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Sunday, November 30, 2014

The New Tiger Takes The Australian Apart

Photo courtesy of abc.net.au

What an absolutely magnificent round of golf played today by Jordan Spieth in the final round of the Australian Open at The Australian golf course today. With every other golf struggling to keep their score under par, Spieth came out and fired a faultless 8 under 63 to win by a street from Rod Pampling.
Extraordinary stuff. he never looked troubled, never appeared to become flustered or under pressure. he just kept increasing his lead as the day went on. as good a final round of golf you could ever wish to see.

But... was it just a little spooky that, in a week where the number 63 has become synonymous with the passing of Phil Hughes, that Jordan Spieth fired that exact number to win the Australian Open?...

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Vale: Phil Hughes 1988-2014

Why do I weep for a young man that I never met, that I never knew, whose hand I had never shaken nor whom I had ever had a chance to have a conversation with?

Phil Hughes was the epitome of what we want our greatest sportsmen and women to be. He was a prodigy, fulfilled in his second Test match with a century in each innings. We wanted him to succeed. When he was seen to fail in the eyes of some, and then dropped (unfairly by many), he didn't sulk or sell his story to the media. His finest line was always "if I keep making runs, my chance will come". And he kept scoring runs, and he kept getting chances, and each time he was cast aside - more often than not a borderline call - he reiterated his stance. This is what we wanted from our young sports stars - the will to fight for their place based on performance, not through media bleating. His determination was obvious, and almost always supported by his winning smile.

Everyone who has played the magnificent game of cricket will be devastated today. We all know how close you become with your teammates, and the joy of playing in a team and a club, and how close your relationships become with fellow cricketers, based solely on the game. That even extends beyond that, to players in first class and international level, the connection of watching the game, and imagining yourself in their position, the joy of winning, the agony of loss.
Each one of us has been hit by a cricket ball, some much more seriously than others. We have all faced the fear of injury from a fast bowler, and dealt with it in our own way during our careers. None of us could ever imagine what has happened to Phil actually happening. And it is frightening and scary, but more than anything else, deeply devastating.

Why do I weep? Because an obviously terrific young bloke has been taken away from all of us before he was able to capitalise on his obvious talents, and turn himself into a cricketer to whom we could hold aloft as one of the best of his time. But more than that, I weep for a young man who had his whole life in front of him, and to be taken at the age of 25 in such a way is the greatest tragedy of all.

Phil Hughes remains on 63 not out, and I weep for an innings that will never be completed.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Phil Hughes Fighting... Again...

He burst onto the scene five years ago, a nineteen year old with all the talent in the world. A duck in his first Test innings, followed by a half century, and then a century in each innings in his second Test. His future was set.

Almost from that point, he seemed to get short shrift. In order to shoehorn Shane Watson into the Test team in England in 2009, he was sacrificed without due cause. From here, he was constantly criticism for his technique, though he continued to plunder first class bowling attacks everywhere. He fought back, made the Test team again, and was then dropped. Back again... dropped. Each time without what anyone could consider a fair chance to try and consolidate his spot.
He even ended up being moved around the batting order. Opening, number 3, number 4, number 5, number 6. From game to game. Even innings to innings. And still, he found himself discarded, dspite his best efforts, and despite some fine innings. He even made the ODI team, made two centuries, and was then dropped.

Today, it was obvious that Michael Clarke would be ruled out of the Test next week, and today's batsmen would be fighting for his place. And according to plan, he had moved to 63 not out, giving the selectors every reason to think he would be the man to make the Test squad.
And now, having been hit by a bouncer that he was far too early on, he finds himself possibly fighting for his life in a critical condition after surgery.

Through his whole career, Phil Hughes seems to have been fighting for respect, for his career, at every turn. No matter how many runs he has made, he has had to fight against the detractors. And through all this he has carried on, saying all the right things, smiling, and kept making runs.
We may never know if Phil was going to be selected for next week's Test now. Just more short shrift for a guy who has never given in. All we can hope for now is that, for once in his cricketing career, he doesn't get short shrift through this terrible accident, and that he pulls through with his life fully intact.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cricket Notes - November 4, 2014

Asia Again a Bridge Too Far

The past two weeks has brought the Australian cricket team and its supporters back to earth and underlined some home truths about the way cricket is played, and that there needs to be a different way to approach these situations. It is perhaps not the complete doom and gloom that some are suggesting - and it is the size of the defeats that is perhaps the biggest problem - but an overview of the two Tests reveals similar problems to what occurred in India eighteen months ago.

Pakistan outplayed Australia. The conditions suited their team, and they exploited them far better than the Australians did. Pakistan won both tosses and were able to bat first on both occasions. Their batsmen showed patience early on, waiting for their opportunities, before feasting on tired bowlers late in their innings. Australia managed some good partnerships, but then often lost a clatter of wickets immediately that they were broken. For the most part the Pakistan bowlers were patient, tight and bowled to their field. Australia were unable to bowl to a plan, and the fields, while inventive, probably did not suit what needed to be done, which was build pressure.
Much has been made of Australia's shortcomings on the sub-continent, having won only one Test match (in Sri Lanka) there in all countries over the past seven years. This is true, and speaks of Australia's inability to find a team capable of squeezing out victories in such situations. Two things that have not been mentioned about this are as follows:-
Firstly, when Australia lost only one Test between 2000 and 2007 in these areas, they had the greatest team and players on the planet. Batsmen such as Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Steve and Mark Waugh, Lehmann, Martyn, and most of them superb players of spin. Then there were bowlers such as McGrath, Gillespie, Kasprowicz, Lee, Warne and MacGill, who could bowl brilliantly in any conditions. And then there was Adam Gilchrist. This team was a once in a generation or seven team, and their achievements cannot be used in comparison to the current team in any fair way.
Secondly, over that same seven year period, all of the sub-continent teams combined have only won one Test in Australian conditions, that being India when they lost 2-1 on the "Monkeygate" tour. In any fair comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of all teams, surely this statistic must be brought out to help explain the severe difference in conditions faced by all teams when they play away from home. Certainly, you hope to compete and win in someone else's backyard. Unfortunately, only the great teams are capable of that, and this team is far from great. The only team currently able to say they are capable of this would be South Africa, and even their quickly evolving team has some questions mark on their ability to do so.

Warner, Smith, Marsh and Johnson return to Australia with their reputations safe or even enhanced. Warner played with typical freedom and ease, and though his dismissals can sometimes be infuriating, if he keeps scoring the runs he is currently then his indiscretions can be somewhat overlooked. Smith played two wonderful innings, both under pressure in trying to save games in the second innings. He continues to grow in substance with the bat, especially against spin bowling. If only he would spend more time in the nets perfecting his bowling he would be the perfect asset. I don't play Test cricket nor practice at all, and I can still land five out of every six deliveries where I want to. Surely a guy who ONLY plays or practices cricket should be able to do the same thing. Mitch Marsh has made a terrific start to his Test career. He learned from his experiences with the bat in the 1st Test, and used them to played brilliantly in both innings in the 2nd Test. A great sign, to see a kid taking what he'd learned and using it so quickly. He was also economical and accurate with the ball, and will be very useful when conditions are more suitable. Mitch Johnson was magnificent with the ball, and well used by his skipper. He also batted well in the 1st Test, albeit with some luck, which deserted him in the 2nd Test.
The skipper was disappointing, and by his own admission, especially given his usual poise against spin. His aversion to batting at number 3, on wickets where spin was dominant, and with his ability against spin bowling, again defied logic. Was he making a statement against the dropping of Alex Doolan, who he obviously supported to retain given his comments on Test eve? Or did the selectors insist Glenn Maxwell was selected as the number three? Whatever the reasoning, Clarke had the chance to lead from the front, and did not take it. Chris Rogers made starts in both innings of the 1st Test, and two failures in the 2nd. He will know he needs to continue to make runs at home if he wants to make a return to England next year.

Will the selectors admit the folly of their disgraceful decision to dump Alex Doolan, whose career is practically finished now, to play Glenn Maxwell at number 3 in a Test match. Doolan may have failed in the 1st Test, but surely he deserved the chance for redemption, given he had scored a century in the warm up match the week prior. The arrival of Lehmann and new selectors was supposed to bring solidity and temperance to the selection process, and discard the chopping and changing of teams in quick succession which brought about so many problems in India last year. Yet, it has happened again. In any review of this series, the decision to remove Doolan and O'Keefe after the 1st Test needs to be put at the top of the list. The result probably would not have changed, but at least these two cricketers, if they had failed to make an impact again, would have just cause for believing their time in the Test arena was over. Now it probably is anyway, and unsatisfactorily so. The selection panel's obsession over Glenn Maxwell is reaching Watson-like proportions, with similarly bleak and empty conclusions. His dismissal, most especially charging down the wicket in the first innings, speaks volumes for mistaken decisions at all levels regarding his selection.

None of Lyon, Siddle or Starc improved their stock on the tour. Siddle was steady, and did as well as he could in the conditions. His immediate future may rest on what is happening back home in the Shield while he toiled on unforgiving wickets. The returning Ryan Harris in Grade cricket, and bowlers such as Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chadd Sayers and Josh Hazelwood are taking wickets and enhancing their reputations. Unfortunately for Siddle and Starc - who was again for the most part extremely disappointing - their chances may well have been buried in the desert sands of the UAE. Nathan Lyon, despite a couple of chances missed by his fieldsmen, looked tame in conditions to suit his bowling but against batsmen raised on facing it. A wrist spinner would have been better for the conditions, and both Fawad Ahmed and Adam Zampa have made promising starts to the domestic season. Lyon is a favourite of the selection panel however, and his immediate future is probably not under threat.

The chance to win in Asia must now wait for a couple more years. Whether or not Australia will be better prepared, and with better ammunition, on the next occasion is something that we can only wait and see.

"Keeping" the Faith

The ODI's against South Africa don't start until next week, but in trying to find their best combination for the upcoming World Cup, the selectors have shown most of their hand for these November trials. One selection that has been made purely in the order of resting a senior player is that of Matthew Wade, who will keep in place of Brad Haddin for the first two matches - though given his injury in the Test match it would appear Australia will need a replacement through the whole ODI series.
Is this a case of the selectors simply deciding this is not the time to blood a new keeper with an eye to the future, or are they steadfastly retaining faith in the skills of Wade as reserve keeper? His form in the Matador Cup was unexciting, especially in comparison to that of people such as Chris Hartley, Peter Nevill and Tim Paine in particular. Arguably the best of the lot is current NSW third string keeper Ryan Carters, who retains his place in the top XI simply as a batsman who fields. The irony of Wade's selection is that he would rank last as a gloveman of all the current State wicket-keepers, Carters and T20 keeper Ben Dunk included. Even more ironic is that while Wade made 59 with the bat in the Shield game against NSW, Chris Hartley scored 145 and Peter Nevill made 87 and 45 not out. Yet here he is in Australian colours again. In a world where it would seem highly unlikely that Brad Haddin will be playing in twelve months time, the queue to grab his spot in all three forms of the International game is well and truly on. At this stage, the selectors are either backing their judgement that Wade will be ready for the role, or they are in a holding pattern, not willing to choose any successor at this point in time, to give all the candidates the full season to make their charge for the position.

Cracking Start to Shield Season

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With spots in the Test team likely to come up for grabs during the season, and position in the Ashes touring squad certainly available, there were some terrific performances in the first round of the Shield played over the weekend.
South Australia lost only six wickets in defeating Queensland outright, after the Bulls had posted 8/443 declared in the first innings of the match. Chadd Sayers must surely have put his name front and centre for Test selection, taking 9/82 for the match including 6/34 in the second innings, his best analysis for both innings and match, his career figures now stand at 126 wickets at 22.93, and he must be close to odds on to be in the squad for the Brisbane Test next month. Callum Ferguson made 100* and 65* and Tom Cooper 75 and 68* to push their claims for higher honours again, with both possibly in the mix for the World Cup squad and certainly in consideration for Test places down the track. Chris Hartley's 142* for Queensland would have continued to push his claims for the Australian wicket-keeping position in the near future, while Adam Zampa took 3/103 and 4/45 to continue his impressive start to the season.
The Justin Langer inspired Western Australia continue their victorious start to the season, seeing off Tasmania at the W.A.C.A. Fekete and Rainbird took all 12 wickets to fall for Western Australia between them, but apart from 100 from Ed Cowan their batting was not up to the task.
The Victorian 2nd XI defeated the NSW 3rd XI comfortably in the end, with their under strength bowling attack being taken to the cleaners, while the batsmen all got starts and little else.
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