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Flem and the Frog

Australia is currently doing battle with the University of West Indies Vice Chancellor’s XI in a three day match and will start the Third Test on 1 May. But in the mean time, there are some other series in progress.

New Zealand are playing Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and in the first Test Stephen Fleming made a staggering 274 not out. This from a batsman who for a long time has struggled to convert half centuries to centuries – prior to this Test he had 33 half centuries and just 4 Test centuries and had a top score of 174 not out (also against Sri Lanka). Fleming did play one of the innings of the recent World Cup (134 not out) to help NZ overhaul a daunting target set by South Africa – perhaps that was a turning point. Whatever, 274 is a huge score and the second highest score for New Zealand (behind Martin Crowe’s 299 in 1990/91 (also against Sri Lanka)).

South Africa is “doing battle” with Bangladesh in what promises to be another farcical series. The only real areas of significance are that, like it or not, this is a new fixture for South Africa on the ICC Test Championship table and will lift their rating, and, it gives the South Africans the chance to set a few records, personal bests, that sort of thing… And of course, let’s not forget that cricket is the game of statistics and series like this can have the serious statisticians drooling!

South Africa won the first Test by an innings and 60 runs. South Africa lost just two wickets in their only innings with Rudolph (222 not out) and Dippenaar (178 not out) building an unbroken 3rd wicket partnership of 439. I can’t be bothered checking but I’m sure that constitutes several records.

And who remembers the “Frog in a Blender”? Paul Adams. He hasn’t played a Test since the 3rd Test against Australia in Durban, March 2002 but he’s back. And with a vengeance, turning in career best figures of 5/37 and a career best match analysis of 10/106.

Enough said on South Africa and Bangladesh.

If South Africa wins the series against Bangladesh (very likely), by my calculations, its ICC Test rating will rise to 1.611 and if Australia wins its series against West Indies (also very likely), its rating will rise to 1.615. So it really will be Australia by a whisker.

Blessing in disguise?

Australia is in firm control of the 2nd Test in Trinidad. At stumps on day three, Australia has a lead of 199 runs with nine second innings wickets in hand.

Earlier in the day, the West Indies did well to avoid the follow-on, scoring 408 in reply to Australia’s 4/576. This has been a dry track with not much bounce from the start. The ball is now keeping low and will become increasingly difficult to bat on. I think that Australia is better off with the West Indies batting last, so it may be a blessing in disguise that Australia was forced to bat.

Not that Australia would have been obliged to enforce the follow-on, but Steve Waugh does seem reticent to turn down the opportunity to make the opposition bat again. Maybe he thinks it is too defensive, taking a backward step to bat again in such circumstances. We have seen Australia struggle to finish several times having enforced the follow-on and of course, there was that famous loss in India when we last visited – only the third time that a match has been won by a team following on. And we do have the weakest attack that we have had for some time.

For the West Indies, Darren Ganga made his second century of the series as he and Lara stand head and shoulders above their colleagues. The West Indies innings also featured a dismissal via the hit wicket mode. A real rarity, and even more unusual following Lara hitting his wicket last Test.

Lee and Gillespie were the best bowlers for the Aussie’s in both the wickets and economy. Bichel only bowled 12 overs for 58 runs and I don’t believe that our World Cup hero will be required for the Third Test with the return of Glen McGrath.

It will also be interesting to see if the selectors continue with the five bowler policy once the attack is strengthened with McGrath’s return. It is an interesting situation. The selection policy has worked well thus far. It is not as if we have struggled in the batting department. And a clear winner hasn’t yet emerged from the two spinners. Perhaps MacGill is just in front but Hogg has dismissed Lara twice.

Langer departed early, courtesy of another terrible Asoka de Silva lbw decision, as de Silva keeps Russ Tiffen off the bottom rung of the international umpiring tree. At least this was a variation of the ball pitching outside the leg stump. On this occasion the bowler was around the wicket and the ball struck Langer outside the line of off stump.

It is good to see Australia getting some bad decisions as the West Indies certainly got the worse of them in the previous encounter.

Australia to win by 200 runs by lunch on the final day.

Testing Times

The Test series between Australia and the West Indies in the Caribbean starts tomorrow. For the cricket devotee, this event has been long awaited. But I suspect that for most people, with the World Cup glories fading and the War in Iraq in full swing, this series has been largely forgotten.

Just so you all know, here are some facts:

1. It starts in Guyana tomorrow (10 April – which is probably today by the time you read this).
2. Australia will be without Warne for the entire series (for obvious reasons – get used to it) and McGrath for at least the first two Tests. McGrath returned to Australia when is wife was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer.
3. Australia will be without Martyn for the entire series.
4. Brian Lara has been reappointed as captain of the West Indies – for the first time in more than two years.
5. Outgoing captain, Carl Hooper was selected in the team but has retired gracefully (on the surface, anyway).
6. Steve Waugh plays his 157th Test and will break the record for most Tests (which he shares with Allan Border).
7. If Australia wins the series, they return to the top of the ICC Test Champions Trophy ladder.
8. Jason Gillespie is fit to play. Let us hope that the wind does not blow to hard.
9. I still don’t have Foxtel.

The series will be no pushover for Australia. It is true that they suffered set back after set back in the World Cup campaign and forged ahead, seemingly unaffected.

Australia’s twelve has not been announced at the time of writing. The key decision is that of the spinner. Will it be Hogg or MacGill? Hogg is still officially a One Day specialist but I believe that he is a very serious contender for several reasons:

1. His form has been great right through the Australian One Day summer and the World Cup.
2. Lara mastered both MacGill and Warne last series in the West Indies. The Chinaman may be a different proposition.
3. MacGill did not have an impressive summer and was not impressive at the SCG in his Test call up. However, it should be noted that it is in his favour that he finished strongly in the final two matches of the Pura Cup – both against Qld. I think he bagged about 19 wickets.

I’m thinking that the 11 will be:

Hayden
Langer
Ponting
Love
Waugh
Lehman
Gilchrist
Bichel
Lee
Hogg
Gillespie

Aside from anything else, this team has surprising batting depth, with no bunnies. I’m not sure if I have the middle of the lower order exactly right but you get the idea.