I’m so Dizzie – my head is spinning

In Chittagong, rain seems set to be the real winner. But not before Jason Gillespie has trumped Warnie, by scoring a well deserved Test century (102 not out when rain stopped play at tea). And this has been scored against a strong Bangladesh attack that just last week humbled the Australian top and middle order. The mood today of the new Captain Grumpy took a turn for the worse, if that was possible, when his senior partner turned him back and Ponting found himself well short of his ground. The amusing thing about this Captain Grumpy is that he really doesn’t have much too be grumpy about. Border, the original, and far less churlish grumpster at least had much with which to justify his demeanour.

But Jason Gillespie has everything to be happy about. He suffered his season of exile with good grace. In the reverse approach to Samson (The Old Testament character) he cut his hair off and that seems to have restored his power, or possibly relieved him of a burden. It may “be only Bangladesh” but with wickets and runs a plenty, Dizzie is back to stay. And remember, he is only 30 – the same age as Stuart Clark, whom just two weeks ago, Australia’s bowling hopes rested on. That’s what I read in the Telegraph anyway.

On the Veldt, what was looking like a good finish in the Test between South Africa and New Zealand has turned to into a disaster for the Kiwis. In the first innings, New Zealand found themselves at 6-89 chasing South Africa’s modest 276. They were saved again by Oram (133) and Vettori (81) and made it to 327. I say “again” not just because these two have made valuable contributions for NZ quite a few times but interestingly, in the corresponding match the last time these two sides met, in a series in NZ in Feb-Mar 2004, New Zealand found themselves in deep trouble at 6-225, chasing 459. On that occasion, Oram belted 119 and aided by 53 from Vettori (and 57 from McCullum), New Zealand dug themselves out of trouble, ultimately drawing the match.

On this occasion, South Africa has set New Zealand 248 to win. Alas, New Zealand is languishing at 6-34 at lunch on day 4. It’s hard to see any miracles here. The Boks will finally win a Test match.

ICC Proposal: Test handicapping system

With the Test between Bangladesh and Australia perfectly poised after four days, I have had inspiration. Nobody – I truly believe that nobody (even Dav) – thought this match was going to be a contest. Bangladesh has won just one test in 42, scarcely managed the odd draw and has lost 24 matches – over half – by an innings. Having Australia unexpectedly and incredibly facing a large first innings deficit, and even more, batting last, was just the tonic the match needed. However, I can’t see it occurring on a regular basis. Thus, the introduction of the ICC Test handicapping system – I intend to run it past Mal Speed when we catch up in London next month.

Here is how it works. It has the simplicity of all ICC algorithms:

Each team has a number of runs – their handicap – added to their first innings total. It is calculated by taking the highest ranked ICC Test team’s points score, less the team’s own ranking, multiplied by the average age of the players’ mothers, divided by the modal favourite colour of the players on the home team (converted to a decimal value).

Looking ahead to tomorrow. Australia needs 95 runs, with six wickets in hand. Let us remember that Australia went into the match with just five batsmen and Gillie, who is rather an unknown quantity these days. It would seem that Australia’s fate rests with the best batsman in the world (Ponting, 72 not out) and the former best batsman in the world (Gilchrist, 6 not out), who was back to something close to his best in the first innings.

At 1-173, Australia were in firm control. How often a run out can change things. Then again, Bangladesh were 305 in front with a whole four wickets in hand and Australia on their knees. But they added just one more run. Chances must be about even, I think.

A target of 306, “even against Bangladesh” is not easy. But I would like to add that in recent times, Australia has done very well in the fourth innings:

Near miss – 2nd Test, England 2005: dismissed for 279
Honourable draw – 3rd Test, England 2005: 9/371
Win – 3rd Test, West Indies 2005: 3/183
Win – 3rd Test, South Africa (Sydney) 2005: 2/288
Win – 3rd Test, South Africa (Jo’burg) 2005: 8/294

Australia undeserving of Test status

Ricky Ponting’s worst nightmares are being played out before his very eyes in Fatullah, Bangladesh. The irony and humour are inescapable. It was some months ago that Ponting boldly declared that Bangladesh did not warrant Test status. He hinted that he resented taking time and energy to play them. It must be said that just before the match Ponting did hose down that interviews. I believe that he even went as far as applying the word “wrong” to himself. It reminded me of the Happy Days episode when Fonzie tried to say he was “wr-wr-wrong”. Never mind.

Statements can be retracted but they can’t be “unsaid”. I’m sure Dav Whatmore’s boys would take indescribable pleasure in making the Australian captain eat his words. Oh Ricky, life is a learning curve.

At 5-79, part way through the final session of Day two. Australia seems to be on a slide that they cannot halt. Bangladesh scored 427 in its first innings. Their second highest test total, beaten only by 488 they scored against Zimbabwe. And they truly did not deserve Test status at that time. In fact, it was suspended shortly after. The second wicket partnership of 187 is a new Bangladesh all wicket record. Yesterday is the first time that Bangladesh has scored more than 300 runs in a day. Shane Warne went for almost 6 an over from his 20 overs and not a sniff of a wicket. It was his worst treatment since Ravi Shastri hit 200 (almost all from Warne) at the MCG almost 15 years ago. Aside from the time Laxman hit 280. And Lara hit 277. And Tendulkar…. But you might what I mean.

It was left to MacGill (8/108) and Gillespie, both unwanted for all or most of the summer, to take all of the wickets.

Australia is in serious danger of complete embarrassment. I don’t mean just losing to Bangladesh but being humiliated. All five wickets have been lbw or bowled and the two I saw (Ponting and Martyn), the ball shot through very low. It’s shades of the Ashes. I recall during the second and third Tests after England had swatted a quick three or four hundred, everyone said “Oh the pitch is a landing strip. Australia will make 600.” Of course it did not prove correct, the “runs on the board” rule held true, and such sentiments were abandoned for the final tests.

With Australia’s fate in the hands Gilchrist, Warne, Lee and Gillespie and co, it will be interesting to see what happens. With three whole days to play, the chance of Bangladesh winning it’s first real Test (their only win thus far was against Zimbabwe) is very real.

Exorcising Demons

I’m not too sure whether it is possible to truly exorcise demons in a dead rubber. Who cares after all? But I have to admit that for a dead rubber, this was a pretty good Test match. There have been plenty of close finishes over the years, with Australia on the wrong end of many of them, but I struggle to think of one that was a dead rubber. Nonetheless, South Africa and Australia, fuelled I suspect, by deep rooted ill feeling for each other, went hard at it at til the bitter end. And bitter it was for the Boks, going down five out of six times.

And there was deja vu on many fronts: I clearly remember (I was holidaying in a friend’s ocean-side apartment on the north coast) listening to Australia scrape home nine years ago, just prior to the 1997 series . The margin on that occasion was also 8 wickets – Ian Healy smote a rare six to bring home the bacon. I was often mentioned how long Australia had held the Ashes for. It should not be forgotten that South Africa has not won a series against Australia since its re-admission into internation sport. Which means they have not won a series against Australia since the 1970 whitewash – 36 years.

I don’t know if Damien Martyn has any demons remaining from 6 January, 1994 – I think he might have put the past behind him – you all would know that Martyn made a painful 6 from 59 balls on that day before committing suicide (both in the innings and his career), as Australia fell 5 runs short of South Africa’s total. That began a seven year exile. I think this innings, was far more important to Martyn in cementing his place back in the team. I’d doubt it will be for another seven years, however.

And then of course, the obvious comparison is Kasper and Brett Lee falling two runs short at Edgbaston. While it might have been nice for them to have success here, I don’t see how anything could ever make up for that gut wrenching affair in August 2005.

Now that the dust has settled, I wonder how far ahead of the 2005 team, the current Australian team is. There is no doubt that this team is better and 3-0 nil against a reasonable opposition, away from home is a good result. The main difference can be expressed in one word: Hussey. And while this team is minus McGrath, Stuart Clark was an encouraging, surprise discovery. While on the subject of deja vu, I saw quite a bit in this series: Ponting still stood tall in the top order (although he had help from Hayden). Lee and Warne batted like champions, especially in the final Test, to help Australia stay in it. And perhaps most worrying for the Aussies, Gillie is looking pretty sick with willow in hand. He scored almost half his 50 series runs in one over.

Symonds is the weakest link. No question in mind. I don’t know if the “all rounder project” is Trevor Hohns’ baby, but with his resignation, it will be interesting to see if Symonds is the first to go. Of recent times, it has been said that Symonds is a specialist batsman who can bowl a bit. It’s a bit of a joke that a guy with an average of 58 (Hodge) was unceremoniously shafted and Symonds hangs on with an average of 19.42 from nine Tests. Brett Lee’s average is 19.58 and he averages over 20 against England, New Zealand and the West Indies. So there’s the all rounder. He just needs to come up the order a little. And let’s not forget Pup Clarke. I still think he is the man for the long term.

I have one final comment on this series. Ricky Ponting has strongly advocated that all teams agree for batsmen to depart if a fieldsman claims a fair catch. This hasn’t been greeted with anything approaching unanimous enthusiasm. There have been some ugly instances during this series, with players not going when fielders have claimed catches. And as it has turned out, Australia seems to have come out best in pretty much all of those cases, whether batting or in the field. I think it’s time that Ponting and his team start practising what they preach. My opinion is that if you promote a value or standard, you should live by that regardless of whether it is accepted by your peers.

And news in brief:

Jason Gillespie has been recalled to the Australian squad for the upcoming tour of Bangladesh. Gillespie has been added along with Phil Jacques and Mitchell Johnson. The trio will replace Shaun Tait, Michael Kasprowicz and Justin Langer.

Pakistan has beaten Sri Lanka by 8 wickets to take the two Test series one nil. Sri Lanka batted first and lead by just over 100 runs on the first innings. However, they capitulated for 73 in the second innings. The star was new boy Mohammad Asif, with match figures of 11-71.