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Cheats never prosper

New Zealand have beaten England in the 4th One International to take a 2-1 lead in the series. And what a delicious win it was. One for the good guys. A victory for justice. Here is why:

With the game delicately in the balance, with New Zealand seven wickets down in the 44th over, there was a mid-pitch collision between Sidebottom and Elliot. The Pommies proceeded to mercilessly run Elliot out. While it’s the sort of the thing you might expect from the Aussies, it’s just not cricket. Good old Mark Benson gave skipper, Paul Collingwood, three seconds to talk some deep breaths and reconsider. But the skipper stood firm – he was determined to be a bad sport.

But it all worked out in the end for the Kiwis. Just. And that’s what makes it so poetic. There was one ball to go. The Kiwis needs two to win with one wicket in hand. Gillespie, who had ground out a pain staking 2 from 12 balls was on strike. He finally got bat on ball and the Kiwis scurried through to tie the match. The good news is that an optimistic shy at the stumps eluded all of the English – Gillespie returned for the overthrow, doubled his score, almost doubled his strike rate and New Zealand won.

Three cheers.

The Day/Night shift

The arrival of the Australian One Day squad prompted a few thoughts on my part:

1. Who the hell are those guys? Luke who? Just kidding. However, the arrival of Luke Ronchi, James Hopes, David Hussey, Shaun Marsh, Nathan Bracken, Shane Watson and Cameron White serves as a reminder that One Day cricket truly is a game departed from Test cricket. We are all used to that – Australia first had dual captains in 1997 and specialist one-day players existed well before that. However, the differences in the Australian squad are, well, stark.

2. The above names reinforce that IPL is relevant to limited overs cricket and may hold some caché when it comes to national selection. Shaun Marsh and Shane Watson were the stars of IPL and it is no surprise to see them squarely in the frame. White did himself no favours during IPL, but he was there, and by default (with Hogg gone) he might get another chance for Australia. We should remember that he is still not yet 25 years old.

3. With the rather ordinary showing of some of the Test team, you wonder if some of these “ODI guys” might be Test players in the near future.

Which brings me to a piece that I eluded to in a previous sign off.

From the recent Test series, I wonder about the Test futures of Mitchell Johnson and Beau Casson. Casson will probably get some more chances, and fair enough but I don’t know that he has what it takes – he’s been in first class cricket for a long time and has a bowling average of 40. The selectors have been patient with Johnson and he does seem to manage to take 2 wickets in just about every innings. The fact is that the victims are usually numbers 8 to 11 and the successful deliveries are utter rubbish. I find it hard to believe that there are not better left armers in Australia (there are possibly two in NSW alone).

It is ironic that the one person who seems certain to lose his spot, should Hayden regain fitness, and not retire, was the best performed Australian of the tour. It looks like Katich will lose his spot, at least for the time being, for the India Test series.

Or how about this: We re-visit the “Michael Bevan experiment”. In 1996-97, Bevan found his niche as the no 6/7 batsman and second spinner. He had a prodigious home series against the West Indies and performed strongly on the tour to South Africa, preceding the 1997 Ashes. He came unstuck in England because his batting form was appalling and the wickets were not suited to his bowling. He never played Test cricket again even though thousands of Pura Milk Cup runs flowed from his bat.

I’m not sure where Katich fits in. One thing is sure and that is that he has some bowling ability and that he has been scandalously under-used by Ponting for his entire Test career. Katich made his debut under Waugh and in his second Test, took six wickets in the second innings. Sure, it was only the Zimmers, and it was the SCG, but Zimbabwe still had a decent team at that time and six wickets in any innings is good going. When Katich took six wickets in the first tour match of this tour, I thought, “Hmm, perhaps times have changed.” However, Katich bowled little in the Test series, although Ponting did have ample chance to throw him the ball. To be fair, I should add that Katich did not take the field during the West Indies second innings of the drawn second Test – it would have been interesting to see what part Katich would have played if he was able.

I don’t want to limit this line of thought to Katich. Australia, it would seem, has a spinning crisis. However, the selectors need not make it into a bowling crisis. I remember over the years being critical of the South African Test team balance. They seemed to play three all rounders every match – guys who were good cricketers – Klusener, McMillan, Kuiper and the like – but would never set the world on fire with bat or ball. On reflection, I realise that they might have been trying to make the best of what they had. While they did have two great pace bowlers, they did not have a spinner with a silver bullet. While on the other hand, Australia at that time, had two silver bullets in McGrath and Warne. They stuck to the conventional formula of six batsmen, four bowlers and the best keeper/batsman of all time.

My how times change. Australia certainly has no spinning silver bullet at present. While there is a good argument that a spinner is needed, and that one should be fostered, there have to be limits. Australia needs to field its best four bowlers, whatever they bowl. If none of those four bowl spin, then so be it. Australia is fortunate that at the moment, some of the batsmen have good spinning skills. Michael Clarke is a very good left arm spinner. He has good control and economy. He also has the Midas touch. He has 16 Test wickets at 21.31. Symonds is another option but he is not as good as Clarke. Not by a long way (23 wickets at 36.47). I contend that if he can’t hold his spot as a batsman, he’s out of there. Then there is Katich, perhaps.

I don’t know who the four bowlers should be. Perhaps Noffke should have a chance. If he is really one of the four best, he would be a very useful bowling all rounder. In short, I think the selectors need to stay away from deciding that they need a certain type of player and then searching for the best one of that type. For example, “We need a leg spinner. Now who will it be? Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…”. They can’t find a direct replacement for Warne. Not ever. A leg spinner is very, very useful but he has to be worthy. England selectors spent 20 years trying to replace Botham, weakening it’s team but fielding lack lustre, all round hopefuls (see Mark Ealham, Chris Lewis, Phil DeFrietas, Adam Hollioake, Craig White). It’s a distraction and a trap. Rather, the selectors need to see who is in form, doing whatever they do, and fit them into the team if they can. To an extent, that approach should determine the balance of the team. Perhaps the team will lack balance sometimes but you have to make the best of what you’ve got.

Vale Jane McGrath

By now you would all have heard the very sad news that Jane McGrath, Glenn’s wife has passed away after a long, on and off battle with cancer.

As you know, I’m pretty strict about dongles editorial content being cricket only. However, I think it is appropriate that dongles should join the Australian, and wider cricket community in acknowledging such a sad event. Jane McGrath was the woman behind one of Australia’s greatest cricketers of the modern era and as evidenced by the tributes, was a remarkable person in her own right.

I don’t see the need to pen an obituary here – there are many in the print and electronic media that are worth reading.

I saw the interview when Glenn and Jane McGrath appeared on Andrew Denton’s program “Enough Rope”. It was a wonderful piece of television and well worth watching. So on a day of exceptions, I will promote an commercial product of questionable value, and point you to this web site where you can view Part 2 of the Denton interview.

http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,23908102-5001021,00.html

Please be sensitive to the needs to your employer. (Don’t watch this at work and get yourself or dongles into trouble)

Rest in peace, Jane. Our thoughts and prayers are with your family.

Get it right the first time that’s the main thing

It’s old news now: Australia has won the third test against the West Indies on the fifth day, with plenty of time and runs in hand. They won the series 2-0. Best for the Aussies in the series were Brett Lee (18 wickets at 23.72 and 103 runs at 34.22) and Simon Katich (319 runs at 63.8). Clark and Clarke were also good. For the West Indies, and both teams, it was Chanderpaul. Chiv stood tall. Well, as tall as can be expected. From the 1000 balls he faced, he scored 442 runs at 147.33, making two centuries and three fifties. In the 2nd and 3rd Tests, he batted for 18 hours, being dismissed only on the final day of the series.

Now we shall move on to some interesting matters of cricket law and order. The first is that the Test series between India and Sri Lanka next month will see an umpire challenge system trialed. This will be similar to the concept used in tennis. I’ll let Dave Richardson explain:

“The system will see the fielding and batting side allowed three unsuccessful appeals to the umpire per innings to change a decision if it is perceived to have been incorrect,” the ICC said in a press release. “These appeals can be made only by the batsman in receipt of the umpire’s original decision or the captain of the fielding side, in both cases by the player making a ‘T’ sign with both forearms at shoulder height.”

“The on-field umpire will consult with the third umpire, who will review available television coverage of the incident before relaying fact-based information back to his colleague. The on-field umpire will then deliver his decision either by raising his finger to indicate “out” or by crossing his hands in a horizontal position side to side in front and above his waist three times – as per a “safe” decision by an official in baseball.”

Now dongles will have his say:

I am fundamentally opposed to the system of challenging umpires. My opinion is that playing sport is partly about learning character. That process is aided by accepting good and bad circumstances with grace. Remember, we are talking about a game here – people aren’t being put to death or going to gaol when mistakes are made. I don’t feel that the focus on the importance of “getting it right for the good of the game” is justified. For cricket to survive and prosper, it is not, in fact, essential for all decisions to be correct.

That being said, there are many tensions in the real world in which we live and that includes the world of cricket. I’m prepared to go along with the flow and accept that the overpaid, immature players would rather have the decisions correct. So let’s have our trial.

Looking at the upside, it adds an element of tactics to a match. When should teams use their appeals? Should they be saved or used? It has been interesting to watch the same dilemmas played out in tennis, where the players get 2 unsuccessful challenges per set.

I have a question: Is three challenges per innings too many? Tennis players get 2 per set and there are scores of line calls each set. In any cricket match, we can expect a minimum of 24 appeals against decisions – that’s if all happen to be unsuccessful – and we know they won’t be.

On the downside, let’s say an umpire is having a bad day – like Tiffen did in the recent second Test. He’ll spend the day being questioned and over-ruled. His confidence will be shattered. He will feel redundant. Keep in mind that we are talking of the fielding side appealing negative decisions as well as batsmen appealing unfair dismissals. Remember that the umpire will remain in control. He will consult the third umpire for more information but ultimately may choose to ignore it. Will Russ be tempted to say “Oh dear, that’s three in an hour. Bugger it. You’re out anyway.”?

And a couple of comments on the implementation. Why do we need the silly symbol to ask for a third umpire referral? It’s unnatural. I’d prefer an extension of the usual behaviour. For the fielding side, the captain will rush in from mid-wicket or slips and grab the umpire but the elbow or shoulders, remonstrate with wild hand gestures while maintaining a desperate and pleading expression. Batsmen will be required to throw their bats down the pitch or towards square leg and stand with hands on hips.

And delivery of the decision. I have no complaints about the finger being raised for out. But crossing the arms like a baseball “safe” signal. Oh please!! Like baseball! Gag. Whatever is wrong with the umpire saying “not out”. If the ICC is worried about the fans not knowing what is going on, they have no need to fear. If play continues without the batsman departing, the fans will realise that he was not out. I also think that the umpire should be allowed to say “up yours” should his original decision be confirmed.

The second item of law is that Kevin Pietersen will be allowed to keep switching hitting. He recently hit two sixes having changed stance (and grip) from right-handed to left-handed as the bowler made his approach. Spectacular action and quite an achievement, I’d say. There were some questions about whether it is legal. This surprises me a little as guys have been reverse sweeping forever but I guess the “switch” is less palpable with that stroke. At any rate, the MCC has said it’s above board. However, it might fine-tune some of the rules for clarity. For example, if KP is struck on the pads, are there some complications for the umpire? If the ball pitched outside the line of off stump (relative to his stance as a right hinder), does that mean he can’t be out lbw because the ball has pitched outside the line of leg stump of KP, the left-hander? Similar issues exist for judging wides. The ICC may need to define which is the off side – whether it relates to the batsman’s stance when the bowler started to run in, or the stance when playing the shot.

Next issue we will have a look at the future of Australian cricket, and specifically the future of some of the players (such as that under-achiever, Johnson).