Rhinos Never Forget

I know that it is really elephants that never forget (I even know where that stems from) and that rhinoceros are more known for terrible eyesight.  I just want to point out that Ryan Harris obviously has not forgotten how to bowl and that it is Australian cricket, in fact, that should not forget about Rhino.

Last night, Ryan Harris powered Queensland to victory over Victoria in the One Day cup final (sorry Ryobi, no free advertising from dongles).  In a match shortened to 32 overs, Queensland scraped together just 9/146.  Victoria had scrambled to within 5 runs of the target with two overs remaining, and two wickets in hand.

Re-enter Harris.  After conceding singles off the first two balls, he dismissed McKay with a scorcher of a delivery and Ahmed for a golden duck and the match belonged to the Bulls.  Bully for Rhino who finished with 4/26.

Let me remind everyone what a good strike bowler Harris has been in his short test career.  He has played just 12 Tests over a two year period in which he has taken 47 wickets at 23.63 with the excellent strike rate of 49.19.  Keep in mind that seven of those Tests were played away from Australia, with almost half in Sri Lanka and the West Indies and that adds credibility. 

He looks strong as a Malley Bull but in Rhino’s case, looks belie the truth.  He has broken down an incredible number of times.  In fact, Harris has played in six Test series, against six different nations but didn’t play in all matches of any of those series.  He is hard pushed to put together two matches in a row.  His trifecta during the ill-fated Ashes homes series must be seen as somewhat of a modern day miracle.

But he is just 30 years old and he is back.  Given that the rotation policy is not helping (Bird went home from India without even playing a Test) and that more bowlers are needed for that said policy, I would like to see Ryan Harris on the plane to England, come June 2013.

The long, hot and spinning road

Paul McCartney knew all about it.  A Test series in India is a long and winding road for the visiting team.  The current Australian team is finding it hard going and why wouldn’t they?  Just about all before them have.  There is a lot of advice being handed out at the moment (for example, why would you play only one spinner?) but much of the criticism is fuelled by disappointment.  If one conducts some objective analysis, it is possible to have a fairer perspective.

Australia did the unthinkable last night and forced India to bat again.  With nine wickets down and still 17 runs from making India bat again, it would have taken an optimistic person to forecast that India would need to bat again in the Test, let alone on day five.  As Australia’s score approached 192, the magic mark to avoid an innings defeat, I was cheering as if a few more runs would result in victory.  My oldest daughter, who I admit is a stereotypical Y-gen, asked why bother fighting in a lost cause.  Tisk, tisk.  I will give you my answer presently but first to the bigger picture.

Australia has come to India with only a handful of players that have ever played a Test in India.  Keep in mind that playing in IPL is no comparison.  Those men are Clarke, Watson, Siddle and Johnson (who was left out of this Test, much to my surprise).  Watching the Australian batsmen against Sri Lanka, in Australia recently, it was obvious that few of them had a clue against spin bowling.   On the other side of the coin, Australia has no world class spinners.  So why would they be expected to prosper?  Michael Clarke will most likely be singing, “Many times I’ve been alone and many times I’ve tried…” well before this tour is over.

In 57 years, Australia has played 42 Tests in India and won just 12 of them.  India has won 15 with the rest drawn or tied.  India first visited Australia about 10 years before the return visit and in those 66 years, Australia and India have played in Australia 40 times and Australia has won on 26 occasions and India just five.  That is a stark difference.  Australia struggles in India and India struggles even more in Australia.

Australia has won just one series in India since 1969.  That was in late 2004 when Gilchrist lead a mighty team to India a won 2-1.  That team won the third Test to take a two nil lead and that was the last Test Australia has won on Indian soil.

Remember that Mark Taylor took a powerful team to India in 1998 (which included the Waughs, Warne, Slater and Ponting but had no star pace bowler) and was soundly trounced.  Steve Waugh returned in 2001 with an even better team (which had all of the above plus Hayden, McGrath and Gillespie) and was on the cusp of a series win before Laxman and Harbhajan turned it around.

Australia finds it hard to win in India and has done since 1960.   Richie Benaud’s team won in 1969 and in his autobiography, he detailed how much planning and determination went into that series win.  It was something he was very proud of.   All of the other great captains thereafter didn’t get that winning feeling – Chappell, Border, Taylor, Waugh and Ponting – they all missed out.

And why should Lyon and Henriques have bothered yesterday with what was, and still is, a lost cause?  Team and personal pride.  Experience.  I hope Lyon took a good chance to have a close-up look at his superior colleagues.  Moises showed once again great talent against spin bowling.  While his style is not like that of his fleet footed captain, he does get forward and he reacts and adjusts brilliantly.  He is an unexpected find.  The funny thing is that I wonder if he will prosper in other conditions as well (e.g. England?).

Anyway, Australia could have played three of their spinners and it probably would not have made a shred of difference.  However, there seems little point in playing three specialists quicks.  I would only play two in the next Test and play Maxwell.  The team needs another batsman and what better place to improve your spin bowling than in India?  But whatever happens, I would not be expecting Australia to win any Tests in this series.  But they should still try!

Who the hell is Ashton Agar?

I must be getting old and slow.  Don’t get me wrong – I am keenly awaiting the start of the 1st Test between India and Australia but I only just properly checked the scorecard of the final warm up match.  This is the official dongles Test series preview.  So, what might you ask has Ashton Agar to with it?

The shocking short answer is that my closer examination of the scorecard revealed that an Australian named AC Ashton bowled during the India A innings and took three wickets!  Please note that I am not getting confused with the Indian, Ajit Agarkar.  As I implied, I have been a bit slack but not that slack.  Perhaps there has been some complacency due to the announcing of the 17 man touring party towards, but not at the end of, the endless Australian summer.  This went hand-in-hand with the piece-meal assembly of the said squad in India, which has to be said, was unappealing.

That being said, I did scrutinize the 17 man squad the day it was announced and I did not notice any names that I did not recognise.  None.  I noted that it had more bowlers than it was possible to comprehend and deduced that the selectors still didn’t have a clue who should play.  But good on them for splurging out and taking options.

Thank goodness for the internet.    I have been able to quickly find out about Ashton Agar.   The first thing I did was check the Australian Squad on Cricinfo and found Agar was there!  I then tallied the squad and found it now has 18 members.  Then I found an article which explains that Agar’s presence is a bi-product of the fragmented squad.   He is a 19 year old, left arm orthodox spinner who has played two Sheffield Shield matches for Western Australia, coming in for the injured Beer.  He was sent to India while the squad was a bit thin.  But he impressed and was asked to stay on and play against India A, along with Lyon and Doherty.

After a distinguished and intelligent start to their reign, this selection panel is reminding me more and more of Hilditch.  If the young fella has been asked to stay and get some experience, then I think that is great.  If he seriously is in contention for the Tests, that troubles me.  The selectors obviously have a shallow talent pool when it comes to spinners, and India is the most important place to have a spinner that counts but clutching at straws isn’t the solution.  The last regime tried that and failed miserably.

For the record, Agar was statistically the most successful Australian bowler against India A.  Just.  The spinners took eight of the wickets in India A’s only innings.  Agar took 3/107, Doherty 3/108 and Lyon 2/113.  However, it should be noted that Agar was by far the most expensive (he went for 5.35 rpo) and accounted for tail enders (numbers 8, 9 and 10).  Interestingly, the spinners were all expensive, while Siddle, Henriques and Starc only took two wickets between them, they conceded around two runs per over.

Anyway, that’s who the hell Ashton Agar is.   The make up of the Australian team for the 1st Test, which starts on Friday is going to be interesting on several fronts.

Less Interesting than the movies

As Australia’s international summer of cricket grinds interminably to its end, I have indentified several barometers of One Day Cricket interest levels, which I shall share.  I haven’t had a chance to call Warnie on this subject but it was just a few months ago that Adam Gilchrist said that 50 over cricket would be gone in five years.  Personally, I hope it doesn’t take that long.

The first and obvious barometer was to look at the TV and notice tens of thousands of empty seats at the MCG.  The second was that the cheering had that hollow, “echoy” sound that we are more familiar with at Sheffield Shield matches.  Cricket Australia may say, “look at the ratings” but I say that is a false indicator.  I had a television on the cricket as a matter of principle but I certainly made no serious attempt to watch.

Another glaring observation is that Cricket Australia doesn’t even care enough to retain a full squad in Australia.  Most of the best players in the land have departed for India – before the Australia summer has even finished.  I know that it was the Test squad that has left and it is limited overs being played, and that some key players (such as Watson, Clarke and Johnson) have remained but it is strange.

My eldest daughter is a cricket nut – she even goes to Big Bash games.  She was actively watching the match last night but I came into the lounge room at about 9:00 p.m. and West Wing re-runs were playing (for about the 8th time through).

I noticed that in the newspaper in the work lunchroom (I won’t mention brand names but it has large pages and is often said to be good for wrapping fish and chips), I had to turn 4 fours pages in from the back to see a mention of cricket.  That’s four page turns, or eight printed pages.  Nobody cares.

What really brought it home to me was watching the ABC breakfast show this morning.  The sports guy game in for his segment and he and the two hosts proceeded to chat about what movies that had seen recently.  They then got onto what they liked and didn’t like and what they might be seeing shortly.  Now remember that this type of show runs to a pretty tight schedule but the sport (the cricket) was a of so little interest that they could spend a couple of minutes informally reviewing movies.  Please know that Michael Rowland and Karina Carvalho are yet to see “Les Miserables”!

And finally, I have to admit that I spent the entire first innings of the match at the movies.   Not seeing “Les Miserables” but at the movies, I was.  And I go to the movies on average once every three years.

The last Test finished just over a month ago but it seems an eternity.  Roll on India!