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Sehwag the Unbelievable

Over the week end, Virender Sehwag joined a very elite club: Those batsmen that have made not one, but two Test triple centuries. Now let’s see… Already in the club are Bradman, Lara and I reckon that’s about it.

Sehwag bettered his previous best by 10 runs but he did it in style. The 300 came off just 278 balls – that’s the fastest 300 ever. Well, measured by balls faced at any rate. We have that funny situation where they didn’t accurately record balls faced in the good old days (the over rates were so good, the poor old scorers could not keep up) so there are records measured by balls faced and minutes elapsed.

This match between South Africa (540 & 2/216) and India (627) may be a high scoring affair but don’t let that cool your enthusiasm. Sehwag’s effort was extraordinary. When he departed, India’s score was 2/481 – he had scored 66% of the runs. By the end of India’s innings, he could still take the credit for 51% of the total. Tendulkar managed a duck. Dravid tried to kill the South Africans with boredom. He needed 291 balls for his 111. That means that with his 13 extra balls (he faced 13 more than Dravid), Sehwag knocked up 208 runs. What a strike rate!! I know it’s a bit silly but you get the point.

The question is, why was he left on the shelf by the Indian selectors for so long? He doesn’t go by the nick name of “Slats” for nothing. Consulting Sehwag’s listing on the trusty HowzStat site (http://www.earthsci.unimelb.edu.au/cgi-bin/hsumm?-a+02478), I see that Sehwag was left out for just over a year. That is before he was recalled half way through the Australian series – too late as it turned out. He looked the goods immediately and saved the Indians’ hides in Adelaide with 63 and a sensational 151. And now, just one test later he has notched up another classic. What a star.

Briefly, in other business, Stephen Fleming has finished his Test career on the wrong end of the stick. New Zealand lost the last two Tests to drop the series 1-2. That’s right, England have won a series. Fleming made 59 & 66 in typical rear guard actions in the final Test. Fleming played 111 Tests, 80 of those being as captain. He scored over 7000 runs and twice topped 250. More importantly, he consistently brought the best out of his team and is a main contender for the best captain of the modern era. He also made some pretty funny Rexona ads.

It’s still cricket season

Hold the phone. It’s still cricket season. Those burly boofheads may be rubbing in the liniment but there is still some cricket to be played yet in Australia this summer. And that is the Pura Cup final. It starts this Saturday at the SCG and is between the Blues and the Vics, who finished level on top of the table. Those two teams were runaways from early on and could not have been much more even. In fact, the pivotal match was a few weeks ago when both teams met at the SCG. The result was a draw with a first innings tie! The final will be at the SCG as the Blues had the better net run rate. They also remained undefeated (outright) but lost two matches on first innings.

Stuart MacGill returned to first class cricket last week and immediately took a five wicket bag. With Pakistan cancelled, I’m not sure how much it helps him but it’s a good effort. I thought a successful comeback was beyond him.

Looking further afield, NZ is set to take on England, in the second Test in Wellington. The Black Caps trounced the Poms at Hamilton, despite a second innings hat trick from England’s Ryan Sidebottom. Well done, him.

South Africa are currently dismantling Bangladesh in a One Day series but the two Test series, won 2-0 by South Africa, was not without interest. In the first Test, Bangladesh were dismissed for 192. No surprises there. There was a surprise when South Africa trailed by 22 on the first innings. They recovered to win fairly comfortably.

Next Test saw things return to normal. South Africa posted an opening stand of 415. Yes, Smith (232) and McKenzie (226) set a new Test world record for the 1st wicket. The innings was closed at 7/583 but it turns out that the first wicket surpassed Bangladesh (259 & 119) all on its own.

IPL bubbles along with the second auction held yesterday. Catfish (James Hopes) was the biggest winner scoring himself a $300k contract. IPL simmers along for the Aussies. I still see trouble. CA has been quick to point out that Pakistan may be cancelled but the West Indies tour starts on 16 May, less than a month after IPL starts. James Sutherland says that they are “now considering what the appropriate lead-in is going to be for the team” prior to the tour. Tim Nielsen says that playing cricket on the sub-continent is hardly ideal lead-up to cricket in the Caribbean. Oh please. Perhaps they will be required to attend boot camp with John Buchanan.

Get out of the studio and back into the nets

Congratulations to India on finishing the Australian summer as winners. Australia was outplayed in the finals – India won batting first, and chasing and it can’t get more comprehensive than that. Over the summer, humble Kumble was praised for his leadership. I think Dhoni is even better. The highest paid cricketer in the world (based on payments directly related to cricket playing services) shone as an inspirational and intelligent captain.

It was no surprise to see Tendulkar make the Aussies chase leather but the surprise of the summer was the Indian (medium) pace bowling reserves. There were worries when Zaheer Khan broke down after an impressive first Test. But it didn’t matter – RP Singh stepped up. Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma stole the show in Perth. When RP Singh dropped out late in the ODI series, it didn’t matter a snit – some guy we’ve never heard of – Praveen Kumar – rocks up and knocks ’em dead. It’s quite impressive. Still, when you consider that there are over a billion people in India, you’d think they could muster some backup.

Australia, on the other hand went from good to pretty ordinary. Most of them are playing below par while having some good moments, but the main problems are Ponting and Symonds. Both averaged 19 in the one day series. Both were involved in a great deal of off field shenanigans. And something else occurred to me while I bothered to watch the final one day match of the summer, and the accompanying ad breaks: In the past few months, both have spent more time in the TV Studio that in the nets. It’s no bloody wonder they can’t catch, bowl or lay bat on ball. I can’t name brands but there is the car company, the bank, John Law’s oil company (no what I mean?), soft drink, finger lickin’ fast food, deodorant, vitamin tablets. Spare me days! The list goes on. If someone will pay them, the boys will go on TV and say that they use it and love it. It’s just lucky that it’s not legal to advertise cigarettes anymore or they’d be adding lung cancer to their problems.

The catching this summer was appalling. I’m going to have to resort to clichés here. Catches win matches. It’s time to get back to basics. Gillie said that he didn’t think the dropped catches were worse than normal. I think he is wrong – but not far wrong. Australia was having to bowl 12-15 wicket taking balls every innings this summer. That was not so noticeable with Warne and McGrath – they had more wicket balls in them than Batman and Robin. Times are tougher and when the going gets tough the tough get going (down to the nets). This is still the cliché paragraph. Bring back Bobbie Simpson. Now I appreciate that times are tough for guys like Ponting. When you own a $4m house in the Shire, on Port Hacking and are committed to $3m in renovations, you are going to need a second job. Especially when you first job earns you only $2m per year. How could you get by on that? And then you get only a lousy $400k from the great IPL cash cow when lesser pudknockers such Cameron White are raking it in. But Ponting needs to realise that cricket is his ticket. It’s his claim to fame. Without cricket, he is nothing special. He can’t act. He’s nothing special to look out. He’s a Tasmanian for goodness sake and I doubt his leadership credentials. If the runs dry up and he’s on the reserves bench, the phones going to stop ringing.

Ponting, once again, has been shown as an ordinary leader when under pressure. We saw it in 2005 when the team was losing. His decisions on field are curious, his behaviour off field is less than gracious and his batting form has slumped. However, this season has been far more than losing cricket matches. This year has been about character. Australia has needed a leader who is prepared to step back and endure some criticism. Ponting has never endured criticism well. Perhaps he is insecure. Ponting is the quick to fight back. Australia needs a leader who is humble but strong, who shows good character when the pressure is on. A good captain will lead his team to achieve greater things than others thought possible. Look at Stephen Fleming, for example. Ponting has never done more than be appointed captain over a team of champions. And now they are all retiring before he is.

Australia probably won’t tour Pakistan later this month but they will tour India later in the year. It’s a pretty sure bet that Australia will hand over the Border-Gavaskar trophy at that time. India is not a place to tour with a siege mentality. India needs to be embraced with open arms and open mind. It’s different. The weather is hot. The food is hot. It’s overwhelming. If Ponting takes the boys there thinking “everyone hates us, let’s stick it up ’em”, they won’t go the distance. It will be like swallowing rat sack and expecting the rat to die.

End of season rant over. More on IPL, Pakistan and various Test cricket (yes, South Africa did have an opening stand of 415).