The keys to success: Australia v South Africa, 2nd test, day 3

It was another amazing day at the Adelaide Oval yesterday with the South African team showing why they are rated the best team in the world with a stunning fightback.

It all started with the ball for the Proteas with their bowlers, led by the seemingly irrepressible Morne Morkel, strangling out the Australian bottom order after the dismissal of Clarke very early.  I am certain that if you had have asked Graeme Smith this morning if he would be happy with Australia only getting to 550 yesterday I am certain he would have been happy to agree.

That was the start of a fairly poor day for the Australians because once it became the Proteas time to bat, Australia’s bowlers were as innocuous as they were on day 1 at the Gabba.  The proof of this is in the wicket takers column of the score book: the only Australian bowler to take a wicket was David Warner with the other wicket falling to a run out.

Day two was obviously South Africa’s day and day three beckons as possibly the most important day of this test match.  After Australia decisively won day 1 and South Africa fought back on day 2, here are my keys for success on day 3 at the Adelaide Oval:

1. Will Pattinson’s efforts with the ball match his efforts on the sledge?

James Pattinson appears to Australia’s appointed enforcer with the ball and has made his presence obviously felt through his overt sledging of the Proteas in the second innings at the Gabba.  I do not have any objection to sledging: it is part of the game.  However, the best sledgers are those who are also players who perform; viz., G McGrath and S K Warne come to mind.  Yesterday Pattinson was simply ordinary and leaked runs at 5 runs per over when the Australians needed him to take early wickets.  Whispering in Smith’s ear when he was on 8 that he was “f*cking all over [Smith]” obviously did not help.  Hopefully that performance will be humbling for him and he will come out today with a little less lip and more focus on bowling.  Australia definitely need him at the top of his form.

2. Is there a big hundred coming from Graeme Smith?

Graeme Smith was excellent yesterday and led the way for his team after the dominance of the Australians on day 1.  His opposing captain has made an art form this calendar year of performing when his team needs it most and the Proteas need Smith to push on for a big innings today if they are to consolidate their position in the game.  Smith can score big hundreds with 4 of his 25 test centuries doubles and a further 4 over 150. Australia will be desperate for his wicket early in part in the hope of it precipitating an Australianesque collapse.

3. Can Lyon do more than contain and lead the attack?

Nathan Lyon bowled a little over 35% of the overs sent down to the Proteas and it seems likely that he will bowl a large amount of overs today.  From what I have seen he did not really look like taking a wicket though, so whilst he did keep the run rate of the South Africans down they rarely looked troubled.  If the pacemen from the land down under continue to look as penetrative as a blunt spoon it will be up to Lyon to lead the attack and take wickets.  If he cannot it could be long day in the field for the Australians.

4. Run Jacques Run: just how bad is that hamstring?

Because of the amount of time he spent off field, Kallis cannot come into bat until the fall of the 5th wicket in the Proteas innings.  Additionally, because of the change in playing conditions he will not be entitled to use the services a runner.  Depending on the state of the South African’s innings when he comes in whether or not he can bat effectively could prove a key turning point in length of time the Proteas are able to bat.

5. Which wicketkeeper is the part timer: Wade or De Villiers?

This is obviously a rhetorical question given that is Wade who is the full time wicketkeeper, however on today’s evidence one would have struggled to realize that.  A very ordinary missed stumping chance compounded by letting through 7 byes (when his counterpart, the “part time” De Villiers did not give up one in 550 runs) are indicative that it was not Wade’s best day with the gloves.  He will need to be on his game on what might be a very long day in the field for the Australians.  A dropped chance or another missed stumping might well see Australia’s now limited grip on the game slip away completely.

There have been many twists and turns in this test match already: today may well bring many more.  I can’t wait!

Vale Bryce Courtenay

Reading has always been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. There is very little I won’t read but when I am given a choice the books on my bedside table usual run to sports biographies, non-fiction tomes about the First World War and the works of Stuart MacBride.

I also have a few books that I read every year. There are some obvious ones in that list: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I read every year without fail. Added to that list is The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

Bryce Courtenay’s passing overnight has given me moment of pause to consider the impact of his writing on me. I need to concede here that I only enjoy reading three of Courtenay’s works: the two books in the “Peekay” series, The Power of One and Tandia, as well as the heart breaking April Fool’s Day. The fact is I have never really gotten into the remainder of his work however those three books are easily in my top ten books of all time.

It is ridiculously rare for a book to effect me emotionally but reading April Fool’s Day and in particular the Courtenay’s description of his son Damon’s death for the first time made me more than a little weepy as well as introspective. Enough said really.

The “Peekay” duo of books are a cracking read when considered apart but when considered together they form a powerful reading experience that takes one through the changing face of colour politics in South Africa at the time of the Second World War and beyond through the eyes of a young boy who becomes a man. Throw in boxing, Oxford, the law, rugby and sex and it is a book that has something for just about everyone.

As I said, I am not a really a fan of the following books from Bryce Courtenay but I will forever be grateful to him for sharing the story of his son Damon and spinning the yarn of Peekay. He will be sadly missed but the characters he created in those books will live on forever for me.

Australia v South Africa, 2nd test, Day 2: the 5 keys

Yesterday I wrote about the 5 keys to winning the test match at the Adelaide Oval: in amongst those points were two that this morning stick out. They were:

1. Will Kallis be a full 5th bowler? and
2. Who will win the heavyweight batting championship of the world between Clarke and Amla?

It is pretty obvious that Kallis’ bowling was going to be vital in this game and his spell of five overs was up there with some of the best he has bowled for some years. Then he got hurt and did not bowl the rest of the day. This leaves a massive hole in the bowling attack for the Proteas: the bowling figures of Tahir alone reveal this.

How many superlatives can one use to describe the batting of Captain Clarke? A scan of the papers this morning has a common denominator through it: the inclusion of the word “Don” headlines reporting the feats of the Captain. Enough said really.

So onto today: what are the keys to success today at the Adelaide Oval?

1. The Clarke Supremacy

Captain Clarke has the look of a man possessed at the moment in the form of his life. His destruction of Morne Morkel over one over shows just how well he is batting. It seems to me that he can bat for as long as he wants and it is not out of the realm of possibility for Lara’s record to be in jeopardy. It will really just come down to how long he wants to bat.

2. Can Tahir recover from the onslaught?

Much was made in commentary of the journey man nature of Imran Tahir’s career and he will need to rely on every ounce of experienced gained over that career today. 0-159 off 21 overs is not flattering reading by anyone’s standards and he presents as a key bowling option today for Smith in the absence of Kallis and with a question mark over his main seamer Steyn.

3. Steyn’s hamstring

With Kallis already off the field, the sight of Dale Steyn hobbling off the field for treatment must have shaken the will of Smith to the very core. He returned to the field and finally got the ball back late in the day. When he finally did bowl he got the wicket of a very well set Hussey. If Steyn’s hamstring is ok his overs will be vital today if the Proteas are to restrain Australia’s scoring and get back in this game.

4. How many runs are enough?

Yesterday was fantastic for Australia and Australian cricket, of that there can be no doubt. However, it is simply to early for fans to start crowing and thinking thoughts only of victory. There are 4 days to go in this test match and the memories of teams scoring 500+ in their first innings and being bested in the Adelaide sun are still fresh. Only Captain Clarke knows how long he wants to bat but one suspects the number of runs he has in mind to bat the Proteas out of the game is around 650.

5. How long with Australia’s tail wag?

Linked to items 1 and 4 above is how the Australian tail will perform with the willow. The lower order, Wade included, needs to stay with the Captain as long as they can today because being 5 out and then all out within the first hour will rest some momentum away from Australia. If that scenario does play out then there is so much time left that there might still be the prospect of the Proteas making a game of it.

Another very interesting day beckons at the Adelaide Oval. Surely it can not be as exciting as yesterday? Or can it?

Australia v South Africa, Second Test, Adelaide Oval: The keys to victory

After a seemingly extended break, albeit one of only a week, the second test of the summer is upon us with the currently under construction Adelaide Oval the venue.  Australia has named an unchanged line up for this fixture with Watson still out with a calf injury and Starc possibly the unluckiest player in the country at the moment.  South Africa have made the obvious change in bring in Tahir for the out of depth Kleinveldt and have replaced JP Duminy with Faf du Plessis.

Much has been made about the importance of this fixture in the context of this only being a three test series and there are so many previews out there that I do not intend to trump them in this post.  Keeping up the tradition of my posts from the first test at the Gabba though during this game I will again gaze into my crystal each day before play and present my five keys for each day.  Given that my crystal ball has not told me who will win the toss today I will kick things off with my five keys to victory for this test.

1. The Toss

Win the toss and bat: it is as simple as that.  Whilst the direct corralation between doing that and winning probably has not played out in some tests of recent times (Ashes 2006/07 a key example) it would be fair to say that the side that wins the toss in this fixture will be positively ebullient whilst the looser of the toss will need to lift the slumping shoulders of their fast bowlers.  The paradox with winning the toss and batting at Adelaide is that if things move swiftly in the Test the team batting last could find themselve batting in the most benign conditions.  However I am sure that is a risk both captains will be prepared to take. 

2. Into the Lyon’s den?

Home town hero Nathan Lyon returns for his second outing in Adelaide having spun Australia to victory with the wickets of Sehwag, Laxman and Tendulkar in the second innings at the same ground last year. With the Australians again one bowler short without the inclusion of Watson I expect Lyon to bowl a lot of overs into the wind in this fixture and whether he can contain a Protea top six seemingly hell bent on giving him some tap will be a large determiner of the outcome of this game.

3. Jacque’s back: 5th bowler or bit player?

Converse to the seemingly understrength Australian bowling line up, the attack of the South Africans looks much more balanced on paper with Kallis filling the key role of fourth seamer.  The “on paper” part of that sentence is vital however because in Brisbane Kallis, seemingly hampered by a sore back only bowled 12 overs out of the 138 bowled to the Australians during their mammoth first innings.  If Kallis does not bowl then the Proteas line up has a similar look to the Australians; viz., it looks one bowler short.

4. Clarke v Amla: the heavyweight batting championship of the world

Ignore the ratings of the ICC for the moment: Clarke and Amla are presently the two best batsmen in the world by a very very long margin.  In what presents as a three round contest to determine the batting champion for 2012 it would be fair to say that Clarke won the first round decisively in Brisbane.  That of itself is a tip of the cap to Clarke’s quality given that Amla’s batting in Brisbane was a joy to behold for any serious cricket fan.  When both of these modern day champions score runs they do so in big partnerships and their team more often than not wins. The winner of this second round of three in Adelaide may very well lead their team to victory in this fixture.

5. No balls: the Chris Lynn factor 

Pardon the obviously low brow pun arising out of the unfortunate injury to Chris Lynn’s private parts in the domestic one-day fixture in Brisbane last night because this is a serious issue.  After 3 wickets were overturned as a result of overstepping in Brisbane it may very well be the team that oversteps less in this test that wins the game.  That is how close this game might be.  Neither team can afford to be forced to get two or three wickets extra at a ground where historically getting a side out twice is a tall order.

I would love to see Australia win this game but I still do not believe they have picked the right team: the failure to select Mitchell Starc has left me scratching what little hair I have left.  South Africa should be refreshed after taking the rest of last week off in the tropics of Queensland and their bowlers will be looking to restamp their perceived dominance.  This test match again presents as a mouth watering encounter that should again stretch into the fifth day.  Play commences at 10:30am local time which is 10am for those on the eastern side of Australia (those of you in the daylight saving jurisdictions please adjust accordingly).

Book Review: Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian cricket

I have always been fascinated by the era of Australian cricket that is best described as the Chappell / Lillee / Marsh era and have had regular pause to read every new book on this era that hits the shelves.

In 2009, Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian cricket writing by Christian Ryan was released.  Having just read it for the third time, I cannot think of a better place to start this series of posts reviewing my favourite cricket books.  The allure of this book comes from one of my, and am sure many of the cricket fans of my generation, abiding memories of cricket as a child: Kim Hughes’ tearful resignation at the Gabba in 1984.

I concede that that memory alone was enough for me to chase down this book upon release.   Equally, I recall that from the outset the title of this tome intrigued me.  Afterall, much of what I had read about this period, Packer wars aside, seemed to be all about mateship, beer and cigarettes with a little bit of cricket thrown in.  This book was to immediately dispel those thoughts.

At the outset is has to be noted that this is a very very well researched book.  Ryan has interviewed seventy-five people including former players and selectors of the era, Hughes’ coaches and friends from the subject’s youth.  Paradoxically, the subject of the book and his family declined to be interviewed as did Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, Ian Chappell and Allan Border. As one reads this book it is a striking theme that Hughes, Lillee, Marsh and the Chappells have simply decided that they are not going to talk about their relationship during this era.

One would expect that the failure of the author to interview the major players in the career of the book’s subject would have severely limited the content of the book.  On the contrary, and perhaps fortuitously, the author has the benefit numerous books written by Lillee and Marsh about the same period and has, it seems in all occasions, found multiple eye witness accounts of the events that are spelled out in the book.   

What strikes one right from the very outset of the narrative is the self-assuredness Hughes had even from his early days.  He was a “boy wonder” and he knew he was destined for greatness and even at club level was not shy about telling all and sundry so.  This character trait weaves its way through the whole of the story about Kim Hughes’ life and career and seems to have coloured Hughes’ relationships with the “big three” in Chappell, Marsh and Lillee. 

Can you imagine in the present day, with the current administration, a player saying the following about his captain:

“I honestly would prefer to play under several other players, who I think would do a better job than Kim,”

This is a direct quote lifted by the author from an interview Rod Marsh did with Playboy.  There are many more such quotes throughout the book that come direct from the text written by Marsh and Lillee themselves.

Herein lies another great paradox in both this book and the life of Kim Hughes.  With all of the name calling and “incidents” between the “big three” and Hughes one gets the sense of that Hughes was a young man being bullied by men he respected and, indeed, looked up to.  This is where the book changes tack however and notes that in the present day things are vastly different with the author observing:

“Greg and Ian are Kim’s friends. ‘I am sure if I got into difficulty, financial or whatever, they are the first four blokes I would ring.’ Dennis says their differences were exaggerated. Kim does not say that. But he does say they are ‘great’ mates, ‘tremendous’ mates, ‘best’ mates, as if 15 years of his life never happened.”

The relationship of Hughes, Marsh, Lillee and the Chappells aside there are some fascinating insights in this book to both of the “rebel” causes of the time: World Series Cricket and the tours to South Africa.  Stories of Hughes missing out on a Packer contract and then leading the rebels tours away after he thought his time in the spotlight was about to run out are intriguing, as is the reporting of the games played on those rebel tours of which very little has been written.

Some of Hughes’ greatest innings are also recounted in a style that is easy to read and moves one away from the image of Hughes’ tearful resignation and toward the opinion that this guy could really play the game.

Whether love or loath Kim Hughes this is a must read for any cricket fan and a must have for any collection of sporting books.

Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the bad old days of Australian Cricket, by Christian Ryan, Allen & Unwin