Cricket: Graeme Smith has retired … Is Brad Haddin next?

The retirement of Graeme Smith came as a shock this morning however on reflection I really can not think of a better time for him to take this step: he has been captain for 11 years, has lead South Africa to the top of the test match world and his form is starting to wane. He is going before his form has become an embarrassment and his place in the team questioned. Put differently he has gone his own terms.

The Smith retirement has gotten me thinking about who else might retire after this series and the name that kept coming into my head was that of Brad Haddin.

I am not saying that Brad Haddin should not be in the Australian team. For mine he should be in this team for as long as he wants. And that is my point: he has earned the right to pick when he retires.

Right now seems to me to be the perfect time though to exercise that right for the following reasons:

1. There can be no bigger high than destroying the English in the Ashes and then coming to South Africa, and one assumes, and winning the against the best in the world.

2. He is at the peak of his powers with the gloves whilst in this series we have seen a slight drop in his batting form.

3. Australia’s program of cricket sees them not playing test match cricket again until September of this year (if the future torus program stands up) which is a long time between top flight games.

4. There is no position in Australian cricket that has more depth than wicket keeper: Messrs Paine, Wade and Hartley could all step into Haddin’s shoes.

5. Unlike the Ashes, no one expects it, Haddin retiring, to happen here.

No decision has obviously been made and Haddin was overt in stating he was not retiring any time soon after the Ashes. That said: the “perfect storm” I refer to above makes me wonder if it has at least gone through his mind.

The next obvious moment that might lead to retirement thoughts for Haddin is the World Cup in 2015 in Australia. I remember though the torturous final games of the Ian Healy era behind the stumps when his batting and keeping both deserted him and I hope that his current dip of form with the willow is not a guide for things to come.

The first thing I will be doing in the morning, if the test match is still going, will be to check whether an announcement has been made, like the Smith announcement this morning. I am equally parts hopeful, because Haddin deserves to go out at the very top, and fearful, because I love the way Haddin plays the game, that I will wake to read such an announcement.

Australians in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test Day 2 … Rain, rain go away

The second day of the third test match was drowned out from the middle of the second session with Australia in a dominant position at 7/494.

Before the rain came it was the Michael Clarke show as the captain of Australia went on to his 27th test match century.  Clarke has commented over night that this may well be the best hundred of his career but only if Australia win.

The fact is though: if this is not Michael Clarke’s best hundred then it is certainly his most courageous.  After surviving the day 1 onslaught from the South African bowlers and the agony of 24 balls on 99, getting to three figures must have been massively satisfying for him.  Now 161 not out overnight, he has the chance of pressing on to 200 at the start of day 3.

In the shadows of Michael Clarke’s epic innings was the batting of Steve Smith.  His 84 here was replete with some spectacular shots, none more so than depositing Morne Morkel back over his head for 6.  From a career in test cricket that seemed resigned to be a footnote in the anals of cricket history, Smith has become in less than 12 months a key member of this Australian team.

Looking forward to day 3, I would be astonised if Michael Clarke did not declare overnight.  He is nothing if not an aggressive captain and if Australia is to have any chance of getting 20 wickets one has to think Australia has to have South Africa 7 or 8 wickets down by stumps today.

What will not help Australia’s drive for victory is the pitch.  I have had many readers try to convince me that the pitch will break up and suit Australia’s spinner.  If that was correct before the rain, it stirkes me that the rain will have freshened up the pitch which will only make it less likely to break up over the remainder of the test match.

The weather may also have a part to play in the course of play on day 3.  The South African Weather Service predicts a mostly fine day for day 3 with a 30% chance of rain.  If that rain does arrive, every minute lost will reduce the probability of an Australian victory.

I will repeat what I said at lunch on Day 1 on twitter: this game will be a draw.  A freshened pitch with some rain around does not bode well for a result.  If there is to be a winner there is only one team it could be: Australia.

Play will be extended by an hour each day to make up for day 2’s lost time so the first ball will bowled at 5:30pm Brisbane time.

Australia in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test Day 1 … Warner’s Wonder and the Captain’s Courage

Everything went Australia’s way on the first day of the third test at Newlands overnight: right from the minute Australia won the toss and batted they had the advantage in the game.

David Warner, much maligned by many during the week including me, finally did what many want from him: he let his bat do the talking. This was another innings of quality from Warner that mixed outright aggression at the start with graft to get to his hundred when the South Africans lifted their performance. Now if only he could stop doing all the things that fail to endear him to fans of the game he could be a world beater!

The loss of Dale Steyn with a hamstring strain is a massive one for the South Africans who, as happened in Port Elizabeth, find themselves a bowler down. Morne Morkel was excellent for the Proteas on what was a tough day at the office otherwise for them.

The highlight for me, despite the Warner hundred, was the innings of Michael Clarke: it has been a long time since a fast bowler has attacked a batsman as overtly as Morne Morkel attacked Clarke early in his innings and whilst he looked equal parts ungainly and lacking in technique he deflected the blows Morkel struck, got through the tough period and the thrived. Out of form going into this fixture it was almost as though the speed of Morkel energised Clarke and it now looks like there is little to stop another hundred for him on Day 2.

A final note: I see no other result in this game other than a draw. The pitch is flat. Scratch that: the pitch is very flat. It does no favours to cricket and its fans when wickets like this are trotted out in such important fixtures.

Play commences at around 6:30pm tonight Brisbane time.

Australia in South Africa 2014: Teams for the 3rd Test

The toss has been won by Australia and it is batting at Newlands. Both teams have made two changes.

Warner, C Rogers, A Doolan, M Clarke, S Smith, S Watson, B Haddin, M Johnson, J Pattinson, R Harris, N Lyon

South Africa:
G Smith, A Petersen, D Elgar, H Amla, AB de Villiers, F du Plessis, JP Duminy, V Philander, K Abbott, D Steyn, M Morkel

Pattinson in for Siddle the big surprise in all of this. I do not think Siddle is in form, now has been a for a while, but selecting a player who has not bowled a red ball in anger since August 2013 must be a risk.

Australia in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test Preview

So it has all come down to this: the series is level at 1-1 and it is all to play for Australia and South Africa at Newlands. Both test matches to date have had as their cornerstones some exceptional individual performances: Marsh and Johnson for Australia in the first test and de Villiers, Duminy and Steyn for South Africa in the second test. This test match, one suspects, will rest more on team performance as a whole than the brilliance of a handful of individuals.

Here are my 5 keys to victory for the third test at Newlands:

1. Battle of the Leaders: Clarke v Smith

With the willow neither captain has set the world on fire and, when their respective sides have been winning, they have not really needed to. As captains, the current score line represents which captain has won the battle of the tacticians with Clarke monster in Smith first up only for Smith to bounce back in the second test. The captain who wins both the battle with the willow and tactically will be the captain raising the trophy at the end of this series.

2. Steyn v Johnson:

This battle has intrigued and teased us throughout the series and again it has been a battle of extremes: when one of the has been down on form the other has been dominant. Both bowlers possess the ability, above all others in this test match, to take wickets in clusters and thus can turn a game in a 5 over spell. The spearhead that performs the best will be in the winners circle at the end of this test.

3. The Pitch

The fact is that the home side has every right to prepare a wicket that is going to suit their strengths and they did so brilliantly in Port Elizabeth. If that wicket is the same for this test match then it is will advantage South Africa right out the gate because they are clearly the superior team on pitches that are slower and conducive to reverse swing. A bit of life in the wicket swings the metronome more to the favour of the Australian team.

4. Australia’s Demons: 9/21 and 47

The baggy greens return to the first time to the site of one its greatest embarrassments. The title to this paragraph says it all: there will be demons for the Australians from the last time they were here and those demons will only be exacerbated if they loose a couple of early wickets. Getting past 21 and 47 with no wickets down will be important milestones for Clarke’s men.

5. The Warner Factor

I am not talking about his batting here. After baiting the South Africans with cheating allegations during the week and subsequently being fined one can expect that David Warner will be the subject of some special attention from the Proteas and their fans. If the South Africans can harness their anger and direct it well it could prove a very powerful ally. Equally if they go over the top and press too hard it could distract them from their task which plays right into the hands of the Australians.

This will be a fascinating game between two quality teams. I, for one am already on the edge of my seat in anticipation.

Australia in South Africa 2014: Warner fined but will he learn?

News coming out of ICC Central suggests that David Warner has been fined 15% of his match fee, $2,000, for his comments alleging that the South Africans had tampered with the ball in the second test.

Is fining a guy who earns well upward of $1M a year $2000 likely to act as any sort of deterrent? The short answer to that is no. The fact is though that within the ICC Code of Conduct that was about as good as the match referee can do.

Darren Lehmann has to sit down with Warner now, assuming he did not orchestrate this whole scenario, and sternly counsel him about his role in the game. As the comments of his own team mates, as noted in my earlier blog, suggest he got this monumentally wrong.

More to the point: accusing someone of cheating is about as low an act as a sportsman can commit in my view against a fellow player absent unprovoked physical violence so I sincerely hope whatever counselling is given to Warner it gets through that is stuff is just not on.

One hopes that this is the end of this fiasco in which the principal loser has been the Australian team who will now face an even more, if that is possible, opponent than they probably will have hoped for.

PostScript: I have been accused of jumping on Warner for this issue because of some personal malice against him. Stop and think for a moment Australian fans: what if a South African player had have accused the Australians of cheating after the first test? You would be massively up in arms, as would I! Just because the perpetrator here is Australia’s current golden eyed boy doesn’t mean critical comment out not also be made.