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What does it all mean?

As the dust settles at the end of a whirlwind Test series and as Steve Waugh again proudly hold the ICC Test trophy aloft, and as the South Africans gain a consolation victory, Australian cricket has a lot to ponder and some hard decisions to make.

I personally find the loss in the final Test rather staggering. Losses
attributed to the “dead rubber” syndrome made famous by Mark Taylor’s men are long gone. They were made a thing of the past the instant Steve Waugh took over. He had made it quite clear even as vice captain that he loathed the habit and I don’t believe that we have had a single lapse under Waugh’s captaincy. Quite obviously, the winning streak was testimony to that. Perhaps the Aussies were not too bothered about losing the 4th Ashes Test, but I’d put that down to a special effort by one player (Butcher). And besides, Waugh was not in charge for that match (not on the field, anyway).

South Africa won the match after conceding and 150 run first innings lead and by making the 10th highest successful run chase in Test match history. Australia’s successful chase less than one week earlier is now 11th. The big difference is that Australia won the second Test by making an almost identical score having lead by 150 (ish) on the first innings. When batting second in a Test, first innings runs are paramount. A lead of less than 100 is often shaky. For Australia to lose, having batted first and then lead by 150 on the first innings is a real concern. For the 4th innings of a Test match to be the highest is quite rare, especially considering that the 2nd and 3rd innings totals were less then 200. I could not see South Africa making 200, yet the 335 was made with relative ease. And the enormous opening partnership was broken by a run out.

Australia may look back on the summer as a raging success and it was. A drawn test series which Australia could have been lost 2-0, but equally would have won 2-0 if not for rain. The Australian attack was plundered for 500 plus in the final Test. South Africa was thrashed 3-0 in Australia and had no answers. They still managed a 400 plus score, following on in Sydney.

Having suffered one of the most humiliating defeats in Test history, South Africa rebounded well. They made a match of the 2nd Test (after Australia let them back into the match) and had a creditable victory in the final match after being well behind the “8 ball” at the half way point.

Australia won the 6 Test exchange 5-1 but really, they came very close to loosing this series and the lead in the ICC Test championship. Maybe 50 more runs in the 2nd innings in Cape Town would have added a whole different complexion to these final outcomes. The two run outs were a turning point in that match and cost South Africa a better chance at an unlikely victory.

I’d like to look at the Australian 11 on a one-by-one basis over the past three series (9 Tests) – and it has been the same 11 for the whole nine games:

Player M I NO Agg HS Ave 100 50
AC Gilchrist 9 14 3 826 204* 75.09 3 2
ML Hayden 9 16 2 1035 138 73.92 5 4
RT Ponting 9 14 4 645 157* 64.50 2 2
JL Langer 9 16 2 837 126 59.78 4 3
DR Martyn 9 13 2 539 133 49.00 3 2
SK Warne 9 12 1 415 99 37.73 – 3
ME Waugh 9 13 0 438 86 33.69 – 3
SR Waugh 9 13 0 314 90 24.15 – 2

1. Gillie. No need for comment. First one picked.

2. Hayden. No need for comment. First one picked. Except for Gillie.

3. Langer. Very good results over the nine Tests. Off the boil in South Africa but still an automatic. Langer has shown tendencies to have red hot periods. As soon as he goes off the boil, his place is “in question”. The opening pair shows a great deal of potential. It is hard to see them ever repeating the achievements of the home summer. The Haynes/Greenidge union realised just 4 double century partnerships (which is the record) in 10 years.

4. Ponting. Stats are great. Still gets out too easily, especially for number three. Run out too often. The run out (which wasn’t his call) in the first innings of the 3rd Test was one of the turning points of the match. His century to win the 2nd Test was a great innings. He must now be thinking about the Test captaincy.

5. Mark Waugh. Still shows some signs of form but…. His run out of Ponting in the third Test was also at a terrible personal cost. Was out soon after and may (should) not play the Tests against Zimbabwe.

6. Steve Waugh – shows no real sign of form. When was the last time we saw a front foot cover drive or a boundary in front of the wicket. His adage that class is permanent and that loss of form is temporary can’t hold for much longer. Should captain the side to Zimbabwe – not because he is playing better than Mark but because he IS the captain. Failures in Zimbabwe must surely see his end.

7. Martyn – I’m a big fan and he has had some great performances. And his Ashes tour adds to that. But his scores over the 9 tests are: NZ: 4, 0, 60, 30 SA: 124*, 6*, 52, 117, 133, 2, 0, 11, 0 and also England: 105, 52, 4, 33*, 118, 6, 64*
As I said in a previous email – not much between 15 and 50. He either fires or fails and needs to work on it. Seems to go down with the rest of the deck – if the Waughs go quickly, which is way to often he seems to struggle (with some notable exceptions).

8. Warnie. Bowling well and batting like a champion. Averages 29.10 with the ball for the past ten matches. Has lost weight and is showing great application. Fancy bowling 70 overs in one innings.

9. Lee. As andrewg says, he’ll be the first to go when the revolution
happens. Meaning: Steve Waugh is his greatest fan. He’s got some potential but his bowling performance since the Ashes has not been up to scratch. Averages 33.97 for his past 10 matches. And that includes a lot of tail enders as his captain gives him the opportunity to bowl at them.

10. Gillespie. I’m a big fan. Could get more assistance from his skipper. Averages 39.53 for the past ten matches – which is not flash at all and I’m surprised. Is a world class bowler.
11. McGrath – one of the greats, of course. But has had a lean patch or two recently. Average for last 10 tests is 26.68 which is very respectable but down on career (21.91). Is never expensive but on some pitches, provided the batsmen are patient can be rather ineffective. He took 5 wickets @ 65.4 against NZ and 4 wickets @ 44.5 in the last two tests in RSA. The morale is when McGrath struggles for wickets, Australia struggles to dismiss the opposition. In the South African 2nd innings in Sydney, McGrath took 1-95. Australia relies heavily on McGrath to rip the heart out of the top order – something he has been as master at doing.

All in all, I’d like to see 3 changes in the near future. Both Waughs out and Lee out. Replace Mark with someone – there is a long list to choose from, with Boof Lehmann being apparently at the front. And we need a batting all rounder – another young Steve Waugh. A genuine Test batsman who is a very useful backup bowler. Jacques Kallis does the job for South Africa. I don’t know if Shane Watson is that man for Australia but the selectors are clearly looking in that direction. Aside from bowling backup, we could do with some more variation. We essentially have three seamers at the moment. Fleming in form would be a good option. We could also go for a work horse – Lee, McGrath and Gillespie are all strike bowlers. I never thought I’d suggest this by maybe Bichel is worth looking at. Do any others come to mind?

Gille for Governor General

Just a thought.

I don’t have time to celebrate a great victory at length but a few points:

1. Well done Ponting.

2. Well done Warne – we would not have bowled them out without him.

3. The run outs were pivotal.

4. 331 is the 10th highest successful run chase in Test history – any total over 250 should not be sneezed at. Ever.

5. Point 4 aside, this was a very friendly wicket and the 331 was achieved without too much fuss (in the end).

6. The Waughs are under immense pressure. Could the selectors be thinking of a change for the 3rd Test? We are faced with the prospect of losing both to exactly the same time. I don’t think this is good but if it has to happen, it has to happen.

7. Hayden you goose. Fancy doing that to blow an opportunity to score acentury in 5 consecutive Test matches. Possibly the worst dismissal I’ve ever seen in the nineties. And Slater does have an impressive CV in this area. And Warnie’s effort takes some beating. Then there was Mark Waugh bowled by Tuffnel, off his pads, not offering a shot for 99 at Lord’s in 1993….

8. Gilchrist’s quick fire 24 was important. He came to the crease with the pressure mounting and 60 runs to get. He left a few overs later with only 30 runs to get. That is a big difference. How many times have we seen teams fail in trying to painfully grind out 60 runs?

9. My prediction (at the end of day 3) was that we would win by 3 wickets chasing 350. Adam can verify this. Which was pretty close.

Bye all.

“Excellent, excellent – a five day Test”

Oh what joy – we still have a cricket match to look forward to and the weekend is over. The prospect of a five day Test match and one that Australia may well lose is rather enthralling.

And what about that man again – Adam Gilchrist. In the words of one well known South African commentator, I find myself wanting a thesaurus to adequately describe Gilchrist’s batting exploits. The stats are 138 from 108 balls (22 x 4, 2 x 6), 100 from 91 balls. The last three wickets added 65 runs of which the other three batsmen contributed exactly 2 runs. And this is by no means a fluke – we all know that. Obviously he scored that wonderful 200 last Test. Almost all of his six Test hundreds have been scored at better than a run a ball. And who could forget the 1st Test in England where Gilchrist went from 91 to 151* in a final stand of 60 odd, where McGrath scored one. I’d argue that when on song, Gilchrist can murder an attack better than anyone else at present, including Tendulkar, Lara and any others you might like to add. And certainly more consistently than the likes of hitters such as Cairns, Afridi and others. But to do true justice,
that is to enter into the hero worship so richly deserved (and to entertain the readers), I thought that I would pen a poem:

Adam Gilchrist – A Cricketer who Matters

What can you say about Gilly?
The ice in his veins is chilly.
He has an eye like a hawk and timing so sweet
He swings freely and often, and is light on his feet.

His defence is attack with flashing blade
It’s hard to keep count of the runs he’s made.
The score board spins as he clubs away
The bowlers look on in utter dismay.

Over the top or through the field,
Those bullet like shots net a heavy yield.
And when the opposition is on its knees
He keeps on going, his captain to please.

By dongles, 11 March 2002

And now a few comments on the state of the match and the team.

1. Australia may well loose this match. They will be doing extremely well to restrict their run chase to 250. It is very likely that the chase will be well over 300. Things can change so quickly in cricket. Is it possible that the new boy, Hall gave the batsmen some heart – maybe it wasn’t so hard after all.

2. The pitch is a belter – in a desperate attempt to give the South
African’s a chance, the pitch is flat and true. Australia is still a good chance to chase 300 plus. Maybe even 400 – in the 3rd Test against NZ we saw the Aussies (thanks to Gilchrist and Hayden) make a good fist of chasing well over 400 before the match ended in an honourable draw.

3. The Australian middle order (without naming names, specifically numbers four and five) will need to do some work. Their positions are under question. I’m not jumping on any band wagon and in fact, am reticent to discuss this as I find it painful. I’ve included some stats below. The first table is for the six Tests this home summer. The next table includes the South African tour, up to and including the 2nd Test – this is to provide a larger database of recent results. You can see (and we all know) that Hayden, Langer, Martyn and Gilchrist have been magnificent. They are all in the PW ratings top ten. Ponting averages 50 but needs to do more – it may sound harsh but he has made just one century. He has been very consistent, rarely completely missing out, is scoring very quickly and getting out too easily. Warne (at number 8) has been an excellent contributor. The alarming aspect is that Warne is keeping his nose in front of Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh is well behind.

We should not lose site of those dramatic collapses in the series against New Zealand. Twice following double century opening stands, we slumped with dramatic middle order collapses being rectified by Gilchrist, Lee and Warne and in the third Test it was Warne single handedly avoiding the follow-on.

I, like many others, thought that Steve Waugh would score a century each time he strode to the wicket from the 1st Test of this series until his retirement. However, it seems that clenching the jaw and a determined squint will not be enough. I fear for his future. The Waughs have two or three more innings this tour – I think it is highly possible that we may not get to farewell them on home soil next season.

4. The final comment is on the attack. South Africa looks like making a very big score here – they still have some work to do but it seems quite possible. Even though Australia has dominated so clearly in the past three years, there have still been times when we have been thrashed for a single innings. Even as recently as the 3rd test in Sydney, South Africa posted 452 having followed on. Three tests prior, NZ posted way over 500 in Perth. Then there was the second Test in India. Even as far back as Steve Waugh’s first series as captain, the attack was massacred by Brian Lara. In many of these cases, the scores were made on the rebound of a dismal first innings and/or following a heavy defeat in the previous Test. Other common factors are a beautiful batting pitch and most of the scores featured a single, huge
partnership or one particular player (Lara, Laxman, Kirsten, Butcher) making a huge score and holding the innings together.

I acknowledge that big scores will always happen at times against any
attack, especially when top batsmen (such as some of those listed above) are concerned. However, my opinion is that Steve Waugh is not as good as “winkling” a wicket as Mark Taylor. I also wonder if the attack lacks a little variety on a flat track. Brett Lee is very fast but on a pitch that offers no assistance he seems to struggle.

Stats:

Summer 2001-2001

Name Mat I NO Runs HS Ave 100 50

ML Hayden 6 11 2 726 138 80.66 4 2

JL Langer 6 11 2 685 126 76.11 4 2

DR Martyn 6 8 2 393 124* 65.50 2 2

RT Ponting 6 10 3 366 157* 52.28 1 1

AC Gilchrist 6 9 1 353 118 44.12 1 1
SK Warne 6 8 0 286 99 35.75 – 2

ME Waugh 6 8 0 269 86 33.63 – 2

SR Waugh 6 8 0 219 90 27.38 – 2

Incl South Africa

Name Mat I NO Runs HS Ave 100 50

AC Gilchrist 8 11 3 695 204* 86.88 3 1
ML Hayden 8 13 2 911 138 82.82 5 3

JL Langer 8 13 2 750 126 68.18 4 2

DR Martyn 8 10 2 528 133 66.00 3 2

RT Ponting 8 12 3 452 157* 50.22 1 1

SK Warne 8 10 0 361 99 36.10 – 3

ME Waugh 8 10 0 347 86 34.70 – 3

SR Waugh 8 10 0 251 90 25.10 – 2