Australian in South Africa 2014: Is an S7 game good for cricket?

Australia and South Africa played out a seven over a side fixture in Durban over night with Australia the victor by five wickets in the last over the game.

Obviously I am happy that Australia was victorious.  I never tire of an Australian victory.  I wonder though whether the incessant focus on shortening the game is good for it.

The game has already been shortened into the commoditised form that is T20 cricket.  Allowing a “game” to be constructed over a minimum of 5 overs (which is the current playing condition) can not be good for the fans who have paid good money nor the players. There is an issue of player safety here: I understand that the players and team management of the teams had already agreed to abandon this game but were over ruled by the ICC; playing on a damp field for an hour and a bit can not in the players’ interests.

I am not a fan of the shortened form of the game.  I have been overt about that.  If we are to have this form of the game imposed on us then what actually constitutes a game must be considered.  30 balls for each team can not be a game surely.

Just a thought but if the game can not run for at least 10 overs a piece then it must be abandoned.  Equally, if the players and team management decide it is in the interests of the game that the game be abandoned then that decision must be respected.

T20 cricket is about the fans and getting more of them to the game.  Putting on a short display with players who do not want to play can not be good for them.

Cricket: And for something different … the T20 circus begins again

It will surprise no one that I am not they greatest of fans of the shortest form of cricket. In fact, I theorise that calling the T20 form of the game cricket is a misnomer because the skills of the game are so different from what we see in the long form of the game. Yes the players still bowl and bat and field but the lines that a bowled, the shots that are played and the fields that are set are so different as to be unrecognisable from the pure form of the game.

Another facet of the difference is the different teams that play the game at the top level. The best example of this is seen with the Australian team that has been selected for the three match T20 series due to commence in South Africa tonight. Only three players from the all-conquering test team remain in the T20 squad remain with the team in South Africa (Mitchell Johnson has been rested).

This series is basically a group of 3 practice matches before the T20 World Cup commences in Bangladesh later in the month. Darren Lehmann has already said that he will use it as such to give players game time before the tournament commences so it seems obvious that results are not at the forefront of mind for the Australians.

Australia, historically, has struggled for success in this form of the game and their record against the South Africans is indicative of this having only won 4 of the 11 encounters between these two countries. South Africa have been historically dominant at home winning 19 of 29 T20 internationals hosted by them.

The key for both sides looks, on paper, to be the form of each side’s spin contingents. With Bangladesh likely to throw up only spinning decks both sides have selected a plethora of spin bowling options. On a vodcast for a site I used to contribute to a couple of years ago I mentioned James Muirhead as a player to watch in the future and he certainly is that now that he is in the top squad in this form of the game. South Africa’s best spinner from the test matches was a part timer in JP Duminy and one expects him to get a lot of overs against the Australians along with Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso.

Nothing will beat the excitement of the test match series just completed, however this series will be one that both sides will wish to perform well in with the spoils of the T20 World Cup not too far away.

Australians in South Africa 2014: finally some 3rd test reflections

As I have written elsewhere I was a bit crook on Wednesday night and Thursday and thus not in a position write about Australia’s epic victory in the 3rd test at Newlands.

Having had some time to reflect and watch a replay of Day 5 now here are some thoughts on the 3rd test:

Ryan Harris: courage personified

It is obvious to everyone that Ryan Harris’ knee is buggered. It was not obvious to anyone until after the end of the game that he was not supposed to bowl in the second innings of this game. To come back with 5 overs to go when even he thought he was spent was nothing short of miraculous.

David Warner: match winner from the naughty corner

Readers of this blog will know my views on Warner and his behaviour. Take it as read that nothing that occurred on day 5 assuaged me from that view. If he were to be judged on his batting alone though he was head and shoulders about the rest in this series and was a worthy Man of Match and Man of the Series.

Only South Africa could have held on like they did

Anyone wanting an answer to the why South Africa are the number test nation in the world need to look at their second innings in this test match. There is not other team in the game, Australia included, though could have even gotten close to batting out the last day in the manner they did.

Boring? Pig’s Arse!

I have had a few alleged “fans” of cricket say to me that day 5 of this test was boring and not helpful to the marketing of cricket. This sentiment sends me off the deep end because the battle on day 5 is precisely what test cricket ought be about. It was enthralling and thrilling cricket.

Questioning the umpires decision and sledging: a victory tarnished

This has already been written about by some and I wholeheartedly agree: it is hard to celebrate a victory when, as a fan, you are embarrassed by the way your winning team has conducted itself on the field. Darren Lehmann has bought many positives to this team but it behaviour, including the way some players speak to the umpires is nothing short of appalling and is already a massive negative of Lehmann’s reign. Am I happy we won? Yes but I, as a fan, am ashamed as well.

There could not have been a better ending, from an Australian perspective to the 2013/14 summer of test cricket. Test cricket fans now have a long wait till October when a series against Pakistan is scheduled.

Australians in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test, Day 4 … Warner Wondrous and the bowler’s sublime

Australia is poised for victory at Newlands after a dominant day 4 in the third test. Forget the runs needed: On day 5 Australia need 6 wickets and and South Africa need to bat for 98 overs.

David Warner dominated with the bat on day 4 in one of his best hundreds in test cricket. His batting has simply been sublime in this series and in this innings he mixed brute strength with patience when the bowlers tested him with wide balls. He has set the game up for the Australians too because of haste with which he scores runs.

After Warner’s dominance, the bowlers came out and destroyed the South Africans in the first six overs before tea. Johnson and Harris were just outstanding mixing aggression with sublime stump to stump bowling. Just when the South Africans might have thought they had gotten to the end of the day in not a bad position Pattinson extracted Amla with a hooping inswinger.

Australia’s day again means that South Africa have not won a day and may not have won a session in this test match so far. They will need to win all three sessions on day 5 and the key man for them will again be A B de Villiers. His 16 so far has spanned 100 balls and he has the capacity to play long. The key man for Australia will be the captain: how he uses his bowlers will be vital on day 5.

Two final comments:

1. Graeme Smith’s last innings was a sad moment but also showed why his retirement was absolutely the right decision. Ricky Ponting spoke on “Australian Story” of the moment the “light went out” when it came to international cricket for him and it looks like the same has happened to Smith.

2. I commented on twitter about some the chat emanating from David Warner toward the umpires whilst batting and in the field. I have said it before and I will say it again: if Warner learned to shut his mouth he will go much further in the game. This conduct took the lustre off his hundred for me.

Tonight spells the last late night for Australian test match fans for a while and could also end with Australia sitting at number 2 in the world and within striking distance of number 1.

Australians in South Africa 2014: 3rd Test Day 3 … Reverse swing swings Australia’s way

Australia declared over night on 494 and sent the South African’s innings for what was the most important innings of this series.  By the end of day 3 Australia had again won the day and now are poised to win the series.

After the second test there was much talk about reverse swing and Australia’s lack of proficiency in that dark art.  When the ball started to “reverse” in the 27th over in the hand of Ryan Harris those in commentary first put the ball movement down to it hitting the seam before realizing that the Australian bowlers were in fact swinging the ball.  Such was the lack of expectation on the Australian bowlers.

Speaking of Ryan Harris, with a bad knee hanging on by a thread and awaiting major surgery, he charged in and bowled back to back spells that were the best spells by any bowler in the series so far.  His ball to extract Amla through the gate reminded me of his removal of Cooke in Perth.  Subtle movement at pace piercing the defence of one of the best batters in the world: that is what Ryan Harris does.

At the other end, Mitchell Johnson did what he had done since November.  He intimidated and he procured false strokes and acted as the perfect counter balance to Ryan Harris’ production at the other end.  I was one of the few people who questioned Johnson’s form line coming out of the Ashes, mostly because I considered his output in that series to more to do with England’s poor form than anything else. I have been proven overtly incorrect.

This has been a complete and absolute dismantling of the best team in the world by Australia’s newly rising line up.  It is South Africa’s turn now to counter punch.  If they do not then the game could well be over on day 4.

I wrote earlier about Graeme Smith’s retirement (  Nothing more needs to be said about that other than the fact that if South Africa ever needed something to play for on these final two days of the series they have it now.

A final comment: Faf du Plessis was quoted thusly in his press conference overnight on the topic of reverse swing:

“I must be honest, I was really surprised to see the ball reverse from their side,” du Plessis said.

“I think it was 27 overs when the ball started reversing, especially after rain and a wet outfield (from the day before). I was really surprised by that, so … let’s leave it at that.”

This sentiment was always going to arise after Warner’s comments in the lead up to the test match.  Whilst, du Plessis did not make a direct allegation against a particular player like Warner, in the interests of consistency I expect the ICC to have a look at the comments albeit I expect him to be exonerated.

Day 4 will again commence early to make up the time lost on Day 2.  The weather, according to the South African weather service, will be clear all day so we should have a full day of cricket to saviour.

Cricket: Graeme Smith retires

Graeme Smith, South Africa’s captain and opening batsman, has announced his retirement from cricket effective at at the end of this current test match at Newlands against Australia.

He said of his decision:

“This has been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make in my life. It’s a decision that I have been considering since my ankle surgery in April last year. I have a young family to consider, and I felt that retiring at Newlands would be the best way to end it because I have called this place home since I was 18 years-old.

“I have always been someone who has left everything out there on the field for my team and for my country. I’m extremely honoured and proud to have had the privilege to lead so many wonderful players and to have been a part of building the Proteas culture to what it is today. It is a culture that every player can be, and is, immensely proud of,” Smith continued.

“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the support from my parents and brother, my wife and children, my friends, my sponsors, my fans and to Cricket South Africa. I thank and honour the players who I have played with and those who have supported me and helped me to be the person and captain I am today. I have been fortunate to have had many highs, amongst them leading and being part of the best Test team in the world. I will cherish these memories for the rest of my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I bid my career a fond yet sad farewell,” the 33-year-old added.

Two memories of Smith’s career immediately spring to mind as a fan from Australia: the first showed his absolute devotion to the cause of South African cricket when he came out to bat with a broken hand in Sydney in 2006 and the second showed his utmost respect for the game when he organised an honour guard for the retiring Ricky Ponting at Perth in 2011.

He did not have the best or most attractive of techniques but when he got in he was very hard to get out and his record shows his penchant for big runs.

As a captain he played a massive part in bringing the Proteas to the top of world cricket, particularly in the test arena.

Just like Jacques Kallis in the series before this one, this is a sad farewell to a giant of the game and another hint at a time for regeneration in cricket in the Cape.

Thank you for the memories Mr Smith.

PostScript: Already I am reading smug comments from Australian fans to the effect that Australia and Mitchell Johnson have “caused” another retirement. Such comments are not unseemly but arrogant. Can we let this great player retire on his own terms without the hyperbole please?