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Friday, March 07, 2014

Pink ball, white clothing

The three fixtures of the just completed penultimate round of Sheffield Shield matches were each played as day-night matches, using a pink ball though not coloured clothing.

This was not the first time such an experiment has been tried here. A decade or so ago I recall watching South Australia play Western Australia, though I believe they used a red ball. 

That experiment hasn't been repeated until now, when declining interest in and minute attendances at Sheffield Shield matches here and Tests elsewhere have encouraged another go. This time with a pink ball.

If all goes well (and it's not clear what the assessment criteria are) we may even see day-night Tests at some time in the future. 

Last night I went to the (almost complete, we're told) Adelaide Oval to watch the last session of the 
SA v NSW match. Unlike Australia at Cape Town overnight the Redbacks weren't able to take the final wicket which a would have given them an outright win and much needed points in their quest for a Shield final berth. After the Blues led by 4 on the first innings, they were unable to convert a second innings revival into victory.

This situation has echoes of last season, where a good Redbacks start was frittered away in the last couple of matches and the team, admittedly in a very tight competition slipped from Top of the table to last.

One more round remains, with an away match (not day-night) in Hobart. This year a Ricky Ponting-less Tasmania are not playing well, so an outright win is not impossible, but without Johan Botha - the best Redback bowler yesterday - suspended for a match (apparently subject to appeal/reviewe) it may be improbable.

South Australia 288 (Ferguson 97, Zampa 48, O'Keefe 5/89) & 280 (Cooper 89, Ferguson 59, Raphael 53, O'Keefe 6/70) drew with New South Wales 292 (Patterson 81, Nevill 71, Carters 65, Botha 4/70) & 9/207 (Carters 84, Botha 4/51): Sheffield Shield at Adelaide Oval. NSW 2 pts, SA 0.

<a href="">Scorecard </a>

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Australia ...just: T3 D5

Australia 7/494 dec & 5/303 dec defeated South Africa 287 & 265 (134.3ov, Philander 51/105b/1x6 6x4, duPlessis 47/109b, Duminy 43/99b, deVilliers 43/228b, Amla 41/109b, Harris 24.3-15-32-4, Johnson 34-11-92-3, Pattinson 27-10-62-2, Smith 13-3-43-1, Lyon 22-17-10-0, Watson 9-0-6-0, Clarke 5-2-7-0) by 245 runs: T3/3 D5/5 at Newlands, Cape Town. Australia win series 2-1. Player of series & Player of match: David Warner.

Ryan Harris bowled Australia to what had for much of the match looked an inevitable victory but which from mid-afternoon on D5 until over 135 of South Africa's second innings seemed to be heading for a draw (and perhaps a moral defeat for the visitors).

The Proteas once again demonstrated their defensive fighting qualities and, almost, their ability to extract draws from the jaws of defeat. But Harris, after apparently bowling himself into the ground (and taking two key top order wickets in the process) roused himself for one final effort, which in three balls secured the Test and the series for Australia (and laid the ghosts of Adelaide 2012). The delivery which accounted for Morne Morkel was everything that Morkel's bowling in this series rarely was - pitched up on the stumps. 

I dozed off when Vernon Philander and J P Duminy seemed to have the situation in hand, as the Australia bowlers were unable to coax much help from the wicket, but awoke to find Duminy out, one of four Proteas dismissed in the 40s.

I didn't go back to sleep until Harris's 145th and 147th balls of the innings settled the issue (and my stomach).

So Australia just won? In terms of the match duration, yes, but the alternative was not defeat.

Look at the scorecard and see how dominant Australia were. Sure, a few cracks in the bowling were exposed on the last day, eg Nathan Lyon's inability to trouble batters, but it's hard to bowl out a team with so many good players (and at least one great one-  AB deVilliers) with sound defensive techniques and the mindset to apply them.

David Warner, Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke performed extremely well, but for me Harris was the hero, and not only at the last. I hope he hasn't played his last Test.

So if Australia may have only "just" won, but it was a just win, which gave them the series. They were 
Indubitably the better team and the defacto #1 Test team in the world.

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Australia can't lose and despite recent precedent South Africa holding out for draw looks unlikelyT3 D4

South Africa 287 & 4/71 (41ov, Amla 41/109b/4x4, deVilliers 16*/100b1x4, Johnson 2/31) need another 440 runs with 6 second inns wkts in hand to defeat Australia 7/494 dec & 5/303 dec (58ov, Warner 145/156b/13x6 4x4' Rogers 39/67b/6x4, Doolan 37/87b/5x4, Smith 36*/20b/5x4, Watson 25/17b/1x6 2x4): T3/3 D4/5 at Newlands, Cape Town.

Australia, powered by another commanding David Warner century, moved rapidly, except for an interlude when Alex Doolan batted at his own, rather than his team's preferred, pace.

 The inevitable declaration didn't come until after lunch, and a run rate still high (despite all 9 fielders on the boundary) leaving South Africa Buckley's chance of victory but a little less time in which to hold out for a draw.

4/71 represents something of a recovery after 3/15 - fiery bowling by Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson was responsible - but in the absence of bad weather (blue skies forecast)  South Africa will need to keep applying themselves as Hashim Amla and AB deVilliers did on a wicket which hasn't 
deteriorated as much as some pundits and windbags have predicted.

Yet Amla is out. DeVilliers is grafting and, despite what the Australians might say publicly, the spectre of 
the last day's  2012 grinding fightback at Adelaide must still hover over,even if not haunt, them. On paper that sort of history shouldn't repeat itself, and I don't believe it will....while conceding that it might.

<a href="">Scorecard </a>

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Australia continue to dominate South Africa: T3 D4

Australia 7/494 dec & 0/27  ( 6ov, Warner 25*/17b/4x4, Rogers 1*/19b) lead South Africa 287 (82.5ov, duPlessis 67/135b/6x4, Petersen 53/62b/8x4, Amla 38, Philander 37*, Johnson 19-5-42-4, Harris 22-3-63-3, Pattinson 2/77, Watson 1/34) by 234 runs with all second innings wickets in hand: T3/3 D3/5 at Newlands, CapeTown.

By declaring at their overnight score and then dismissing South Africa relatively cheaply Australia strengthened their grip on the Test. Whether they should have enforced the follow on is, however, a moot point.

I agree - just - with Michael Clarke's decision, principally because his main bowlers should benefit from a rest before starting again. Yet I hope that he makes a good choice about when to declare, and what target to set.

Mitchell Johnson yet again and Ryan Harris were the standout bowlers for Australia. They were chiefly responsible for reducing the Proteas to 6/146 before Faf du Plessis and Vernon Philander led a lower order revival of sorts, though not one to avoid the possibility of the follow on, not to mention a thumping deficit.

 There are two days, each with, like today, an extra half hour allocated to make up partly for the half day lost on D2. Fine weather is forecast for each, so Australia should be able to force a victory and take the series. Yet the wicket is still playing OK ( not surprising for its third day), and South Africa's top two batters Hashim Amla and A B deVilliers had modest first innings which will make them hungrier for the second innings. Graeme Smith, who announced his retirement after cloe of play, might like to go out with a bang rather than the whimpers he's had with the bat this series.

Australia will - must - be looking to win. South Africa, normally more defensively minded, will either hope for a generous declaration to tempt them or try to bat out the draw, as they did in Adelaide in 2012. The next two days may not, after Australia's second innings,  be scintillating but there's enough talent in South Africa's batting ranks to make for a tough contest.

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Monday, March 03, 2014

Clarke continues to lead Australia from front before rain stops play: T3D2

Australia 7/494 (127.4ov, Clarke 161*/301b/17x4, Warner 135/152b/1x6 12x4, Smith 84/155b/3x6 9x4, Watson 40/32b/3x6 1x4, Duminy 17-0-73-4) v South Africa: T3/3 D2/5 at Newlands, Cape Town.

Australia's didn't have things all their own way, yet they won all the major segments of the half day's play that was possible before rain, propelled by high winds, halted proceedings.

First Michael Clarke reached his century after a long time on 99, mainly because of a superb spell of tight bowling from Kyle Abbott, whom I yesterday damned with faint praise. Unfortunately for the Proteas there as nobody to sustain the pressure at the other end: Dale Steyn was off the field injured, Morne Morkel on the field but out of his captain's bowling plans for the first hour ( another Graeme Smith blunder?), Vernon Philander was just off his game, having what must have been, considering his international ranking, one of his worst days of Test cricket.

Clarke was able to take his time reaching his century partly because Steve Smith, batting with the mature belligerence which he's developed over the past year, kept the score ticking over at the other end. He looked set for a century before he unexpectedly played (more accurately pulled) on to Dean Elgar, the makeshift second spinner. 

The makeshift first spinner, JP Duminy, actually bowled reasonably well, though his four wickets flattered him. If there was assistance for him in the wicket he was unable to extract it, though he varied his flight and seemed to take stoically the inevitable punishment from Smith, Clarke post century and, in a brief cameo just right for the situation, Shane Watson. We'll need to wait another day (or innings) to see if he completes his hat trick, and to compare him with Nathan Lyon.

The half day lost to the weather was obviously South Africa's. The pitch appears to be playing well, there are 20 South Africa wickets to be taken in three days, minus whatever time may be required for another Australia innings (or the rest of the current one), and a Steyn less South Africa look down on bowling confidence. But they do bat deep on paper and can be resolute in playing for a draw.

<a href=""> Scorecard</a> 

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Feisty Warner and gutsy Clarke revitalise Australia: T3D1

Australia 3/331 (88ov, Warner 135/152b/1x6 12x4, Clarke 92*/181b/9x4) v South Africa at Cape Town; T3/3 D1/5. Australia won toss and chose to bat.

 Both sides made two changes: Australia restored Shane Watson in place of Shaun Marsh (not Alex Doolan as I'd expected and sort of hoped) and omitted the workhorse  Peter Siddle for the greater pace of James Pattinson. South Africa omitted Quinton deKock and the injured Wayne Parnell, restoring Alviro Petersen and giving Kyle Abbott (of whom I know little) his first Test cap.

Once play started it was Australia's day. David Warner and Chris Rogers went after the bowling to the tune of 43 runs from the first six overs before Morne Morkel steadied things down a little  - but not much, as 1/118 at lunch from 26 overs attests. 

The second session was enthrallingly compulsive viewing. Australia added 1/77 from another 26 overs, and, well as Morkel bowled, put themselves into a strong position, which in the final session they converted to a very strong one.

Warner was magnificent - again. What Michael Clarke's innings may have occasionally lacked in style, his resolute blunting of Morkel's short pitched bowling by taking deliveries on his body was a great - cliche alert - captain's innings. (And did his battering encourage Morkel to bowl at the man when bowling at the stumps might have been more productive?)

Excuses for South Africa? Dale Steyn walked off with a hamstring injury, Abbott faded after a promising start and Dean Elgar bowled what must have been the highest number of (and least productive) overs of his career at any level .

Still early days, but with Clarke and Steve Smith, already 50*, in occupation, there's a solid foundation for at least another 100 runs which, barring 2011 style collapses, should provide a launching pad to strive for a match and series win.

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The decider

The Third South Africa v Australia Test begins tonight, local time.

After each side has had a thumping victory over the other, I'm reluctant to make a prediction.

However ....some observations

# In T2 South Africa played above what I'd thought was their best form. Not only did several of those from whom better things had been expected in T1 rise to the occasion, but some from whom less was expected eg JP Duminy and Dean Elgar, delivered in spades.

# Sourh Africa's quick bowling in T2 was as superb as Australia's had been in T1, and their lack of a frontline spinner (if such a person exists in the country) didn't really handicap them.

# Australia's second innings collapse after the Chris Rogers- David Warner show laid a promising foundation was unexpected, but not, in the light of the Ashes experiences, a great surprise. (Brad Haddin was bound to fail sometime, though perhaps not three times on the trot).

# Australia's quick bowling in T2 looked worn out: Ryan Harris has virtually admitted that he's on his last legs, while Peter Siddle looked, as he's done on previous occasions when support at the other end has been lacking, an honest trundler (and the speed gun reflected this). The limitations of a four bowler attack were exposed by the Proteas batting.

# Both captains have points to prove with the bat, and Graham Smith with his tactics: sending Australia in after winning the T1 toss was a huge blunder. South Africa may still have lost, but the margin would (says he speculating) almost certainly have been smaller.

# Australia will need to beef  up both batting and bowling for T3. The obvious answer is to play a fit (touch wood) Shane Watson. In whose place: Alex Doolan or Shaun Marsh? This time I think it should be Doolan's. Marsh cannot do any worse than his T2 pair, and you'd hope that his greater Test match experience might count for something in the tight contest which the multitudes watching on TV or the sprinkling of spectators (if the pathetic turnouts at Centurion and Port Elizabeth are any guide) at the ground will be hoping for.