Saving one’s bacon

If there was any speculation after day three, as to whether Andrew Symonds had saved his place in the Test team with three quick wickets, there could be no doubt at the end of day four. The only question is will he get man of the match. Surely, that honour belongs to Michael Hussey for his incredible efforts on the second morning, but more wickets for Symonds tomorrow could make it interesting.

After an excellent spell yesterday, Symonds entered the fray with Australia well placed at 4-193, 237 runs in front of South Africa. He opened his account with a third ball six and proceeded to 72 from just 54 balls, heaving another five blows way over the fence. At the same time, Hayden exploded and when the partnership was over 15.1 overs later, the score had been advanced by 124 (at 8.18 runs per over). When the dust settled just three balls later the innings was closed, having seen 10 runs and three wickets from the final Kallis over.

Symond’s added to his success for the match with 2-6 including the vital wickets of Kallis and first Test hero, Jacques Rudolph. Symonds modestly admitted that he was pleased to have finally made a contribution.

Of course, Symonds will hold his place for the Sydney Test. The team will probably remain unchanged except for the return of Langer, who had a net yesterday. It’s hard to know how close Symonds was to being dropped for Sydney. Many, myself included thought he should not have played in Melbourne. I’m assuming that he would have been dropped for Sydney had he not made a contribution in Melbourne. Would the three wickets on day three have been enough? Given the benevolence extended to Symonds thus far, I suspect that those three wickets would have been enough.

While on the subject of saving one’s bacon, how many others have rescued their careers from the brink? Of course, it’s all speculation as we cannot know the minds of the selectors. I’m pretty certain the Matthew Hayden rescued his career from oblivion in the final Ashes Test. And what a turn around. Perhaps Steve Waugh did the same against Pakistan in late 2002, scoring a century in the final Test. It is possible he did the same just five Tests later with his famous last ball century at the SCG.

The iconic 4th Test at the MCG in 1982 which England won by 3 runs is remembered for the last wicket stand of Alan Border and Jeff Thomson. Border finished on 62 not out. Border has scored 83 runs at 16.6 for the series, closely following 84 runs at 16.8 (at least he was consistent) in a three Test series in Pakistan. Many in the press were crying for Border to be axed. In the euphoria of the match, it is often forgotten that AB was probably batting for more than the match. He scored 89 and 83 in the next Test and the rest is history.

In 1997, Mark Taylor was on the verge of dropping himself. In the final first class match before the Ashes, he was dropped on one by Dean Jones. He proceeded to 60 odd and played in the first Test. Having failed in the first innings of the first Test as Australia was shot out for 117, Tubby made a famous and celebrated century as Australia made a match of it before going down. The rest, as they say, including an Australian record of 334 not out, is history.

If you can think of any other examples, feel free to let me know and I’ll compile a list.

And for a “not quite” story: Just before he batted in the 2nd Test against Pakistan in 1972-73, John Benaud was told he had been dropped for the next Test. He proceeded to smash an angry and brilliant, match winning 142 and played just one more Test for Australia in a dead rubber in the Caribbean.

The Ghost of Greatbatch

It was November 1989 when Mark Greatbatch batted for almost two days in Perth, making 146 not out from 485 balls and enabling New Zealand to save the one off Test. While that is rather sobering when compared to another left-hander, Jacques Rodulph’s 102 not out from just 283 balls, we should remember that 283 balls is almost a whole One Day innings, and that Rudolph was up against a high quality attack. While Greatbatch had to contend with Alderman, Rackemann, Lawson and Hughes, Rudolph was up against the best spinner of all time, one of the best seamers ever and the fastest bowler on the planet.

Perhaps one thing in Rudolph’s favour was a lack of flair and imagination from the opposing captain. A few points about Ponting:

1. His churlish outbursts and on field remonstrations with the umpires are tiresome. Ponting behaves like that not because he is right but because he is bitterly disappointed. Why carry on like a pratt when the batsmen are offered the light and go off. If the lights are on and it’s almost dark, why would you put Brett Lee on to bowl. Der. And his lengthy argument at the death in the final One Day match against NZ about the no ball for 3 men in the circle – what was that about? Let’s assume for a moment that Ponting wasn’t wrong – and he was wrong – isn’t the umpire always right?

2. Warnie needs the occasional rest.

3. Ponting eventually moved Warne to the other end but much too late. For one hour after lunch, Rudolph didn’t face a single ball from Warne (and of course, Warne bowled for the whole hour). The South African batsmen dictated terms by choosing their ends. Ponting should have spelled Warne for an over and brought him on at the other end to try and catch Rudolph out.

4. The selectors must be pulling their hair out. Ponting has made it known that he is a big Symonds fan. The selectors want the all rounder project to work. And Ponting bowled Symonds for 3 overs in the entire match. It beggars belief. What a show of no confidence. Symonds position in the team surely must be under review. It needs to go to MacGill or a specialist batsman. For what it is worth, he did field magnificently.

5. Ricky must have been asleep during his formative years under the shrewd captaincy of Mark Taylor because he is obviously unaware of the concept of a partnership breaker. I recall that Ponting himself was occasionally a partnership breaker for Tubby. In the Greatbatch match, Border bowled his ordinary all rounder, Tom Moody for 17 second innings overs. Border had five and Dean Jones three. I’ve heard Hussey can bowl quite well. I’ve never seen him but feel that I should have been given the opportunity today.

6. We’ll never know if Australia would have won with more time. Well, we know that they would have won but we don’t know how much time they needed. It’s rather obvious that Ponting could have declared an hour earlier than he did, in allowing Hodge to make his double ton. The nice thing is that it was very recently that Ponting rather self righteously announced that Australian teams do not delay declarations so that personal milestones could be achieved! Very funny.

Perhaps Ian Chappell is right. Make Warnie captain. Just kidding but there is no question he would do a better job on the field.

Congratulations to Phil Jacques on his call up. He is a player that will go far. Lang and Haydos should be worried.

And with Jacques Kallis expected to make a come back for Melbourne we have “Jacques” coming out of our ears.

Well done the Boks. Today was a fantastic effort. And what’s more, for the first time in many years, the Sydney Test match won’t be a dead rubber.

Ten batsmen and a keeper

After the past few days of mayhem, I’m led to recall the words of the late, great Bill O’Reilly. “All you need for one day cricket is ten batsmen and a wicket keeper.” Of course, the Tiger intended these words as criticism. O’Reilly was possibly the first and almost certainly the most ardent hater of one day cricket. I believe that “the pyjama game” was coined by O’Reilly. While this week’s games and teams have taken the shape of O’Reilly’s jibes, with Daniel Vettori (two Test centuries) batting at ten, I think it’s great. In my opinion, the last two games of the Chappell Hadlee Trophy were one day cricket as it should be played.

Sometimes, when One Day cricket is criticised, the detractors lose sight of what the game is. Perspective beings balance and the truth is that one day cricket to a large extent saved cricket. One day cricket is about revenue – cricket for the masses means money for the coffers. The money brought in by one day cricket allows Test cricket to be played without the burden and pressure of financial demands. While it is true that Test cricket on the whole is in a healthy state in its own right, this not always and will not always be the case. I look at it a little like an artist who produces and sells pieces that are not really his true love or style but they pay the bills. Which means he can concentrate on what he really enjoys, even if that doesn’t pay the bills. The idealists may describe that as selling your soul. The pragmatists may look at it is as being sensible.

The last two matches had the main thing required in a one day match – a close finish. It also had runs galore – over 1,300 in fact. And it seems to me that there is something more exciting about a high scoring close finish than a low scoring finish. True, there have been some thrilling low scoring finishes over the years (mostly involving Michael Bevan), but I for one, like to see the ball going over the fence. And that happened 21 times on Saturday alone. It seems to be the same in golf – fans like lots of birdies and low scores – but if you see a tournament where the winner is 22 under, there is an outcry, especially from ex-players, that the game is being made too easy. At least in cricket we have a recourse – maybe so – but that’s why we have Test cricket.

It’s all history now but I have a few observations about the matches.

Symonds hit 50 from 16 balls in going from 100 to 150. There can’t have been too many quicker 50’s. Shahid Afridi holds the record for 0 to 50, which is 17 balls – amazing for a standing start.

After taking 3-5 from six overs and having the Kiwis quaking in the boots, Brett Lee slumped to 1-80 from ten, including an over that must have set a new record for stupidity. The 49th over had a beamer that was fended for four (and was called a no-ball), a bouncer that was called a wide and a no-ball for three in the circle (not really Lee’s fault). But still it didn’t quite cost his team the match.

New chum Lewis, went from the ice man to the vanilla slice man, going for 20 runs from the 49th over on Saturday. I find it hard to believe that Lewis and Johnson are considered better than all of Gillespie, Kasprowicz and Bichel. I’m sure the selectors are looking to the future but how far do you go before falling back to the faithful. I saw a promising young quick down at the Oval on Saturday. Perhaps he is a chance.

Hussey’s average in ODIs is now 151. Of course it is silly but he has made 604 runs, with five fifties and the runs are coming at a rate of 100.66 per 100 balls . His 88 on Saturday from just 56 balls was sensational. He went from 37 from 40 balls to 88 from 56 balls – 51 runs from 16 balls. While we are having some fun, let’s not forget that he is averaging 120 in Tests.

And of course, congratulations to the Kiwis for setting a new record run-chase with their successful 332.

World round up: England and Pakistan managed to rack up almost 600 the other night as England triumphed. They are doing battle at the moment in the 2nd ODI. And Sri Lanka and India are playing the second Test. Tendulkar became the first man to score 35 Test centuries – shall we say a, er, new record. And Kumble who keeps on going, took another “six for” as India hold a handy 246 run lead with six second innings wicket in hand. Murali of course, took a common place “7 for” and Irthan Pathan is proving to be a very useful cricketer. His bowling has come along in leaps and bounds and having made a first innings duck batting at eight, opened the second innings and made 93!

Hail to the Chief

Pakistan had several star performers during their recently concluded successful series against England. But one man stood above the rest and fittingly, it was the Pakistan skipper himself, the man mountain, Inzamam-ul-Haq. Shoaib was sensational, Salman Butt shone and Yousuf came through big time but for consistency and inspiration, look no further than big Inzi.

Inzamam made 431 runs at 107.75 with two centuries and three fifties. Top score of 109 and lowest score of 53. He was dismissed just twice in the final two Tests, being run out on both occasions. Not bad from a man who, despite a poor showing in the recent Super Test, despite jokes about his size, lack of speed and appalling running between wickets, has nothing to prove. In 105 Tests, Inzamam has scored just over 8000 runs at 51.61 with a top score of 329. Since taking over the captaincy, he has averaged just under 63.

It’s hard to believe that Pakistan has dispensed with England so empathically. Surely this is not the same team that was hammered in Australia less than twelve months ago. But it is more or less is. The team that met Australia in the first Test in Perth included such useful players as: Salman Butt, Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yousuf Youhana, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Sami, Shoaib Akhtar and Danish Kaneria. Abdul Razzaq has fallen away and Yousuf Youhana has changed his name but that aside, all of those afore mentioned played significant parts in defeating England. What’s the difference? The venue.

One also wonders whether England may have struggled to focus after the euphoria of regaining the Ashes. England would have been very keen to win the series – to really push for the unofficial tag as the best team in the world, they need to match Australia and win on the sub continent. While it is true that they suffered at the hands of injury and personal dramas, one could not help wondering if there was a touch of what is known in Rugby League circles as “end of season syndrome” (ESS). This is more than just “let down”. In years gone by, ESS occurred when the premiership winning team from the ARL competition travelled to Britain to play their British counter part. This took place shortly after the conclusion of the Australian season and the result was almost always victory to the less fancied British club. This was usually attributed to most of the Australian’s still having a blood alcohol level that would see them imprisoned, should they sit behind the wheel of a car.

However it happened, Pakistan rockets up the world Test rankings from 7th to 4th while England sheds some points. If India can account for Sri Lanka (which seems unlikely given the inclement weather), India will go to number two. As if any of that actually matters.