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The matter of “Greatness”

There used to be a time where I would watch cricket for hours on end, knowing that between each over there would be a single advertisement ad break. If I left the room and came back to see consecutive ads, a mental procedure had to be followed. Firstly, check the time. Perhaps there was a drinks or session break due. If not, then a wicket had fallen or there was rain. All of these outcomes had the potential to bring disappointment or excitement.

Two things have changed since that time. The first is that I rarely get the chance to watch cricket on TV for long periods of time. The second is that with the new approach of Channel 9, we can look forward to advertisements in between every ball with Tony, Richie, Sodders and the crew trying to sell us signed cricket bats, paintings, magazines, tickets to the cricket and Channel 9 TV programs at every opportunity. I’m not really sure if that beats watching the bowler walk back to his mark.

Granted, it can be amusing and somewhat sad to hear Simon O’Donnell bumble his way through a written spiel about an Outback cricket painting but it does somewhat detract from the atmosphere created by continuity of vision of the game.
However, the main point of this email is that I actually saw something that caught my attention the other day – a new magazine featuring Australia’s 50 Greatest Cricketers. I intend buying it at some stage but my first reaction was to think of who I would choose. I have included my list for you interest. I took me about 10 minutes to list about 60 candidates and I then removed some – not an easy process.

During the process, I thought a little about the concept of printing a book or magazine about our 50 greatest crickets. Or 50 greatest “anythings” for that matter. It is a common trend in this day and age to provide such products. The 50 greatest golfers, Don Bradman’s all time great Test Team, Shane Warne’s 100 favourite wickets, any compilation music CD and the list goes on. The providers are not providing new material but there is obviously a market. They are re-visiting highlights and packaging them in an attractive and easily digestible format. And I guess there lies the appeal – for a cricket devotee, it is very appealing to reminisce and read about those who have made the game great.

The most difficult questions are who are those great players and what, in fact, is greatness? Assuming that there are no rules and restrictions – ie that there are no quotas of pace bowlers, spin bowlers, opening batsmen, middle order batsmen, ‘keepers etc to be met and that there this no requirement to include set amounts of players from various eras, choosing from over 350 players from a 120 year period is not easy.

Of course, there are automatic choices that spring to mind: Bradman, Border, Greg Chappell, Lillee, Marsh, Steve Waugh and Warne for starters. For those who are a little older you could include Benaud, Lawry, Hassett, Morris, Davidson, Miller, Lindwall and Harvey. For the really old we have Armstrong, Grimmet, O’Reilly, Mailley, McCabe and Woodfull. And for those of us who are very, very old or dead, the names include Trumper, Noble, Macartney, Spofforth, Trumble and Giffen.

How do you compare players from very different eras? Performance must play a big part but how do you measure performance? Statistics count but they are not everything. It is interesting to compare averages and totals runs and wickets but they are not definitive. The conditions were somewhat different 100 years ago. And today’s players play far more Test cricket. The great players of today play more than 100 Test matches, whereas the early players played 20-30 if they were lucky. They didn’t even play Test cricket every year.

Then there are special considerations. Some players such as Sid Barnes and Don Tallon would be considered great but had relatively short Test careers (13 and 12 Test respectively). They were robbed of most of their careers by WWII and questionable selection processes. But the late, great Sir Donald Bradman considered Don Tallon to be the greatest ‘keeper of all time, as do many others who saw him.

I considered the captains – perhaps all players who have captained Australia are an automatic choice in the list of the greatest. But maybe not. Ian Johnson would be chosen by many but not myself. Kim Hughes captained Australia through tough times and is mostly remembered for his tragic ending but he was a magnificent batsman at his peak and played over 70 Test matches and scored more than 4000 Test runs. Ian Craig, Test captain in the mid-fifties, had great potential, was a successful leader but as a middle order batsman averages less than 20 in Test cricket. That doesn’t make it, even though he was hampered by serious illness and business commitments. And Graham Yallop – had a top score of 268 and I believe that he wrote a good book – “Lambs to the Slaughter”. Maybe I’m a hard man but we are counting cricketer here, not authors, so he didn’t make it either.

Another interesting consideration is to count the number of “great” players in any given team. It is not hard to see why the great teams are great. The 1948 team had Bradman, Miller, Lindwall, Harvey, Hassett, Morris, Bill Johnston and Tallon. The 1975 team had Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Lillie, Marsh, Walters, Thompson and Redpath. The 2001 team had: Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Slater, Ponting, McGrath and Warne and include Hayden and Gilchrist who probably don’t yet make it into the 50 all time greats list, but will in 10 years time. The great teams all had a great keeper, great openers, middle order and bowlers – I think that covers most facets of the game.

Below is my list (in alphabetical order). Obviously and unfortunately, many of the players in my list were not witnessed in action by myself. But thus is the nature of cricket – it is possible read about matches of times long gone, to study score cards and to read biographies and autobiographies, and to form a picture and opinions.

Merry Christmas and I’ll start publishing again next year (or earlier if the Melbourne Test requires).

You are receiving this email because dongles knows that you don’t like cricket, you LOVE it. It is hoped that you do not regard this email as SPAM. If you wish to stop receiving dongles’s occasional ramblings, please reply with “REMOVE” in the subject.

Armstrong, Warwick
Bardsley, Warren
Benaud, Richie
Boon, David
Border , Allan
Bradman, Donald
Chappell, Greg
Chappell, Ian
Collins, Herb
Davidson, Alan
Giffen , George
Grimmett, Clarrie
Grout, Wally
Harvey, Neil
Hassett, Lindsay
Healy, Ian
Hill, Clem
Hughes, Kim
Lawry, Bill
Lillee, Dennis
Lindwall, Ray
Macartney, Charlie
Mailey, Arthur
Marsh, Rod
McCabe, Stan
McDermott, Craig
McGrath, Glenn
McKenzie, Graeme
Miller, Keith
Morris, Arthur
Noble , Monty
O’Neill, Norman
O’Reilly, Bill
Ponsford, Bill
Ryder, Jack
Simpson, Robert
Spofforth, Fred
Tallon, Don
Taylor, Mark
Thompson, Jeff
Trumble, Hugh
Trumper, Victor
Walters, Doug
Warne, Shane
Waugh, Steve
Waugh, Mark
Woodfull, Bill
Gregory, Jack
Johnston, Bill
Redpath, Ian

The Ashes belong to Australia – it must be summer (just)

Three Tests into the five Test series and the Ashes and the series belong to Australia. And all before the end of the first day of summer!

As an Australian, it’s kind of fun to revel in the glory. But as a cricket fan, it’s quite depressing. I would like matches to go for five days. I would like to see Australia bat twice in any given match. I would like to go to the Sydney Test match and have it mean something to the series. The Sydney Test match now holds two main points of attraction – the possibility of seeing Warne take wicket number 500 and the chance to bid farewell to Steve Waugh.

I have no intention of going over the gory details of the carnage in Perth at great length. But there are a few points and opinions:

1. Point to the sky Steve Bucknor. If a batsman is out Mr Bucknor, send him on his way quickly, and with honour – and that is with the finger pointed towards the heavens.

2. If the finger is up, rightly or wrongly, take it like a man, Nasser.

3. Each batsman dismissed for Australia made double figures and healthily.

When was the last time that happened? Australia’s large totals in recent times have tended to be dominated by one, two or three large scores.

4. The batting of Gilchrist, Warne, Lee and Gillespie at end of day was blissful to watch. It was disappointing for England to see the match slip away in that period but the batting was wonderful. This was tailer enders (sorry Gillie – we all know that you are not a tail ender) playing the game the way the fans and Bill Lawry want to see it played. Lusty hitting down the ground, slashes over slips, ferocious cutting and pulling. And what a revelation Dizzy was. Recently, I heard someone cruelly label him as a “no shot wonder”. He obviously heard and watched a bit of the recent World Series (baseball) – it seems he possesses a great baseball swing and used it to good effect. He crossbat shot over mid-off for six was a special.

5. It was a match for interesting run outs. Butcher and Vaughan should get some counselling. And both of the Aussie run outs were suffered taking a third run.

6. England once again finished without their full compliment of players, finishing with just nine this time, after Lee felled Tudor.

7. Yesterday could have finished very early had butter fingers Warnie taken a simple chance at first slip. This would have made the score 5-34, with 4-1 lost in the first 20 minutes of play. It would have completed 3 wickets in 3 balls for the Aussies and Nasser would have been on his way back to the rooms with a golden duck to his name.

I think we have some one day cricket now before the Test series resumes in Melbourne on Boxing Day.

Metamorphosis?

The first two days of each of the first two Tests had some interesting similarities. More so, because the 2nd Test represented a role reversal but one that didn’t have any affect on the ultimate result.

In both Tests, the side batting first played well on the first day and was well placed with few wickets down at stumps. In both Tests, the bowling team bounced back on the second day, dismissing the opposition more quickly than they would have hoped and then mounted a strong reply.

There were even some more cryptic similarities. In both Tests, one of the openers batted for all of the first day, making a big score. And both were controversially given not out by the third umpire over disputed catches, early in their innings (who could forget Matthew Hayden and Simon “at least it wasn’t six” Jones and Michael Vaughan and Justin “I definitely caught it” Langer?).
In broad terms, there are similarities but here is why Australia had the upper hand at the end of day 2 in both matches.

In the first Test, England trailed by 334 with 9 wickets in hand at the end of Day 2. Technically not dead but a very long way to go to save the match. In the second Test, Australia was just 95 runs behind with 8 wickets in hand. Still work to be done, but very well placed.

Australia’s first day in the 1st Test was better than England’s first day in the second Test. In fact, Australia made more runs by the end of Day 1 in Brisbane than England ultimately made in their first dig in Adelaide. And they had lost less wickets. When England lost Vaughan in the last over on Day 1 in Adelaide, they suffered a real psychological blow. It underlines Australia’s mental toughness and desire never to give in. It had been a bad day but while there was an over left there was opportunity to improve the situation – and they took the opportunity. Four down seems a lot better then three, especially when it is the number one bat.

Australia lost 8/128 on Day 2 in Brisbane, which is awful. But at least there was some starch in the tail with Warne belting a quick 57 – which is more than the last seven wickets put on for England in Adelaide. They lost 6/47 on the second morning.
As we all now know, England was completely overwhelmed on the third and fourth days and suffered huge defeats in both Test. There was much talk in Brisbane about just how stupid Hussain was to allow Australia to bat first. I’d like to suggest that maybe it won’t matter too much who bats first, regardless of who wins the toss. And there is a good chance that England will bat last in most cases, regardless of who bats first. England showed some encouraging signs in both of the first two Tests but much too little. If you play badly, even for a session or two, Australia will punish very quickly and if you have a really bad day (such as England’s first day of the series), the match can be gone before you can say “stumps”.

And some other matters:

Congratulations to Ricky Ponting who moves up to number two on the Price Waterhouse Test batting ratings with a bullet. Hayden is at 1 and Gilchrist is at 4. http://cricketratings.pwcglobal.com/cricket/cricket.htm Ponting has topped 120 on four occasions in the last five Tests.

http://www.earthsci.unimelb.edu.au/cgi-bin/hsumm?-a+aus+ponting

Even though Australia has won and won well so far, I feel that there are some selection issues to be resolved. I have a new idea that I am unveiling for the ACB and channel 9 later this week. It is called “Selector Cam ™”. Selector Cam uses the latest in fiberoptics and micro cinematography technology to plant a camera with full audio capabilities in the well known moustache of well known selector, David Boon. Footage will be seen on the Cricket Show (screened during lunch breaks) and will be a nice change from the material currently appearing.

We will gain insight into how long Steve Waugh really has. He looked awful in Brisbane but a bit better in Adelaide. Is he guaranteed selection until the end of the series? What about beyond? Will he receive a push, just as AB and Boonie themselves did? Jim Maxwell on ABC radio made the point that the trademark Waugh century is made coming in at 4/96, rather than 4/400 plus. It can be difficult for the warrior to perform to his full potential when the stimulus of adversity is removed (by the way, that’s my own line, not Jim’s).

How safe is Boof Lehmann? He’s hanging on for now but has not been impressive. He has had only two chances but both dismissals were very disappointing. Who is putting on the pressure? Who is next in line?

And is the battle of Brett Lee and Andy Bichel resolved for the rest of the series. Lee has done all that could be asked of him for the Blues but Bichel has done well enough in the Tests. He hasn’t had a bag of wickets (he is the least well performed of the four bowlers) but the wickets have been well shared. And he showed in Adelaide with a classy and important 48 that he is a very useful number 9.

Roll on Perth and roll on Friday.

Life is full of decisions

Here’s how Day One of the 1st Test of the 2002-2003 Ashes series panned out:

9:00 am I bumped into my good friend Rob Brennan down at the punt this morning. He said, “So what do reckon the go will be Dave? Win the toss and bat?”. Absolutely Rob – it’s Brisbane. Beautiful pitch, one of Australia’s openers is the best batsman in the world and playing on his home turf and the best spinner in the world is leaner and meaner than ever. Easy decision.

10:30 am (Eastern summer time): Hussain wins the toss and elects to bowl. Interesting decision. English Tabloids immediately pen their headlines for the end of play. “NASSER YOU …..” is the headline with “FOOL” or “GENIUS” to be inserted at about mid-way through the evening session.

Langer out for 32. 1/68. Simon Jones draws first blood but only after Australia gets away to a good start.

Hayden played a lusty pull shot which carried nearly all the way to the boundary but was very well intercepted by Jones. He caught the ball on the run right on the boundary. He had the presence of mind to prop, hurl the ball over his shoulder, keeping it in the field of play before tumbling over the boundary. The matter was referred to the third umpire, with most commentators expecting Hayden to be out. He was ruled not out and the one run taken stood – no four or six.

The rule reads that the fielder must control the ball (which he had clearly done) AND the player must be in control of his body – which Jones was obviously not. Which was lucky for Hayden.

Simon Jones, England’s great white hope, ruptures a knee ligament in the outfield. Will be out for 6 months.
Hayden makes 10th Test century (from 124 balls).

Hoggard drops Hayden at 1/206 off Caddick (Hayden was 102). They take 2 runs. Hayden launched a big off drive which presented a high, swirling chance at mid-off. Hoggart’s attempt to catch it resembled a movement from the Australian Ballet Company more closely than a Test cricketers attempt to catch a ball. Having completed several pirouettes and with head still spinning, the ball hit the grass. The ball may even have touched his hands on the way down.

Ponting makes his 13th Test century (from 157 balls)

Vaughan misfields allowing the ball through his legs for four.

Next over, Vaughan drops Hayden from White at 1/283 (Hayden was 138). An absolute sitter.

Next ball, Hayden hits White for four.

Key drops Hayden at 1/296 off Giles (Hayden was 148). They take 2 runs. Hayden 150. Difficult chance leaping high in the air. Saves four.

4:55 pm Australia 1/300 from 69 overs (run rate 4.34).

Ponting bowled by Giles. 123 runs (194 balls, 12 x 4, 2 x 6). 2/339.

Partnership of 271.

Close of play. Hayden 186 and Martyn 9.

With more than 360 on the board, Australia already has a respectable score. And with just two wickets down, the expectation of a belter of a track and with a demoralised England a strike bowler down, building a mammoth score seems almost certain.
When England does get a chance to bat, and that may not be until Saturday, they will need to dig deep. Capitulation in the first innings will surely mean their end in this match and probably the series. Which is a great pity. Really. I mean it.
Will Hayden pass the double hundred? Three hundred may not be on Hayden’s mind but although he was dropped three times, I’m thinking three hundred. And 186 x 2 = 372 – what a coincidence – just four more runs and….!

…………..

And now a quick quiz:
What is Matthew Hayden’s highest Test score?
Who was the last Australian to score a Test 200?
Who was the last Australian right-hander to post 200?