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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”.

A record is a record

On day two of the Test between Zimbabwe and Australia, Matthew Hayden went on to post a magnificent 380 (38 x 4, 11 x 6) as Australia racked up 6/735. Adam Gilchrist hit a brilliant 113 from 94 balls (12 x 4, 4 x 6).

To put the dominance of Gilchrist and Hayden into perspective, consider that in the two completed sessions up to tea on day two, Australia scored 363 runs! That normally represents a good complete day’s work for Australia. And remember, that is for Australia. For the rest, 250-300 runs per day is the normal. In the recently completed Test between India and NZ, the scoring was about 260 per day.

Incredibly, both Hayden and Gilchrist scored centuries between lunch and tea. Hayden also scored a century in the final session the previous day. Cricinfo claims that Hayden is only the second batsman to score over 100 runs in two session of the same innings (Hammond being the first in 1932-33) but I believe that Bradman also did it in the first two sessions when he scored 334 in 1930.

Hayden hit a single from the last ball of the middle session to reach 376 – and break Brian Lara’s ten year old record. Steve Waugh ended speculation of a declaration at the tea break and sent the lads out after tea, presumably to allow Hayden to reach 400. He lasted three balls after tea, adding a boundary before holing out to part time off spinner, Trevor Gripper (which is a wonderful name for any sort of spin bowler, I think).

As could be expected, there has been a lot of talk about whether or not the strength of the opposition (or lack of) takes some shine from the record. I think the short answer is “no”. Perhaps it is a little hard to be too excited about beating or even flogging Zimbabwe but to score 380 runs in an innings, any innings, is incredible. And more so any Test innings. Hayden did not give a chance until he was 340. It should also be noted that Hayden made his century from 210 tens balls. The next 283 came from just 227 balls. That is a phenomenal rate of scoring, especially when sustained for that period of time. If the innings is broken down per 50 runs scored, the last five fifties were scored in 29 – 48 deliveries each.

I think Ian Healy evaluated it quite well. He made the point that when Lara made 375 against more noted opposition (England), he wasn’t too sure that England was a super power at that time (they had been recently thrashed by Australia in the 1993 Ashes series). And who could remember what teams were like in the long term. All that is remembered is the score. You could refer to Hammond’s score of 336 in 1932-33 (then the record) against New Zealand. How strong were New Zealand then? They certainly had not won a Test match at that point in time.

If you did want to evaluate the worth of an innings, you need to take into consideration the quality of the opposition and the quality of the pitch. I believe that they are the two main factors. You can do that by looking at other scores in the same innings and match. In this match, only one other player on either side (Gilchrist, 113*) reach 100. Hayden scored 52% of the total (with six wickets down).

When Lara scored his 375, he stood head an shoulders about his team mates – the next best score was 75*. He scored 63% of the team total (with five wickets down). England however, exactly equalled the West Indies total with 593 all out, with Smith (175) and Atherton (135) scoring well.

When Sobers scored 365*, he shared an enormous partnership with Conrad Hunt, who made 260. Pakistan had a century maker in each of its innings. Sobers score was 46% of the team total (with just three wickets down).

In Len Hutton’s 364 against Australia in 1938, other contributions in the same innings were 187 and 169. Australia failed dismally in both innings with the best innings being 69. It should be remembered that neither Fingleton nor Bradman batted in either innings and that the lads had chased the leather to the tune of 903 runs before swinging the willow in anger.

I won’t go on (but would like to) but the point is that in the matches where the next three best Test scores were made (and the trend does continue), there were other big scores (150 plus) made in the same match. And in most cases, quite a few. This is not the case with this match (which I acknowledge is partly because the Zimbabwe batting is so weak).

Finally, in all of Test cricket, there have been just 17 triple centuries. Since 1884, when Billy Murdoch scored the first Test double century, the record has been broken 8 times – that’s 8 times in 120 years. I have attached a list tracing the progression of the record from 1884. There have been 1661 Tests, which would conservatively represent 50,000 innings – how many of those were played against “weak” opposition?

In my opinion, Matthew Hayden’s score of 380 is worthy any and all the credit it receives.

Score,Player,Year,Team,Oppoment
380,Matthew Hayden,2003-04,Aust,Zimbabwe
375,Brian Lara,1993-94,West Indies,England
365*,Sir Garfield Sobers,1957-58,West Indies,Pakistan
364,Sir Len Hutton,1938,England,Aust
336*,Sir Walter Hammond,1932-33,England,NZ
334,Sir Donald Bradmad,1930,Aust,England
325,Andy Sandham,1929-30,England,West Indies
287,Reg Foster,1903-04,England,Aust
211,Billy Murdoch,1884,Aust,England

Matt the bat

Greetings to all on this first day of the 2003-2004 season!
Australia took control on the first day of the first Test, the first Test ever against Zimbabwe on home soil.
Zimbabwe won the toss and sent Australia in to bat. The WACA wicket was not its usual bouncy self but was a real belter – “a road” as Terry Alderman described it.
Australia finished the day at 3/372 (run rate of 4.13). The day was rather uneventful except for a whirlwind opening with Langer smashing boundaries and a magnificent last session where 167 runs were added. The unmistakable star was Matthew Hayden, who finished undefeated on 183 (from 266 balls). The startling aspect was that his century came from 210 balls – which means his next 83 came from just 56 balls! The skipper is on 61 and is looking good. He has now made his last 322 Test runs without being dismissed. And he has made 211 runs against Zimbabwe without blemish.
There is a statistical point of interest if we look at the first Test of last season (against much more fancied opposition). Australia batted first (also sent in) and at the close of play were 2/364, with Hayden on 186. Now that’s consistency! Hayden added just 11 to his overnight score last season. My tip is that he will add a few more than that tomorrow and notch his second Test double hundred. But then again, that was my tip last year.