Show some respect: an open letter to the Cricket Press

Michael Clarke ponders his retirement decision on final day of the 4th Ashes Test (photo via ESPN Cricinfo)

Michael Clarke ponders his retirement decision on final day of the 4th Ashes Test (photo via ESPN Cricinfo)

Michael Clarke announced his resignation as captain of the Australian cricket team and his retirement from all forms of cricket only 3 days ago.  I confess that I have not been a massive fan of Michael Clarke over the years however I felt a significant sense of loss at the confirmation of the end his, frankly, magnificent career.

Regardless of my negative feelings as a fan of the game, towards Michael Clarke, I have been, frankly, appalled at his treatment by the press, in both Australia and England, in the aftermath of his retirement.  Stories containing allegations ranging from a schism with other players through to an alleged offer to return his baggy green cap have been splashed across our broadsheets.

I just don’t understand why these stories are especially relevant now? Yes we all want to know the circumstances that surround such a poor performance by the Australian team in this Ashes series BUT to do so in the immediate aftermath of Clarke’s retirement is not only unseemly but it is massively disrespectful of a man who:

  • Has held the highest office in the land (including the Prime Ministerial office) for a not insignificant period of time.
  • Has played 114 test matches for his country and has, until the last 12 months, performed consistently at the highest of levels to average over 50 runs per innings.
  • Showed his measure as not only a leader but as a man, leading a whole sport, let alone his country, in grief after the passing of Phil Hughes.

This attack on not only Clarke’s career but his character almost has a pre-planned feel to it.  Whether you liked him or loathed him he did not deserve this in what ought to have been a period in which his career should be being lauded.

I have to say I am especially appalled by the revelations that have come from Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds this week.  Again I ask: why now? And again this attack from these former players appears to have been both pre-planned and based on a personal dislike for Clarke.  To attack a former player in such an open and unseemly manner immediately after his retirement is nothing short of petty.  To say I have lost a lot of respect for both Hayden and Symonds this week would be an understatement.

The Cricket Press have much to answer for and I can only implore them now to call off the metaphorical attack dogs and show Michael Clarke some respect which he has certainly earned.

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.

The Ashes Washup: I got it wrong and I love it!

On 19 November last year, in advance of the start of the Ashes series, I posted “5 Fearless Predictions” on this blog apropos key performances that I believed would play a large factor in who won the Ashes.

Those predictions were:

  1. There would be only one winning in the Broad v Australian crowd battle and the winner’s team would likely win the Ashes.
  2. Michael Clarke would average less than 35.00 with the willow.
  3. The Australian XI for the Sydney test match would be different to that of the Brisbane test match.
  4. Kevin Pietersen will score a hundred and will offend everyone.
  5. No matter what happens the “Three Stooges” will survive.

I also had been fairly overt in my dismay, at the time, about the selection of Mitchell Johnson. Obviously I got that one woefully wrong along with my predictions about Michael Clarke’s performance, possible changes to the Australian XI and Pietersen scoring a hundred.

I had also posited that the result would be, according to my heart, Australia to win 2-1 and, according to my head, England to win 2-1.  Again: I was wrong.

One of the most mimicked lines of Richie Benaud is “It’s a funny old game cricket” and this completed Ashes tour has certainly taught us that.

Ordinarily I would have a case of the “dirts” because I got my predications wrong but how could I be negative about a 5-0 whipping of the English? Simply put: I can not be!  That said, I am now working hard to manage my own expectations of the Australian team for the coming series in South Africa.  That series will not be anywhere near as easy as this one just completed was and any hint of complacency will be exploited by the best team in the world, for the moment.

A final point: I never in my wildest dreams thought England would be so bad on this tour.  Mitchell Johnson, in his acceptance speech for the Man of the Series award, commented that England never stopped fighting during the series: Ben Stokes aside I respectfully disagree.  England’s capitulations in both innings in the final test of the series were indicative of a side that had given up: nothing more and nothing less.  I genuinely hope that Andy Flower and Alistair Cook can get the Poms back on track because whilst I love nothing more than beating them, seeing competitive cricket against them in previous series has been a joy.

Ashes Countdown Day 49: Now the Captain is hurt!

Michael Clarke has been quoted today, when asked about his prospects of playing in the first test at the Gabba on 21 November 2013:

"There is certainly no guarantee at this stage," Clarke said. "It’s hard for me to say that because I’m trying my best not to look at it like that. I’m always positive. If you ask me I’ll say "Oh, I’ll be fit in a week’s time’. But if you ask [Australian physio] Alex [Kountouris], who knows me very well, I’d imagine he’d certainly say that there’s doubt that I won’t be right.

"Where I sit right now is I don’t know when I’ll be back playing cricket. We have no idea how long it’s going to take."

Well isn’t this magnificent?!?

Off the back of Australia’s drubbing in England this year we face the prospect of losing our premier batsman and captain for the first test. Actually, read the quote from Clarke again for moment: this problem could last longer than just until the first test. Simply: he does not know when the injury is going to be good enough to play again.

Therein lies another problem: Clarke’s preparation, even if he is fit, is going to be horribly underdone. This, obviously, is not a good thing for Clarke or the Australian team particularly given the already truncated preparation many of Australia’s players are going to have because of the ridiculous scheduling decisions made by Cricket Australia for this summer of domestic cricket.

I hope Clarke is fit and I hope he is fit in time to play in at least one of the first class games scheduled before the Ashes start. If he is not than Australia will be further on the back foot than it already is because of poor scheduling.

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?