Hands up if you can bowl

If nothing else, this Test series against Zimbabwe showed that if you have two good arms and two good legs, and you are involved in 1st class cricket in Australia, you are in with a chance of wearing the Baggy Green this summer.

And if you are given that chance, you must make the most of it. To that end, congratulations to Simon Katich are in order.

In the end, Australia won this match and the series, easily, as expected. The line-up for the second Test held some surprises but the end result, victory by nine wickets was convincing. However, after three days play, Zimbabwe still had a chance. Personally, I had some worries. Zimbabwe were 56 runs in front with 6 wickets in hand. Bar the first innings of the 1st Test, Australia has had trouble dislodging the tail in this series and given that our second string attack was further weakened by the loss of Brett Lee, there seemed a chance that a respectable target would be set. The Aussies would then have to content with Ray Price – Mr Perpetual Motion*, whose kicking left arm orthodox deliveries accounted for six first innings wickets.

But it was not to be for Zimbabwe. Katich, of all people, cut through the middle and lower order and Australia easily chased the 172 runs required. We may have bowling concerns but the batting line-up has some real super stars. The amazing Hayden, who bounty seems to know no bounds, scored another century, in 84 balls no less.

The fact that both Tests were won so easily, with such an injured list could speak volumes of Australia’s depth.

I’m not inclined to be that optimistic – I was very glad that we weren’t playing India or New Zealand. Or South Africa or England. Or any team other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. The bare facts are that no batsman in the Zimbabwe team averages close to thirty. Most are low twenties. The batsmen boast three Test centuries between them – compared to the Aussies’ 94.

I would suggest that Australia’s best attack of McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and Lee, all bowling at, or close to top form would have mowed Zimbabwe down for less than 100 at least once in the series. And I would have been most surprised to see them top 200 at any stage.

I don’t wish to denigrate the efforts of the Zimbabwe cricketers – I thought that there were plenty of spirited and creditable performances. However, I am trying the make a realistic assessment of Australian cricket.

The bowling absentee list reads: Warne, McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and MacGill. Add to that Lehman with his very useful backup left arm orthodox and you can see that the attack really is second string.

I’ve made the point before that the great careers of McGrath and Warne have coincided with an era of Australian dominance. And that is no coincidence. We have been further blessed that when Warne has been unfit to play, we have had a leg spinner who is just as good to step in. And when the fragile Dizzie has come to grief, Bichel has stepped in and performed well.

I’m not concerned about the current walking wounded list – that is a temporary set back. No country can lose its complete first string attack and them some, and not suffer.

But we must start to contemplate life without Warne, McGrath and the captain – Steve Waugh (did someone say “perpetual motion”?). MacGill will replace Warne admirably but I’m not sure who will replace McGrath. His ability to take early wickets and plenty of them has been phenomenal. And it has been that strike power that has broken many, many teams. Series after series, match after match, McGrath puts the top three back in the pavilion before you can say “Indiana Jones” and that is demoralising for any opposition.

I felt that Michael Clark had the front running to take Steve Waugh’s place when he goes. I thought Katich’s selection for this match was a bolt from the blue. It made sense to chose a bowling batsman to replace Lehman, but also odd, given that Katich bowls Chinamen, just like the front line spinner chosen for the match, Brad Hogg. Hogg must have played his last test, despite some great work with the tongue.

Has one good Test for Katich changed all of that? We’ll wait and see.

It has gone largely unnoticed that the current (first choice) team has specialists like no other team current and like not many past. We have six sensational batsmen, the best ever keeper batsman and four wonderful bowlers. Of the batsmen, hardly a one (accept Lehman) rolls the arm over in earnest.

Perhaps in coming years we will see that the worlds best batsman (a discretionary term loosely applied to at least three of the Australian batsmen at any given time) will have to bat six instead of seven. We might see more flexibility with five or even six bowlers playing with Lehman and Katich offering variety and options.

The selectors can only use the resources that are available.

In other words, we may end up with a team like South Africa’s.

I recall the excitement of Michael Bevan’s entrance onto the bowling stage in 1996-97 when he flattened the Windies with his quick Chinamen and deadly wrongun and continued his good form in South Africa. Imagine if he could have kept his batting form – to have two potent wrist spinners in the team – and for the price of one! Perhaps Katich will provide that opportunity again.

Life is full of surprises.

* Nice one, Kerry O’Keefe – all those not acquainted with Rugby League in the
1970’s and early 80’s please feel free to contact me for more information on “Mr
Perpetual Motion”.

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