Dreams Do Come true

Most of you reading this on 29 December will be at work, I guess. I hope you can follow the cricket while you are there, can have a long lunch and can find some avenues of light duties. I think that was the main objective of the Australian cricket team on Day 3 of the 2nd Test between Australia and South Africa.

I had two dreams – no nightmares – on Saturday night. In one, I botched the organisation of one of my best friend’s 40th birthday party. In the other, Australia just couldn’t get South Africa out and they made 600. I admit that I have a tormented mind but I cannot believe how close to the truth the latter nightmare was.

I can’t believe how close to Australia’s most recent bowling effort today was. It was stunning cricket from South Africa but Australia’s ineptitude was even more eye opening. South Africa ended day 2 on the ropes at 7/198 – almost a full 200 runs behind Australia. Australia had done everything right on day 2. The selectors had been vindicated. Siddle was retained and showed that he did have the right stuff. Horrie bowled tightly and picked up a couple of wickets. All but one of the danger men were removed and all that was left was for Australia to deliver the killer blow.

Not in anyone’s wildest dreams could it have been imagined that South Africa could bat for more than five hours and add a further 261 runs for the final three wickets – a lead of 65 runs.

Cricket is a game of momentum, initiative and turning points. I’m afraid Ponting must accept much of the responsibility for Australia inexplicably losing its way. It is happening time and time again and it is not simply because the bowlers are no good. They were good enough in the first innings in Perth. Even more so they were good enough on Day 2 in Melbourne. I say “even more so” because it was more of a team effort than the one man show in Perth.

Sure, Brett Lee was missing but in truth, at present, that is no great loss. Australia started the day with a ball that was 71 overs old. From the outset, Ponting acted like he was waiting for the new ball. In those nine overs, despite the loss of Harris, Australia lost the impetus and South Africa took control. It is inept captaincy by Ponting. Is that what the team management told him to do? The new ball was mostly wasted with the bowling too short and too wide and punishment was dealt out.

Dale Steyn made 76 runs. He is not what you would call handy with the bat. Well he was today but before today, his average was just under 10. His previous high score was 33 not out. Get the picture? How does that happen? The partnership of 180 runs was the 3rd highest 9th wicket partnership in Test cricket ever. It was just 15 runs of the record. How is that Simon Katich didn’t get a single over all day. Surely that was worth a try – South Africa has traditionally struggle against wrist spin and tail enders in general tend too. Katich may not be the best wrist spinner in the world but he is not the worst.

It is true that nothing went right – there were dropped catches (worst was Ponting himself, dropping Steyn on 32), over throws, plays and misses galore, balls over the slips, balls through the slips, near misses, French cuts, penalties for the ball hitting the helmet and Hussey doing his best impression of Comedies Capers. Hussey appeared to lose a skied shot in the sun – he had ample time to get under the ball, adjust his cap and floss his teeth but in one of the more bizarre things I have seen on a cricket field the ball landed about two metres from a bemused Mr Cricket. I’m not a bad lip reader and I think he called down lightning, but none came. His life was cruelly spared.

The most worrying thing is that it seems to be Ponting who loses his nerve first. The exasperated expressions, the frustrated and pained gestures come all too easily and frequently. Off with his head. I don’t see him imitating Kim Hughes with a tearful resignation – that would never happen – but his captaincy is every bit as poor as Kim Hughes’ – the Kim Hughes who had no answers in 1981.

At any rate, it is a ripper Test once again. Australia will have to play well over the next two days or they will risk becoming the new chokers. One thing South Africa did today was play Australia out of the game. It’s hard to see Australia having time to make a declaration, especially after South Africa’s last two innings. That means there can only be one winner in the match. The very best Australia can hope for is a series draw.

Very disappunting

South Africa has won the unwinnable. Australia has lost the unlosable. I went out in the boat on Sunday afternoon, in good faith, trusting the Australian cricket team to wrap up a mere formality and what happened? Actually, I was not that confident. There were worrying signs on Saturday as the runs remaining rapidly dipped below 200, with just 3 wickets down. Well done to South Africa.

Of course, Ricky blames the pitch. For some reason he overlooks the fact that both teams used the same piece of turf.

Smith the Smug will now become even more smug and I have to admit it is with fairly good reason. Australia battled hard all match and were on top after three innings. I think Smith’s second innings hundred turned the match. It was decisive and it laid a great foundation. It’s hard to see the Boks being stopped.

Australia has all the worries in the world. Without a thirty minute burst from Johnson, they would not have been in the match. All the focus seems to be on the bowlers, and for good reason. However, Australia’s batting was not up to scratch either. Hayden must be dumped immediately. He won’t be but the team needs new blood – Australia do not have the luxury to carry Hayden in the unlikely hope that he will return to form. The risks outweigh the benefits. Rogers or Hughes should be given a chance. If it was me, and Australia was the sub-continent, Hughes would be playing in Melbourne. He’s yet too young to know fear and doubt, and that is what Australia needs at the top.

Michael Clarke may be in great form but Australia’s next captain needs to be making the bowlers to get him out. Both he and Symonds were out to brain explosions in BOTH innings. Dear oh dear.

With the bowlers, it’s hard to know who to replace. Even though I doubt he can repeat his heroics, Johnson is safe for another three years but the others… Who do you replace them with? Bollinger may be worth a try. I’m still going to give a push for Katich for captain. Ponting must take some of the responsibility for the loss. A score of over 400 hundred to win a match has been achieved just four times in 130 years of Test cricket. Australia has conceded two of those in the past five years. True, the previous effort was under Steve Waugh and was a dead rubber. However, Waugh had no Midas touch and I’m afraid that has been passed onto Ponting. There are situations where you just have to winkle a wicket. Some instinct, finesse and imagination is needed. Forget the team meetings and the mind numbing analysis. I think many facets of the modern, professional game have killed of the art of winkling.

Merry Christmas.

First Man Picked

Mitchell Johnson has always had the knack of getting a few wickets but many had doubts, including myself, that he was the real deal: A real Test bowler. Not anymore. He’ll be the first man picked for the Melbourne Test. Well, the first Queenslander, at least.

A stunning spell of 5-2 last night ended two sensational days of Test cricket. The best cricket since the 2005 Ashes, I’d say. Johnson finished the day with 7-42. If they’d have kept playing, I’d have bet on him getting nine. However, over the years in these circumstances, it’s more usual for a new day to bring new fortunes, so I’m tipping he’ll finish on seven.

Also note that the day finished early – i.e. before the full 30 minutes of overtime. So let’s have some points for Ricky.

Taking a sideways glance

One the eve (more or less) of the important Test series between South Africa and Australia, there is a rare opportunity for Australia to take a sideways glance at a couple of other matches. Both of Australia’s recent combatants – India and New Zealand – are in action again. There are traps in measuring how you are travelling but looking at other matches but I think it is worthwhile.

Australia may be happy with flogging New Zealand. However, in a rain affected match, New Zealand barley kept the lowly West Indies at bay, at home. Then again, the West Indies were rescued by a freak innings from Windies number eight, Jerome Taylor. He made 106 and the hundred came from just 97 balls. Also note that the West Indies and New Zealand are doing decision challenges.

England and India are playing in India. India are set to snatch a remarkable victory needing just 30 runs to reach a target of 387, with six wickets in hand. Up until then, the Poms had not faired badly. Thanks to Strauss (123 and 108) who held both innings together, assisted by Collingwood (108) in the second innings, England posted two respectable totals. Something Australia struggled to do. In the first innings, the opening stand was 118 runs. Something Australia struggled to do. England dismissed India for just 241 in India’s first dig. Something Australia simply couldn’t do. England looks like they will not be able to dismiss India a second time and will lose the match. Australia did manage to do that. India were set up by a stunning Sehwag onslaught (83 from 68 balls) and everyone but Dravid has chipped in. For Dravid (3 & 4), the curtain must be about to fall.

Closer to home, Stuart Clark is out for the season and possibly the rest of his career. Bad for most Australians, except for one – the guy who takes his place. The word is that Krejza with play and I find that surprising. I’d prefer four quicks in Perth – I’m surprised that the selectors would give up the “horses for courses” policy just because Watson whinged. Or is that BECAUSE Watson whinged – it may be Watson who misses out.

The Test in Perth starts on Wednesday.