Too Easy!

If you had told me that Australia played an entire match where Jason Gillespie faced more balls in a single innings than any other Australian batsman, I would have said Australia might have been in some trouble. But that was obviously not the case with New Zealand being swept aside by 9 wickets again.

As in the first Test, a “ticklish” target (164) was dispatched with consummate ease by Ponting and Langer. In fact, with the weather closing in, the end seemed to come with a twinkling of an eye. No need for a fifth day. Man of the match, Ponting followed his first innings century (105 from 110 balls) with a smashing 82 from 84 balls.

Man of the series, Gilchrist made another assault (60 not out) that only ended when he ran out of partners. Gillie may well have become the first Australian since Jack Fingleton in 1936 to score centuries in four consecutive Test innings. The Kiwis must hate the site of Gillie (more even than South Africa. Or England. Or Pakistan…). In this summer, he has played five Tests against New Zealand, playing just five innings of 126, 50, 121, 162 and 60 not out. That’s 519 runs at 129.75.

McGrath (18 @ 15.72) and Warne (17 @ 22.00) were the stand out bowlers for Australia, with McGrath making it to 499 wickets. He even flew Jane in just in case. The lifestyle of a cricketer has changed in the past fifty years! Thankfully, there were no red boots to be seen on McGrath.

Kasper and Gillespie’s figures of 8 wickets @ 39.87 and 7 wickets @ 45.71 could leave the selectors wondering if there is a place for Brett Lee. Not that I’m calling for the axe but watch this space.

And let’s not let Michael Clarke slip under the radar. He made 38 runs @ 12.66, coming in ahead of only McGrath (0 runs @ 0.00) in the averages. Still, he managed to stay in the all rounder class (by keeping his batting average above his bowling average) taking two wickets at 12.00 apiece.

We now have to wait a few months for the Ashes.

In other arenas, please be aware that Pakistan squared the three Test series with India, following a dramatic win in the third Test. Inzi, playing his 100th Test made 184 but was outshone by Younis Khan who made 267. They shared a partnership of 324, starting with the score at 2-7. Not bad. The drama unfolded on the final day with Pakistan taking 9 wickets after lunch, claiming the last one with just six overs remaining.

And the West Indies embark on a tour of South Africa minus Brian Lara, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle. In a sponsorship fiasco to rival the “Dream Team” saga at the Atlanta Olympics, the West Indies will be without Lara etc owing to conflict in their individual contracts with Cable and Wireless and the new team sponsor Digicel. Lara, who was later invited to join the team by the board, declined pending the selection of others left out for similar reasons. Only in the Caribbean!

A Blue day for the Bulls

Old news I know but for those of you on another or planet, or who simply don’t care much about the Pura Milk Cup, The Blues have taken it out in a thriller.

I write especially as the match was drama packed.

First drama was the Brett Lee “situation”. It seems Ponting and Lee wanted Lee to play in the Pura Cup final for the Blues. The Blues probably wanted him too (except for one of the Blue’s quicks). The trouble was that as twelfth man for Australia, Lee could not be released until the Test actually started and the Blues didn’t want Lee unless he could be there from the first ball – and the matches started on the same day. Now, NZ is 3 hours ahead of Queensland but as it turns out, the first day of the Test was washed out.

Furthermore, the Blues put the Bulls in on a sticky Brisbane day and the Bulls were rolled for 102, with Nathan Bracken swinging the ball up to a metre and taking six!! Lee wasn’t really missed.

The Blues took a lead with 188 on the back of 68 not out from Haddin – the only player to pass 40 at the half way point of the match.

Queensland made a match of it by making 268 (Love a splendid 116) and setting the Blues 183 for victory.

The Bulls were in it, taking wickets regularly for the first 97 runs. Then NSW consolidated with a 61 run partnership between Haddin (45) and Packman (25 – not bad for a prehistoric computer game!) and looked comfortable at 4-158.

Then an almighty collapse. The Blues lost 5-3 in 17 balls including two golden ducks. It seemed that the Bulls would win the day with the Blues needing another 22 runs with just one wicket in hand, and the all of momentum with the Blues.

But MacGill (11) and Bracken (11) held firm and saved the day. But not before a final twist. Seccombe grassed a diving catching with the score on 181 in what turned out to be the penultimate over.

Congratulations to the Blues on winning the Pura Milk Cup.

As a postscript, it was not surprising that Michael Bevan, now a Tassie Tiger, was named the Pura Milk Cup player of the year. He scored an incredible 1464 runs in 9 matches at 97.60, including 8 centuries and 2 fifties. Next were three Blues: Thornley and Jacques both topped 1000 runs for the season and were a major factor in the Blues making the final. Haddin was next best with 902 at 60.13. He is an impressive cricketer, out of the same mould as Gillie and must be the front runner for the keeper’s job should Gillie ever need to retire, God forbid.

The sublime and the ridiculous

A quick round up of the past few days. You may be aware that no less than three Test matches recently concluded. Two of them, Aust v NZ and Pakistan v India saw some sublime performances. And the other match between South Africa and Zimbabwe was just ridiculous, as was the series.

In Australia’s eventually crushing victory over New Zealand, the bug guns were out: McGrath 6/115 and Warne 5/39 took the bowling honours, while it was MOTM Gillie (121) and the comeback man, Simon Katich (118) saving the day. I should not omit that the Kiwis had one sublime performer in Hamish Marshall (146), though I wonder if he has ever faced a decent leg-spinner prior to this Test. 2nd Test starts on Friday, in Wellington.

In Mohali, it was Kamran Akmal (becoming the second wicket keeper in 24 hours, to score a ton batting at no 8) and Abdul Razzaq who saved Pakistan. Pakistan trailed by 204 on the first innings and slumped to 3-10 in their second and looked gone. They started recovered somewhat to start Day 5 just 53 in front and with just 4 wickets in hand. India must have had high hopes. By the time the 7th wicket fell, after a 204 run partnership, Pakistan were 203 in front. Inzi eventually declared, setting India 292 to win in next to no time. Not only did Pakistan salvage a draw, they probably just took the honours. 2nd Test starts on Thursday at Eden Gardens.

Thankfully, there is no 3rd Test between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Gillie and Kat save the day

At the close of day 3 at Jade Stadium, the match is very delicately balanced. Gilchirst once again pulled Australia out of the fire with the help of Simon Katich. I guess poor old Katich has sealed his own fate and can be expected to be dropped from the side for the next Test.

You may recall that Katich was unceremoniously dropped after his last Test century against India, in Sydney, where he played a big part in saving the Test, and that series (he also made 70 or 80 in the second innings). I’d like to say that Katich has repaid the selectors faith in him yesterday, but that is not the case. It’s more the other way around.

I don’t mean to bang a drum here but Katich’s treatment over the past 12 months has been shabby (of course, he was dropped after a successful tour of India where he played a crucial part in the wins in the first two Tests) and that sticks in my craw a little.

I felt very pleased for Katich (not to mention Australia) and surely he must be well on the way to cementing his place in the team.

Once again for Australia, it came down to the last roll of the dice, so to speak. Six wickets down, still 32 runs from avoiding the follow-on and facing batting last in the Test, Australia were in deep trouble. The Katich/Gillie partnership really was the final chance. And what a partnership, typical of a Gilchrist counter attack. Gilchrist raced to 50 from 52 calls and ultimately belted Vettori out of the attack (hitting him for 4 sixes), forcing NZ to take the new ball. The partnership ended at 212, just a handful of runs short of the Australian 7th wicket partnership (which coincidentally was made at this very ground by Doug Walters and Gus Gilmour).

With the departure of Gillie and then Katich in quick succession, it was all over pretty quickly for Australia and they finished just one run behind. On balance, you would still assess that New Zealand held the upper hand, with Australia having to bat last. But New Zealand has had a habit over the past 24 months of crumbling in their second innings, even (or is that especially?) after being in a strong position at the halfway point of a match.