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King Ricky

The final day of the 2nd Test belonged to Warne and the dodgy brothers (that’s the umpires and/or the curator – take your pick). Even the man of the match went to Warne but the man of the moment is King Ricky.

You can say what you like about his captaincy. I believe I may have made the odd criticism. I recall that I may even have had some unkind things to say about his mother during the Ashes series. But at present, he is the undisputed king of batsmen. In this Test match, Ponting scored a century in both innings and became just the second man in history to achieve the feat on three occasions (the other being Gavaskar). The amazing thing is that this is the third time this season for Ponting.

It is true that Ponting can go “too hard” at the ball early on and gives chances behind the wicket. And when out of form he falls across his stumps and is susceptible to being given out lbw. He may not have the explosiveness of Gilchrist, the grace of Chappell (GS), the audacity of Richards (either one), the mongrel of Chappell (IM), the footwork of Slater, the power of Pollock (Graeme), the timing of Hussey, the flair of Lara, the magic of Tendulkar or the sheer numbers of Bradman but RT Ponting has all of the above attributes in measures not too far short of the benchmarks. He is the benchmark for on-driving, in my opinion.

In recent years Ponting has been dominant. Since the beginning of 2003, he has scored 5,845 at an average of 70.42. He had a monster year in 2003 with 1503 at 100.2. The year 2004 was quiet (697 at 41.00) – Ponting took over the captaincy at the beginning of 2004 and perhaps that affected his batting adversely. But only temporarily as 2005 saw the plunder of 1544 at 67.13. He continues into 2006 with 557 at 111.4 in just three tests.

But enough numbers. The Australian team may have been a little lucky to squeak home for victory, racing the clock and darkening skies. But it was a well deserved win. They outplayed South Africa in all aspects and in my opinion, are a more robust outfit than they were in the Australian summer. One important change that I believe has come from the Ashes experience, is the characteristic of fighting for runs when the going is tough. This is evidenced in none more than Hayden. It is not compulsory to score at 4 runs per over. Australia’s first innings of 369 took 127 over and one ball. That’s 2.9 runs per over. And that was lifted by Warne, Hussey and Clark – at the fall of the 7th wicket, the run rate was 2.46. If you look back over the past few years, where Australia has batted for 127 overs, they will have scored between 450 and 500 runs. In this Test, they batted first, put their heads down and set up victory.

So it’s another dead rubber coming up, but there has been quite some needle between the two teams and I expect the final test to be keenly fought.

Bing Lee produces the good

It took almost three days but one team finally took the ascendancy. Of course, that team was Australia, as Brett Lee ran through the South African tail.

Things were evenly poised with South Africa at 5-255, trailing Australia on the first innings by 122. But it all changed very quickly when the new ball was taken. Stuart Clark dismissed Kallis, for the third time in the series, for 114 and a dramatic collapse followed. The last five wickets fell for just 12 runs and Binga’s figures went from 1-64 (17 overs) to 5-69 (19.4 overs).

It’s interesting to note that Australia lost its sixth wicket with the score on 5-253 – two less than South Africa. They fared much better thanks to a swash buckling Warne (still trying for that early finish) and an excellent 75 from Hussey.

The most puzzling event of the first three days was that Stuart Clark was not given an over until the 40th over of the innings. He was held back in the gloomy conditions so as not to risk play being ended for bad light. While this is sporting and I guess positive of Ponting, it is equally ridiculous. There were times during the Ashes series that Australia bowled spin from both ends just to stay on the field. That was very different as Australia were behind in the series and had no time to play with. In this case, they are in front – my opinion is that you bowl your preferred bowlers and if you go off, you go off. Who knows – perhaps as they trail, South Africa would have played on, thus giving more advantage to Australia. As it turned out, play was finished after two balls from Clark. But Clark took just a further six balls next morning to break what had been allowed to become a very useful partnership for South Africa.

Australia’s lead is not 249, with 9 wickets in hand and Ponting and Hayden both just past 50.

For those of you who don’t know, the Pura Milk Cup final is being played. Victoria (needing to win to take the Cup), reached 2-238. With Hodge on 108, they must have been feeling good. But it was all down hill from there. The Bushrangers made 344, which is not a disaster. That was to come. The Bulls declared at 6/900. That is correct nine hundred. The score at one stage reached 3-878. Last day is tomorrow but I don’t think interest level could be higher than zero.

Queensland 1st innings R M B 4 6
*JP Maher c Pilon b Lewis 223 495 385 29 0
LM Stevens run out (Moss) 66 156 118 7 0
ML Love c Pilon b Jewell 169 420 291 24 0
SR Watson retired hurt 201 402 342 23 1
CT Perren c Jewell b Nannes 173 358 278 10 5
AJ Bichel c Pilon b Nannes 3 18 11 0 0
JR Hopes c Pilon b Nannes 4 6 8 0 0
+CD Hartley not out 3 33 14 0 0
DJ Doran not out 3 22 17 0 0
Extras (b 8, lb 19, w 13, nb 15) 55
Total (6 wickets dec, 242 overs) 900

Credibility Boost

England have done it tough since the heady days of summer, when they reclaimed the Ashes after a cricketing eternity. At a time when England may have laid claims to being the unofficial champions of the world, they needed success in the series that followed the Ashes. An emphatic win against India, to square the series 1-1 ended a six Test streak without a win.

England could not have had it harder since the Ashes. Two three test series, both on the sub-continent. They lost 2-0 against a resurgent Pakistan. To say, that they have had injury problems severely understates the situation. For the match just ended, they had Vaughan, Trescothick, Jones and Harmison all in sick bay. Freddie Flintoff found him captain of England (and a fine candidate too, in my opinion). Flintoff bowled well all series and finished the series with four consecutive half centuries.

Yesterday, India were demolished on the final day to be all out for 100. Mumbai was the scene of Australia’s famous collapse in 2004 (all out for 90 something chasing 108 for victory). Yesterday, the boot was on the other foot as Shaun Udal, of all people cleaned the Indians up with 4-14. It was an excellent win by an English team with their backs against the wall and showed a lot of character.

Australia and South Africa are at it again tomorrow. The tip is for a fast, bouncy track – it doesn’t even look like South Africa are going to bother playing the old three card trick (Groundsman: “Ricky, I’d definitely play two spinners” (don’t pay any attention to the sprinkler that’s been running constantly for 48 hours)). Warne reckons it will be over in 3 days but I don’t know about that. Warne should be quiet and try and take some wickets. Pollock is back and that will level the equation somewhat.

Set the Pigeon free

Australia had rather a good on the first day of the first Test at Newlands, Cape Town. Having dismissed the home side, who elected to bat, they wiped off 30% of the target for the loss of just one wicket. And they have a 30 year old bolter to thank for it. Stuart Clark, the oldest pace bowling debutant for Australia wasn’t under much general discussion for the “last” pace bowling spot. I think it is fortunate that Clark bothered to bring his kit to the ground.

In the lead up, right until the final morning, until just before the game even, most were assuming that the spin twins would play. The speculation was over whether Kasper, Tait or possibly Clark were vying for the one spot. Wrong. And how fortunate for Australia. I was very pleased when I logged in to Cricinfo for the first over, so see the three seamers. Truly. But I would never have guessed that Clark would have such a dream debut. Five for 55 are great figures at any time but which “five” is very important.

If Clark had been bold enough to say to the skipper, “Tell me the three you’d most like out, and I’ll take care of it.”, surely Punter would have said “Smith, Gibbs and Kallis”. When Clark assured Ponting that would not take long, and asked “who would be next?”, Boucher, whose mouth and bat have been in hot form, would have been high on the list of “others”. Clark rapidly and almost single handedly destroyed the big names in the South African line up. That is what is really impressive. He also dismissed the troublesome top scoring number nine, Boje (31), before a significant recovery could be rallied.

The day also featured a remarkable catch by Adam Gilchrist. More properly, a joint effort by Messrs Warne and Gilchrist. While not the most skill laden effort you’ll see, it is one of the most incredible. Warne, apparently unsighted, spilled a straight forward catch unto his thigh. Falling backwards, he had no hope of grabbing the scraps but did manage to kick the ball into the waiting hands of Gilchrist. Quite reminiscent of the great Tubby Taylor, who in similar circumstances, though I recall, possibly more prostrate, performed a similar recovery. Although Tubby did not need the assistance of the ‘keeper.

It is obviously very premature to herald the replacement of the great McGrath, affectionately know as Pigeon. But Clark’s performance today, on what admittedly was a bowler friendly deck, does give Australians cause to hope. Australia, with the worlds best batsman on 20 and formerly the world’s best batsman on 22, are in a position to take the game away from the Boks on day two. Will they be good enough?