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!

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?

Australia v South Africa, Second Test, Adelaide Oval: The keys to victory

After a seemingly extended break, albeit one of only a week, the second test of the summer is upon us with the currently under construction Adelaide Oval the venue.  Australia has named an unchanged line up for this fixture with Watson still out with a calf injury and Starc possibly the unluckiest player in the country at the moment.  South Africa have made the obvious change in bring in Tahir for the out of depth Kleinveldt and have replaced JP Duminy with Faf du Plessis.

Much has been made about the importance of this fixture in the context of this only being a three test series and there are so many previews out there that I do not intend to trump them in this post.  Keeping up the tradition of my posts from the first test at the Gabba though during this game I will again gaze into my crystal each day before play and present my five keys for each day.  Given that my crystal ball has not told me who will win the toss today I will kick things off with my five keys to victory for this test.

1. The Toss

Win the toss and bat: it is as simple as that.  Whilst the direct corralation between doing that and winning probably has not played out in some tests of recent times (Ashes 2006/07 a key example) it would be fair to say that the side that wins the toss in this fixture will be positively ebullient whilst the looser of the toss will need to lift the slumping shoulders of their fast bowlers.  The paradox with winning the toss and batting at Adelaide is that if things move swiftly in the Test the team batting last could find themselve batting in the most benign conditions.  However I am sure that is a risk both captains will be prepared to take. 

2. Into the Lyon’s den?

Home town hero Nathan Lyon returns for his second outing in Adelaide having spun Australia to victory with the wickets of Sehwag, Laxman and Tendulkar in the second innings at the same ground last year. With the Australians again one bowler short without the inclusion of Watson I expect Lyon to bowl a lot of overs into the wind in this fixture and whether he can contain a Protea top six seemingly hell bent on giving him some tap will be a large determiner of the outcome of this game.

3. Jacque’s back: 5th bowler or bit player?

Converse to the seemingly understrength Australian bowling line up, the attack of the South Africans looks much more balanced on paper with Kallis filling the key role of fourth seamer.  The “on paper” part of that sentence is vital however because in Brisbane Kallis, seemingly hampered by a sore back only bowled 12 overs out of the 138 bowled to the Australians during their mammoth first innings.  If Kallis does not bowl then the Proteas line up has a similar look to the Australians; viz., it looks one bowler short.

4. Clarke v Amla: the heavyweight batting championship of the world

Ignore the ratings of the ICC for the moment: Clarke and Amla are presently the two best batsmen in the world by a very very long margin.  In what presents as a three round contest to determine the batting champion for 2012 it would be fair to say that Clarke won the first round decisively in Brisbane.  That of itself is a tip of the cap to Clarke’s quality given that Amla’s batting in Brisbane was a joy to behold for any serious cricket fan.  When both of these modern day champions score runs they do so in big partnerships and their team more often than not wins. The winner of this second round of three in Adelaide may very well lead their team to victory in this fixture.

5. No balls: the Chris Lynn factor 

Pardon the obviously low brow pun arising out of the unfortunate injury to Chris Lynn’s private parts in the domestic one-day fixture in Brisbane last night because this is a serious issue.  After 3 wickets were overturned as a result of overstepping in Brisbane it may very well be the team that oversteps less in this test that wins the game.  That is how close this game might be.  Neither team can afford to be forced to get two or three wickets extra at a ground where historically getting a side out twice is a tall order.

I would love to see Australia win this game but I still do not believe they have picked the right team: the failure to select Mitchell Starc has left me scratching what little hair I have left.  South Africa should be refreshed after taking the rest of last week off in the tropics of Queensland and their bowlers will be looking to restamp their perceived dominance.  This test match again presents as a mouth watering encounter that should again stretch into the fifth day.  Play commences at 10:30am local time which is 10am for those on the eastern side of Australia (those of you in the daylight saving jurisdictions please adjust accordingly).