Australia in South Africa 2014: 1st Test ponderings

Let’s get this out of the way at the outset: this win by the Australian cricket team was their best performance in at least the last 24 months.  Yes, Australia defeated England but this was a win against the best team in the world.  A team that had not been bested in 19 test matches was just destroyed by the Australian team.

Mitchell Johnson bowled better than at any time during the Ashes series and that is saying much.  He bowled with pace and hostility but also, when the pitch changed, he threw in some excellent variations.  The ball of the game that showed Australia’s out and out domination of this game was in the last innings: Hashim Amla, one of the best batters of the last 5 years, was struck by a Johnson thunderbolt on the grill of the helmet.  This was a ball that Amla did not appear to see it and was rocked on his heals which is exactly what the Australians did to South Africans all game.

Another example of Australia’s dominance of this game and, indeed, an indication of just how well Australia played is that this test is the first in this current winning streak in wish Brad Haddin was NOT needed to play a significant role with the willow.

For the South Africans, Graeme Smith will be rueing his decision at the toss which will go down in history as a akin to Nasser Hussian’s toss imbroglio at Brisbane in 2002.  He will also be rueing lapses in the field that are so unlike the South African team that one suspects that they have to be an aberration at best. There is much to work on and much improvement in this camp: they must come up with a plan for dealing with Mitchell Johnson and they must find a way to get Dale Steyn fit for the first morning of the next test match.  They also must seek to reverse the trend of Australia coming back from adverse circumstances which has been the cornerstone of their wins in the last 6 test matches.

This is a golden 6 months for Australian cricket: every strategy that Michael Clarke seems to put in place, at least since the first day at the Gabba in November, has come off.  The batters that are being plucked from Sheffield Shield cricket without semblance of form are performing at the top flight. I can not remember the last time an Australian team played the same four bowlers for 6 test matches in a row.

There is a short turnaround between this test match and the next: the second test commences on 20 February.  As I wrote yesterday, Australia will select the same  team for the second test regardless of the fitness of Shane Watson.  South Africa have to look at their spin bowler selection and also have to look at what they do at the top of the order.  I expect both Petersons to be missing from the next test perhaps with Amla to open.

This result, more than any of the last six wins, has the feel about it that Australia has defeated a team of, at least, equals rather than a team in decline.  If the same result arises in the test match though then questions will be asked about whether this is a South African team in decline too.  It certainly will be interesting to see how the second test evolves right from the toss of the coin.

Australia names it squad for South Africa and Sheffield Shield form counted for nothing!

I wrote this morning about the selection of the Australian Squad to travel to South Africa for the test series commencing on 12 February 2014.

George Bailey has been dropped from the squad.  The new batsmen selected are Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan.  The reserve bowlers selected are James Pattinson and Jackson Bird.

As I noted in the post this morning and reaffirm in the title to this post: form in Australia’s first class competition, the Sheffield Shield, has counted for nothing at the selection table. The top run getters in the domestic game in this country have not been selected. Rather, this series of scores has seen Shaun Marsh return to the test squad:

  • 6 and 47
  • 4 and 13
  • 127 not out
  • 42 and 4
  • 1 and 4

How does one regain a place in the national team when scoring only 248 runs in 5 matches at an average of 31.00? Is scoring two half centuries against a mediocre English bowling attack at the end of a shattering season really enough? That is all that Shaun Marsh has done this season.

On the side of the bowlers: am I alone in being completely lost by the strategy of the NSP here? Jackson Bird has not played in a first class game, test matches included, since he played for Australia in August at Chester-le-Street.  His season thus far has consisted of T20 games and one List A fixture for Australia A.  James Pattinson has not played the longest form of the game since he was injured at Lords in July.  He too has played some T20 games and has now appeared for Australia in an ODI.  How can either player be match fit and, more importantly, match hardened if they are called on in South Africa?  With Ryan Harris’ knee a match by match proposition, isn’t it too much to expect the replacement fast bowlers to step in and bowl, potentially 25 overs a day, with only very limited limited overs cricket under their belts?  I just don’t get the thinking!

Cricket Australia needs to have a significant look at the Sheffield Shield competition in this country if the best that is coming from it is a player who averages 31.00 and no one with the ball.  That is really what the NSP is saying with this team isn’t it: no bowler in first class cricket is good enough to be in the squad so we will select two players who have not played in the long form for over six months instead.  Or am I missing something?

Australia v South Africa, 3rd Test, WACA: some musings

The 3rd test came to an end yesterday, with the Michael Clarke described “grand final” not going the way of the Australian team as they were thumped by the world’s best red ball cricket team from South Africa.

As I flew from Port Hedland to Perth yesterday afternoon so as to be in Perth for the fifth day of the test match that did not eventuate I had time to give some consideration to the game and some of the performances of the key, and not so key, players for each side.

An easy place to start is the retirement of Ricky Ponting. I think we all knew he was under pressure, some journalists made it their mission to make sure he was under pressure even if Cricket Australia did not seem to be suggesting he was. Even so I was shocked to hear that he was retiring at the end of this test match. His performances in this series and indeed in this game were not cognisant with those of the Ponting of old however we still did see glimpses of his greatness. I don’t think Australian fans will fully appreciate how much R T Ponting will be missed until the Ashes in the middle of next year.

The “resting” of fast bowlers Siddle and Hilfenhaus for such an important game and the inclusion of a bowler many had put into the “has been” category in Mitchell Johnson and a debutant in John Hastings surprised and infuriated many. It might be stating the obvious but this experiment did not work given the haste with which the Proteas scored in the second innings of this match. I thought Hastings acquitted himself well as did Mitchell Starc however with Shane Watson again, it would seem, on limited bowling duties the need for a genuine bowling allrounder in this side was again glaringly obvious. Whether Hastings is the man for the job remains to be seen.

The batting of Amla was again sublime in this game and AB de Villiers got the “monkeys” in the media off his back by scoring his first hundred since Mark Boucher’s unfortunate accident in the UK. More importantly for the Proteas, Vernon Philander showed the form that has seen him dominate batting orders the world over and took some big wickets. As did Dale Steyn, who finally seemed to find form and his self proclaimed “crazy eyes”. The former medium pace bowler in me felt some joy watching these two bowlers at the top of their games even though they were bowling to an Australian team I hoped would win this test and win it well.

Speaking of batting, it goes without saying that whilst some of Australia’s wickets could be put down to the excellent bowling efforts of the Proteas it can also be said that Australia’s batsmen also contributed to their own downfall with some poor, and particularly aggressive in some cases, shot selection. Whether this is a hangover from the shortest form of the game I am not going to speculate however it would be fair to say the difference between the two teams in this series ended up being that one team could bat for long periods to secure a draw and the other could not.

Attention now turns, for Australian fans, to the start of the series against the Sri Lankans at Bellerive Oval on 13 December. Of course Cricket Australia has done the national team no favours in its scheduling with the Big Bash League starting this Friday so it will remain to be seen whether the team selected can remain in red ball cricket form on the most bowler friendly pitch in the country. There will be much interest in the replacement of Ricky Ponting for this game and readers should watch this blog over the coming days for my views on the potential replacement options.

Australia v South Africa, 2nd test, final day

Sorry all: no time for a lengthy pre-last day blog about the 2nd test. Between work, birthday stuff and feeling a little poorly time has gotten away from me.

Suffice it to say it presents as an excellent day of cricket today. Many are writing off the Proteas however if they can get to lunch without loosing a wicket that surely gives them a sniff of a draw and makes Kallis batting again a real possibility. For Australia this must be Nathan Lyon’s day for a victory to be assured and a big question for me is just how many overs M Clarke will bowl. Surely him bowling in tandem with Lyon is the way to go today.

It will be a great day of cricket. Bring on 10am!

Australia v South Africa: 2nd test, day 4

Day 4 of the second test from Adelaide dawns today with the match fairly evenly poised. I did not get to watch any of the game yesterday due to a golf commitment and will be similarly indisposed today playing in the Ipswich Rugby League Old Boys Golf Day out at the Rosewood Golf Club.

Nonetheless, I have watched the highlights package of today’s play and analysed the score card and have some thoughts on what will be the keys to success for the combatants on day four.

1. The battle of the captains: Clarke v Smith

I think it would be fair to say there have been moments in this test, indeed in this series, where one of the two captains has clearly had the ascendancy in both the position of the game and the tactical nous they have put into their decision making. The game is even at the moment and could very well come down to which of the captains “bests” the other captain in the game of high stakes chess this test match has become.

2. How many runs is too many?

The largest run chase at the Adelaide Oval to win in the 4th innings is a little over 300 runs set in 1910. I think that record could be broken here simply because there is so much time remaining in this game and how good the pitch still is to bat on. Two full days of cricket remain or 180 overs. A lot can happen in that time and thus the run chase set by the Australians for their South African counterparts (if they are allowed to set a target rather than being bowled out) needs to be enough that the draw is secure as a result but also needs to be low enough so as to entice the Proteas to go for it.

3. Clarke / Hussey: can they do it again?

If Australia’s first innings showed fans one thing only, it was who fragile Australia’s batting lineup is at numbers 7 through 11 against quality bowling. Thus the course of the game will rest heavily on the shoulders of the men at the crease presently. If Clarke and Hussey can stay together till about tea today then it will be likely that the game will be out of the Proteas reach. Conversely if one of them falls early this morning then there is another real prospect that Australia will be “6 out and all out” (Siddle having been and gone as night watchman) which will open the game up for a South African run chase.

All of what happens today hinges on the partnership noted above and thus I have no more “keys” for readers to look for today. I for one will be glued to my cricket score apps on the golf course willing the Clarke / Hussey combination to another big partnership. If they can not produce one I fear that the game will fall directly into the hands of the South Africans.

It will be another fascinating day of cricket. I hope you enjoy it!

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!