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Kat amongst the pigeons

No – you haven’t been removed from the dongles mailing list. I’ve just been on a rather long break. Writers cramp or something like that. Would you believe writers block brought on by a low fibre diet of ODI and Twenty20 cricket?

It’s been almost 10 months since Pigeon, BNG and the SMS King hung up their boots, and we are still in suspense over who will replace them. One batting spot and two bowling positions up for grabs. Not since 1977 have there been so many opportunities to break into the Australian team. Ok, there was 1984 when the big three retired but you get the idea. For the batting position, all seemed settled until yesterday. Simple – like for like – a left-handed opening batsman for a left-handed opening batsman. It probably still is that simple but 306 big ones from Simon Katich has put the cat amongst the pigeons. At least, it’s added a little spice to the arguments.

One school of thought has been that Hussey could open the Australian innings and a middle order batsman could come into the side. Hussey even opened for Western Australia in the recent Pura Cup match. Hussey opened for Western Australia for about 10 years, but has not for a few years. There was a time when the national selectors would ask players to play in certain state roles for their perusal. Does that still happen? Hussey made a duck and a fifty.

So who would the middle order batsman be? Surely not Hodge. He’s been dropped from the Test team. He was a disaster in India, although you have to ask why he played all seven matches and he scored 2 and 0 on the week end. Even if Bill Lawry was a selector, I’d doubt if Hodge would have a show.

Let me run a name past you. David Hussey. It’s about bloody time we had brothers in the team again. The Chappell, the Waughs, the Bannermans and the Gregories all made Test cricket that little bit more special with those family moments. But it is more than that. David is two years younger than Mike and has played 110 first class matches. He has scored over 8,000 runs at better than 56 and has made 31 centuries. Man. Not bad numbers. He’s a roughy but one to watch.

Back to Katich. He lost his CA contract this year but in front of selector Jamie Cox, made a prodigious innings. I don’t think he’s a chance for the first Test but it puts his name on the list. I recall a match in 1987, which also featured a score of 306 (not out, by David Hookes). Big-mouthed and out of favour wicket keeper, Wayne Phillips had scored 213 not out in a record partnership. When asked by a member of the press how many more runs he thought he needed to get back into the Australian team, Phillips correctly responded something like “about 1,213.” Now Katich isn’t out of favour because of bad behaviour, but I think he needs about as many runs as Phillips.

Back to that innings. The first hundred came from a very sedate 204 balls. Katich then went from 100 to 300 in 142 balls. And all those sixes (nine). He scored 180 between lunch and tea (in a long 150 minute session). That is serious scoring in any cricket. This is the first triple at the SCG since Bradman in 1930 (452*, 7 Jan 1930). Enough on Katich.

I think the bowling is more interesting. We have two positions – not necessarily a pace bowler and spin bowler. There is actually no law that says you need to play a spinner. I seem to remember the West Indies doing rather well without for a certain period of time in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Besides, we’re at home – so we get to prepare pace friendly pitches if we want.

I’ll assume Lee and Clark are certain starters. Lee is fresh from his 0/188 in the Pura Milk Cup match, while Clark did put it up the Bulls this morning, not quite forcing a result but taking the first four wickets, finishing with 4/71.

The pretenders are (in order) Johnston, Tait, Macgill, Hilfenhaus and Bracken. I rate Hilfenhaus highly but he hasn’t had enough cricket. Alice (Bracken and his girly hairdo) has more chance of attending the Mad Hatters Tea Party. So it’s down to the other three. Johnson pushed Lee with 0/134 but is still a chance. Tait was in the drivers position but has had such injury problems – he was looking good during the ODI World Cup. Whoops – I just got a call from Gillie. Apparently, Brad Hogg (“George”) is the best spinner we have. Gillie may have a point – Hogg was good in India and he has just cleaned up the Vics. But I don’t know – put him in whites and Hogg’s bowling lacks teeth.

Then there is Macgilla. I think he looked great – almost as good as his TV star wife, as they recently hosted the show Saturday Kitchen. Wine and cheese, if you please. Stu was in his element and I seriously doubted he could ever be taken seriously on a cricket field again. It is true that on paper, Macgill has a wonderful record. It’s been said 1,000 times that if he was born at another time or place, he would have been up with the greats. The boy has talent almost to match his outrageous mouth but how much has he got left? It is true that the Gabba was Warne’s best ground. However, that doesn’t mean that it is a good spinners’ pitch, or even a good leggies’ pitch. As with most things, Warne was the exception.

It must be a given that Symonds is in the team. Can’t he be counted on for a few overs of spin? And let’s not forget Michael Clarke. He is a useful bowler. He bowled well in India and took a useful 3/22 for the Blues on the week end. Macgilla managed 3/183 and 1/97 (4 for almost 300) and conceded over 5 per over in both innings. It’s not impressive. I concede that the top bowlers often have the ability to lift a level when the Tests come but you’ve got to have some form. I think Stu will be in the squad but perhaps he’ll be serving the drinks. Or will that we wine and cheese?

PS: I have to mention Shoaib Akhtar. It’s hard to know how bad this guy really is or not. In recent years, he has made Warne look like a diligent, wise, old saint. Whatever, he has ability. He has come from the clouds to take 4/43 against South Africa (including Smith, Kallis and Boucher) and give Pakistan every chance of winning the deciding fifth ODI match. Incredible.