The First Day/Night Test?

Maddie and I have arrived in Adelaide to be part of the first Day/Night Test ever. Who knows if it will catch on or how many there will be but there can only ever be one first one. Or can there?

I learnt yesterday that Cricket Australia has made the decision to recognise the World Series Cricket achievements of players. I don’t know if this is timed to coincide with the D/N Test but it’s a nice touch as there are synergies with WSC, which of course pioneered night cricket.

But does that mean I am seeing the first D/N Test or not? WSC had D/N Super Tests and now they are officially recognised so is my pilgrimage in vain? Is it devalued?  In fact, I went to a D/N Super Test in about 1978 when I was just a lad so have I already been there and done that? I watched “Kerry Packer’s War” on the plane on the way down and they were exciting times.

At any rate, I’m just winding you up. The WSC records will be recognised as separate line items. They will not be merged with official Test and ODI records. I’m pumped for tomorrow and looking forward to being part of history. I’ll let you know if I can see the ball.

Mighty Mitch

Mitchell Johnson has retired rather suddenly from Test cricket. Unlike many retirements in recent years, Johnson’s decision smacks of rightness. He doesn’t seem to have stayed too long. Everyone is happy with Mitch. Sad, perhaps that he is leaving but happy in the knowledge that it does seem to be the right time. I read today that Johnson didn’t want to keep playing if he couldn’t bowl fast anymore and that to me sums up Johnson: Simple and to the point.

Remembering that Johnson has been such a maligned cricketer at times, to see him sent off with such goodwill speaks volumes of the man and probably his comeback in late 2013. I admit that I was a detractor at times (between mid-2009 and 2012) and this was mostly born out of frustration at his inconsistency and perceived underachieving ways. I am not going to dwell on that but it can’t be ignored either. It was vexing to many, including me, especially when it had a large impact on Australia’s prospects.

In pausing to reflect on Johnson’s achievements, I cannot go past the 2013-14 Ashes series. Nothing else seems to matter. Even though his more recent form has been below that benchmark, it doesn’t seem to matter. That Ashes summer, followed by the successful tour of South Africa still shines. I liken it to a fishing excursion I had once. I landed a big Salmon on a busy beach with a crowd of people cheering. My daughter took video of that happy occasion on her phone. It made me happy for a year. If ever I was feeling a bit flat I would think of that fish or even better, watch that couple of minutes of video. I do the same with Johnson’s summer. I go to youtube and watch his 37 Ashes wickets. It never gets old and you can’t help noticing how many of the wicket taking balls are absolute crackers.

To expand on that comeback, some context is required. Johnson had been out of the game for an extended period of time with injury which coincided with poor form. He missed most of 2012 through injury. He came back for the summer of 2012-13 and was not impressive. He was one of the naughty boys in the homework scandal in India in 2013 and did not make the Ashes squad for 2013. Many including myself thought that might be it for MJ. Australia was beaten in the Ashes 3-0 and at least Mitch did not have his name against that. When he exploded back into the team for the return Ashes bout, most people, including myself, were amazed. But not Warnie. Many failed to notice that Mitchell Johnson played the ODI series that followed the Ashes and had some very impressive spells. So Warnie was not surprised that was carried forward. That’s what he says, anyway.

There is another youtube that I like to watch that compares Johnson’s performances in the 2010 and 2013 Brisbane Tests. Johnson in 2010 managed a duck and match figures of 0-170. Three years later in 2013, he made 64 and 39 with the bat and had match figures of 9-103. But Johnson’s presence in that match went way beyond figures. The way he took those wickets, the way he intimated and triumphed, setup the 5-0 whitewash. During that 2013-14 summer, I made a couple of posts celebrating and pondering Mitchell Johnson. The links are below if you want more of my thoughts on MJ during that summer.

Magnificent Mitch

Mysterious Mitch

If you want to get analytical about Johnson’s career, it is very interesting. Peter Roebuck once observed that there was a very long way between Johnson’s best and worst and not much in between. Nothing could be more true. Johnson’s best was utterly sensational and his worst was awful. And the turnaround in those extremes could be rapid but not always unpredictable. I read an article on Cricinfo listing Johnson’s top five performances. What struck me is that I could clearly remember each and every one of them and not really any others. Obviously, with 313 wickets, he must have done more right than that but it has to be said that Johnson took many of his early wicket simply because he was fast and was left-armed.

The other period of great success for Mitchell Johnson was the 2008-2009 season. Johnson’s performances against South Africa home and away during that summer were legendary, especially in South Africa. It announced him as a world class cricketer and the exciting thing was that it preceded the 2009 Ashes. Johnson was Akram, Bruce Reid and Gilchrist in one player. All of the cricket world waited to see what Johnson would do to the Poms. They had to wait more than four years to see what he could do but what he did do in 2009 was shocking. He was as forlorn in his failure as he dazzling just a few months before in South Africa. And nobody could work it out. They still can’t.

And that’s it for me. I remember 2008-09, 2009 and 2013-14 and only snatches otherwise. I remember Johnson in his early days taking many wickets with outside edges to straight, fast balls, well outside off stump. I don’t want to sell him short because 313 wickets is a lot. It should also be noted that his strike rate is 51.1 which is great. And that includes his poor performances. There is a good article here which looks into Johnson’s stats including the inconsistencies. In matches that Australia won, his strike rate was 42.2.

Johnson’s bowling was based on physicality. I read that Lillee thought that Johnson could persist for another three or four years by taking the approach that he took – drop the pace and use skill,  control and guile. As already stated, Johnson only wanted to bowl fast. And I doubt Johnson possessed skill and control to emulate Lillee, nor the nouse. I wondered after the 2013-14 Ashes how long Johnson could carry on like that. He was in fantastic physical shape. Incredible. He bowled with sustained, searing pace all summer. That is not sustainable in the long term, especially at Johnson’s age.

What was different about Johnson after 2013-14 was that he did find somewhere in between. I wish Roebuck had lived to see it. I don’t think Johnson ever plumbed the depths after that. His returns became more modest but he was always there or there abouts and he did put in some exciting spells. There was one such spell in the 2015 Ashes. Australia was way behind following a dismal first innings at Edgbaston. On the morning of the second day, Johnson opened the door just a crack for Australia. He took two wickets in the one over with brutish throat balls. Almost identical balls (I think ball tracker showed them hitting exactly the same spot on the pitch) and both fended to the ‘keeper. If Australia had crashed through the rest of the English order, the game was still on. But those were the only wickets Johnson took in the innings and England prevailed. Johnson was interviewed by Mark Nicholas at the end of the day and asked him why after those two wickets, he reverted to bowling length with no short stuff. Johnson shrugged his shoulders and said he thought that might be the best approach. That was Johnson.

Johnson after the past couple of years has gained many friends. He has matured on the field and off the field. He is reportedly a shy person and from his interviews seems humble and down-to-earth. He answers questions honestly and simply in a way that makes it easy to warm to. I was delighted when Johnson won the Allan Border for 2014. It wasn’t surprising but Johnson’s acceptance speech was just lovely.

Johnson leaves the game as one of the greats. He is fourth on the Australian wicket takers list and that gives him great credibility. For those of us who followed his career and watched him a lot, we know there is much more to Johnson than that. At his best, he really had the potential to be one of the game’s all-time greats – one the same rung as Keith Miller. I guess it was disappointing that we didn’t see his best often enough. But that being said, we did see it enough and more importantly, recently enough, for him to leave the game with his held high and his stocks in good shape.

Johnson at the top of his mark, SCG, Jan 2014 MJ, SCG, Jan 2014

Let Boys be Boys

Australia has won the 1st Test against New Zealand at a canter. While there were some memorable achievements by several players I thought it was a fairly unexciting Test, a letdown. I guess there should be no surprises as Brisbane has been the traditional execution site for almost all touring parties for decades. What I was surprised about is that Mitchell Starc was fined 50% of his match fee for a failed run out attempt. What rot.

New Zealand was nine wickets down and more than 200 runs behind. There were more than four hours’ play remaining and not a cloud in the sky. Australia was going to win. It should be noted that the final Kiwi pairing seemed in a relaxed state of mind and were smashing the ball to all corners of the ground during a period of pre-death self-abandonment. All bowlers were collared including Starc. In fact, Starc had just been hit for consecutive fours.

Starc bowled to Craig who smashed it straight back. Starc collected the ball in his follow through and hurled the ball at the stumps (I have no reason to believe that Starc had a different target in mind). The ball shot through at about shin high, narrowly missing the light-footed batsman, avoided the stumps and wicketkeeper and found itself at the fine leg boundary in no time. Another four to Craig. Another four against Starc and New Zealand were another four runs closer to victory. For me, that should have been the end of it. Starc (and Australia) had received just penalty for his carelessness.

But that was not the end of it. In a day when the world is at risk of being overrun with lentiginous whingers, civil libertarians and political correctness, cricket administration seems to be following suit. Starc has been fined for breaching Level 2 of ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel. I think the verdict is rather contentious. Firstly, it would be desirable to establish whether or not Starc was deliberately throwing the ball at the batsman. I don’t know how you would do that. Secondly, it is worth looking at whether there was the chance of a run out or not. The logical extension being that rationally, if there was no chance of a run out, there is no point attempting it. Looking at the replays, it seems that there was no realistic chance of a run out.

However, that is an easy assessment to make in slow motion, from the comfort of an armchair. Most of us have not experienced this so we need to try and imagine running in and bowling at 150 kpm, having the ball hit back with interest, skillfully and athletically collecting in your follow through and detecting the batsman moving in your peripheral vision. What is your next move? You don’t have time to think about it. The competitive instinct of an international sportsman, fast bowler at that, takes over: you have a shy at the stumps.

This is a storm in a teacup. The ball went through at shin height. It wasn’t a well-directed throw but the batsman wasn’t in danger either. I don’t believe Starc had any intention of hitting the batsman nor that he do did anything wrong. How many times do we see a fielder rush onto a ball, collect and throw at the stumps when there is no real need? That is there is no chance of a run out by the time the ball is collected by the committed fielder carries out the intent anyway. There are times when the ball goes for over throws and occasions when it goes near, or even hits the batsman. Should every occurrence of that receive a fine?

I will discuss another point and that is that Starc had just been hit for two boundaries and Australia was going through a frustrating period of not only being unable to take the final wicket but were being spanked. Naturally, there can be a perception that Starc was venting some frustration. This was actually backed up by some of Steve Smith’s comments in the post-match interview. He said, “I don’t think it was necessary … there wasn’t an opportunity for a run-out there.” He was disappointed with Starc’s actions and it had given away four runs when the ball did not need to be thrown. I would say that is true but runs simply did not matter at the time. Smith went on to say, “It was just a bit of frustration and I think he just needs to let it out in other ways. It was pretty disappointing. He’s done it a few times and I’m going to have a word to him when we get back to the sheds.” I like Smith and I think he is already transforming the attitude of the Australian team but I think he overstepped the mark with being too candid in a press conference. While it does stamp authority and gives clear direction, some of that detail should have been kept for the sheds.

The remark that Starc has done this before was interesting. Yes. All fast bowlers have. It is part of the game. I remember a time recently when Starc notably earned a wicket for Australia in similar circumstances. That was the handled ball dismissal of Ben Stokes earlier this year. Putting aside the controversy of whether Stokes should have been given out or not, Smith had no problems with Starc having a ping at the stumps that day. And looking further afield, I remember in days gone by bowlers doing it far more inappropriately. Without naming names, I have seen them steady and throw even when they have had time to assess that the batsman is stationary in his crease, in front of the stumps even. I have seen batsmen hit or fend the ball away. Perhaps that sort of stuff should be fined but I’m talking about the days when it wasn’t. Or perhaps that was back in a time when harmless, spirited behaviour was left on the field. I say, ‘Let boys be boys.’

The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

When it comes to sport and New Zealand, there are just two words: Rugby Union. Make that five words if you include “The All Blacks”. It is ironic then that while the 2015 Rugby World Cup is reaching the final stages there is a very interesting and important off field event centering on a well-known New Zealand cricketer. Former Black Cap all-rounder, Chris Cairns is on trial for perjury in London. This is a very serious matter and if found guilty, Cairns will receive more than a slap on the wrist.

Chris Cairns is an iconic name in New Zealand cricket. A legend of the game. Perhaps he is not on the all-time greats list of World cricket but he would be on the next wrung down. He is in an elite group of Test cricketers that have scored more than 3000 runs and taken more than 200 wickets. He achieved even more than that in ODI cricket with almost 5000 runs and 200 wickets. Cairns was a lively medium pace bowler and a big hitter of renown. It was his explosive batting that made him something really special.

It is tragic that things are where they are at now.

This is what has happened:

  • IPL founder, Lalit Modi, made comments on Twitter in 2010 to the effect that Cairns was a cheat (i.e. was involved in match fixing)
  • Cairns sued Modi for libel
  • Modi’s defence was that his remarks were true and that Cairns was involved in match fixing in the ICL in 2008
  • Modi could not substantiate these claims and Cairns was awarded 90,000 pounds in damages.

Modi has now brought a case against Cairns for 2.4 million pounds in legal costs and damages.

Things are not shaping up well for Chris Cairns. Lou Vincent who was in 2014 convicted for match-fixing and then released a statement admitting it all (without naming names) has taken the stand. He has had to testify against his hero, Chris Cairns. Even Brendan McCullum is testifying. He had been approached by Cairns to fix matches. While he declined he did not report the matter because “he didn’t want it to be true”.

If the testimony given so far is believed then Cairn’s goose must be cooked. If he is convicted he will be bankrupt, he will go to gaol and will lose everything including his reputation. It is a sad state of affairs and highlights to me the dangers of T20 cricket and the susceptibility to corruption of that form of the game. This is especially the case but not limited to unsanctioned competitions such as ICL. Not that I am making excuses for Chris Cairns. Who knows how many have committed the same crimes and got away with it?