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India Stuns Sri Lanka in Hobart

India has risen from the dead.  After India’s listless performance against Australia on Sunday, at the press conference, MS Dhoni was resigned to their fate.  He admitted that his team was out of the tournament.  It seemed to me like his body was still there but his mind and soul were on a plane headed home.  When he was advised that in fact, if India beat Sri Lanka and earned a bonus point in doing so, they still had a chance.  Dhoni was surprised and relieved.  He also admitted that this would be a hard assignment.  He received no arguments on that count.

After Sri Lanka batted first in Hobart and scored 4/320, I think most wrote India off.  They wouldn’t even have expected India to win, let alone win in 40 overs or less, to earn a bonus point.  When they made the target in just the 37th over, I think most, including myself, were stunned.  India had polished off 321 runs at a rate of 8.75 runs per over, losing just three wickets.

Leading the charge was Virat Kholi and there is no surprise there.  He scored a blistering 133 from just 86 balls.  India has not had much to smile about on this tour but Kholi has been a stand out.  He came to Australia as an accomplished one day cricketer – last night was his 82nd ODI match and his 9th century.  However,  before the Test series, he had just a handful of matches with little results to speak of.  He did struggle during the Test series, as did all of his team mates but not as much.  And, he showed some spine and plenty of fight.  And, he improved during the series, scoring a century in Adelaide.

Perhaps Sri Lanka will look back and wonder how on earth they didn’t shut India out of the competition.  Perhaps they could have scored more runs – the pitch was obviously very friendly.  Sri Lanka lost just four wickets, and did not lose their second wicket until the 44th over.  When you compare Dilshan’s 160 not out from 165 balls, to Kholi, it was pedestrian effort.  Perhaps this is simplistic but I think it is interesting to compare the key innings from both sides.  Dilshan received 79 balls more than Kholi and with those he scored just 27 runs.  All of the India batsmen except for Ghambir scored at better than 130 runs per hundred balls.  Dilshan took more than half of the bowling for Sri Lanka and scored at just 96.96 rphb.  Is it unfair to criticise someone who has scored 160 not out?

But there you have it.  India has made a stunning comeback and won in extraordinary fashion.  Now they must wait until Friday and for once in their lives in guessing, they will be hoping for Australia to win.

The Changing Face of Australian Cricket

If you need convincing that Australian cricket, or at least the personnel, is undergoing change, watch cricket on free-to-air TV for a few hours.  It has struck me for weeks that most of the players featuring in the adverts, are not actually playing this summer, and in many cases, any other summer.

We started this summer with Mitch Johnson confiding in us how he couldn’t manage without his sports drink.  That was duly pulled.  They persisted with Watson smashing up the dressing room with cricket balls demonstrating how his deodorant actually gives him the edge.  That was shelved but was back in force with Watson’s return last night.  Watson himself, may not have been back in force (even though he bowled well) but he was Australia’s third captain in as many weeks.

And speaking of the captain, or ex-captain, who was finally dumped as incumbent captain (I know, it is confusing), the vitamin company will be pleased that Ponting made it to the end of the summer (almost) and still has his Test players licence because they must have spent millions.

But it does not stop there.  We endured Haddin telling us how his sports gear helped him reach the elite level.  The sports equipment company must have cringed every time Haddin grassed a catch, got out cheaply or opened his mouth in front of a microphone.

And even the fast food company, official team sponsor and arch enemy of the Heart Foundation, has an advert that mostly features players that we didn’t get to see this summer.  You know, that semi-funny one where they all show us how they appeal.  Bollinger, Johnson, Haddin and now Ponting – all gone.  At least Hussey, seen on a cricket field, as recently as yesterday, has the final say in that one.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Aside from being interesting, I find it amusing – companies spending a fortune on ads which are pretty much useless.  I can just see the CEO saying to the marketing director, “Well, that was money well spent.”  And it reinforces how much money is involved, and also why players are holding on for longer these days.  If you don’t play, you lose more than your match fees.

And speaking of changes, I think the selectors, led by John Inverarity, are doing a great job.   Injury aside, they have not made changes too quickly.   The changes they have made have been successful.  Furthermore, the sacking of Ponting was decisive and showed guts.  It also sends a clear message to Ponting that if his Test career again meanders as it did for most of the past year, he won’t be able to exit the game on his own terms.  Just in case he was wondering.

Through all of the changes, Inverarity has been open and honest (though Haddin may disagree).  As an example of Inverarity’s stature, I draw attention to his words when they had to let Ricky go.  His address added up to several paragraphs when printed.  It praised Ricky and sensibly explained the selectors’ thinking, while remaining coherent and dignified.  And he allowed Ponting to keep his dignity.  And that is reflected in his words following the dropping of several players such as Hughes, Khawaja, Marsh and Starc. 

Contrast that with the previous clown and the difference is palpable.  For an example, I site the rationale for selecting Beer for his first Test, at the WACA some time ago.  The thinking was simply that Beer’s home ground advantage gave him the edge.  While that in itself was a little shaky, I thought, the fact was that Beer was indeed playing for WA, but he had played just a handful of Shield games in total, had recently moved to WA and had never played at the WACA!  [And in fact, to emphasise his lack for credentials, two years later, he has just taken his first bag of more than three wickets.]

Long live the selectors!

The Return to the Bad Old Days

 

Last night Australia revisited the Ponting years and were reminded of how good the Clarke era has been thus far.  While I am not going to blame Ricky for the loss as that would seem unfair and indeed would not be the truth, the decision to revert to captain Ricky beckons some thought and discussion.

Last week end, the Australian selectors were faced with an interesting dilemma.  With Michael Clarke sustaining an injury, a new captain would be required for (at least) the next match.  With the desired vice captain, Shane Watson, still injured (he has just made is comeback in Shield cricket) and Brad Haddin dropped/rested, the current vice captain is David Warner.  While he appears a natural leader, Warner has only been in the team for five minutes and has been vice captain for even less.  On top of that, his form has been rather patchy and you could imagine that the selectors might want him to address that without the additional burden of captaincy. 

On the other hand, former captain and current legend, Ricky Ponting is in the team, relaxed in his role as senior statesman and freelance mentor.  And as Bobby Simpson is unavailable due to business commitments, in some ways it made sense to ask Ricky to fill in for one match.  Just one match.  It was the conservative choice, was logical in many ways and as those attributes are in keeping with the head of selectors, it was no surprise to see the return of Ponting.

I admit that it is easy for me to say this in hindsight but there are some counter arguments.  One of them was made by former Australian captain, and current sage, Steve Waugh.  He made the point that the Ponting was gone, that era was finished and the team is really moving forward.  It seems like a step backwards not to promote Warner.  After all, he is the vice captain and it is logical to promote the vice captain to captain in such instances.

I agree with Steve.  It is impossible to measure Michael Clarke’s influence as captain to the turning around of the team but I would suggest it has been great.  The unveiling of the new attack this summer has helped the team’s cause no end but you can see that Clarke is putting his own stamp on the team.  To the Australian public he appears open, decisive, upbeat and charismatic and we should expect he is that way with the team.  Add to that is heroic deeds with the bat and his Midas touch leading the team in the field and it is easy to see understand his current standing.

The human mind can be a fragile thing so it came as no surprise to me that the Australian team was awful last night. They had lost their leader.  And what was worse they were presented with one that presided over a very dark time.  A time that is behind Australian cricket and it is puzzling as to why the selectors would be providing reminders of that time.

Many questioned Clarke’s ability in the lead up to his anointing.  Did he have the spine, the maturity and the right qualities?  I admit that he seemed to lose the plot for a while with super models, super cars and the like but when he was given the opportunity, he seized it and while he has made mistakes, one cannot fault his commitment or leadership.  It’s a fact of life that we often don’t do things until we are made to do them.  All things considered, Warner should have been given his chance.

And I might add that that one day team was pretty week.  The batting is brittle and the bowling ordinary.  What is it with Brett Lee?  What is that about?  He’s a spent fuel rod and his fitness must be in some doubt.  He was rushed back into the team and the guy who ripped the heart out of the Indians in the Test series is sitting in the dressing room. I should say, “one of the guys” – the other ones aren’t even at the ground.   All people have flaws and perhaps this set of selectors is overly nostalgic.

And now, surprise, surprise, Clarke will be missing for two matches.  And what if it becomes three?  The selectors have made a rod for their backs.  They can’t very well sack Ponting as captain now and ask Warner to take over.  That would be too big a slap in the face for Ponting.  Even I accept that.  On top of that, Ponting’s own batting form should mean that his position in the team is under question.  He has not passed six runs in four innings.  Obviously, he has cemented his place in the Test team for ODIs are different.  In Test cricket, you can bunker down and simply try not to get out until your form returns and if no runs are scored during that time, it doesn’t really matter.  You simply don’t have that luxury in limited overs cricket.  Perhaps he should consider retiring from One Day cricket – for the good of team.  Or perhaps he needs to be asked to retire.
Ricky Ponting "in a mood"

It’s Only a Little Bit Bent

I have previously stated my views on the legality of Murali’s action and the ICC’s rationale in legalising illegal bowling actions.  I recently commented to someone that now Murali has retired, they can repeal that ridiculous 15 degree chucking rule.  But it seems I spoke too soon.

I don’t want to detract from Pakistan’s marvellous whitewash in the series just concluded against England.  It may not surprise you that I would prefer to rejoice in it.  Not only because it brings England back to the field, and not only because I love it any time that England cops a good hiding but also because the more competitive Test playing nations we have, the healthier and more enjoyable is the game of Test cricket.

For the past decade or so, Pakistan has struggled against adversity and rarely prevailed.  Pakistan cricket has been dogged by economic and political troubles of an enormous magnitude which have seen the players poorly paid and unable to play matches at home.   Pakistan cricket itself has had plenty of problems ranging from the usual disharmony and in-fighting to headline-making scandals including illegal betting, spot-fixing and performance enhancing drugs.  You would all know that just recently, Pakistan’s captain and two best bowlers were sentenced to gaol for said spot fixing scandal.

Times have been tough.  But out of the scandal, a promising Pakistan is starting to emerge.  They have won their past three Test series and that smacks of consistency to me, and that is a word that has not often been associated with the Pakistan cricket team, at any time in history.  And one of the main men behind this resurgence is Saeed Ajmal.  He took 24 wickets in the three nil win over England and he really had the Poms in a spin.

Now that he has enjoyed some success, his action, which has always been suspect and under review, is causing a stir.  But it is OK.  No need to worry.  Close scrutiny has shown that to start with, his arm is naturally bent (sounding familiar) and the average amount of straightening is just 8 degrees.  It creeps up to about 13 degrees for the arm ball and faster ball (I think this is the Teesra) but not the Doosra and 13 degrees is fine.  It’s all bollocks to me.  Give me the good old days when the umpire could simply see a “chuck” and call “no ball”.  No need for the umpires to carry a protractor in those days.

The cold reality is that no such recourse will be given.  The dodgy rule is here to stay.  I have previously suggested that the reason for the rule change was to keep Murali in the game.  Sri Lanka was a new and struggling nation and was starting to win some matches on the back of Murali’s performances.  It was obvious that the ICC wanted Sri Lanka to succeed and the easy option was to change the rule.  To legitimise something that had been against the rules for over one hundred years.

Saeed Ajmal can now enjoy the benefit of the same rule change.  He is now a key player in lifting Pakistan off the mat and will be allowed to go on his merry way.  The ICC actually changed a rule to protect Murali.  For Ajmal, all they have to do is nothing – stick with the status quo.  And doing nothing is one of the few things that ICC actually does well.