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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Weakened Australia take on New Zealand:

There's been a lot of talk, much of it loose, about the changes, both actual and projected, which Australia will make to its Test team  in the next few weeks. The new 5 man selection panel committee has  been forced by injuries to Patrick Cummins, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Shane Watson, to selecte several fresh faces for the First Test (of two) v New Zealand which begins tomorrow  in Brisbane.

Unless the committee has a brain snap, a bowler will be omitted from the selected twelve. Just who  is anybody's guess, . Neither Ben Cutting, James Pattinson nor Mitchell Starc has played a Test,, so Peter Siddle, who has experience (if not much current form) seems a certainty. Only a few (mostly wicket-taking) balls of the  high scoring drawn   Australia A v NZ match were shown on TV or, as far as I can ascertain, the internet, so I have no idea of their respective merits.

Even so, it's hard to see New Zealand pulling off a win. They have some very  good players eg  Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori with Tim Southee IMO not far behind) but others  who are eiither little known, known for the wrong reasons (eg Chris Martin for his inept batting ) or moderate performers, or a combination thereof.  Australia's weakness, which I hope hasn't been exacerbated by selectorial committee muddkle headedness (eg Trent Copeland cold shouldered despite reasonable if not particularly productive tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa) will be a test of its reserve strength and team resilience.

I'm not writing the Black Caps off, but it's hard to deny that they, in matches against half-decent opposition, have rarely been able to press home any advantage they may have gained.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another tight Test match finish as WI (just) hold India to draw

India 482 (Ashwin 103, Tendulkar 94, Dravid 82, Samuels 3/74, Rampaul 3/95) & 9/242 (Kohli 63, Sehwag 60, Rampaul 3/56) drew with West Indies 590 (Bravo 166, K Edwards 86, Powell 81, Ashwin 5/156, Aaron 3/106) & 134 (Ojha 6-47, Ashwin 4-34) : T3/3 D5/5 at Mumbai. India win series 2-0.

A high scoring match for the first four days- 22 wickets for 1153 runs (including Sachin Tendulkar again just falling short of his elusive 100th international century for 94)  - turned sharply (as did  the pitch at times) on the last day when 17 wickets fell for 295.

The West Indies with some honourable exceptions (mostly reflected on the scorecard)  eased off when if not a victory then a face-and clean sweep saving draw looked likely. First the middle and lower order crumbled against the Indian spinners, giving the home team a chance to try for a win against an attack weakened by injuries to Darren Sammy and Devendra Bishoo. Then the available WI bowlers struggled  against positive batting and were let down by poor fielding: Virender Sehwag was dropped three times in his 60, and there was too much fumbling and suboptimal throwing in the tight final overs.

Even so, as India came within 20 runs of victory with 4 wickets in hand the West Indies refocused. Bishoo had Virat Kohli caught at slip: 7/224, then, as Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin looked like getting their team over the line, the dogged Ravi Rampaul bowled Sharma with a yorker: 8/239, 4 runs or two wickets (depending on your side) to win. Yet neither side did, as the only further wicket to fall was Ashwin's, off the last ball of the last over (well bowled by Fidel Edwards) of the match.

In a limited overs game, this would have been a win to India, but in Test cricket it was a draw, only the second time a Test has ended with the scores level: the other instance was Zimbabwe v England in 1996  (when the current England coach was a thorn in the English side).

Over the series India were unquestionably the better side but the West Indies blew their chances of a win here with a feeble performance on D5. Let's hope the strong home team performances keep, as it deserves, the flame of Test cricket alive in that part of the world.

Presumably the Indian team to tour Australia will be built around this one. After the strong performances by spinners Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha in the three Tests I can't see Harbhajan Singh in the starting XI on Boxing Day let alone in the touring party, which may be a relief to some Australian players (and officials). But the two new guys look good, and seem to work well in tandem, at least on their home tracks. It will be good to see them (or whoever is chosen) on our pitches.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Australia just scrape home to level Test "series" : T2D5

Australia 296  & 8/310  (86.5 ov, Khawaja 65, Ponting 62, Haddin 55, Philander 5/70) beat South Africa 266 & 339  by 2 wickets: T2/2 D5/5 at Johannesburg. Series tied 1-1.

You couldn't ask for a much more riveting day's play in any form of cricket (or any sport). Fortunes, as they've done throughout the match, fluctuated.  South Africa broke through early before some gritty Australian defiance, punctuated by some gut wrenching wobbles, took the visitors over the victory line.

For a while it looked, despite the optimistic comments of those on the spot, as if the weather might prevent any, or sufficient, play to reach a result other than a draw (there were moments when I, like Mark Waugh who said on Fox Sports that  a 0-1 series was better than a 0-2 one, would have settled for that).

Yet play did get under way after lunch and proceeded without interruption until the finish. I was expecting umpires Bowden and Gould to, as they'd done on each of the previous days, call play off earlier than the commentators thought was justified. As the tension mounted there was still a lot of blue sky in evidence, yet when the TV caught Billy Bowden sneaking a look at his light meter I thought "uh oh, here we go again". But to his credit Billy for once decided that people wanted to watch the teams play, not him umpire.(By "people" I mean TV viewers as there were - something which would not have been so at any Test venue in Australia - hardly any spectators at the ground until the gates were thrown open) .

Initially South Africa laid some punches on the Australians but couldn't deliver a knockout blow. Vernon Philander nipped one back to clip Michael Clarke's off stump for 2  - 4/145 - and Morne Morkel had Ricky Ponting, who'd  added 8/34b to his overnight tally ,  caught in the slips for 62/138b (6x 4) attempting a cut, half the side-  on paper the better half - were out for not much more than half the runs required: 5/165.

It was hard going from there but Brad Haddin and Mike Hussey held firm, adding 50 together, until just before tea when Philander had Hussey, who'd looked the more assured of the pair, lbw (upheld on review)  for  a handy but not commanding 39/77b (3x4). 6/215. Mitchell Johnson joined Haddin and the pair stayed until tea when South Africa, having taken 4/80 from the 34 overs bowled in the session, looked comfortably on top.

Yet Australia regained the initiative in the first two overs after tea as Haddin, a determined though occasionally flashy 24*/69 at that point, took 9 from Philander's opening over.  11 (2x4,1x1, 1w, 1lb) came off the next, bowled by Steyn and suddenly it was 68 needed.

A double bowling change, Imran Tahir replacing Philander and Morne Morkel Steyn. Tahir conceded 5 (all singles), then Morkel bowled a maiden, slowing things down... for the moment. Haddin and Johnson, both aware of the impending new ball, continued to look for runs, taking 54 from the first 9 overs bowled after tea.

So the new ball taken after 80 overs was South Africa's last chance. Once again Philander struck, as Haddin edged him to the keeper for 55/106 (7x4): 7/287. Then Steyn, not as quick as I've known him to be, removed Peter Siddle - one good stroke for 4 then a wishy washy drive to mid on: 8/292 and South Africa back in the stronger position.

Johnson was going well, but Pat Cummins? Well he didn't let the side down (though I'd have said otherwise had Steyn accepted a sharp return catch which went for 4) and, fittingly  for Australia's latest sporting hero, he hit the winning runs, a boundary off Tahir, recalled at a minute to midnight for both sides (despite being under threat of a ban for repeated running on the wicket) who'd gone very close to getting him lbw two balls before.
Johnson, who didn't worry too much about shielding the younger man from the strike, contributed 4 to the 18 the pair added, finishing with 40*/47b (6x4).

Test matches don't come much better than this. It was compelling viewing throughout, even approaching 0200 in these parts (on days 4 & 5 anyway - on the others I was happy to wait for the highlights).

Fox Sports highlights


Some further thoughts

The real disappointment absurdity about the situation is that the series is was too short. Many other cricket followers have made this point, so let's hope that the authorities (the ICC and the various national controlling bodies) do something about it.

In particular, should Ricky Ponting call it a day? I'm a confirmed Ponting fan and though I thought that his position would be shaky if he didn't make runs in this Test, I now feel he's done enough to hold his place for the immediate future (read the rest of this Test summer). As they say (though my belief in its validity has been tested these last weeks) form is temporary, class is permanent.

The Age's Greg Baum, after prematurely writing off Australia   in T2 ("by the end of this match the national team will have won just two of their past 12 Tests, as bleak a sequence as any in its history...") has shifted his ground a little in this assessment of Ricky Ponting


Monday, November 21, 2011

A great day's Test cricket: South Africa subside then revive as Australia counterattack: T2D4

Australia 296 & 3/142 (37 ov, Khawaja 65, Ponting 54*) need 168 more runs with 7 wickets in hand to beat South Africa 266 & 339 (110ov, Amla 110, de Villiers 73, Steyn 41, Cummins 6/79): T2/2 D4/5 at Johannesburg.

Australia improved beyond expectations (though not supporters' dreams) for most of the day, although a late (and modest) South African batting revival and the loss of Australia's Usman Khawaja at the end of another day curtailed by poor light have kept the home team in with a good chance of winning.

But the match is far from over. Australia came back into the game as the bowlers regrouped, sending back first AB de Villiers for 73/136b (1x6, 10x4) and, after Ashwell Prince was run out cheaply, Hashim Amla for 105/ 243b (14x4). When Mark Boucher was also dismissed cheaply South Africa, having lost 4/37 in the day's play, were 7/266.
Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, with some shrewd strokeplay and a measure of good fortune then batted through to lunch, taking the total to 7/314.

Pat Cummins struck twice in successive balls immediately after the interval - 9/314 - but Steyn biffed a few more runs before he was caught behind, again off Cummins, for 41/64b (3x6, 2x4).

Cummins finished with 29-5-79-6: easily the best figures of his short first class career, and a reflection of his quality and stamina given the thin atmosphere of Johannesburg.

Australia's chase for 310 began disastrously. They slipped to 2/19  as Vernon Philander bowled Shane Watson for a duck with the second ball of the innings and not long after had Phil Hughes caught in the slips.

Ricky Ponting joined Khawaja, and the pair rebuilt the innings. Khawaja's  was a mature innings. He seemed unfazed by the atmosphere (the small crowd made a lot of noise) and chose his shots carefully until, as the light closed in, he edged Imran Tahir's googly to slip for 65/110b (1x6, 8x4).

At the other end Ponting was playing his innings of the year. He took 10 balls to get off the mark with a single, then played his signature pull shot to the boundary (and kept it down) followed by a sweet cover driven 4 off Steyn, at which point Graeme Smith went on the defensive - man back on the off boundary. I'd seen several of these false starts from him in the last year - a confident stroke or two coupled with resolute defence followed by a cheap dismissal - but today it didn't happen. He moved solidly and determinedly to 54*/104b (6x4) at close of play.

Imran Tahir showed in the first innings that he can befuddle the tailenders, so if Australia are to pull off an unlikely win Ponting will need to continue his hard work and, it goes without saying, receive support from Messrs Clarke, Hussey and, yes, Haddin.

Check out the Fox Sports highlights and reserve your seat by the TV tonight.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

D'Oliviera's death a reminder of a very different South AfricaAmla & de Villiers put South Africa on top: T2D3

South Africa 3/229 (69 ov, Amla 89*, de Villiers 70*) & 226 lead Australia 296 by 119 runs with 7 second inns wickets in hand: T2/2 D3/5 at Johannesburg

The day began with a tribute to Basil D'Oliveira  who died overnight aged 80.

When play started Australia kept South Africa in check with three wickets before lunch, but were unable to  separate Hashim Amla 89*/196b (13x4) and A B deVilliers 70*/122b (1x6, 10x4) who have added 139.

Each of the Australian quicks bowled 17 overs on the day. Once again Pat Cummins was the best with 2/46 (and perhaps unjustly deprived of a third -  Amla - by the third umpire's interpretation of Hawkeye).

Pleasing as this is it raises questions about why the others weren't able to offer more support. Mitchell Johnson bowled as, nothwithstanding the small arena,  17-1-77-0 suggests, Peter Siddle 17-6-41-0 was more parsimonious but only steady while Nathan Lyon 11-3-41-1 , despite getting Graeme Smith with a ball which bounced, was inconsistent (even so, he might have bowled more).

Despite the rapid fluctuations of fortune so far in these two Tests it's hard to imagine Australia getting back into the game, let alone winning from here, with its out of form (and puff)  batting lineup.


Fox Sports Report (with link to video).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Australia 1/174, then crumble to 30 run lead T2D2

South Africa 266 & 0/0 (0.4 ov) trail Australia 296 (76.4 ov, Watson 88, Hughes 88, Steyn 4/64, Imran Tahir 3/55) by 30 runs with 10 2nd inns wickets in hand: T2/2 D2/5 at Wanderers Johannesburg. 

Another topsy turvy day in which Australia climbed the heights in the first session only to plunge to the depths thereafter.

At lunch Shane Watson and Phil Hughes had stroked and cudgelled Australia to 169 from 33 overs. Yes, they had a little good fortune - balls hit or edged just out of fielders' reach, South Africa not referring a decision to the UDRS- but the South African attack, including Dale Steyn, bowled too often to their strengths.

Yet after the interval the tables turned. At 174 Hughes went for 88/111b (14x4), an aggressive and therefore, Hughes being Hughes, occasionally risky innings, but one which should quieten for a little longer those who, me included, have questioned his suitability for the eleven.  Watson followed at 192, for a slightly longer 88/140b (2x6, 14x4), after which the rot set in.

The real turning point was when Steyn had Ricky Ponting adjudged lbw for 0: not a good stroke, but after watching the replay I wondered why he didn't review it. But no excuses then , nor subsequently as Usman Khawaja, an obdurate 12/57b (1x4), Michaels Clarke 11/33b (2x4)  and Hussey 24/27b (4x4) and Brad Haddin 16/ 23b (3x4) followed. Mitchell Johnson 38*/49b (6x4) was the only other contribution of note, and one which at least gave Australia a very modest, and by no means matchwinning, lead of 30.

After the Ponting dismissal Steyn got his second wind, the other quick bowlers regrouped and supported him well, while Imran Tahir, with a sharp googly, helped disposed of the tail without too much difficulty.

As on D1 bad light intervened just as the South African second innings began. They're still 30 behind but after today have regained the initiative. Australia are a bowler (Watson) down and have to bat last on a pitch of unknown lasting power. Time for a significant innings from Ponting perhaps?


Friday, November 18, 2011

South Africa falter in T2 D1 last session: all out 266

South Africa 266 (71ov,de Villiers 64, Kallis 54, Prince 50, Siddle 3/69) v Australia: T2/2 D1/5 at Johannesburg.

I turned in at tea, when AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince seemed to have South Africa, at 4/213, emerging from the danger zone of 4/129 and on target for a respectable total, if not one in the region of 500, which at one point didn't seem beyond the bounds of possibility.

Graeme Smith won the toss and chose to bat on what the TV commentators assured us was a good wicket.  It soon became apparent that  the combination of small playing area and very fast outfield pointed to a high score, yet the Australian bowlers persisted and, assisted by some poor South African shot selection, chipped away at the batting.

Mitchell Johnson struck a length early (sighs of relief from Australian supporters even though he had some wayward moments later), but IMO the most impressive bowler in the first two sessions was the 18 yo Patrick Cummins on debut. He was sharp - generally around mid 140 kms/ hr - and reasonably economical.  Johnson, Shane Watson in a brief spell cut  short by injury, and Peter Siddle each grabbed a wicket  but the young man's turn came when he induced the barnacle-like Hashim Amla to edge to the slips where Ricky Ponting, belying his age, took a sharp catch.

Thereafter deVilliers and Prince steadied the ship by seeking a course midway between the caution of Amla 19/70b (3x4) and the belligerence of Jacques Kallis 54/41b (2x6, 8x4).

At tea South Africa were 4/213, de Villiers 51*, Prince 34*, and a healthy total, if not 500ish, seemed more likely, especially as Watson was probably precluded from bowling  by a hamstring injury and Nathan Lyon had been expensive.

But it wasn't to be, as the final session turned out the game on its head. I'll refrain from commenting until I've seen the extended highlights of the day's play, which commence shortly.


Update 18 November 1400 CST

After tea there was a 15 minute delay while a sightscreen (or its accompanying advertisement) was fixed. The Foxtel highlights thankfully skipped this and picked up play showing both de Villiers and Prince continuing to look for runs, usually prudently but occasionally, especially Prince, with a dash of bravado.

It wasn't surprising to see one of them fall to a rash stroke, but both in short order - Prince hitting Lyon to mid on, then de Villiers top edging a pull from Siddle (which was very well caught by Cummins) - was a surprise which gave the bowlers fresh heart. As the light, and South African resolve, faded Michael Clarke chipped in with two cheap wickets, completing a 6/25 collapse. Small beer by the standard of T1 but from an Australian perspective as good a day as they could have hoped for after losing Ryan Harris, the toss and Shane Watson's bowling in succession.

Now for the acid test: can Australia build a solid first innings lead? We shall soon see.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Will Australia go the way of the West Indies?

Just watched the last rites of a one sided Test where India have thrashed West Indies by an innings and 15 runs: 7/631 dec (Laxman 176*, Dhoni 144, Dravid 119, Gambhir 65) v 153 (Ojha 4/64, Yadav 3/23) & 463  (Darren Bravo 136, Samuels 84, Barath 62, Yadav 4/80).
Will Australia, who like West Indies, will be forced to field a changed (weakened?) team - Khawaja for Marsh, Cummins for Harris - be able to rise from the humiliation of T1? One hopes, but... 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peter Roebuck has died . Apparently by his own hand. He could be acerbic but was almost always incisive in his assessments. A sad loss, the more so for being premature.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Smith and Amla lead South Africa to convincing win: T1D3

South Africa 96 & 2/236 Amla 112, Smith 101*)  beat Australia 284 & 47 by 8 Wickets: T1 D3 at Newlands, Cape Town. South Africa lead series 1-0 with one Test to play. 

Graeme Smith 101*/140b (15x4) and Hashim Amla 112/134b (22x4) batted South Africa to an emphatic and considerably more substantial than seemed likely on the first two days,  victory.

The Australian bowling lacked zip, while a couple of crucial, though not too difficult, chances were missed. They may not have changed the result but would have narrowed the margin and given the team a little more heart not to mention incentive to regroup before the next Test starts in a few days.

Can Australia recover by then?

I doubt it. The batting is weak. Michael Clarke's 151 was the best innings by far played in the match, albeit in  a losing cause, but it wasn't enough to keep the fresh and aggressively positive South African attack at bay,The South Africans are more like the Australian teams of a decade ago: very competent and confident with several fringe players who have impressive records  waiting to  step up a level or two  as opportunities arise               


Friday, November 11, 2011

4 innings, 23 wickets , 294 runs in (the most ever?) bizarre Test day: T1D2

South Africa 96 (24.3 ov, Watson 5/17, Harris 4/33)  & 1/81 (17ov) need 155 more runs with 9 2nd inns wickets in hand to beat Australia 284 (75 ov, Clarke 151, Steyn 4/55, Philander 3/63, Morkel 3/82) & 47 (18ov, Philander 5/15, Morkel 3/9) : T1/2 D2/5 at Newlands, Cape Town.

I was not alone among  cricket followers, including a former Australian captain , in retiring after Australia had added a further 70 runs and rolled South Africa for 96, a lead of 188.

How unwise I was. Despite Michael Clarke's magnificent (and now at least partly overshadowed by subsequent events) 151/176b (22x4), Shane Watson's quickfire 5-2-17-5 and Ryan Harris' 10.3-3-33-4, Australia crumbled in the face of some hostile South African bowling, with Vernon Philander's 7-3-15-5 matching Watson.

Judging from the highlights (three hours' worth) which I watched this morning, there were some ultra soft Australian dismissals including , but not limited to, Mike Hussey's first ball and Brad Haddin's swish. It was cold comfort that the last wicket pair of Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon more  than doubled the score, moving it from a scarcely believable 9/21 to all out 47. South Africa's first innings batting was far from above reproach, too: nos 2 to 7 contributed 15 to the total between them, the same as Australia's 1 to  6 (the injured Sean Marsh batted at 10).

There were many other quirky and extraordinary features of the day's play, several of which
Cricinfo has noted.

Just as Clarke and Siddle made batting look, if not easy then manageable early in the day, so in the later stages did the South Africans. Graeme Smith, whose unfinished double of 37 and 36* may yet win the match, looked in good touch, while Hashim Amla benefited from a last ball of the day letoff.

Not many teams  who've been bowled out in the first innings 188 behind their opponents' score could claim to have had the better of a day's play.  Yet, even allowing for the good opposition bowling in what often looked to be favourable conditions, Australia's credulity-stretching second innings meltdown has left South Africa in the stronger position.

A tense evening on the couch beckons.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Steyn leads South African charge, while Clarke prevents Australian rout: T1D1

Australia 8/214 (55ov, M Clarke 107*, D Steyn 4/31, V Philander 3/54) v South Africa: T1 D1 at Newlands (aka Sahara) Cape Town. South Africa won toss and chose to field.

Michael Clarke's 107*/ 114b (17x4) has kept Australia in the match on a first day abridged by   weather, umpiring prissiness and infrastructure failure..

The experienced Dale Steyn and newcomer Vernon Philander made good use of English-type conditions to dispose of the openers (Phil Hughes alas looking out of his depth) and Ricky Ponting, whose brief 8/25b (1x6) combined, as the stats suggest,  uncertainty with a dash of belligerence.

3/40 vindicated Graeme Smith's decision to send Australia in (Clarke said he'd have batted). The increasingly fluent and, given his ODI reputation, surprisingly aggressive Clarke with the more resolute Sean Marsh held the South African attack at bay for long enough to add some respectability (and 103 runs). Marsh, Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin left while only 20 runs were added as the South African attack, an increasingly thickset and jowly Jacques Kallis excepted, applied enough pressure and skill to take the day's honours.

Well as Steyn 14-4-31-4 bowled Clarke's masterly captain's  innings was the highlight of the day. It has kept Australia in the match...but not on top.

Reserve your seat on the couch (or at the bar) for what should be another very good day of Test cricket. If you, like me, can't last the Australian time night Foxtel is showing good highlights in the morning. If all else fails checkout the web highlights  here


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Test times

Back after a break away from cricket viewing/watching , including a UK trip where I went to two soccer matches : Sheffield Wednesday 2 v Colchester United 0 (League 1) and Chelsea 3 v Arsenal 5 (EPL).

Test cricket has been in pretty full swing around the world. I missed Ts1 & 2 of the Pakistan - Sri Lanka series in the Gulf, which were played in the shadow of the UK court case and subsequent  jailing of three Test cricketers. I watched quite a lot of T3 which was ended in a pedestrian draw as Sri Lanka seemed happy to settle for a  0-1 series loss.

India v West Indies T1 (of 3) has just begun in New Dehli. The West Indies have been surprisingly competitive but the class of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, the two highest scoring Test batters of all time (Tendulkar scored his 15,000th run overnight) should see them home when play resumes in a few hours.

If you are able to watch today's play, do so. If the two masters aren't able to continue yesterday's masterclass for long, then there may be some anxious moments, but it's hard to see West Indies getting rid of them, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni cheaply, even though the wicket is keeping low at times.

Tonight I'll be watchng the first day of the first Test of a truncated South Africa v Australia
two match series. South Africa are said to be rusty, as they've not played a Test for ages.  Australia still have a few question marks about certain players including Mitchell Johnson and Phil Hughes, each of whom has performed well in the Republic previously but who have been inconsistent elsewhere.  On paper the South Africans look to have the edge but the series, if the two matches can properly be called that, should not be too onesided (say I, sitting on fence).

Update 10 November

India beat West Indies by 5 wickets. It didn't go quite according to the scenarios I'd sketched as Dravid left early, leaving Tendulkar 76 ( the 100th international century eluding him yet again) and Laxman 58* to keep India on the road to victory. MS Dhoni's bumbling 0*/4b attempt to avoid a pair suggested that another wicket sooner might have kept such tension as there was ramped up a little longer.

For South Africa v Australia T1 D1 see separate post.