The most experienced team

I am currently reading Graeme Yallop’s book, titled Silence of the Lambs – his account of the events of the summer of 1978-79. It details his rise to captain during the height of the turmoil caused by World Series Cricket. I have found the book quite startling because of Yallop’s informal and candid approach – the style is very conversational and is full of colloquialisms. I would be quite sure that Yallop penned the book himself. It was also very controversial when published (which is probably why a publisher backed it) and while Yallop’s openness and honesty is disarming, admirable (Yallop is quite sharing about other players, selectors, the ACB, umpires, media and opposition players), it is incredible (and was somewhat naive on Yallop’s part) to think that the book was published in the early stages of his career. A career that he hoped would be long and successful. Given cricket hierarchy’s past treatment of anyone who dared to openly criticise them, it is a wonder that Yallop ever played for his country again!

I intend to discuss some of the things in Yallop’s book at a later stage as there are some very interesting insights. However, this is a pretty simple email.

Yallop makes the point that before the 1st Ashes Test of 1978-79, the Australian team for that Test could scrape together a total of just 55 Tests between them. The opposing English team (which was far less affected by WSC) totalled 298 matches – a great deal more. That lead me to think of what was the most experienced team (in total Tests played) ever to take to a cricket field.

To put England’s 298 into perspective, consider that Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have a total of 354 matches between them!

I don’t know the answer to which team was the most experienced. Cricinfo does not have any records in that area. And you cannot go to a particular match and request the Test match count for the team at that time.

The 3rd Test team of the Ashes series that just concluded included McGrath and Warne (Warne missed the last two tests and McGrath missed the last) had played a total of 635 matches. Not bad but Lehmann (8 Tests) had just replaced Mark Waugh (128 Tests) so let’s go back to Pakistan.

The 1st Test team of: Langer, Hayden, Ponting, Waugh M, Waugh S, Martyn, Gilchrist, Warne, Lee, Gillespie and McGrath had played a total of 709 matches before the start of that Test. That’s an average of 64.2 matches per player – comfortably more than the team total of Yallop’s band of men!

I don’t know, but I wouldn’t mind betting that this team was the most experienced Test cricket team to take a field. Perhaps the West Indian team of the mid to late eighties may rival this, but given the greater number of Tests played today, I doubt it.

Does anyone know the highest team total of matches played?

PS: I chose the 1st Test in Pakistan because Bichel (with just a handful of Tests) replaced Gillespie (34 Tests at that time) for the 2nd and 3rd Tests.

Sydney Test wrap-up and the small matter of lbw

Yes, I know – there was a one-day match last night in which Australia was soundly beaten. For those of you who live off-shore, the score was Sri Lanka 5/343 (Jayasuriya 122 (105 balls), Atapattu 101 (124 balls)) d Australia 264 (Jayasuriya 10-1-39-4). The less said the better, except for “Well played Sri Lanka”.

The 5th Ashes (or it seems that should be “Orange”) Test ended just four days ago so I thought I’d make some comments before it is ancient history. As we would all know, England won, and won very well. Scores:

Eng 362 (Butcher 124) & 9/452 (Vaughan 183) d Aust 363 (Waugh 102, Gilchrist 133) & 226 (Bichel 49, Caddick 7/94) by 225 runs.

England thoroughly outplayed Australia in all departments and deserved to win. They batted better, bowled better and even fielded better. Yep, that is all departments.

Australia lost the match in the first innings. They should have restricted England’s total by taking the chances offered and they should also have made more runs. Most of the top order gave away their wickets cheaply with careless shots. Australia was knocked over easily in the final innings on a very difficult pitch – but that’s OK. It is quite acceptable for Test match pitches to be difficult on the 5th day. And that wasn’t the worst day 5 pitch ever seen – not by a very long way. When batting last at the SCG, you need a first innings lead of a least 150 to be in with a good chance (and Australia still may have lost with a lead that size).

Australia grassed two critical chances on the first day which were very catchable. Macgill dropped Hussain with a very simple caught and bowled when he was on six (he made 75) and Gilchrist dropped a more difficult chance from Butcher when we was on 39 (he made 124). Butcher was also dropped on 13 by Martyn, which was a very difficult chance at 3rd slip. The English innings was built around the partnership of 166 between Butcher and Hussain and Australia had the chance to break it early.

In addition, Butcher could/should easily have been given out lbw from the first ball he faced. Once again, the umpiring in this match was very poor. We had the same umpires as in Melbourne and they (particularly Russell Tiffin) were even worse. England did have the better of the decisions in this Test but Australia cannot (and thankfully didn’t) use that as an excuse for losing. However, having seen Russell Tiffin’s performance last night I would like to discuss the lbw decisions of late.

My Grandfather wouldn’t watch cricket because he hated the lbw law – he said that if they abolished lbw as a method of dismissal, then he would watch cricket. I don’t know what he was sniffing – but cricket without lbw – never!! But I do understand what he meant. The biggest grievance I have with lbw is inconsistencies from umpires. South African umpire Rudy Koertzen has been criticised for not giving Warne enough lbw’s. Maybe he could give more but he is consistent. All bowlers find it hard to get an lbw from Rudy – it has to be hitting middle peg halfway up. What I hate is when an lbw appeal is not upheld and some time later, another appeal, which looks “less out” is given. This is sometimes because there is inconsistency between umpires – some are less conservative than others. I’m note sure what can be done about that. But each umpire should ensure that hiw own decisions are consistent from seesion-to-session and day-to-day throughout a Test match.

There was a furore at the end of Day 4 when the first three Aussies were fired out lbw (Bichel, batting at number 3, made it four in a row the next morning). First to go was Langer – Langer was given lbw to a ball pitching well outside leg stump. The ball was clearly hitting the stumps but it seems to be common sense that if a right arm bowler, bowling over the wicket to a left hander, bowls an off cutter (an off cutter to a right handed batsman) which hits in line with middle and leg, the ball MUST have pitched outside leg. The sad thing is that I copied and pasted this passage about Langer’s dismissal from my Melbourne Test report. Even sadder is that it was the same batsman, bowler and umpire!!

Hayden and Ponting were given out by David Orchard and there was some doubt about both. Ponting’s decision was probably OK but the ball may have (did) hit just outside the line of off stump. It was certainly hitting the stumps. Hayden’s looked good for line and also height, as it struck him on the knee roll. However, this is were Test umpires should be earning their money – Hayden is a big guy, was on the front foot and bats 50cm outside of the crease. Given those factors, there must have been some doubt about the height, and Hayden should not have been given out. Channel 9’s new toy, Hawkeye (which plot’s the simulated trajectory of the ball right to the stumps) showed the ball going just over the middle stump. Let’s assume for a moment that Hawkeye is accurate (and it does seem to be there abouts), I would argue that it is bad decision even if Hawkeye shows the ball clipping the off bail – how could the umpire be sure that the ball was hitting the stumps?

The extremely contentious aspect of the lbw’s at the beginning of the Australian innings was that just before, Australia had difficulty removing Steve Harmison who proceeded to belt them around the park having been given not out, when clearly out, in consecutive overs before he had scored. One was a regulation nick and the other was lbw, playing back and across to a beautifully pitched googly from Macgill.

For some balance, it should be mentioned that Vaughan had previously been given out lbw when the ball wasn’t really that close to the stumps at all. But he had some consolation – he had made 183.

And I come back to the Butcher lbw on the first morning. It had a big influence on the match and was not backed up by consistency. Just like the Langer dismissal, there was a right arm quick bowling to a left-hander. Unlike the Langer dismissal, the ball did the right things. It swung into the batsman from outside off stump, pitched on the stumps and was taking middle and leg. It was the classic Butcher lbw ball (McGrath and Gillespie had both already claimed him this way in the series) and should have been rewarded. Given that it was not, Tiffin should not have been giving an lbw for the rest of the match unless the ball pitched on the stumps and was hitting middle stump, half way up.

This is how I think that an lbw appeal should be considered by an umpire. Firstly, rely on instinct – did it look like it was hitting the stumps? Did it look out? Do you find yourself taking the pistol out of the holster? No Russ, don’t fire yet. You have to think about it. Should the appeal be rejected for any reason? Where did the ball pitch? Did it strike outside the line of the stumps? How was the height? Is the ball new? Is this a bouncy track? Was the batsman on the front foot? How far down the pitch was he? Is the bowler Shane Warne? Once those questions are answered appropriately, the batsman can be given out.

And then there are those cases where you just can’t see how a batsman was not given out. In three consecutive overs last night, Sri Lanka had big shouts that were turned down (two by Tiffin). All appeared to be hitting middle peg. For the two that were bowled by Jayasuriya, Brett Lee was way back and across and the ball was going nowhere but middle stump. Tiffin seemed to indicate that Lee was saved by hitting the ball – when he clearly did not. So maybe Tiffin just can’t see.

Enough said on lbw and Russell Tiffin – we have seen some very ordinary umpiring in the last three weeks. Let’s hope that the World Cup is not affected (or decided) by bad umpiring.

Once we were champions

I have some comments to make on the Sydney Test match but I’ll do that another time soon.

Australia’s loss to England in the 5th Test in Sydney coincided with South Africa taking top rung on the ICC Test Championship ladder.

Having just read an article in the SMH covering the subject, I thought I’d make some comments as the journalist who wrote the article didn’t seem to really understand how it works. Comments such as “Under the vagaries of the championship ladder, South Africa took first place for the first time…” are not accurate. There are no vagaries – it is a simple, mathematical system. Of course, there are short comings in using a mathematic formula to determine the best cricket team in the world – in many ways this is still a subjective topic. However, to have an official number one, as in tennis or golf, mathematics must replace subjectivity.

The system works as follows:

Each team is awarded points for each Test series (minimum two matches) it plays. Two points for a series win, one point for a draw and zero for a loss. The margin of a series win is not taken into account.

The most recent series played against each country, home and away, is included in the points total for each country. South Africa improved it’s rating because it only drew the previous home series with Pakistan. On the other hand, Australia beat England four years ago, so its rating was stable.

There are 10 Test playing nations which means that there can be a maximum of 18 series results included. Because not all countries have played the same amount of series, the points total is divided by the number of series played. The result is the points rating and that determines each team’s place on the ladder. The maximum rating which can be achieved is 2.00 (which is pretty obvious when you think about it).

If you want to check out the ladder for yourself, here is a link:
Why Australia is not on top of the ladder, even though it most likely is the best team in the world (we did, after all, soundly beat South Africa home and away in the past 12 months) and how we will return to the top:

1. Australia has played only 13 of the possible 18 series. South Africa and NZ (3rd on the ladder) have played 17 series. Of course, this is addressed by dividing the total points by series played BUT the shortfall in the Aussie series count are “easy beats”. Sorry Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (on Aussie pitches) but you are easy beats. Australia is missing home series against those three teams, as well as away series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Barring bad weather, this would represent an almost certain 10 from 10 points and the lead on the table. The ACB can improve our standing by scheduling the required series.

2. Australia has played (and won) a home series against Sri Lanka but it is not included in the calculations. When the system was introduced in 2001, there was a five year cut-off where series played outside of that were not included. The Sri Lanka series fell just outside of the 5 year period. From now on, once a series is played, the result is included until another series is played.

3. The cancelled tour to Zimbabwe cost 2 points which would almost have been enough to keep us above South Africa – but not quite.

4. The drawn series against NZ last summer cost us the lead. We need just one more point (from the current 13 series) to achieved the lead. Australia would almost certainly have won the first two Tests, and the series, had rain not intervened. Some say that Australia could have lost that series but they forget that Australia nearly lost the first match only after making a very sporting declaration.

5. Australia are playing the West Indies in the West Indies in a few months time. The last result for that series was a draw (2-2). If Australia wins that series, they will return to the top of the table.

The final point is an interesting one – Steve Waugh said yesterday that he might play on if there was a challenge involved. I wouldn’t mind betting that retiring, having returned the team to the top of the ICC Test Championship ladder is quite an

A day when one man seemed more important than the game itself

At the end of day two of the 5th and final Test of the Ashes series, Australia is precariously placed after two days of below par performance. Australia trails England by 125 runs on the first innings with just five wickets in hand.

However the state of the game was almost forgotten by those at the ground as feats of our beloved captain unfolded in the final session.

I count myself as being very lucky to have chosen to attend Day 2 of this Test (as I usually do) and to have been present for an exciting and historic moment. No, make that moments.

Steve Waugh entered this match with several milestones before him, and playing in front of a home crowd:

1. This was his 156th Test – which equals Allan Border and the all time record. That was the easy one – and was achieved when he walked onto the ground at 11:00 am yesterday. (Well, technically it was achieved when he was chosen in the eleven.)

2. Waugh required 69 runs to make 10,000 Test runs – just the third player in history to achieve that.

3. If Waugh could make a century, he would equal Sir Donald Bradman’s Australian record for the number of Test centuries – 29. It is interesting to note that Waugh has played exactly three times as many Tests as Bradman.

When Steve Waugh entered the arena with Australia 3-56 just before lunch, he would have had one milestone in mind: Saving the innings. Not so much recently, and not at all in this series, but over the years, this task has been presented to Waugh many, many times and it is a task that he has risen to on many celebrated occasions. And today was no exception.

Waugh finished the day at 102*, hitting a cover drive to the boundary from the final ball of the day. This act sent the emotional and excited crowd into and state of euphoria. For a sports fan, I cannot imagine and finer moment.

The final session saw Australia score 170 runs from 36 overs (run rate of 4.72), while losing two important wickets. Waugh scored 94 runs in the session and his century came from just 130 balls and included 18 fours (72 in boundaries). Those statistics indicate that this was not just a century but an innings of authority and aggression – and it was.

This was like watching a Steve Waugh who was ten years younger. There was no scratchy, nervous start. He was rarely beaten and didn’t offer anything close to a chance. He thumped the ball through the offside with the brutal backfoot drive and the front foot cut. He worked the ball of his pads with power and timing. He came down the pitch and cover drove the off-spinner. In fact, seven of the boundaries were scored in front of square on the off side. There were no straight drives or pulls or hooks but this was vintage Waugh. At times crude, but very effective.

And the man ran between the wickets like his life depended on it, taking quick singles, running a second on the throw and pushing Martyn and later Gilchrist to turn twos into threes. He survived a third umpire decision for a run out when on 63 – a few anxious moments for the crowd.

With two overs to play, Waugh was on 88. I said to my friend, Big Scott “He won’t get his hundred now”, although Waugh had (much) earlier hit 22 from two overs. He seemed to be playing for stumps. But the first ball of Hoggart’s over went for four – 92. Waugh then worked a ball to deep backward square. Waugh called Gilchrist back for an aggressive second run and slid full length to make his ground as a good throw came in – 94. The final ball of the over was worked for a single – 95. The final over of the day was to be bowled by the off-spiner, Dawson.

Waugh resolutely defended the first three balls and it seemed that Waugh, in typical bloody minded fashion wouldn’t be forced into going to go for the ton just to please the crowd. This was Test cricket and there was a match to be won and lost and his team was nowhere close to being in a winning position. Then to our surprise and delight he opened up and scythed the ball though the off side. Delight turned to disappointment as Waugh took a hard run three. He was now 98 but at the wrong end with 2 balls to go. Steve Waugh would never knock back a Test run just so that he could be on strike to score a hundred before stumps!

Gilchrist came several paces down the pitch to the second last ball and calmly flicked it into the on side for an easy single. Gilchrist is a very special player (almost as an aside, he had made 45 from 46 (7 x 4) in fairly subdued fashion). I’d doubt that a batsman scoring a single to progress to 45 has ever received such a cheer. One ball remaining and Steve Waugh needed two runs for a fairy tale end to the day. In some ways, there was much anxiety but in others it seemed inevitable.

After what seemed and eternity and several field changes, the final ball was bowled with three men around the bat. Anything hit firmly through the offside would be at least two. Waugh came down the pitch and smashed the ball through the covers. It is a moment I shall always remember. To stand with 35,000 others, with one’s arms raised, head thrown back, roaring towards the heavens to celebrate the achievement of a great sporting warrior is a soul cleansing thing. Very primal. Very tribal.

At the close of play, Australia was 5/237 – which represented somewhat of a recovery from 5/150 chasing 362. Overall, it was not a good two days work with poor catching allowing England to score many more runs than they should have. And then careless batting seeing us slump to 5-150. But even then, it didn’t seem to matter – as long as Steve Waugh was in and batting brilliantly, all seemed well with the world. Australia’s hopes are with Gilchrist and Waugh tomorrow and there is much to look forward to.

I don’t want to comment a great deal on whether Waugh will/should stay or go but will make two points:

1. I think that the Daily Telegraph “Save Steve Waugh” campaign is juvenile and childish. Of course, it is what we should expect from the “Tele”. However, I would have thought that trying to influence and bully the selectors through and emotional, public outcry is like telling a rebellious teenager not to stay out late!

2. I think that Steve Waugh will retire after this match for two reasons:

a) His comment on the eve of the Test when asked what was his defining moment in cricket was “Who knows? Perhaps it will be this Test.” This was said just after all of the potential milestones before him had been raised.

b) Waugh batted today like a man at peace. He seemed at ease – like a man playing to meet his destiny (a bit like Invanisovic at Wimbledon in 2001). His timing and footwork, which have not been great in recent times were present. He had clearly lifted and I don’t think it was just because the innings was in tatters. I cannot believe the way he ran today.

Whatever the case, I believe that he has earned the right to chose when he retires and his form warrants that he be retained. I think the fact that both Allan Border and David Boon could have offered the same arguments when they “were retired” does count against Waugh’s chances of choosing the terms.

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