The Summer of Captain Golden Balls

Australia has ended its summer on a winning note and fittingly so.  And equally fitting, Captain Golden Balls has bowled his team to victory.  Having dominated with the bat so often since becoming captain, Michael Clarke closed out the summer by taking five wickets as his side won by 75 runs, taking the series against the West Indies 2-0.

It was often said that Stephen Fleming got the most out of his teams – that they “punched above their weight”.  I see Michael Clarke as being in the same class.  While he may not have a team of minnows and unknowns, we should not be deceived in thinking that he captains a team of heavy weights.

Looking down the list we have:

  • One opener who is somewhat of a sensation, averaging over 40 but is still looking for consistency
  • Another opener how is solid but averaging less than 30 with no centuries seven Tests.
  • First drop, a position that has caused troubles for more than 12 months is now Watson.  While he is essential to the team, I must note that Watson’s batting average is just 37.5 and that after 35 Tests, he has just two centuries and a high score of 126.  Those are not the stats of a number three, or any top six batsman, really.  In his last ten Tests he has averaged just 27.2.  With the ball it is a different matter and he must be regarded more as a bowling all-rounder these days, although after coming back from injury, he has been used sparingly by Clarke and had little impact with the ball in the West Indies, taking just three wickets in the series.
  • Ponting may be “safe for now” but is clearly not the world beater that he was.
  • Same for Hussey.  I was interested that Clarke made the point that if Haddin returns to the Test team that Matthew Wade could play as a specialist batsman.  Obviously, a batsman would have to make way for that to happen.  There is no Test cricket until November, so I wondered if Clarke knows something.  It’s most likely a moot point as I don’t see Haddin regaining selection.
  • The pace bowlers have been Clarke’s wild card this season, being potent and affective.  At the same time, injury has taken a terrible toll and it has been rare for the same pace attack to play two consecutive matches.  However, the depth has been there and it was unexpected.

Clarke took over a team that was in the doldrums, who could hardly win a game and certainly not a series.  While there have been some setbacks – two very notable setbacks, only two of the 14 matches were lost and no series was lost.  Many of the matches were hard fought and won through determination combined with fresh and inspired captaincy.  Of Ponting, I was often thinking, “Why didn’t he try this or that?”  but with Clarke it is more like, “Gee, I never thought of that!”

During the West Indies tour, the Australian bowling card always had seven names on it, sometimes eight.  Important wickets were taken by Warner, Hussey and Clarke himself.  Clarke is not the kind of guy to die wondering.  He tries things before leaving it too late and much the time, his experiments pay off.  It is a shame that we wait until November for Australia to play more Test cricket but that’s life.  Until such time, we can enjoy an English summer and catch the final stages of IPL.

The Ghost of Gilchrist Wades into the Fray

Adam Gilchrist is a sacred name in Australian cricket.  It is to me.  He left huge shoes to fill and in my opinion, Brad Haddin never came close, despite his apparent potential.  He did have some good days but not enough.  I would say that Matthew Wade has ensured that Brad Haddin will never wear Australia colours, of any flavour again.  In case there was any doubt.

Wade hit is first Test century, in his third Test match and when it was really needed.  In a match, and indeed a series where batsmen have struggled to convert starts into scores, Australia once again found themselves seven wickets down with not enough runs on the board.

With Mitchell Starc, Wade ground out the makings of a recovery in the late stages of day one.  Wade’s first Test half century came from a responsible 110 balls.  When Starc ran himself out early on the second morning in “Comedies Capers” style, Wade was just 24 (from 83 balls) and Australia was 8/226.  Australia scored another 102 runs, of which Wade scored 82 (in 64 balls).

Any comparisons with Gilchrist are premature and unfair in raising expectations but Wade’s innings post Starc,  is why I dared to mention him in the same breath as Gilly.  His second fifty came from just 33 balls and included 3 fours and 3 sixes and in a short space of time, Australia took the ascendancy.  Now if that does not give you cause to reflect on the deeds of AC Gilchrist, you are probably not Australian.  Or are very young.

Australia proceeded to run through the West Indies until at 8/120 Shiv finally found a friend in Rampaul.  That man, Shiv.  Always Shiv.  The West Indies are still just over 150 behind but at least they are fighting.

Whacky Times in the Windy Isles

I observed earlier in the week that the Caribbean seems to be predisposed to cricketing crazy capers more than anywhere else.  That observation has been vindicated during the 2nd Test and to guild the lily, day three saw 20 minutes lost because of a power failure.

This match has had a few unusual turns.  Michael Beer opening the bowling for Australia.  Michael Clarke throwing the ball to Michael Hussey before calling on Watson.  For starters, that’s a lot of Michaels.  Also, the captain with the Midas touch continues to show us that these plays may be creative but they are successful and in time, will probably seem normal.

The West Indies, after a very good day, lost 5 for 19 in the dying moments as Nathan Lyon ran through them.  But a case of Calypso Collapso can’t really be considered that unusual.

The icing on the cake for me was the 20 minute delay during a power failure.  Not a brain failure but a power failure.  In a match that has lost significant time already due to rain and bad light, there was no play on a dry field, under sunny skies because the said power failure meant that the match could not be televised.  The umpires decided to leave the field to check with officials that no commercial contracts would be breached!  Now I admit that the West Indies is probably the last place you want to have a contractual dispute but where is Darrell Hair when you need him.

Some were saying that the captains wanted to go off because DRS would not be available but that is untrue and nonsense.  The good news is that the 20 minutes was well spent.  It has been established that for the rest of the series, the show will go on, power or no power.  But not rain, hail or shine, which is probably more of a consideration.

See Cricinfo article for reference

Single Digit Ricky

No, I’m not referring to Ricky Ponting’s IQ.  Nor his age nor his maximum counting ability.  And I’m certainly not talking about his annual income. I am, of course, referring to Ponting’s current scoring trend.  In his last eight international innings (Tests and ODI), Ponting has bettered ten just once and that was a score of 14.  In the 1st Test, Ponting and Siddle were the only ones in the entire 22 players that did not reach double figures in the first innings.  Ponting’s woes continued in the 2nd Test as he was the only Australian on day one not to push past ten.

I’m just having some fun at Ricky’s expense but it is not a good look.  It has been announced that after Ponting’s glorious home series against India, that his Test place is secure.  However, nobody will be more aware than Ricky that he was summarily dumped from the ODI team after a run of outs.  So Ricky must be starting to wonder for how long he is secure.

Does the Caribbean have the ability produce zany events more than anywhere else on earth?  Aside from unpredictable and varied pitches, grounds and crowds, on-field events got off to a crazy start in the in the very first over of the 2nd Test.  Warner was given out caught  behind when he had not hit the ball (but it had hit his pad), nor had the ball carried to the ‘keeper.  Darren Sammy, to his credit, withdrew the appeal, seeing that the ball did not carry.  No referral was necessary.  If the appeal had stood, and Warner had referred, he may well have been given out lbw (there is no rule in cricket that states an appeal has to be for a specific mode of dismissal)!

Before play even started, Australia was forced to leave out Peter Siddle with a back complaint, and he was replaced by James Pattinson.  Good swap.  The Aussies also decided to play two spinners and in what might be considered an odd move, left out 1st Test man-of-the-match, Ryan Harris for Michael Beer.  Harris is officially being “rested”.  This word has been causing all sorts of trouble in the Australian cricket community in recent times (just ask Brad Haddin).  Some are suggesting that the Australian team rested seven catches during the last Test (I stole that from the Cricinfo commentary).  At the conclusion of the 1st Test, Harris was bullishly broadcasting his fitness and ability to play the entire series, so reading between the lines, Harris probably knew he was a chance of being rested and was engaging in some mind games.

But there it is – Australia has gone into the 2nd Test with a vastly changed bowling line up from the successful 1st Test.  Time will tell if they did the right thing taking in two spinners but word is that the pitch is very dry and was taking spin from the first session.  Besides, what are the chances of Michael Clarke being wrong?