Admitted, it has only been two days of test cricket in two matches; but one can sense, that for some, things will never change.
In South Africa, a fascinating contest between the top two teams is taking place, where after two days, the game seems fairly even. For that, the credit should go to Kallis. The bulwark of South Africa batting for more than a decade, has once again risen to the big occasion, and given his team the best possible position to win the game. As much as I am a big fan of Tendulkar, I find it a bit condescending that some people label Kallis as the ‘Tendulkar of South Africa’. Kallis is a legend in his own right, and if there is anyone who can catch up with Sachin in terms of Test centuries, only he stands a realistic chance. He has been ridiculously consistent all across the globe, and unlike other contemporary batting superstars, I don’t recall him being in any kind of poor form over the course of his career. The only thing which can stop him right now is his age and the toll on his body every time he comes out to play. Now, that he is unlikely to bat in the 2nd innings unless it is necessary, India will have gained some more confidence in their search for that elusive series victory in South Africa.
Across the seas, in Australia, you would be forgiven for having a sense of deja vu. Australia bat first, lose wickets at regular intervals, and concede the first day’s honors to England. The story of the series, really. There were some changes in the storyline of course; Australia had a new skipper and a new number 3 batsman, one of whom had a creditable outing. Hughes waited till he got to the 30s before giving his wicket to Tremlett; and thanks to rain, Australia were not bowled out in the first day itself. All these aside, what amuses me, is Watson’s inability to post a big score. Here is one of Australia’s in-form batsmen, who looks rarely troubled when he is at the crease, has the ability to both attack and defend capably, and has the important responsibility of setting the agenda for the game, given his batting position, form and situation of the series; but there he is, once again, looking set for a big one, before losing concentration to throw away his wicket. If North was infuriating for his wild inconsistencies, Watson is infuriating (to the Aussies!) for his ridiculous consistency in throwing away good starts. Given that Hughes is still fighting his own personal battles with technique, it is imperative for Watson to get big scores at the top of the order, and relieve some of the pressure faced by the brittle middle order. You can have all the technique and talent in the world, but if you can’t make use of it, what is the point? He would do well to look at a fellow allrounder in South Africa for inspiration.
Finally, here is the wisest quote of this infant year, so far:
You can make something out of anything. You can say Michael Beer is the first person to stick his tongue out 24/7 to play for Australia.
Its the end of a fascinating year in cricket – a year which included among many others, a maiden World T20 title for England, a thrilling end to Murali’s career, Laxman’s numerous houdini acts, the spot-fixing saga in England, Bangladesh whitewashing New Zealand in ODIs, Modi’s crash and burn, Sachin breaking barriers in ODIs and Tests, the declining fortunes of the Aussies, and of course, the Ashes retained by England. I can only hope for another year like that in 2011:
Khawaja scores a breath-taking ton in a losing cause against England at Sydney, as Collingwood scores a gritty double century to prolong his career.
Zaheer grabs a 10 wicket haul and Sehwag scores a double century to seal a historic series victory in South Africa, despite the best efforts of Amla and Steyn.
Pakistan and New Zealand take part in a thrilling ODI series, at the end of which, Ijaz Butt starts off on a rant, as to how it is all a big conspiracy to defraud Pakistan cricket, when someone reminds him that Pakistan have won.
The World Cup final is contested between India and England, which ends in a dramatic tie, after valiant performances by the unlikely duo of Strauss and Jadeja.
IPL 4 is won by Ganguly-led Kochi, after a whirlwind knock by Clarke (yes, Michael!) just pushes them over the line against Lara’s Pune (Clarke vs Lara, get it?).
England and India take part in a run-filled Test series featuring marathon batting knocks by Cook, Trott, Dravid and Harbhajan.
West Indies and Pakistan take part in a Test series, which is filled with countless mentions of how Darren Bravo’s stroke-play reminds one of Brian Lara, and how Amir’s return to international cricket is a disgrace to the beautiful game (cricket, in this instance!)
New Zealand skipper, chief selector, part-time cricket board chief – Dan Vettori, blasts the media, after taking umbrage to the remark that he was a poor man’s Shakib Al Hasan, at the end of another whitewash against Bangladesh even as coach Wright longs for another stint with India.
Zimbabwe invite Sri Lanka to take part in their domestic competition, after Sangakarra is left fuming at the lack of games for his team. Sri Lanka accept the invitation and travel to Zimbabwe, upon which the entire season is washed out due to rain, leading to the skipper’s remarks that it was the “worst first class season of my life”.
Things move fast in South Africa where Hashim Amla takes over the reins after De Villiers decides to take a break, to spend more time developing his music career. Paul Harris is the leading wicket taker of the year, after batsmen throw their wickets away attempting to slog him, after bearing the brunt of Steyn and Morkel.
India’s tour of Australia is mired in controversy, after new Aussie skipper Watson accuses India of deliberately destroying Johnson’s career by smashing him all around the park with scant respect. It completely overshadows career defining performances by Pujara, Unadkat, Ferguson and Beer.
Finally, the leading run scorer and wicket taker of the year are, Ian Bell and some fast bowler Pakistan unearthed at the beginning of 2011.
Its Christmas time, and what better way of spending time, than watching some high quality cricket, around the clock, and from around the world. First, of course there is the Ashes, with the possibility of England retaining the Ashes well before the New Year; then there, is the India-SA clash, with both teams itching to prove that they are the better team. We also have a Pak-NZ clash down under, where two teams who have had tumultuous years will be desperate to start the new year well. Here, then, is my Christmas wish-list:
For Australia to display the same performance they did at Perth.
For England to show that their performance in the same match was just a matter of one bad game.
For Watson to finally score a century (hey, I’m in the Christmas spirit!)
For Ponting to display some of his old batting brilliance.
For Beer to play, so that we can all be subjected to some creative, and some horrible, puns.
For Swann to showcase a masterclass of spin.
For the English bowling to prove that they don’t need Broad again (wishful thinking, really)
Finally, for Australia to lose in a nail-biting finish.
For the Boxing day test, to be a contest worthy of a clash between the top two teams in the world.
For more bowler-friendly conditions for the two teams.
For India to show some spunk in the batting, in tough conditions.
For the Indian bowlers to jog their memory, and try to remember how to take wickets.
For Harbhajan to forget his batting and concentrate more on his bowling.
For Zaheer to stay fit for the next 3 months at the least.
For the likes of Amla, Kallis, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman to display some vintage Test batting.
For Paul Harris to be smashed out of the attack.
Finally, for India to win the Test, so that the 3rd Test will be worth watching.
For the series to go ahead without one controversy, atleast!
Merry Christmas, everybody, and have a joyful new year!!
Well, well, that was unexpected. I have to admit….I didn’t see that coming. I was pretty sure that Australia would fail to win any of the tests in the remainder of the series, after Adelaide. Like many, I have been proved wrong, and like a few, I am pleased.
I say that I am pleased, because as much as I love to see Australia getting thrashed, it is no fun, when there is barely a contest between two sides. The reason why I hated the Australian team of the late 90s and early 2000s in the first place, is that they barely allowed the opposition to compete with them on the same level. When one side dominates the other, so often, it can be off-putting, most times.
That’s why I am glad to see the return of Mitchy’s Australia; because that’s who I associate a contemporary dominant Australian team with. When Johnson is in the right frame of mind, with the bat or ball, everything falls in place. We got the first glimpses of the return to form, on day 1 of the Test, when he was batting. Unlike most batsmen before him, his head was still, he stroked the ball confidently, and when he decided that the ball had to go, there were no half measures with the swing of his blade.
Then came, his turn with the ball. After enduring months of scorn and ridicule from the press and public alike, justifiably, for his inconsistencies, he roared back to deliver one of the best spells of swing and pace. The English batsmen, who haven’t been troubled since the first day at Brisbane, suddenly found themselves unsure of whether to go back or forward; and before they could make up their mind, they were either trapped in front of the wicket, or had to parry the ball somwhere into the slip cordon.
And just like that, Australia were back in the game. Johnson’s performance was so typically Aussie, that when the team realized that he was back to his best, they started to resemble the team of old. Testosterone levels gradually increased throughout the day, and the verbals started to fly, with even an invitation for an after-game joust, extended to (or by) Prior. The balls started to find the fielders, boundaries were contained, and even Mr Grumpy (Ponting) began to smile more and more.
Just to prove, that this was not an one-innings or one-bowler miracle, Ryan Harris joined the party in the second innings. Bowling with sustained pace and bounce, he skittled out the middle order, who very strangely, gave up the fight easily. After all the talk of preventing complacency, they still seemed to be surprised by the fightback shown by the Aussies, and resembled a pale imitation of the team which played in Adelaide.
This is not to say, that Australia’s problems are solved. Their batting, with the exception of Watson, Hussey and Haddin, still seem to be iffy, and Ponting’s participation for the rest of the series seems to be doubtful. It also remains to be seen, if the bowlers can sustain the improved performance for the next two games. And finally, there is the small matter of deciding, if they want to keep going with the 4 man pace attack, or introduce a spinner to mix things up a bit.
England will still remain favorites to retain the Ashes, for the simple reason, that bad games like the Perth Test, have been very rare for them over the last 18 months. They will be hurting, and the likes of Swann and Collingwood, will have lots to prove, after their disappointing performaces. Its unlikely that England, with the likes of Flower at the helm, will make the same mistakes again. They will come to Melbourne with a fresh game plan and stronger mental attitude.
All in all, it will make for a riveting last leg of the series; because, finally, we have two teams competing on the same level. For that, we have to thank Mitchy…for reminding his team-mates – that there is the Ashes at stake, and more importantly, what the Australian fighting spirit is all about.
How much more shambolic can Australian selectorial policy get? They dropped a rookie left arm spinner with a poor first class record, and replaced him with a rookie left arm spinner with a poor first class record (or even lack of a first class record)! How hard is it to swallow your pride, accept your mistakes, and pick tried and tested players, for the biggest series of the year? Either way, the selection of Beer will give lots of opportunities for some terrible puns through the next two weeks, for bloggers and commentators alike.
At least, they dropped North, and i doubt if Smith could do any worse. Bollinger isn’t fit enough to figure in this side, and it will be interesting to see, if Johnson will come back in the playing XI, and more interestingly, how will he respond?
PS: If the Beer experiment works out, I can see Fosters swooping on him for an endorsement deal!
The Squad for the third test:
Shane Watson, Phillip Hughes, Ricky Ponting (capt), Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin (wk), Steven Smith, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Michael Beer, Ben Hilfenhaus.
Shane Watson doesn’t like to score centuries. He is satisfied with 50s.
Simon Katich might have just played his last Test innings, and the innings itself was typical of the man: stubborn and workman-like.
The last time, Ponting struggled so much to score runs in a series, was way back in 2001 against India. That didn’t end well.
The last time Clarke got out in the last over of the 4th day in an Ashes match, was back in Edgbaston 2005. In both matches, Australia lost. Just shows how crucial, Clarke’s role is going to be in the coming years; especially in the absence of battle hardened veterans like Ponting and Hussey.
Michael Hussey continues to be the man in form for Australia. It is hard to imagine, how they would have fared if they had dropped him before the Gabba test.
If North is retained for the next test, Australia deserve to lose the Ashes. If the likes of Johnson, Hauritz and Hilfenhaus can be dropped after unconvincing performances, I wonder, based on what criteria, is North still surviving?
Haddin put up a decent performance in front of the stumps, but his work behind it, still needs improvement.
Harris would not like to remember this match for his batting, or for the lack of it; but he was the best bowler in England’s only innings. That is not saying much about the Aussie bowling.
Doherty was picked purely in the hope, that Pietersen would gift his wicket to him, considering the fact that he is a left arm spinner; but now that he helped KP regain his form, and put up a terrible performance in the field, it is hard to imagine, that he will play the next test; given the whimsical state of the selections so far, that cannot be ruled out either.
Siddle has come back to earth with a thud, after THAT hat-trick. He is still searching for a wicket, since he got the scalp of Broad on Day 1 of the Gabba test.
Much was expected of Bollinger, after many felt that he had been unfairly dropped at the Gabba. Once selected for the 2nd test, though, he proceeded to demonstrate, how much worse Johnson could have bowled.
Strauss played all of three balls in the match, and then sat back to enjoy a masterclass from the rest of the batting line-up.
Once the least threatening batsman in the line-up, Cook has firmly established himself as the prize scalp. If Australia don’t get a measure of him soon, he might end up breaking Bradman’s record for most runs in an Ashes series.
Trott is turning out to be the rock of England’s batting. He brings a sense of calm and stability to the batting order, and looks in great touch. Also, his run-out of Katich in the first over, well and truly set the cat among the pigeons.
The ego has returned to the building. KP is back with a bang, after a typically belligerent innings. As much as his return to form will please the English fans, the intact penchant to keep going, even after reaching a ton, will be more pleasing.
Collingwood has not been required too much so far, but his presence in the field, cannot be understated.
When Bell is scoring so consistently at each opportunity that presents itself, you know all is well with the England team.
Prior went un-noticed throughout the match; just the way a keeper likes it.
Broad’s series has come to an end; his contribution being two wickets in two matches and being the third victim of Siddle’s hat-trick at the Gabba; I’m sure that it will hurt him not to be part of an historic Ashes triumph, after his performances over the last year.
Swann has come to the party, and showed why he is considered to be the best spinner in international cricket right now. After a rough test at the Gabba, the team joker learned quickly, and going by his performance in the recent test, will prove to be a thorn in the flesh of the Aussie batsmen for the rest of the summer.
KP might have walked away with the MoM, but no player made an impact on the match in the manner Jimmy Anderson did. Bowling with pace, swing and an aggression, which is at odds with the persona in Swann’s video diaries, Anderson was responsible for putting Australia under pressure immediately after they won the toss and chose to bat. Once and for all, he has put to rest, all the talk over his indifferent performances in the last tour. He has also risen to the 3rd position in the rankings, just behind Steyn and Swann.
Finn continued to enhance his knack of taking wickets of crucial batsmen at crucial junctures. In the absence of Broad for the rest of the series, his performaces will become more important in the coming weeks.
It is hard to see Australia coming back in this series, considering the shambles, in which the batting, bowling and fielding is in; but then again, this is Australia we’re talking about. It isn’t over till its over.
England have prepared meticulously for this series, for a long time now, and the rewards are paying off. Despite Broad’s absence for the rest of the series, they have the players to fill the vacancy, and march forward to one of their most important Ashes victories in recent memory.