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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cricket Notes - October 28, 2014

Test Spin Woes With Both Bat and Ball

In light of the overwhelming defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the 1st Test, the usual suspects have been thrown up by journalists and fans alike as to the root cause of the demise, and the solutions to problems faced with trying to recover in four days to arrest and reverse that defeat. One thing that everyone knows won't change will be the pitch and the weather, so it is the Australians who must adapt quickly if they are to provide a better fist of the occasion.

The batting is where Australia failed to match their opponents in a situation where they should have done better. Alex Doolan ran out himself out in the first innings after a tedious hour at the crease, and then played back poorly in the second innings when he needed to consolidate on the fourth evening. Having copped a pace barrage at number three in South Africa he is now faced with spin from both ends in this series. It's a tough initiation, but one he needs to come to terms with quickly if he wants to be retained in the squad. Looming large over his shoulder is the ever present (when ever he is fit) Shane Watson, while there is every chance Phil Hughes could slot in at number three for the 2nd Test here. You would hope that the selectors would give Doolan the chance to redeem himself on Friday, given his century in the warm up match. Given the chop and change in recent times that is not an absolute given.
Michael Clarke, Australia's best player of spin, faced only a combined 22 balls in both innings. In these conditions, against this attack, the question of the skipper batting at number three should be raised again. If spin is going to be prevalent, he should be the man coming in to face it. Everyone knows he won't do this, and more is the pity. He should have done it in India last year, and he should do it now. Despite this, he needs to lead from the front in the 2nd Test. If he gets going it increases Australia's chances tenfold. Mitch Marsh was solid on debut without contributing heavily on the scoreboard. The jury is still out as to whether he can hold his spot at number six at this time, but the overs he bowls are needed on this tour to give the others a rest. A good contribution with both in the next Test will at least see him in with a chance of playing against India in December.
Warner, Rogers and Smith all batted well, though only Warner with his century in the first innings was able to go on and make a big score. Each showed the patience that is required in this setting, though each will be disappointed with the way they were dismissed in each innings. They will need to do the same again come Thursday. For once Brad Haddin was unable to save the team, and though he had a couple of lives Mitch Johnson was terrific in scoring 37 and 55.

With the ball Johnson and Peter Siddle did everything that could have been asked of them as seamers in those conditions. Though they did not appear to get the ball to reverse too much, they didn't concede easy runs and kept as much pressure on as possible. It is doubtful that either Ben Hilfenhaus or James Faulkner could have done any better than Siddle's effort. The only possible threat to his place for the 2nd Test is Mitch Starc, whose greater pace and better ability to reverse the older ball could prove to be a more potent weapon in these conditions. As he also tends to bowl around the wicket 80 percent of the time, it would not be like picking two left hand fast bowlers would be a problem in regards to similar bowling styles.
The two spinners were mostly ineffective, certainly in comparison to their Pakistan counterparts. Steve O'Keefe has never been a big turner of the ball, and has always worked on wearing down batsmen for his wickets. His selection for his Test debut was deserved after multiple successful years in the Sheffield Shield, but he is never going to be a match winner. As the second spinner, he did his job to the best of his talents in the 1st Test. Nathan Lyon was, for the most part, dreadfully disappointing again. There were a couple of half-chances off his bowling, but nothing that really inspired any great hope for the spectators. What was most frustrating was that he didn't seem to want to change his plans to try and make the batsmen have to think about what they were doing. He rarely changed his line of attack, he rarely changed his field to try different ideas. At times it was difficult to work out how he was trying to dismiss the batsmen. He only turned the rare delivery more than a couple of inches, and yet the Pakistan spinners sometimes turned it square. A lot of time has been invested in Nathan Lyon as Australia's number one spinner, and occasionally he has come through. The 1st Test proved once again that Australia needs to find a wrist spinner in order to be effective on these types of wickets, and that Nathan Lyon is still only keeping the seat warm for when the next spinner in line comes forward to take their opportunity.

The 2nd and final Test starts on Thursday, and unless some things change rapidly, it will also be the final Test in the careers of some of the Australians. The hierarchy will be desperate to slot Glen Maxwell into the team somehow, while both Doolan and Siddle will be nervously awaiting the team announcement. Whatever the makeup, if the skipper fails with the bat again, then it will be very difficult for Australia to square the series.

Positives and Negatives of October ODDs

The domestic one day season has been run and won, with Western Australia triumphing with a mix of youth and experience. Adam Voges and Michael Klinger led the way of the old guard, while the bowling of Nathan Coulter-Nile, Jason Behrendorff, Joel Paris and Ashton Agar was vital in the finish. New South Wales made the final with only three recognised batsmen and three wicket-keepers. Usman Khawaja showed he is still a big chance to resurrect an Australian career, Chris Hartley a chance to begin one. Cameron White reminded everyone that he is good enough to play at the highest level if given an opportunity. batsmen thrived at North Sydney Oval, bowlers could only wonder how to contain teams on a ground the size of a postage stamp.
Many so-called experts have criticised the tournament being played over one month, with the majority of matches in one city (and last season all in one city). Perhaps it is unfair to the visiting teams, though Queensland last season and Western Australia this season have won the tournaments away from their own home grounds. What it does do is allow players to concentrate solely on their one day skills, and that those who find form with bat or bowl (see all players listed above, and many others) are able to cash in on that form. If the schedule returned to how it has in the past - often a four day Shield game followed by a one day game between the same opponents the following day or day after - then would players have been as successful? Would Khawaja have been as dominant coming off a four day game, perhaps batting on a raging turner on the fourth day of the Shield game to batting on a road in the one day game? And what about those players who are now pigeon-holed as first class players only or one day players only? They'd be playing for their state once every 2-3 weeks, instead of every 2-3 days.
There is a reasonable argument that, in a World Cup season, the one day domestic season has now been completed, and candidates will not have any further games to push their cause for selection. In the changing climate of world (but especially Australian) cricket, this is the case with all forms. The Big Bash has hijacked the holiday season, with no Shield cricket played for two months, and yet Test teams still need to be named. It is the way of the world, and players are now more often being chosen in one day cricket on their Twenty20 form, so this argument is somewhat irrelevant in the current cricket world.

The only disappointment in the current format is the crowds, or lack thereof. Some fantastic one day cricket was played throughout the month of October, but barely anyone was at the ground to witness it. Does it need to be better promoted? Does it need to have games bunched around the Friday/Saturday/Sunday areas to encourage more people to go? 20 years ago I was a part of the consistent 15,000 strong crowds that journeyed to North Sydney Oval each season to see domestic one day games, and they were always great days and spectacles. Surely there is some way this can be brought back again? If the series was played in Perth, where massive crowds flock to the Big Bash, would the crowds be larger? Of course, that would require Channel 9 to agree, and have games played in prime time. Surely that's a winner?
I think the concept of a "carnival" is a great way to start the Australian summer. Play it in Perth, show it on TV around the country, give Perth people a chance to host it. My suggestion to make it a bigger and better tournament in 2015/16.

Matador Cup One Day Team of the Tournament 2014

Can the West Indies Survive in World Cricket?

Is there any hope for the future of West Indies cricket? They were once the most flamboyant yet deadly cricket team on the planet. They did things their own way, and they were entertaining to watch, and their individual cricketers were fascinating. Under Clive Lloyd they became ruthless, and honed their brilliance to become the finest team in the world for almost twenty years. They were almost unstoppable. They were privileged people in their home countries, but they earned that through their results on the field.
What have they become now? Their aura was finally put to rest almost twenty years ago when Australia defeated them at home in 1995, and it has been a downward spiral ever since. Still, while they had Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh and Curtley Ambrose, they were still competitive. Since their retirements the spiral has deepened and quickened, and the current problems are becoming even more to do with money and less to do with cricket.
How does it come to a point that the West Indies Cricket Board set out a Memorandum of Understanding on schedule and pay for their cricketers, which is agreed to and signed by the West Indies Players Association, and yet is disputed by the actual players to whom the Players Association is supposed to be representing? And - not only has this happened, but how has this been occurring on a number of occasions over the past few years? Sometimes they were solved, yet twice virtual second team squads have been sent for tours. The senior players tend to pick and choose when they play for their country, depending on whether or not there is a more lucrative Twenty20 tournament taking place at the same time.
Test cricket in the West Indies must be in peril. When the obdurate and unparalleled Shivnarine Chanderpaul finally calls time on his wonderful career, the West Indies will have no batsman capable of playing a long innings, of settling in and doing what is required in a Test match to win or save the game. While this is becoming more generally true in all nations, it has affected the West Indies much more. Technique has disappeared, and desire to fight for the cause has dissipated as well. Watching their ODI captain Dwayne Bravo continue to flail at deliveries when his team is in trouble and needs a leader, or keeping himself out of the bowling attack when his team needs a wicket, or loping around the field when speed is of the essence, speaks volumes for the state of cricket in the Caribbean.

Is there a real threat that the West Indies will not play in the World Cup in a few months? I would say it is highly doubtful. What is true is that the nations of the world will be looking to shrink tours to and by the West Indies, rather than expand the amount of cricket played against them. One can only say that, no matter what the players problem is with their board and Players Association, pissing off their major benefactor in the Board of Control for Cricket in India by abandoning a tour of their country is perhaps the strangest and most ridiculous decision they could possibly have made. And it may be the first step in the dissolving of the West Indies as a cricket conglomerate.

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