Australia in South Africa: talking points

Whilst Australia remains in the heart of a short form cricket series against the England, I was reminded yesterday that we are only 2 weeks away from the start of Australian tour to South Africa. I have been involved in much water cooler talk, twitter discussion and pub ranting about the selection of Australia’s squad for this tour and have spent much time pondering how this tour might go for the Australians and it is clear to me that this tour has piqued an equal, if not greater, level of interest to any overseas tour by the Australian as I can remember of late.

Here are some talking points that have come to the front of mind when thinking about this tour:

1. Does Australia have a chance?

This tour is, afterall, a tour slated as a heavyweight bought between the current number 1 team, South Africa, and the, suddenly, new incumbent challenger for the heavy weight cricket crown, Australia. I wonder though if that incumbency has arisen under a false pretence? Yes Australia played well to defeat England in the Ashes but the more I re-watch the highlights of each test I am left with the nagging suspicion that Australia was flattered by just how bad the English were in Australia. Australia will not be able to draw on, for example, so many opposition wickets to bad shots and bad balls because the South African line up is just too disciplined for that. Don’t get me wrong: in any contest between two rivals both combatants always have a chance of victory so the answer to the question raised above is somewhat rhetorical BUT I suspect Australia’s chances are slimmer than many expect.

2. Who will bat 3 for Australia?

In the Ashes series Shane Watson held down the number slot with George Bailey batting at number 6. Bailey’s replacements in the squad, Doolan and Marsh (assuming he returns to fitness), are both top order batters who have spent the bulk of their careers (if not all) batting at no lower than number 4 in the order. One would have to think that one of Doolan or Marsh (if selected) would bat at number 3 and Watson would shuffle down the order to number 6 and play a true all rounder role. Why else would Inverarity have picked two top order replacements?

3. How will Australia react once there is "chum" in the water?

South Africa have made a mockery of many batting lineups in the last 2 years and have an imposing record of having bowled out opponents for less than 50 three times in that span. Metaphorically speaking, once the "chum" of early wickets floats in front of the sharks that are Steyn, Philander and Morkel, often batting line ups can find no way to get out of the chum trail and find themselves back in the field shortly thereafter. There is a frailty at the top of Australia’s batting line up that tells me that at some point they will face this scenario and if they react poorly a test could be taken away from them in a blink of an eye.

4. Warner v Steyn

I have been watching a lot of highlights of D Steyn’s bowling on YouTube of late. The biggest impression gained from this perusal is that Steyn bowls out left handed batters with weak defensive techniques for sport. He will go around the wicket to David Warner and will probe around his off stump at 145kms moving the ball both ways. Warner has shown a renewed application and focus on his craft against England in Australia however facing Dale Steyn is, in young people speak,"next level" and any weakness in his defence will be exposed.

5. No Kallis: no worries?

The South African hierarchy must have been planning for the retirement of J Kallis for some time but now that that time is here there will be a sharp focus on whomever replaces Kallis in the lineup. It is not possible to replace a player of Kallis’ stature (better than Tendulkar in my view) and thus how South Africa seeks to cover the hole left by this icon of the game’s absence will be both intriguing and, potentially, integral to the ultimate outcome of the series.

I have been asked by many to posit what the outcome of this series will be and I am sad to say that I am tipping, as much as it hurts my heart to do so, a South African series victory. I hope I am wrong but I remain worried about items such as the selection of out of form players by Australia, injuries to bowlers and the form line generally coming from the Ashes. Equally, it will be an enthralling series filled with moments of much drama and, possibly, the defining of some careers. Bring on the late nights night and banter!

Cricket: Will the administrators listen to Rahul Dravid?

I have waiting until this evening to read the speech of Rahul Dravid to the ESPNcricinfo For Cricket Summit and to say it is a must read for any cricket fan would be an understatement. If you want to read it in full here is a link to the speech http://www.espncricinfo.com/cricinfo-for-cricket/content/story/663447.html

In describing test cricket Dravid relies on an allegory about a tree to make the point that test cricket is the life blood of the game. He says:

“Test cricket, an older, larger entity is the trunk of a tree and the shorter game – be it T20 or ODIs – is its branches, its offshoots,” he said. “Now to be fair, it is the branches that carry the fruit, earn the benefits of the larger garden in which they stand and so catch the eye. The trunk, though, is the old, massive, larger thing which took a very long time to reach height and bulk. But it is actually a life source: chip away at the trunk or cut it down and the branches will fall off, the fruit will dry up.”

Dravid expresses concern for test match cricket and suggests a series of improvements to assist the development of the game such as:

  • Re-working first-class and test match cricket contracts to increase the pay of players who specialise in those forms.
  • Regularising the itinerary of all cricket so that in test cricket all teams play each other in a four year cycle.
  • Introduce marques tournaments in a test match context: a Champions trophy of Test Match cricket for example.
  • Improving first class competitions in developing nations or smaller, less resourced countries.
  • For less resourced countries integrating overseas teams into the domestic competitions of better resourced countries. Dravid suggests a Bangladesh team playing in India, a Zimbabwe team in South Africa, a West Indian team in England and a New Zealand team in Australia.

I love the ideas in this speech from Rahul Dravid and I have to say I only hope that the administrators of the game worldwide look at this roadmap for improving the game of cricket and actually take on board the ideas presented. If they do not then the fear that Dravid states for the game, I suspect will become reality.

Dravid warns:

“We are, I believe, maybe one generation away from reaching the point where our entire youth structures could cater only to T20 without any emphasis on the longer form of the game. By not giving young players a chance to explore their versatility, endurance or even improvisational skills, we will be selling ourselves and our sport well short.”

I can only pray he is wrong!