Dongles and Boycs eat their hats

For Dongles and Geoffrey Boycott, day two of the Boxing Day Test ended with a severe case of indigestion. With Australia at 5/84 and Andrew Symonds (average 18.47) making his way out to bat on a seaming deck, Geoff Boycott boldly declared that if Roy could make a half century, he would eat his hat. Those were not my exact thoughts but they well described my sentiments at the time. Geoffrey Boycott spent the rest of the day at the all you can eat buffet as two big Queenslanders demolished England.

I must give credit where credit is due. I have been a Symonds detractor at Test level. I’m still not convinced of his long term credentials but today might well be a turning point. At face value, the innings deserves accolades. There couldn’t have been much more trying conditions – 5 for 84 and the wicket was offering plenty of assistance. The first half hour was difficult for Symonds but once he was set, and the wicket settled a little and the English were broken, his innings was commanding. To add some perspective to what this innings means to Symonds, he is in his 18th Test innings and today scored 33% of his Test runs!

Once again, the English have been broken and once again, it seems, all too easily. In this series, when needed, Australia has always seemed to find someone to step up and wrest back control. With Symonds and Hayden having a day in the sun, pretty much each member of the team has had a least one starring performance. Australia’s batting to date has been mostly carried by three men – Ponting, Hussey and Clarke have all averaged over 100 for the first three Tests. Today they managed 7, 6 and 5 and it seemed a fair bet that Symonds would continue that simple, little numeric sequence. However, when it was needed, both Hayden and Symonds almost surpassed England individually. Their partnership was worth 75% more than the entire England innings.

England has rarely provided such sterling performances and certainly not often enough. I could not believe how easily they rolled over today. The heads seemed to be down when Symonds and Hayden looked comfortable at 5 for 130 – still 30 runs behind England. Instead of pressing for a breakthrough, Flintoff went on the defensive. It has to be said that although Flintoff is an inspiring player, his captaincy is becoming negative and uninspiring.

Enough already, most of you won’t read this until the Sydney Test has started and this will be old news.

The curtain falls on the dynamic duo

Throughout history, we remember our dynamic duos. The real dynamic duo: Batman and Robin, of course. Steve and Terri, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Romeo and Juliet, Samson and Delilah, Bogie and McCall, Fred and Ginger, Sonny and Cher, Bert and Loni, Dean and Jerry, Howard and Costello, Abbot and Costello. I’ll admit that some are greater than others but that is to name just a few.

Cricket lends itself to a tradition of partnerships. More often than not, there are formed by like kinds – opening batsmen and opening bowlers. Names that roll of the tongue are Greenidge and Haynes, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Slater and Taylor, Lawry and Simpson and yes, even Hayden and Langer. In the bowling department you have Lillee and Thommo, Miller and Lindwall, Marshall and Garner, Larwood and Voce.

Perhaps the greatest pairing of all time has just been ended. An unlikely mix, perhaps even an odd couple: An opening bowler and a leg spin bowler. Glenn Donald McGrath and Shane Keith Warne. Pigeon and Warnie. Two of the greatest bowlers the world has seen played for the one team, at almost exactly the same time, for a very long time. Today, at a press conference, at 12:37 AEDT, Shane Warne officially announced his retirement from all forms of cricket, thus breaking the famous partnership. Consequently, this article will focus on Warne, but it seems right to share some of McGrath’s details at this point in time.

Shane Warne is recognised by many as the greatest spin bowler of all time. There are plenty who see him as the greatest bowler of all time. He was voted one of the five cricketers of the 20th century but 100 leading cricket luminaries. Warne will leave the game as the taker of most Test wickets – he currently has 699 and barring mishap will finish with something a little over 700. But Warne is much more to cricket than a large stack of impressive numbers. More than any modern day player, Warne has changed the game itself. Before Warne’s emergence, cricket was dominated by pace bowling. Spin was for part timers, certain pitches (such as the SCG) and the sub-continent. Leg-spin was all but dead. Every kid in the street wanted to be Lillee, Thommo or McDermott. Now a great many want to be Shane Warne. I do have to add that I hope that children around the world limit their endeavours to emulate Warnie to purely cricket pursuits.

Glenn McGrath currently has Test 555 wickets – the third highest total and more than any other pace bowler – at the average of 21.65 runs per wicket and striking at 51.8 balls per wicket. Once again, mighty impressive numbers, but McGrath is more than that. McGrath’s place on the list of greats seems far less clear cut than Warne’s. McGrath does not, nor has never had, the pace of many of the greats. Some may say that the “metronome” lacks a certain appeal. While these are fair comments, it is indisputable that McGrath is one of the greatest new ball bowlers ever and he has been a match winner for Australia.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: The most important reason for Australia’s domination for the past 10-12 years is Warne and McGrath. Not only are they two of the greatest bowlers of all time, but in being opposites, they cover all conditions. The hole left by these two is large. At least the Ashes are safe, as is the Frank Worrell Trophy, the Border Gavaskar Trophy, the Trans Tasman Trophy, the World Cup, the ICC Champions Trophy and many others. But for how long? There seems potential, especially in Stuart Clark to replace McGrath. But where is the new Warne? Magilla is just one year younger than Warne and has flipped his lid anyway. And there is nobody else. Please, I beg you, don’t talk of off spinners.

The first time I saw either Warne of McGrath in action was on the same day, in what became a famous Test. It also happened to be my last day in the corporate box, as sadly, my father changed jobs shortly after. The occasion was day one of the 2nd Test between South Africa and Australia, January 1994. This was just the 3rd Test match for McGrath, who was yet to establish himself. For Warne, it was his 22nd Test and he had just established himself as a super star, following his rampant 1993 Ashes tour and routing of New Zealand on his return to Australia. In this match, McGrath struck first. B-b-bloody beauty – one for one, as Andrew Hudson received possibly the worst lbw decision I have ever seen. McGrath took just one more wicket in the match. Warne, on the other hand, took 12 wickets, including seven on the first day including a spell between lunch and tea, where he took a wicket in each over for four overs straight. Australia famously lost the match by 5 runs, suffering a last day collapse. McGrath, who has always professed to having an ambition to score the winning runs in a Test match, was last man out. I wouldn’t mind betting that his ambition was born in his third Test match.

Match details:

We should not forget that Warne had humble beginnings. Warne started his unhappy relationship with Indian batsmen, in his first Test, way back in January 1992 at the SCG. His figures were 45-7-150-1 as he was belted, particularly by Ravi Shastri. It should be noted that Warne did eventually get his man – he had Shastri caught in the deep for just 206. This was also Warne’s first meeting with the Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar announced himself on the international stage with 148 not out and never looked back. And Warne never got the better of him. Warne’s bowling average in 14 tests against India is 47.18.

Match details:

The turning point for Warne came in Colombo in August 1992. After Sri Lanka’s first innings, Warne has 1 Test wicket for 335 runs. Please don’t discount this turning point because it was “only against Sri Lanka”. The context was that Australia trailed by a whopping 291 runs on the first innings. Australia cobbled together 471 runs in the second innings, including 35 from Warne who put on 40 for the last wicket with Whitney. Sri Lanka were left needing 181 for victory. They lost their last 8 wickets for 37 runs, Australia winning by 16. Border, God love him, showed faith in Warne and put him on with Sri Lanka needing 31 runs with 3 wickets in hand. Warne, for the first of many, many times, showed his champion quality, took the last three wickets and finished with 3 for 11 from 5 overs.

Match details:

Of course, all of that was far from home and mostly forgotten. Do you remember? The big step to stardom came at the MCG, against the West Indies. Most would remember that series, which the West Indies eventually won 2-1, by winning the last two Tests, including the 4th, in Adelaide by one run. In his first Test against the West Indies, Warne ripped through them in the 2nd innings, taking 7-52 – figures that remained his best against the Windies. This result caused a stir and left many lamenting Warne’s omission from first Test in Brisbane. Remember, this was in the days where you didn’t take a spinner into matches at venues such as Perth and Brisbane. I think it well illustrates how Warne has changed perceptions. As it turns out, Brisbane is Warne’s happiest hunting ground. In the Brisbane test that series, Australia suddenly had the West Indies on their knees on the final day but couldn’t deliver the killer blow. The West Indies finished with eight wickets down and I am sure Warne would have made all the difference.

McGrath was dropped after that Sydney Test match against Pakistan and was in and out of the team for the next year or so. It was in Bridgetown in March 1995 McGrath played, took eight wickets and the rest is history. Australia won the match, the series and McGrath was never dropped again. This is where the Warne and McGrath partnership really began. Warne and McGrath were separated many times over the next 11 years but except when Warne was dropped for one Test in the West Indies in 1999, the reasons were for injury, suspension and personal reasons.

I won’t describe Warne’s 699 wickets one by one. I’m sure some were given lbw when they should not have been. I will share some of my favourite memories of Warne’s on field career, before getting to his off field achievements.

The Gatting ball, of course, is the one that everyone knows – even non-cricket people. If you have a TV, you have most likely seen that ball. And what a beauty. I do need to reiterate that was Shane Warne’s very first ball in Ashes cricket. I remember that whole tour, especially the first two Tests, how well Warne bowled. This was before any shoulder or finger injuries and the flipper was perfect. Warne ended the career of Robyn Smith. I remember him bowling players around their legs consistently – from over the wicket. I remember one spell against Gooch where Gooch padded and kicked over and over again. Eventually one was so wide of leg stump that he left it – and it still bowled him.

Next summer, back in Australia, Warne ended the career of Daryll Cullinan. Not once, not twice, but three times, he set him up with a juicy long hop, which was duly dispatched. On each occasion, a flipper followed and on each occasion Cullinan was bowled or lbw.

I was at the SCG on the day in November 1995 when Warne bowled Basit Ali from the last ball of the day. Healy came down to have the big chat with Warne – we later found that it was more for effect that anything. Warne somehow found a way through Ali’s defences and the rest was legend. Perhaps the ball found a lucky passage through to the timber but the fact is that Warne is untouchable when it comes to the big moments. “Theatre” is his middle name.

Warne claimed his only Test hat trick in Melbourne in December 1998, against England, of course.

In what was to be his final World Cup, in 1999 Warne saved his best until last. He single-handedly destroyed South Africa in the semi-final (4-29) and Pakistan in the final (4-33). This was after McGrath had carried Australia through the preliminary rounds (after Australia had lost two of its first three preliminary matches) with 5-14 against the West Indies and 3-34 against India. When Australia was on its knees in that World Cup, the stars stood up.

One of Australia’s most celebrated wins in recent times was in November 1999 in Hobart, against Pakistan. It was the third win of the “winning streak” and Langer and Gilchrist are rightly credited with winning the match for Australia, chasing 369. However, I remember watching the TV at Strathfield Recreation Club (the kids Christmas party) as Pakistan in their 2nd innings got to a lead of 98 with just two wickets down and Saeed Anwar getting into full stride. Warne came on and bowled Anwar with a ball that spun about four feet and knocked over Anwar’s leg stump. Warne took five wickets as Pakistan still managed to post a large total but Warne kept Australia in it.

I will never forget Warne’s 2005 performance. He took 40 wickets at 19.92 and took six wickets in an innings on three occasions. He also made 249 runs at 27.66 which placed him above several of the batsmen. He almost single handedly kept hold of those Ashes. The highlight for me was the night be bowled Strauss at the death, not offering. It was one of those Warne classics, ripping and fizzing, going nowhere but the stumps. Of course, the one personal lowlight for Warne was when he dropped Pietersen on the final day of the series – he may well have dropped the Ashes.

This year, in what we now know is Warne’s swansong, the highlight so far was the final day of the Adelaide Test as Australia swept to victory. The big moment was when Warne bowled Pietersen cheaply, around his legs, from over the wicket. And the ball just hit the outside of the OFF stump.

I’m sure when the DVD comes out, there will be many, many more moments. Warne would like to think he was a bit of a batsman. The truth is that he was – he did have two Test scores over 90, both made in pressure situations and he has nine other scores over 50.

Off the field, Warne has been just as entertaining. It’s easy to judge, and I don’t admire a lot of things Warne has done. But one thing I do think sits well with him, is that he seems to have been true to himself, faults and bad decisions and all. What I mean is that for all the fame, in some ways I think he is unaffected. Listening to him talk at the press conference today, I couldn’t help think that if hadn’t collided with fame because of his freakish ability as a cricketer, he would have been just has comfortable, and just as happy, and no different as a bricky’s labourer. For the record, I will list, without detailing, some of the off field incidents. Some time ago, I wrote an article called “Warne’s Life As A Soap Opera” (Warne’s own comment on himself). I listed a few highlight there. These are reproduced with a few later instalments.

1. I think the biggest is the pitch reports for John the bookmaker
2. The fine for verbally abusing fans in South Africa
3. The phone sex scandal (number 1)
4. The “Joe the cameraman” incident. “Can’t bowl, can’t throw” said loudly into the stump mic about Scott Muller.
5. Pinching the camera from the kids in NZ when they busted him smoking when he was being paid $250k to give up.
6. The drug suspension (he missed the 2003 World Cup)
7. The phone sex scandal (number 2)
8. The phone sex scandal (number 3)
9. The threesome setup with the British tabloid lasses

We get Warne, and it seems McGrath, for two more Tests. Hopefully Warne will have the fairy tale end, taking his 700th in Melbourne. I hope McGrath isn’t called upon to score the winnings runs in either match. After that will follow an interesting 12 months. After the Ashes, there is no Test cricket for Australia until next summer, when there are four series: Sri Lanka and India at home and Pakistan and the West Indies away. The dawning of a new era proves to be fascinating.

Blood on the Pitch

Today, Day 3, on the pivotal day of the 3rd Ashes Test, Adam Gilchrist scored the second fastest Test hundred in history. Gillie, you are still be my hero. Shallow and cheap tramp that I am, I must confess that in recent months, my affections have been seduced by Mr Cricket: Michael Hussey. Today, however, Gilchrist reminded us all that he is the best wicket keeper batsmen the game has known and one of the best strikers of the ball that has ever been seen. Please forgive me Gillie.

Now, I’m not about to suggest that Gillie made his stunning assault coming in at 5-99 on a turning and seaming track with uneven bounce (that would have been the scene in Mumbai in 2001 – another Gillie masterpiece). The score was actually 5 for 365, the track was true and bouncy and England had been in the field for more than two sessions of truly heat wave conditions. However, that should not detract from Gillie’s innings. Think of it from Gillie’s perspective – swinging so vigorously, so often, in that heat is hard work. And consider the breeze his slashing blade was offering the Englishmen. Regardless of the circumstance, to launch yourself at the ball, every ball and to find and clear the boundary, no matter on the type of delivery, the way Gilchrist did today, is truly amazing. Indeed, he could easily have been caught when on naught – a typical scythed cut shot went through the gully region and found its way to the boundary, rather than to hand. Gilchrist raised 50 in just 40 balls. That was during “that Panesar” over. As the third maximum for the over was tonked a very long way over the fence, the wry smile on Monty’s face seemed to indicate he knew he had been collared by one of the best there is. A very special mauling.

Gilchrist reached one hundred from his 57th ball, just one slower than Viv Richards in 1985. And those two are a long way ahead of the rest. Australian all rounder, Jack Gregory, is next on 67 balls, way back in 1922. I heard Gillie interviewed after the match and he said he had no idea that he was on track for any sort of record. He also said he was glad Viv was still at the top because that is where he belongs. I would suggest that the two greatest master blasters are out on their own. For those of you saw it, it was a once in a lifetime innings. It’s easy maths but I should point out that the second 50 was from 17 balls.

Looking at the bigger picture, Hayden blew his chance at 100, Hussey managed to look the most unconvincing he has looked all series but still made 103 and the Pup looked fantastic for his 135 not out. Clarke’s play could easily be overlooked compared to Gilchrist but he displayed a stunning array of shots as Gilchrist and he scored 162 from just 20 overs. That’s correct – 20 overs. One of my favourites was the tag team effort from a Hoggart over. Hoggart came on for Panesar after the 24 run over. Clarke was on strike with a packed off side field – he whipped the first two balls from way outside off stump, through mid-wicket for four, and then scored a single. Gillie swung the next ball high, wide and handsome over midwicket.

England has now to bat for two days to keep the series alive. Of course, due to Ponting’s sporting declaration, if they can manage to do that, they will win. They have to make just 557 runs from about 186 overs which is exactly three runs per over. They are a head of schedule after six overs, so you can see that Ponting has been very generous.

Before closing, I want to point out that the cricket planets have aligned at present and it is possible, with access to the right media, to watch Test cricket for 20 hours straight. And the east coast of Australia is just the place to do it from. The Test between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Wellington starts at 8:30 a.m. AEDST. There is still a session to go when Australia starts against England in Perth. By the time that match runs the obligatory half hour over, it merges nicely into the match between India and South Africa, in Johannesburg, starting at 9:00 p.m.AEDST. That will take you through until 4:30 a.m. the next morning – just 4 hours to wait until you can do it all over again. Of course, this is a very rare window of opportunity and by the time most of you read this, the window will be closed. And if you get bored, you can switch to the One Day match between Pakistan and the West Indies. And if you are an Englishman, please don’t jump out the window.

Progress scores are:

SL 268 & 5/225 v NZ 130
Aus 244 & 5/527 v Eng 215 & 1/19
Ind 249 v SAf 7/45 (new record coming here?)
WI 7/238 (50) v Pak 0/85 (15)

Aside from today’s massacre, it’s nice to see the ball on top for a change, I’d say.

Wacky times at the WACA

For those of you lucky enough to have tickets to the 3rd Test in Perth, don’t bother turning up for a 10:30 a.m. start, as your ticket indicates. The match now starts at 11:30 a.m. local time. Before all of you others get confused, don’t. There is no change to the time we were all expecting – the match will start at 1:30 p.m. AEDST.

What has happened is that Western Australia recently voted to give daylight saving a try so that is what they are doing. So as not to upset any apple carts (especially the big Channel 9, for the first time in this sunny land, a Test will start at the overly civilised hour of 11:30.

On to the match. The big news on the eve of the Test is that Andrew Symonds has his second recall to Test cricket. Will Roy the Boy become a man or will he be singin Swanee in five days time. I’m a little bored of going on about the selectors mind numbing pursuit of the non existent all rounder. Possibly you are bored too. I will quote Henry Lawson, who said it so well today:

“While the manner and timing of Martyn’s departure will provoke speculation and searches for underlying motives for months or maybe years to come, the vacancy should have given selectors an easy path forward. They confused all in bypassing more prominent candidates for ‘young’ Adam Voges, a burgeoning talent no doubt, but better performed Phil Jacques, Brad Hodge, Chris Rogers, Marcus North et al may be feeling a tad miffed. Of course the aforementioned batsmen are not genuine all rounders. But who is?

Shane Watson is treated like a 50 Test veteran who must be rushed immediately back into the team on full fitness, and outstanding limited overs player Andrew Symonds is considered the ‘next best’ Test all rounder even though in 10 Tests he averages 17 [sic it’s actually 19] with the bat and 45 with the ball.
Is this obsession with an all rounder something to do with covering for aging bowlers, and if it is, why don’t they just pick younger ones?”

Bravo. I have just this to add: Have the selectors considered the impact of this selection on the World Cup campaign? Andrew Symonds is a key player in just three months time, as Australia tries for an unprecedented third straight World Cup. Why risk spoiling our best One Day all rounder by trying to turn him into a Test player?

Some of you have wondered why Phil Jaques wasn’t selected. Word is that a message was sent out that “left handers need not apply” for Marto’s position. That would mean five lefties in the top seven. My opinion is that any semi decent batsman (and Roy is at least that) should do well on the batsman friendly wicket, facing an attack that is well short of imposing. Personally, I’d stick with a specialist batsman or pick a fifth bowler. If the pitch is so good, and we need another bowling option, why not have real one. Bite the bullet and present Mitchell Johnson with his baggy green. But then I’m forgetting he’s left handed.

I’m sure England will announce as many as three changes today. They might help but I can’t see them having a big impact. Ho hum.