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Watson the Wonderful

The letter “W” is for Wonderful.  Until recently, more famously, it stood for Wonder Woman.  Not it is synonymous with Watson.  Wonderful Watson.  After years of struggles with injuries and undelivered promise, Watson has arrived.

Some of you have pointed out that I have been uncomplimentary of Watson and that I should eat humble pie.  Please allow me to clarify that I have been putting the boot into the selectors for picking Watson when one could question his merits.  I admit that Watson can only play when invited and do his best, which I’m sure he does.  His one major on-field slip up was his sending off of Chris Gayle.  That was woeful.

During my discussions about the logical flaws displayed by the selectors, I may have highlighted some of Watson’s short comings.  Perhaps they are still there – I don’t know that Australia is playing anything more than ordinary opposition.  However, the fact is that since his reselection, Watson has been the best performed Australian batsman.

In seven Tests, he has scored 716 runs at an average of 65.09.  Included in that are six half centuries and one precious century.  While his bowling was lacking during the Ashes, this summer, he has started to become a useful engine.  He is swinging the ball in the middle overs of the ball’s life, is economical and is taking wickets.

Watson has even found that there are ways to be dismissed aside from lbw and bowled.  He discovered run out when in his nineties, and that shows that Watson is not afraid to try new things, even when there is great cost involved.

And of course, he continues to be ever willing when a microphone is stuck in front of him.  Which is a good thing because we have found out the secret of this transformation:  Less bench presses and more Pilates.  Less brawn (but not necessarily more brain) and more flex. (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/cricket/how-i-found-key-to-shane-watsons-body/story-e6frey50-1225814512222

Happy New Year to you all.  The irresistible Watson for the captaincy by the end of 2010.

The Other Boxing Day Test

The Boxing Day Test which is played at the MCG is rather sacred in Australian sporting folk law.  In our introspective tendencies, we sometimes overlook details and one of those is that South Africa also has a Boxing Day Test tradition.  In fact, this point has cause a little chagrin in the past because the Proteas would like to host a Boxing Day Test against Australia.  But that is never going to happen.

However, the next best thing is under way as South Africa is playing England in Durban in the second Test of the series.  Day four proved to be decisive and it went decidedly in favour of the visitors.

Day four saw England start with a lead of 43 runs with five wickets in hand, with that font of untapped talent, Ian Bell at the crease.  A handy position to be in but hardly commanding.  England finished with a huge first innings lead of 232 following Bell’s masterpiece of 141.

At stumps, after a stunning final session, South Africa require 156 runs to make England bat again with only four wickets in hand.  The man of the hour, Swann and the hero of the Ashes decider, Stuart Broad, have three wickets apiece.  South Africa did manage to survive the final ten overs without loss but the innings is in tatters at 6-76 with all possible saviours back in the sheds.

In Melbourne, the game is interestingly poised.  The TV station and the papers might “talk it up”, but can we dare to believe that Pakistan could make it interesting?  However, it is true that Australia is once again making heavy work closing out a match.  If it were not for the great man, Watson, who knows what could have happened.  Now, it would have been bloody funny if butterfingers Rauf could have a held a straight forward catch at gully when Watson was 99, but he didn’t.

Watson’s recent achievements will be acknowledged in my final piece for the year but let me say congratulations to him on making a Test century.  One that many thought would never come.

Houdini Lives Again

For the second time in six months, England has salvaged the first Test of a series, by clinging to a solitary wicket.  We saw it in Wales when they held out the Aussies on the final evening.  Now they have managed an even narrower escape against South Africa.

I say even narrower, because in Cardiff, England had achieved a certain buffer by edging ahead of Australia’s total – Australia needed time for the innings change and to score the winning runs.  In this case, England was still well behind and any of the last 19 balls could have been the last ball of the match.

It was exciting stuff and a great Test match.  Both of the Tests that recently concluded were good contests.  England were mostly outplayed but had their moments.  In fact, one man had most of their moments.  Special mention goes to Graeme Swann, who took five first innings wickets and then saved the English first innings with a swashbuckling 85 from 81 balls.

On a final day when England had no chance of winning, they seemed to have shored up their position.  With 35 overs remaining, they still had seven wickets in hand.  That is when KP, looking majestic on 81, had one of those inexplicable brain explosions so typical of the man.  He ran himself out, with the non-striker not taking so much as a step from his crease.  As is so often the case, a needless run out signalled the tumble of wickets.  England lost 6-46 and it was only the redoubtable Colly saving the day with 26 not out from 99 balls.  I move his nickname be changed to “Lassie”.  Was there ever a more dependable collie?

Over in Perth, the West Indies got themselves within 36 runs of what would have been an astonishing victory.  They lost two key batsmen before the match, conceded 520 first innings runs and then failed to avoid the follow-on (which was not enforced in the end).  They then mounted  such a spirited comeback with the ball and then with the bat, that they seemed to deserve something from the series.  I think it is a great pity that the senior batsmen could not muster a few more runs at the start of the chase.

And three cheers for Chris Gayle.  He finishes the series with his reputation enhanced, which after the first Test, seemed very unlikely.  His brilliant innings in Perth, the fifth fastest hundred in Test history seemed but a cameo compared to his monument to character in Adelaide.  It reminded me of Lara in the Caribbean in 1999 and I’m not sure it was what the situation warranted.  However, with Gayle, I don’t think the giving is necessarily determined by what the situation warrants.

At any rate, welcome to Pakistan.  I think they may cause the under strength, under performing, misbehaving Aussies a few headaches.

F50

No, F50 is not a Ford supercar.  Nor is it a model of Ferrari.  Well it is but not in this case.  It’s my new name for One Day cricket or 50 over cricket.  Or Fifty50, to use the Twenty20 nomenclature.  If last night’s slog fest between India and Sri Lanka was more typical of ODI cricket, we wouldn’t be so bored with that form of the game.  Or perhaps we would if every game was like that.

India posted 7/414 and Sri Lanka fell just three runs short with 8/411.  In fact, Sri Lanka were poised to win with two overs remaining.   They required just 15 runs (less than the run rate required at the start of the innings), had five wickets in hand and two established batsmen at the crease.  A calamity of errors including two run outs saw them fall at the last hurdle.

Why is a total of 400 such an enigma?  400 has been passed only eight times in 2542 ODI matches and only since T20 challenged players to re-think the boundaries.  On four of those occasions, the bowling team was a minnow (Netherlands, Ireland, Bermuda and Zimbabwe) so let’s forget those.  The other four innings came from just two games.  That’s right – in the only real matches where 400 was scored, both teams managed it.

I guess that suggests that the right conditions are required.  Pitch, ground size and outfield all contribute.  It might also mean that necessity is the mother of invention.  Would Sri Lanka have made 411 if they batted first?  Sangakkara’s 90 from 43 balls was maniacal – pure Afridi.  Surely he would not have batted like that if he didn’t know it was required.  And aren’t we glad he did.

The third Test between Australia and the West Indies starts today and for Clint McKay, opportunity knocks.  Who knows, Steve Smith, the biggest outsider since Mark Edmonds, might even experience a miracle call up.  Play begins at 10:30 Perth time, which is 1:30 Sydney time.