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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Passing away...

During the heatwave here (15 days on the trot over 35 deg C) I've gone to ground (or, more accurately, to my cellar) but on my forays to the surface I've noted the passing of Bill Brown and, several days before, Norm O'Neill.

Brown was a stalwart of the Australian eleven in the mid to late 1930s.In 1939 he was one of Wisden's Cricketer of the Year:
"...his choice for the recent [1938] tour to England caused considerable and sometimes bitter criticism. Fortunately, the Australian selectors had sufficient vision to realise that such a batsman does not lose his powers at the age of 25, and in England Brown rose to the occasion splendidly. After an innings of 196 not out against Northamptonshire, the tour was one long succession of triumphs for him. Scoring 206 at Lord's in the Second Test, he joined the select band of those to bat throughout an innings. This fine performance, following a fighting century in the Nottingham Test, put the seal on his fame, and finishing second to Bradman both in average and aggregate, Brown ranked with his captain in consistency. Besides batting with a charming skill, coolness, thoughtfulness and certainty, Brown was magnificent as a fieldsman, and he owes his development in this direction to persistent training. Day after day he used to run with professional sprinters in order to learn anticipation and quickness off the mark. A cricketer of remarkable powers who has not yet touched his top form, Brown at present is slow to unfold a wonderful array of strokes.

I never saw Brown play, but I did see Norman O'Neill bat and field. Need I say more?

If you're not convinced read Gideon Haigh's assessment on Cricinfo :
Norm O'Neill failed to fulfil expectations of his batting only because the forecasts of his greatness were so widespread and demanding. Never "the new Bradman" he was tagged at the outset of his career, he was nonetheless a back-foot player of astonishing power, and a broad-shouldered Adonis who gave off a golden aura of good health. He shone in his first series, against England in 1958-59, demonstrated great adaptability in India and Pakistan a year later, and adorned the 1960-61 Tied Test with 181 in 401 minutes: an innings that, in Jack Fingleton's words, "sparkled like champagne". In 1961 EW Swanton was moved to write that O'Neill "reminded us that the art of batting was not dead, merely dormant". Always a nervous starter, he found form more elusive after that, but he was only 28 when Australia dispensed, rather peremptorily, with his services.

Need more? Read what Wisden said in 1962 when he was one of its five cricketers of the (preceding) year:

To be true, a high innings by O'Neill is a thing of masterful beauty. His stroking is delectable, immense in its power. But O'Neill has often got himself into a rut. He is a bad beginner. He seems to come to the middle as if he has been fretting in the dressing-room, worrying about the future. So, then, he often does something rash very early in an innings. He has had two slips from grace and only because he used his right hand too much, allowing a big gap between his hands on the handle, and then turning his right shoulder too much to the bowler.

If he can conquer himself for a start -- his rashness, his uneasiness -- O'Neill will not only have many more very big and thrilling scores (he's bound to have them) but he will have them more consistently. His rashness, too, often comes into his running between the wickets. For all that, he has given us some of the most glittering post-war innings. A glorious fieldsman, he has the dream throw.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Playing the man

Paul Toohey in The Australian, usually regarded as a knowledgeable reporter on NT and indigenous matters, is trying to reinvent himself as a cricket and/or media commentator by putting the boot into Mark Nicholas, the front man of the Channel Nine cricket commentary team.

"Unctuous" is Toohey's description of him. IMO it's unfair. Nicholas's accent and general demeanour may ruffle some Australian feathers in the same way as the wind ruffles his hair, but he can, and often does, go beyond the usual commentary box cliches. He can read a game well, has strong onscreen presence which enables him to lead discussions with his fellow commentators and can communicate his views clearly.

Although we don't see much evidence of this in Australia, he can write well and to deadlines. During the recent Australia - India test series he filed reports on each day's play with the UK Telegraph which were published online soon after the close of each day's play. Check them out.

Several of the commenters on Toohey's piece have brought the ABC radio commentary into the discussion. IMO this isn't above reproach either. The commentators rarely describe field settings nor do they invariably give the score at the end of each over or after each run. It often looks to me as if they focus on the TV image instead of trying to paint their own picture.

I don't want to get into rating commentators but if I did Nicholas would be near or at the top of the list of this year's radio and TV practitioners. "Unctuous"? Rubbish. Try "authoritative".

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Team India keep Australia at bay in another 50 over thriller: CB Series final #2

India 9/258 [50 0vers] (S Tendulkar 91, Yuvraj Singfh 38, M S Dhoni 36, R Uthappa 30, N Bracken 3/31, M Clarke 3/52) defeated Australia 249 [49.4 overs] (J Hopes 63, M Hayden 55, M Hussey 44, A Symonds 42,P Kumar 4/46) by 9 runs: CB Series final #2 at Gabba, Brisbane.

The 9 run winning margin reflected the tightness of the contest, yet in truth India made the running for most of the game, though Australia, despite some uneven bowling and yet another top order batting collapse, didn't give up. It was another testimony to the capacity of the 50 over form of the game to provide cricket of a high quality.

Sachin Tendulkar's 91 was the cornerstone of the Indian innings: after he was fourth out at 205 for 91/121b (7x4, 0x6), the others folded, leaving a substantial but not rock solid total. Praveen Kumar's 4/31 prevented Australia from matching it, though there were times when it looked as if, with one or two more productive overs, they would have done so. But wickets fell regularly and finally James Hopes, one of Australia's next generation, fell for a gutsy 63/80b (4x4, 1x6 - just asit was needed to give Australia half a chance).

India deserved to win and I congratulate them on their success. They were the better side in the finals thanks to (1) Tendulkar's return to form, (2) the depth of talent, particularly young talent, and (3) some excellent team selections for the finals.

Australia are still a very good side, but they'll need to work on their batting and their bowling accuracy (12 wides was more than the difference between the two teams) and economy rates.


Cricinfo coverage

Monday, March 03, 2008

Tendulkar strokes India to victory: CB series final #1

India 4/242 [45.5 overs] (S Tendulkar 117 no, R Sharma 66) defeated Australia 8/239 [50 overs] (M Hayden 82, M Hussey 45) by 6 wickets with 25 balls to spare: CB Series first final at SCG.

This was yet another excellent ODI, one which showed the 50 over game at its best. (Will we keep hearing the cries about how dull this format has become?) There was good batting, bowling and fielding and, while the final margin was emphatic, Australia remained in the game until well into India's innings.

Australia won the toss in and, as is virtually mandatory at the SCG, opted to bat. Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma were among the wickets early, as Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke were dismissed in short order: 0/16 became 3/24. Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds went into attack mode (with their bats, not their tongues) and regained the psychological ascendancy by belting Irfan Pathan out of the attack and treating some of the other bowlers, including Harbhajan Singh, roughly. But Bhaji persisted and, just as the partnership notched 100, had Symonds, who had hitherto chosen his shots carefully, caught at deep mid wicket. At 4/124 from 23.1 overs several scenarios looked possible.

It was spin at both ends as the young and diminutive Piyush Chawla bowled an impressive spell of leg spin (10-0-33-0) which helped rein in the scoring rate(Who is the best 19 yo leggie in Australia, and at what level is he - or she - playing?) He showed that he's a very good fielder too when he caught Hayden well at deep backward square leg off Harbhajan.

Hayden's 82/88b (10x4, 0x6) was an impressive innings, but at 5/135 from 27.3 overs India were on top, though commentators like Kerry O'Keefe were talking about 250 - 260 being enough on the SCG wicket. The lower order Australians fought hard but even Hussey wasn't able to stamp his authority on the game: he was 7th out at 212 off the last ball of the 47th over for 45/67b. Fortunately in the last three overs Brad Hogg, Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson raised the total to a more respectable (and competitive) 239.

Robin Uthappa (not Virender Sehwag) opened with Tendulkar, who led the attack without being reckless against the new ball. 50 was posted from 63 balls but Uthappa fell
three balls later to a great Hussey outfield catch off James Hopes. Gautam Gambhir was run out for 3, but Sachin reached his 50 before Yuvraj was bowled by Hogg. 3/87 from 18.5 overs and the match seemngly evenly poised.

But the little master rose to the occasion and saw India home with, surprisingly, his first ODI century in Australia. He was well supported by Rohit Sharma's 66/87b in a partnership of 123 in 136b.

If they were to win, Australia needed to induce the kind of collapse they've sometimes done in the past against less capable opposition. But Tendulkar, despite an injury, was in top gear and skipper MS Dhoni was in no mood to let the chance of going one up in the finals slip out of his grasp. The Australian bowling was below par (or was it just made to look that way by the Indians' brilliance?), and could not lift the several notches they needed.

And so to Brisbane for the second final. India seem to have some injury problems eg Tendulkar, Ishant Sharma, but they have some good reserves (eg Sehwag). Australia 's best chance probably lies in the hands of the batting which has been sub standard, a few individual innings excepted, for most of the series.

Cricinfo coverage