Australia in South Africa 2014: Ryan Harris speaks sense on ball tampering

I have been heartened today to read Ryan Harris’ comments on the allegations of ball tampering levelled at the South Africans by his teammate David Warner.

Harris has been variously quoted as follows:

“I’ve got no doubt what they [South Africa] did was fine, otherwise the umpires and the match referee would have done something,” Harris said.

“They [South Africa] have obviously looked after the ball a lot better than us, and if there’s anything illegal about it I’m sure we would have heard about it by now.

“They’ve obviously had experience at that ground and knew what they had to do.

“We didn’t do it well enough so we’ve just got to make sure that if it (reverse swing) happens here (in Cape Town), somehow we’ve got to get it going.

“Throwing it (the ball) into the ground, that happens in everyday cricket now as long as you’re doing it from the outfield.

“There are things that are not secret because everyone does it, and then it’s a matter of how you polish it up and what you do after that.

“But I think if there’s any scratching or anything like that done, the umpires are checking the ball every 15 overs or whatever and if they see it, they’ll change it and they’ll make a report.”

Harris has gotten this absolutely correct.  If the South Africans were tampering with the ball then they would have been reported: it is that simple.  That is precisely what happened when Faf du Plessis was charged with ball tampering in October 2013.

The fact is, and Harris himself says this, the South Africans bowled better and used the conditions better than the Australians did.  To suggest otherwise, as David Warner did, smacks of nothing other than the sourest of sour grapes.

Apparently the ICC is presently considering sanctions against Warner for his comments.  The next chapter of this saga will certainly be interesting if nothing else.

Australia in South Africa 2014: South Africa responds to David Warner and get it 100% right!

I wrote yesterday about David Warner’s comments alleging, effectively, that South Africa’s players had tampered with the ball during the Second Test match at St George’s (link available here: Australia in South Africa 2014: It is time to say it … “Please David, stop talking!” « Shumpty Speaks

Today the South African team manager, Mohammed Moosagee, replied as follows:

”David Warner’s remarks are disappointing and discouraging. It takes the gloss off a great Proteas team performance,’’ Moosagee told South African newspaper DFA.

“It smacks of sour grapes and it could just be a tactical plan to get us involved in matters that will distract our attention from this crucial Test in Cape Town.

“Hardly anyone takes anything David Warner says serious.’’

South Africa’s manager is absolutely spot on.  I repeat the sentiment of what I wrote yesterday: it is time for David Warner to remain moot on topics like this both for the betterment of his standing in the game and for Australian cricket in general.

I hope the ICC looks at the comments of Warner and takes the appropriate action.  It is the only way he will ever learn.

Australia in South Africa 2014: It is time to say it … “Please David, stop talking!”

I have commented on twitter and on this blog that I think the Australian cricket team needs to talk less and focus on their cricket: both when they are winning and losing. I am all for a bit of sledging here and there but it appears that a cornerstone of the Darren Lehmann era is a return of the “ugly” Australians as a team using verbal slights as an ongoing tactic.

Now I repeat: I am ok with sledging on the field. It has it’s place and, indeed, has always been part of the game. Where I have concerns though is in the off field chiding of the opposition in press conferences and radio interviews. Michael Clarke has done it. Darren Lehmann has done. The most regular recent offender of late is David Warner who, as late as today, has openly accused the South Africans of cheating.

To paraphrase Warner has accused AB de Villiers, particularly, and the South Africans in general of excessive ball scuffing and posits that that scuffing was behind their excellent bowling performance in the second test. Warner goes on to, repeatedly, to state that the Australians would be bringing it up with the umpires.

How is Warner, who is neither the captain, the coach, the manager or a selector of the team, entitled to make such comments? And how is it appropriate in the middle of an evenly matched test series? To me, there is no reasonable excuse for such conduct. These comments only serve, in my view, to make the Australians look like poor losers and to inspire the South Africans to strive even harder to best us.

Warner’s profile in the press has been massive: during the Ashes series Channel 9 took part in an orchestrated plan to improve Warner’s image through interviews with him and his family and he is, frankly, the darling of those who sit in the Channel 9 box. Additionally though, it would be a rare on field “blow up” that Warner has not been involved in.

Darren Lehmann or John Inverarity or even James Sutherland must sit him down now and tell him to shut his mouth. For his own sake: because this current focus on the verbal from him is distracting from his current rich vein of form. For his team because he continues to “fire up” his opponents needlessly. For cricket because allegations such as this should be dealt with through the proper channels rather than in the press.

I have come around to the fact Warner is destined to be Australia’s opening batsman for some time to come and, on form, he deserves to do so. Until he stops talking though, on the field when unnecessary and when off the field, he will not win over the fans that he and Channel 9 fought so hard to win him in 2013.

Australia in South Africa 2014: Australia’s 3rd test selection conundrums

Much has been made in the media over the last 24 hours of who will play for Australia in the 3rd test at Newlands starting on Saturday.

To me it is simple: if Shane Watson is fit, and by fit I mean able to bowl a minimum of 15 overs a day, he must play and he must bat at number 6. Shaun Marsh must come out of the current side. Two reasons for this: first, he was an injury induced replacement for Watson in the first place and second, Michael Clarke MUST bat at number 4. Marsh’s hundred at Centurion was a great knock but a pair at St George’s seals his fate.

There are broad grumblings about changing the bowling attack. I can not countenance such a move for these reasons:

1. The inclusion of Watson will release some of the workload on the core fast bowling trio how were, understandably, tired by the end of the 2nd test.

2. Pattinson and Bird have not played in a red ball cricket game (other than a centre wicket practice) since their injuries in England over six months ago. We can not expect them to step up into this last test off no significant bowling.

So for me there is only one change: Watson for Marsh. If Watson is not fit by the criterion noted above I would be tempted to play Henriques in Marsh’s place but would only do so after looking at the pitch.

Anymore changes than those posited here would just be a knee jerk reaction to a single loss and would be neither good for the balance of the team nor its harmony.

Australia in South Africa 2014: 2nd Test Post Mortem

When I went to bed last night at tea on the fourth day of the second test match at St George’s Park I was confident of one thing: Australia would make South Africa work for its victory.  I woke up at about 3:30am, as men do, and on my way back from the bathroom checked the cricket score on my phone and was proven spectacularly wrong. Having lost 9-88 after the tea adjournment, Australia was thrashed by the Proteas by 231 runs.

Australia, even the Captain admits, was outplayed in ever aspect of the game by the South Africans in this test match and with five days now until the 3rd and final test match have much to work on to best the best team in the world.

Here are my 5 key issues arising out of the 2nd test match that Australia need to address:

  • Don’t blame being one bowler short: Much has been made in the press about Australia being one bowler short in this game with Shane Watson recuperating on the sidelines.  It would be fair to say that the Australians did look like they were missing that fifth bowler to churn through some key overs but one must not forget that South Africa were also a bowler short once Wayne Parnell hurt his groin after bowling just over 8 overs. The fact is Australia’s bowling attack did not get the job done.
  • It can’t all be about OMJ: Mitchell Johnson has bowled brilliantly in the last 6 test matches and showed glimpses of brilliance in this test match however on a wicket that did not support him and against an opposition more attuned to the game than their brethren in English colours he did not have anywhere near the effectiveness as in previously test matches.  Unfortunately, at the same time, neither of Peter Siddle nor Ryan Harris had enough impact to compensate.
  • Australia still can’t play reverse swing: Don’t get me wrong: the South Africa’s bowled immensely well on day four and, indeed, throughout the whole match.  That said, Australia’s performance against the reverse swinging ball on day 4 was horrid at best.  They had no answers for it from any of the South African quick bowlers and particularly Dale Steyn.  I do not know that there is an easy fix for this however if Australia do not find a way to combat reverse by Saturday they may find themselves in significant bother.
  • No middle order heroics puts top order in focus: I wrote earlier in the test match about the frailty of Australia’s top order and again in the second innings of this test match the top order, after the opening gambit of Rogers and Warner, was found wanting.  After excellent performances at Centurion, Doolan and Marsh looked out of their depth against the quality fo the South African bowlers and gave only meek resistance in both innings.  Unfortunately for them the trio of Clarke, Smith and Haddin could not save their metaphorical bacon as happened in Australia during the Ashes.
  • Stop the verbal: I have been lamenting for some time the prevalence of ‘verbal” interplay in Australia’s game plan and again in this game I am certain that verballing the opposition did nothing to enhance Australia’s cause.  For the avoidance of doubt, I have no cavil whatsoever with sledging, but there is a time and a place for it.  That time and place is not when you are getting hammered by the opposition.  From Michael Clarke’s statement about Graeme Smith’s captaincy through to David Warner’s ongoing need to chirp about everything. Australia as a team needs to have a long look at how it uses “the verbal” because it seems in this game it only served to give ammunition to the Proteas.

All in all it was a pretty sorry test match for the men in baggy green.  One would be remiss though to not mention some excellent performances that were left unrewarded by defeat:

  • Under pressure for his spot, in my view, Chris Rogers played exactly the innings that he was selected for in England.  Gritty and determined he looked largely at ease against the swing of the South Africans whilst around him the others perished.  As bizarre as it may seem this could well have been a career saving knock for “Buck”.
  • Despite my chastisement for his “chat”, David Warner was the pick of the Australian batters, Rogers’ hundred aside and again showed how destructive he can be.  He needs to bat for longer though obviously.
  • Nathan Lyon was Australia’s best bowler and was rewarded with a first innings “Michelle”.  Maligned by many before the Ashes in England it says a lot about this blokes character that he is now mentioned in the same breath as some of the best spinners in the current game at the moment.

So the Australian’s leave Port Elizabeth with much to work on and a confident opponent to defeat and head to Newlands in Cape Town where the South African’s have an imposing records since reintegration back into the international game.  Indeed, the only country they have lost a test match to at Newlands is Australia (1994, 2002 and 2006) and go into this match on an 11 game undefeated streak (including 3 draws). The series is certainly well poised.

Australia in South Africa 2014: Australia’s top order struggles in focus

I have been saying for some time that Australia’s top order has been inconsistent at best and out of form at worst for some time now.  The Ashes victory in Australia was built not off the back of top orders runs but the efforts of, principally, Brad Haddin with the willow and the bowlers.  Over night, after a respite of sorts in the first test, Australia’s top order limitations were again brought to the fore.

On an innocuous wicket on which Australia’s much vaunted bowling attack was made to bowl some 150 overs, no top order batter, David Warner aside, was in the long enough to construct an innings.  Now, those of you who read this blog who lament that I am often far to negative when it comes the Australian cricket team, consider these statistics:

  • Australia has played 16 test matches in the last 12 calendar months (including the test match currently in play).
  • During this span Australia has batted 31 times (again including the current innings).
  • Australia’s average score when the third wicket has fallen in each innings (excluding the one innings where the 3rd wicket was not lost) was 95.
  • Australia’s average score when the fourth wicket has fallen in each innings (excluding the two innings where the 4th wicket was not lost) was 134.
  • Those numbers, low as they are, are skewed by a couple of excellent partnerships.  Of more concern is that 18 occasions out of 31 possible innings the Australian top order has failed to reach 100 before three wickets were lost (or 58% of the time).  For the fourth wicket the numbers are not better: 12 times in 30 possible innings Australia has not reached 100 before the fourth wicket has been lost.

These numbers have to be a concern for every Australian cricket fan.  Whilst they have been winning, they have not been doing it through runs at the top of the order.  That fact is most explicitly seen when one considers that during the span of six wins Australia has recently has in a row has failed to pass 100 before losing its 3rd wicket on six out of eleven occasions and before losing its 4th wicket on five out of ten occasions.

The injection of Doolan and Marsh has not improved Australia’s top order based on last night’s evidence and, whilst the captain continues to score big hundreds on occasion, he has also been getting out regularly before reaching 20 which is putting the middle order under more and more pressure.

I do not know that there is an easy solution given that Australia has continued to tinker with its top order throughout this span of 16 test matches.  Equally, if there is one area in which Australia’s performance needs to improve it is in this area.  In India and in England the cracks in Australia’s top order could not be filled enough to secure enough runs to lead Australia to victory.  In Australia, against a woeful England, it did not matter as it also didn’t at Centurion.  Now that Australia faces the prospect of a suddenly resurgent South African line up with a lead to defend it is again up to the middle order to bail the top order.  One is starting to wonder how long this can go on before these top order struggles begin to burn the Australian team again.  I, for one, hope that test match is not the present one.