Although Australia have underperformed with the bat it is hard to see New Zealand scoring more than 220 runs in the fourth innings. If they are to do so some of these four players will need to make significant contributions: Brendan McCullum, Ross Taylor, Daniel Flynn and Daniel Vettori (who must promote himself at least one place in the order).

NZ's other enemy is an internal one: do they have the self-belief necessary to chase down a total which on paper should be well within their grasp?


Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Zealand exceed expectations as Australian batting wobbles: First Test Day 1

Australia 214 (M Clarke 98, T Southee 4/63), New Zealand 0/7: First Test Day 1 at Brisbane

There are many good things about the USA, from where I've recently returned, but media coverage of cricket isn't one of them. Internet reports are better than nothing but they don't really provide much material for detailed analysis, hence my silence for the last few weeks.

After all the storms in Brisbane overnight I wasn't expecting much play today. Fortunately only half an hour was lost, though the damage to some of the stands will take longer to repair. Daniel Vettori won the toss and sent Australia, who omitted Jason Krejsza from the 12, in (has anyone who took 12 wickets in a match ever been dropped from the team for the next game?).

On this occasion Vettori's decision turned out to be correct as the Australian top order struggled against some intelligent pace bowling. Tim Southee (does Australia have a 19 year old of his quality?) used the conditions extremely well and took the first three wickets (Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting) to leave the home team 3/23.

Michaels Clarke and Hussey hung on until lunch (3/60) without looking entirely at ease but they toughed it out until at 96 Chris Martin removed Hussey lbw for 35. Enter Andrew Symonds, who looked out of sorts despite some good fortune including a dropped catch and an 8 (4 all run + 4 ovrthrows) before edging the persistent Ian O'Brien to wicketkeeper McCullum.

Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Brett Lee didn't stay long but Clarke, looking thinner after his experiences in India, grew in assurance and moved the score from 8/160 to 214 before he was bowled by occasional bowler Jesse Ryder for a 98 (217b, 9x4) which kept Australia in the game.

Aaron Redmond and Jamie How survived five overs until stumps, leaving New Zealand clearly on top. Whether they can remain there is a moot point: their batting is brittle and the conditions are still helpful to good seam bowling. Tomorrow, weather permitting (and the forecast says that it will) should be the crucial day of the match.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Which was the more important match?

India and Australia slugged out a draw over five days in the Third Test at Delhi, while the Stanford Superstars (a a quasi- official West Indian eleven) thrashed the highly favoured England team by 10 wickets in the high profile and highly rewarded one off Twenty20 match in Antigua.

I saw little of the former and nothing of the latter match so can't make much in the way of worthwhile comments about either. From the media reports I've read it seems that we may, despite some distaste among some media commentators, see more games played according to the Stanford model. This isn't something I welcome but if the short time frame, high stakes and associated razzamatazz combine to enlarge the audience for that form of cricket then I'd hope that some of that audience would come in time to appreciate the virtues of the longer form of the game. But I'm not confident that this will happen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

India wallop Australia: Second Test

As I'm overseas I've not been able to watch any more than a few brief snippets of the action on TV but the scorecard speaks for itself: India were clearly the better side.

The huge victory should do wonders for their confidence. Can Australia regroup and make the rest of the series more competitive? I'm reluctant to write off any Australian team but the gap between the current underachieving one and India is very wide.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Draw: First Test day 5

Australia 430 and 6/228 dec (S Watson 41, I Sharma 3/40) drew with India 360 and 4/177 (S Tendulkar 49) at Bangalore.

Slow play and bad light combined to make the match a draw.

419.5 overs were bowled today. If the weather and the players' determination had permitted (and perhaps the umpires and the match referee had insisted that) the scheduled 450 overs - a modest target by the standards of anyone who'd followed cricket in the 20th century - be bowled there might have been a result. Australia made most of the running (walking is a more apt term) but its bowling lacked sufficient penetration to dismiss India in the second innings on a pitch which looked brittle but which somehow did not deconstruct like the global financial markets have done recently.

Perhaps the declaration might have come sooner, though the spectre of a blinder from Virender Sehwag or Sachin Tendulkar (or another) may have hovered over the Australian team management and clouded its thinking. And so, the match which had in the first days demonstrated some of the best qualities of Test cricket, ended with a whimper.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Is there enough time left for either side to win? First Test day 4

Australia 430 and 5/193 lead India 360 ( Zaheer Khan 57 no, Harbhajan Singh 54, R Dravid 51, M Johnson 4/70, S Watson 3/45) by 263 runs with 5 second innings wickets remaining; First Test day 4 at Bangalore.

250 runs from 86 overs in the day (which could have been 90 had a half-decent over rate been maintained) is not express Test cricket by today's standards. It suggests that both Australia and India will be content to settle for a draw. Australia has the upper hand and can decide whether to bat tomorrow morning and, if so, for how long.

India's last two wickets added 43 more runs which, just, kept them in the game. Australia lost Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting cheaply leaving Simon Katich (34/140b) to hang in and lead the team towards a respectable score. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan bowled well while Harbhajan Singh had his moments and took two wickets. (Anil Kumble could not bowl until later because of an injury).

In the last overs Brad Haddin and Shane Watson took their team from a shaky 5/128 to 5/193 and a more substantial lead. Whether it is enough is in the hands of the Australian management. I suspect that they will bat on for a while.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

India wobble, then regroup: First Test day 3

India 8/313 (Harbhajan Singh 54,R Dravid 51, S Ganguly 4,7 M Johnson 4/62) trail Australia 430 by 117 runs with two wickets remaining in the first innings; at Bangalore

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir's spirited response to Australia's first innings continued for just seven more balls this morning. Brett Lee's second delivery trapped Gambir lbw for 21. 1/70 became 4/106 as Mitchell Johnson cut through the high profile Indian top order having Sehwag well caught by Matthew Hayden at slip, Sachin Tedulkar not picking a slower ball and being caught at cover and VVS Laxman caught behind for a duck.

Dravid and Sourav Ganguly added 49 before the Wall was adjudged lbw to Shane Watson for a timely and mostly composed 51/104b (7x4). MS Dhoni did not get a start before falling to a ball from Michael Clarke which turned just enough to beat the bat and hit off stump. Then Ganguly, immediately after taking a lengthy onfield break to deal with a bleeeding nose, fell to lbw to Johnson. 7/232.

Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, surprisingly coming in ahead of Anil Kumble, stopped the slide with a positive 80 run partnership which understandably frustrated the Australians. It ended when Harbhajan swished at Shane Watson and was well caught behind by a leaping Brad Haddin. The day's play, which had been extended because of a rain break, was called off shortly after this as the light faded.

The Australian attack bowled better than yesterday. Mitchell Johnson lifted considerably, and he was well supported by Brett Lee and Shane Watson. Only Stuart Clark seemed a little, though not much, below his personal par. Part time spinners Michael Clarke and Cameron White did not disgrace themselves either.

Australia, despite the Indian revival, are clearly in the better position, though with two days to go, and some uncertain weather in prospect, they may not be in a position to force a win. The wicket seemed to improve over the course of today but may not deteriorate enough to make a victory for either side easy to achieve.

If one team is to win on present indications it would be Australia even though there are precedents such as this and especially this for major changes within the course of matches between the countries. This of course is one of the chief reasons why Test cricket can be so enthralling despite the slow pace a which matches develop.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Australia build good total but India come out fighting: First Test day 2

India 0/68 trail Australia 430 (M Hussey 146, R Ponting 123, Zaheer Khan 5/91, I Sharma 4/77) by 362 runs with all first innings wickets intact: First Test day 2 at Bangalore

Another well contested day of Test cricket in which Australia, by virtue of its first innings 430, gained a measure of ascendancy over India. Had the Indian openers not started so assuredly and made the Australian pace attack look less fearsome than its collective reputation I'd have said that Australia were well on top.

The centrepiece of the day was Mike Hussey's 146/276b, a masterly display of batting against some pretty good bowling on a wicket with a little variable bounce. Today he played many good strokes, especially several classical left-hander's drives on the off. I can recall only one false stroke: the french cut to the boundary which brought up his century. While the scoring rate didn't approach limited overs levels Hussey, in partnerships of 91 with Brad Haddin (33/110b) and 59 with Brett Lee (27/61b), kept rotating the strike, as his 62 singles indicate. (He also scored 6x2, 2x3,15x4, 1x6).

Neither Shane Watson nor Cameron White lasted long against Ishant Sharma (4/77 from 30overs) who, because of his consistent hostility and varied pace (two wickets with slower balls), was IMO the best of the Indian bowlers, though Zaheer Khan (5/91 from one ball less) had the better figures. Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble bowled steadily yet neither looked likely to reap a harvest of wickets. Kumble varied his pace from the mid 80 to the low 100 kphs but conceded yet another century, this time without a wicket. Sehwag, despite being biffed for two 4s by Brett Lee in a single over spell, should have bowled more.

India's assertive batting response, from Virender Sehwag (43/55b, 7x4) and Gautam Gambhir (20/55b, 3x4), made the Australian pace attack, Brett Lee excepted, look below par and the wicket more benign than earlier in the day. A draw is starting to look the likeliest result, but a little less likely than at the end of the Australian innings.


Also noted: the drinks cart which comes onto the ground is festooned with Foster's signage. What refreshments does it dispense, I wonder?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Australia on top for most of day but India claw back

Australia 4/254 (R Ponting 123, S Katich 66) v India: First Test Day 1 at Bangalore

A day of quintessential Test cricket . The highlight was a determined century from Ricky Ponting, his first in a Test in India, which, while not without a little good fortune, took Australia to a comfortable position only for the Indian bowlers, who had started to look tired, to claw back two late wickets to leave honours more or less even.

Australia, who IMO wisely preferred Cameron White to Jason Krezja, won the toss and, also wisely, chose to bat.

India won the first round when Zaheer Khan had Matthew Hayden adjudged caught behind for a duck in the first over. Replays suggested that he may not have hit the ball but it was a tough call for the umpire. Enter Ponting to join Simon Katich. Zaheer and Ishant Sharma were hostile for a while but couldn't break through, India had no third pace bowler so the spinners were on before lunch when Australia were 1/75 and both Ponting and Katich looking more comfortable.

They continued in similar vein in the middle session, occasionally miscueing (as when Ponting almost edged Sharma onto the stumps) but gradually asserting themselves. Ponting played some of his trademark pulls, including two lofted ones (a 4 and what looked to me like a 6, though the scorecard says otherwise) to mid wicket from Harbhajan Singh. Just before tea, when Indian shoulders were beginning to droop, Katich edged Sharma to the keeper for a 66 (149b, 7x4) which justified his selection ahead of Phil Jacques (who was nonetheless unlucky not to keep his place).

After tea Ponting proceeded to what for some time had seemed an inevitable century. Once past that milestone he put his head down again, defending determinedly, hitting the bad and occasional not so bad ball, and sometimes playing a false shot, as when he was fortunate to be reprieved from what looked on the replay like a return catch to his opposite number Anil Kumble. Mike Hussey also took his time to come to terms with the the conditions but he hung on and became increasingly assured.

Harbhajan was steady but not menacing for most of the day and Ponting seemed to have his measure until he was lbw to an injudicious shot: 3/226. His 123 (243b, 13x4) had provided a solid platform for the innings as well as answering those who had pointed to his poor record in India.

Had Hussey and Michael Clarke stayed together until stumps Australia would clearly have had the better of the day, but the vice-captain was lbw to Zaheer to complete a day bookended by India's (and Zaheer's) successes at its beginning and end.

The Indian attack generally persevered and, apart from a period in the last session when it looked like wilting (Kumble probably did wilt), made the Australians concentrate hard. Even so the team looked a front line bowler short: only Virender Sehwag's four tidy enough overs relieved the front line men. Perhaps he needs to bowl more in the series.

Australia will be wanting - and need - to make many more runs to give their bowlers a good chance of working through the strong Indian top batting order. India will first of all need to confine the Australians to a total of less than 400 and then to pile on the runs themselves before the wicket, which has already showed some uneven bounce, deteriorates further.

I shall be watching closely from my couch tomorrow.


Cricinfo coverage

Let the series begin

In a few hours the first Test of a four match series between the two best Test teams in the world will begin.

IMO India will, despite losing recently to Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and some concerns about the age and, in some instances, form of many of their long-serving players, start favourites

One of Sri Lanka's strengths - spin bowling - is Australia's major weakness. The final place in the Australian XI will go to either Jason Krejza or Cameron White. I didn't see any video of Krejza's 0/199 from 31 overs in the last match but the figures speak for themselves. I know (thanks to The Match Referee for reminding me ) that Shane Warne didn't always dictate terms in India but Krejza's record in domestic cricket is, to say the least, modest. White's bowling has been damned with faint praise by many critics but I watched him on TV bowling in his last first class match, the 2008-2009 Sheffield Shield/ Pura Cup final , and thought that he did a reasonable job in the circumstances, spinning the ball more than I expected and taking 1/49 from 15 overs in the second innings.

Of course everyone hopes for a good, hard fought match, but without the rancour which tarnished the series here last season, but despite Australia's record at Bangalore and reports that the pitch may not be as spin-friendly as expected, India have a better balanced lineup with a body of experience even greater than Australia's.

Things I'll be watching: the batting of all the top notch players on both sides (I hope and expect that Ricky Ponting will demonstrate his underlying class) and, of course, the spin bowling.

Monday, October 06, 2008

One player's priorities right...but in future?

Steve Harmison has stated that winning the Ashes in 2009 is the highest priority for him.

"This is going to be an exciting and intense 12 months of cricket and I cannot wait. People will go on about the Stanford series and the money that is on offer, but every single Englishman knows the Ashes series against Australia is the one to really win," Harmison told the Journal. "The money on offer for the Stanford tournament is a lot, but you've got to win it first. We are going out there to represent our country, just as we will do in India and the West Indies this winter. "

Good to see a current player saying this, yet I wonder what effects the explosion of T20 cricket might have in the next few years. Already the international calendar is straining to accommodate all the competitions.

Test cricket, the purist's (ie my) preferred form of the game, is becoming, if not endangered, then vulnerable to the huge financial honeypots of the IPL and its clones. Players like Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist are able to extend their careers while some like Andrew Symonds who are (more or less) in their prime are able to keep themselves in the public eye without playing for their country.

The current Australian tour of India is unusual in that there are no ODI or T20 matches in the program. It would not surprise me if it turned out to be the last four Test series between the two countries, at least in India. The England tour which follows hard on the heels of the Australian one comprises seven ODIs and two tests. Substitute T20s for some (or all the?) ODIs and do we have the template for many future tours?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Strong enough to beat India?

The Australian team to tour India has been selected. It contains a modest surprise or two, especially in the spin bowling department where legspinner Bryce Magain and, even more so, offspinner Jason Krejza, neither of whom has played a test, have been preferred to Beau Casson and perhaps Nathan Hauritz or Dan Cullen, each of whom has test experience (if not success).

Australia's current spin bowling resources are thin. The only spinner in the team with any test bowling accomplishments is Michael Clarke, the team vice captain and leading batsman. It's asking a lot to expect him to be both front line bowler and batter through a four match series. Presumably Magain will be the principal spinner but it's difficult to predict how he'll cope with a mature Indian batting lineup which has recently been befuddled by the Sri Lankan Muttiah Muraliduran- Ajanta Mendis duo. I wonder whether Nathan Bracken's ability to move the ball off the wicket (so often evident in ODIs) might have won him a recall to the test eleven.

The rest of the Australian team, even minus Andrew Symonds, looks OK, though there's not much scope for form lapses from the name players, especially the bowlers. India is not without its own problems but, judging by the number of players performing in the ODI and T20 sides (and the number underperforming in the test team), its talent pool is deeper than Australia's.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Don Bradman centenary

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sir Donald Bradman , IMO the greatest cricketer ever.

I doubt whether many cricket followers would disagree with me, even though the Don did not play the shorter versions of the game.

There are tributes and assessments aplenty in the media, including from the Federal Parliament via Cricket Australia and, as you'd expect, a wide coverage on Cricinfo, including pieces by Suresh Menon and Gideon Haigh.

Update 28 August

The Times Online in its "tribute" to Sir Donald's centenary has published a photo depicting him as a left handed batsman!

Don Bradman

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Recent cricket blunders #3: Lawson's outburst

I'd read about Geoff Lawson's media conference outburst on Cricinfo, but it wasn't until I saw footage of it on today's ABC TV Offsidersthat I realised how boorish and culturally insensitive it was.

Not surprisingly, the video has been posted on YouTube several times: eg here.

Lawson has subsequently apologised but the incident unfortunately will not be forgotten by many people for a long time.

Recent cricket blunders #2: retaining Zimbabwe as full ICC member

Zimbabwe has retained full membership of the ICC despite a palpably low playing standard, a lack of financial transparency and allegations of strong political interference (eg all players need to be members of the ZANU- PF party).

Cricinfo reports:

After weeks of backroom manoeuvring and two days of boardroom negotiations, the Zimbabwe issue was resolved with a compromise that sees them pulling out of the 2009 World Twenty20 in England yet retaining their Full Member status with access to full funding from the ICC.

Zimbabwe, whose decision to pull out from the World Twenty20 cleared the roadblock for the competition to be staged in England, will receive its full participation fee for the tournament. The scenario prompted Ray Mali, whose term as ICC president ended today, to call it a "win-win solution".

"We have decided to pull out in the larger interests of the game," Peter Chingoka, the chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket, told Cricinfo. "We have been informed that the British government may not grant visas to our players, and that situation may prevail during the Twenty20 World Cup. We don't want to be gatecrashers; we will attend only those weddings to which we are invited."

Martin Williamson of Cricinfo comments:

Anyone who believes that Zimbabwe Cricket withdrew from the World Twenty20 "in the interest of the game" probably believes in Santa Claus. Backed into a corner that even its protecting angels within the ICC could not get it out of, there was little choice. When Peter Chingoka, the man who has come to personify Zimbabwe Cricket said, "We don't want to gatecrash where we are not welcome," it was hard to keep a straight face.

Many argue the Zimbabwe Cricket board has never acted in the interests of cricket either inside or outside the country. Chingoka's bleating that the ICC could not expel Zimbabwe because it was against its own rules would have drawn more than a few wry smiles back home, coming from a man who utterly shredded his own board's constitution two years ago to ensure his own survival.

And that's what the decision today is all about - survival. The end result is a compromise that does little to help cricket inside Zimbabwe, and further tarnishes the already battered image of the ICC.

Ian Chappell, also on Cricinfo, concurs:

The ICC must believe it's possible to fool all of the people all of the time judging by their outlandish performance at the latest executive board meeting.

When Zimbabwe arrived for the ICC meeting, their two priorities would have been to retain their elite status vote and keep their full share of the ICC monies. Amazingly for a cricket body that has been under a cloud for the way it has administered the game and handled finances, Zimbabwe Cricket extracted exactly those promises from the meeting, and in addition they don't have to perform to get paid.

As does Malcolm Conn in The Weekend Australian :

The standard of cricket in Zimbabwe has fallen so badly that it was forced to withdraw from Test cricket three years ago, although Zimbabwe and the ICC still claim the exit was "voluntary".

Its one-day team is so bad it is ranked below Ireland in 11th place on the ICC's one-day table. New Zealand beat Ireland by a record 290 runs last Tuesday.

Despite this the ICC continues to pour millions of dollars into Zimbabwe.

There are serious questions about where the money ends up, with cricket at all levels in Zimbabwe destroyed and the administration closely aligned to dictator Robert Mugabe.

One frustrated member of the cricket establishment yesterday told The Australian: "The ICC should just write out a cheque for $10m to Mugabe."

Zimbabwe received about that amount for its feeble participation in last year's World Cup.

The millions Zimbabwe receives from the ICC is largely unaccounted for but two audits revealed damning accounting irregularities with the ZC finances.

The ICC suppressed the audits and dumped chief executive Malcolm Speed for attempting to bring Zimbabwe to account.

Australia opposed Zimbabwe continuing as a full ICC member and, according to sources in Dubai, was "very unhappy" with the ICC's unlawful decision to change Pakistan's 2006 forfeit against England to a draw.

Recent cricket blunders #1: changing Test result

The ICC has changed the result of a 2006 England - Pakistan Test match from an England win to a draw.

In my opinion, and that of several better qualified judges than me, eg Michael Holding this is a gross mistake. Not only does it further undermine the authority of match officials but it sets a very shaky
precedent for the future.

The scorecard, with the amended result, is here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

South Australian stalwart turns 80

Alan Shiell in The Independent Weekly pays tribute to a well known South Australian cricketer and administrator, Neil "Nodda" Dansie, who turns 80 tomorrow.

Shiell, who would have played in South Australian teams with Dansie in the 1960s,relates a couple of interesting anecdotes and is spot on in his description of the latter's batting style:

As a young batsman with Kensington in district (now grade) cricket, he played with Clarrie Grimmett and Don Bradman - and, indeed, was batting at the other end when Bradman played his final innings for Kensington, against Port Adelaide at Alberton Oval in January, 1949.

"I made 22 but I never faced a ball in the first six overs," Dansie recalled. "Bradman made 38. He was caught behind off Maurie Roberts, an off-spinner, off the first ball after a drinks break. The big crowd booed the umpire and promptly adjourned to the Alberton Hotel."


Dansie's involvement with the SA Cricket Association spans 65 years, from his early days with Kensington to now as a selector for the SACA's under-age squads (13s, 15s, 17s and 19s) and the Scorpions (women).

He remains optimistic about the Redbacks' future because he says "we have some good young kids coming through". "These things go in cycles," he says. "When I first played for SA we used to field for two days and then have two hits."

Dansie was a state cricket selector for 30 years and was on the SACA board for 25 years. The SACA honoured "Nodda" and his late, great mate Les Favell with the naming of the Favell-Dansie Indoor Centre at the southern end of Adelaide Oval, behind the Sir Donald Bradman Stand.

It is as a player - a hard-hitting batsman with a liking for the pull, sweep and cut shots and a steady off-spin and leg-spin bowler - that he will be most remembered. He scored 7543 runs (average 34.44) and took 90 wickets (av. 33.31) in 124 first-class matches for SA from 1949 to 1967.

'Nodda" was always one of the great characters of the SA players' dressing room, apart from being the world's fastest eater. Batting at No. 5 or No. 6, he used to get under Ian Chappell's skin by putting on his thigh pad and protector while the opening batsmen and Chappell, to go in at No. 3, were putting on their pads and other gear. 'Nodda' simply wanted to be ready to go, but Chappell saw it as a lack of confidence in the top-order batsmen, especially himself.

Happy birthday, Nodder (which until now I'd always thought was the correct spelling of his soubriquet).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Clarke excels with bat and ball as Australia dominate

Australia 7/479 dec ( S Katich 113, M Clarke 110, R Ponting 65, B Lee 63 no, J Taylor 3/95) v West Indies 3/125. Day 2 Second Test at North Sound, Antigua.

After Simon Katich was out without adding to his overnight score Michael Clarke took his overnight 38 to a fluent 110/187b (12x4). The other batters all chipped in, only Andrew Symonds disappointing after his two top quality innings in Jamaica. As on the first day, the West Indies quick bowlers persevered but were let down too often in the field which allowed a series of partnerships to develop.

Rain later in day prompted an Australian declaration. The West Indies began well with a 55run / 56b opening stand. Xavier Marshall impressed as a strokeplaying opener; he reached 50 from 57 balls before Michael Clarke had him lbw from a straight ball for 53/69b (8x4). In the same over Runako Morton played a wild shot which he miscued and was caught at midwicket. 1/103 had become 3/105 and a competitive reply looked a long way away.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan stayed together until stumps and added 20 against bowling of variable quality, which suggests that the team should at least be able to save the follow on. But, if there are further rushes of blood and injudicious strokes....

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Australia lay solid foundation

Australia 3/259 (S Katich 113 no, R Ponting 65) v West Indies. Second Test Day 1 at Antigua

Rain briefly delayed the start but once play got under way Australia, having won the toss and elected to bat focused on laying a solid foundation. This they did through innings of 113no /248b (9x4) from Simon Katich and 65/123b (5x4) from Ricky Ponting. Ponting looked the more fluent of the pair as he went past his 10,000 runs in Test cricket.

The West Indies bowling was steady but, in the absence of a front line spinner, lacked variety while the fielding was well below the high standard of the First Test. Naturally Australia will be looking to
build a formidable first innings total as a foundation for an attack on the Windies batting.

It's early days yet and the wicket is playing well, but it looks as if Australia will be hard to beat from here.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Clark bowls Australia to victory

Australia 431 and 167 defeated West Indies 312 and 191 (S Clark 5/32) by 95 runs. First Test Day 5 at Sabina Park, Jamaica.

Thanks chiefly to a sustained display of probing and often penetrative bowling by Stuart Clark Australia won by a margin greater than I'd predicted and gained time to regroup for the next two Tests.

The regrouping will need to be mental as well as physical as the Windies have shown that, in contrast to the New Zealanders in England, they have a tenacious approach to their game which has been lacking for some years. Bowlers such as Fidel Edwards and Daren Powell who looked ordinary in Australia only a couple of years ago are now much more challenging propositions.

Both sides still have weaknesses: opening batting and spin bowling spring to mind but whether the Windies are able to lift further (if Chris Gayle and Jerome Taylor return for the Second Test this will help) is a moot point. Not that Australia can be complacent: the second innings collapse to 5/18 showed the brittleness of the batting, while the bowling and fielding lacked consistency.

More low sleep nights beckon as the Second Test begins this weekend in Antigua.


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