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Yousuf the Great

Mohommad Yousuf has broken a 30 year old record. With his 102 last night, he has scored 8 centuries this calendar year, breaking the record of 7, set by I.V.A. Richards in 1976. In that glorious year of 1976, Richards scored a total of 1710 runs. That record still stands. For the moment. Yousuf has one innings left this year and he needs 47 runs to break the record.

A few notes:

Pakistan has been restricted to a moderate 304 by the West Indies and no time has been lost in the match to date. It looks likely that Pakistan will bat again, notwithstanding a Calyso Collapso (they lost three, including Lara on 51 but have steadied for now).

It is good to see a level playing field for the record. Richards set the record from just 11 Tests. In this day and age, it is commonplace for players to play 15 or more Tests in a calendar year. For example, in third place for runs is Ponting with 1544 runs in 2005 from 15 Tests. Yousuf is playing his 11th Test – the same as Richards in 1976.

Richards averaged 90.00 in 1976 and Yousuf is averaging 97.88 this year.

Through injury, Richards missed the second Test against England, in England in 1976. He scored an incredible 829 runs in four Tests in that series. He could have been untouchable with that extra Test. Richards famous year includes the tail end of the West Indies disastrous tour of Australia.

Yousuf has scored just one double hundred but has had two scores of 192 and one of 191 (in the space of just four matches).

Let’s not forget Ponting. He has played just seven Tests this year so is not in the running for the aggregate (although he has already topped 1,000 runs at an average of 105.8). However, he is a chance for the centuries in a year record. He already holds down equal third place with Sobers and Compton, with 6 centuries in a year. In fact, Ponting has scored 6 centuries in a year three times (2003, 2005 and 2006). Ponting has two more Tests for the year and is up against a bowling attack that is ripe for plunder. Sorry, I could not restrain myself.

Ponting’s favourite grounds statistically are Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane where he averages 84, 75 and 76 respectively. At Adelaide and Perth, the locations of the next two Tests, he averages 54 and 56 respectively. So I guess not all is in his favour.

Yousuf the Great

Yousuf the Great

Twisting the Knife

Many were surprised when Ricky Ponting elected to bat again on Saturday afternoon. After all, the first innings lead (just 445) was more than would usually be set for a final innings target. Whatever the reasoning, I don’t think it will do the Aussies any harm. It certainly gives a fair indication of Ponting’s desire to grind the English into the ground. “Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman…”

Most of you may recall that Ian Chappell’s team handed out a 5-1 thrashing to the West Indies in the summer of 1975-76. The West Indies had a good team – in fact, many of that team went on to dominate world cricket for the next ten years plus. But the Australians were merciless. Several times over the years I heard Clive Lloyd refer to that series and he said that experience really steeled them as a team. They were determined never to be beaten like that again (or beaten at all, it seems). Perhaps the Ashes 2005 series has had a similar effect on Ponting and his geriatrics.

Or perhaps Ricky Ponting is a cricket historian. I not aware that his is, but perhaps. He could be exorcising the demons of Jack Ryder’s 1928-29 team. At the Exhibition Ground, Brisbane in November 1928, England made 521 and dismissed Australia for 122. England batted again and set Australia 742 to win. Sounding familiar? I would like also to point out that was Donald Bradman’s very first Test match. Not only did he witness this slaughter but he was dropped for the first and only time. He watched the great Walter Hammond pile on 905 runs for the series. One wonders what effect this series had on the young Bradman, and how it may have steeled him! Perhaps England paid the price for an act of sadism for the next 20 years. It was less than 18 months before Bradman had completed his famous 1930 tour of England where he scored 974 runs in the series.

Perhaps Ponting has a copy of “200 Seasons of Australian Cricket” like I do and England are still paying almost 80 years later!! It should be noted that Bradman returned for the third test of that series. Australia lost by just three wickets and then a meagre 12 runs in the 4th as Bradman piled on the runs. Australia won the 5th Test and turned the corner. I’m looking hard but I don’t see a Bradman in the English team.

Skipper v Skipper

As the Ashes finally kicked off with a bang, it was deja vu. For the past four Ashes series, Australia has batted first in Brisbane and had a mighty first today. On a day without sensation, I have just this to add: It is a treat to see two champion captains go directly head-to-head.

So often the captain of a cricket team is a batsman. It’s also so, that the captain is often the best batsman in the team. It is thus from the time boys pull on whites in prep school. Therefore, it is rare to see the two captains directly up against each other as witnessed today. I recall 1999 when Waugh and Lara faced off – Lara won the battle, the series was drawn and both stood as pillars of scoring. But neither had the ability to directly impact the others efforts (disputed catches aside).

Today, Flintoff levelled off at Ponting and Ponting won. They were both wonderful. Flintoff exceeded all expectations and was far and away the best bowler for England. Ponting was the best for Australia but he had some friends.

The signs are worrying for England. Pietersen was turning the ball square compared to Giles and even though England has five specialist bowlers, two part timers were used in the final session, with Bell coming on just four and half hours into the series.

There is a God

There is a God. And his name is Brian Lara. Just kidding. The Australian selectors have been overruled by external circumstances, some may think, by a higher authority. Whatever – the main thing is that Shane Watson is taking his place not in the Australian Test team for the first Test. He looks set to be replaced by Michael Clarke.

I don’t want to be unkind to Watson. It’s not his fault he was selected. I feel a bit sorry for him, as support from the public and various icons has been decidedly underwhelming. However, as I feel very strongly that he is not the man for the job, and he is not suffering too drastically, I’m very pleased that he is not playing. And of course, one man’s misfortune presents opportunity to a lucky other. It seems that the lucky other will be Michael Clarke. I still think there is scope for Gillie at six and five specialist bowlers.

I will assume that it will be Michael Clarke. Few are presented with the chance he now has and he must take it with both hands. I am reminded of the 1948-49 tour of South Africa when Keith Miller was inexplicably left off the boat. Politics. This wrong was righted only when the lion-hearted Bill Johnston was unfortunately injured in a car accident. Miller answered the call and dominated with the ball and made healthy contributions with the bat. On the 1995 tour of the West Indies, when McDermott and Fleming were sent home injured, McGrath stepped up to super star status and Brendon Julian, who had no serious prospects of playing a Test, not only played, but made a significant contribution, especially in the victorious first Test. While Julian didn’t leave much of a mark on the map of international cricket, he has still managed a career in show biz. In 1997, Paul Reiffel, ideally suited to English conditions was contentiously left out of the squad. Only an injury to the hapless Gillespie saw him join the squad, leap frog some other bowlers and play an important part, especially in the 4th Test at Leeds.

I admit that Clarke has been ordinary in Tests over the past 12-18 months. Clarke’s Test average for his last ten Tests is a very ordinary 30.26. I have attached a graph that plots the progress of his average over his career. That line has only one direction. He was dropped and reselected and even then, hasn’t performed. However, some players deserve perseverance and I believe he is one. Anyone who saw his very first innings and his first innings here at home, would know that. He is a special player. His tour of England was disappointing but let me point this out. He had five scores between 25 and 40, along with two half centuries. He had very few failures and plenty of starts which says that he wasn’t hopelessly out of touch or out of his depth.

Of course, the English have their own selection problems. First Tresco bit the dust and now Bell is in doubt. It seems that Ed Joyce, the Irish born batsman, may be plucked from his cosy lounge room in Middlesex and thrust into the first Test! Opportunity knocks!

No more sleeps. By the time most of read this, it will be a mere matter of a couple of hours.