Panic Stations?

I was planning to take the weekend off and write only about the Sunday “main event” – England versus Australia. But how exciting – Bangladesh’s first ODI victory over Australia cannot be ignored.

Notwithstanding Australia’s rusty start to the tour, following Bangladesh’s dismal performance this English summer, nobody gave them a realistic chance of upsetting the World Champions. A few eyebrows were raised when Channel Seven’s stats gurus gave Australia just a 74% chance of victory before the match (which was revised to 95% at the half way point).

As is my commitment, I’m not going to bore the readers with a blow-by-blow description of the match. However, I will say this: I watched the first 60 overs of the match – the first time in a long while I have watched a complete innings of a One Day match, and I cannot remember being so bored for 40 overs of cricket. It reminded me of why I have become les interested in the One Day form of the game. The first few overs aside, where Bangladesh prospered, the first 40 overs was so lacking in imagination and initiative, that it defied comprehension.

I should qualify that by saying that I am not “jumping into” Martyn and Clarke and blaming them for the loss. However, their handling of the situation does bare some analysis. One the one hand, they came together with Australia really struggling on a pitch that was giving some, but not alarming assistance to the bowlers. They steadied the ship and allowed Australia to post what most believed would be enough runs. On the other hand, they batted very conservatively and Australia finished with just five wickets down. Ian Botham was rightly bewildered as to why they waited so long to up the tempo. He was certainly proved correct – Australia scored 93 runs in the final ten overs and 51 in the final five. Clearly, the onslaught should have come at least five overs earlier. Why did Martyn and Clarke wait so long? I can suggest a few reasons:

1. They are out of form and were trying there best.
2. They over rated the hostilities of the pitch.
3. They under rated the abilities of the Bangladesh batsmen, and therefore the need to post more runs.
4. The Australian’s confidence is low and they did not want to risk losing further wickets at an earlier stage.
5. They were under instructions.

I don’t know if all of those reasons are true. Probably not. But some must be.

It’s not time for the Australians to panic. Yet. The situation will need strong leadership from Ponting.

Let the British Press have their time in the sun. I haven’t seen the Sunday morning headlines but I’m sure they are joyous.

Let the Poms lick their lips.

But the tour is young and the Ashes themselves are a long way off.

Consider this:

1. The Australians are coming off two months without cricket. All players were strongly encouraged by team management to have a rest after the tour of New Zealand and not to play County cricket. It’s a common thing in football codes when Southern Hemisphere arrive in the middle of northern winter and are short of a gallop. They are beaten!! The Aussies really are still blowing out the cobwebs.

2. English conditions take getting used to, even if you have been playing a lot of cricket.

3. Speaking as someone who is old enough to have retired from competitive sport, I can testify that old bones take longer to warn up! No disrespect to the likes of McGrath but some of the veterans will still be hitting their straps. The Aussies are masters of “peaking” and it is common to see them perform below their best early in Ashes tours before prevailing. Next week at Wimbledon we will see the top players move through to week two without playing their best tennis (although they do not have the luxury of being afforded an inconsequential loss).

The Aussies have a lot of work to do and perhaps they will yet be defeated. But it is too early to panic.

Congratulations to Bangladesh. The warm weather would have been welcomed by them. They played well to the end and forced a victory that few expected, even late in the game. Special mention should be made of Mashraffe Mortaza (1/33 from 10 and a telling 1/5 from the first spell of six overs) and man of the match, Mohammad Ashraful who carried the side to victory with 100 from 101 balls. Oh, the score was Aust 5/249 (50 overs) and Bangladesh 5/250 (49.2 overs). http://aus.cricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/2005/OD_TOURNEYS/NWS/SCORECARDS/AUS_BDESH_NWS_ODI2_18JUN2005.html

And finally, if you are a betting man, a few dollars on England tonight will most likely be money well spent.

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