Sunday, February 08, 2009

The 'Sun Is Shining': Reggae Style

Test captain-on-debut, Andrew Strauss, would have been found scratching his head in the England team viewing deck at Sabina Park. And post match, the rushed-in skipper had some difficulty in forming intelligible answers for the media after the West Indies epic victory. This latest strain to the proverbial English boat, has left it sitting precariously on the waterfall's edge - right next to Australia.

This innings defeat of England, has breathed life back into Caribbean cricket. Be it Jerome Taylor's Man-of-the-Match spell in the second innings, the developing promise of Suleiman Benn, the resurrection of Sarwan, the stalwart Nash, or the exhibitionist abilities of their captain, the magic is evidently returning to the West Indies.

Now some may be thinking, "he's getting ahead of himself here", "it's a lone victory over an out-of-sorts English side", "what is he on about?!". I would beg to differ.

Preceding this series, the West Indies toured New Zealand, in what many considered would be a 'chore tour', only being played out to keep the ICC content. Even their greatest fan, Tony Cozier, was struggling to find much appeal in the series.

However, the series seemed to have awoken the desire of old to win and enjoy their cricket, which had evaded the side since the 80's. Remarkable performances from Chanderpaul and Gayle, were witnessed consistently, but were expected. But it was the responsibility taken up by Nash, Sarwan, Taylor, Benn, and Powell in particular, which has brought a fresh sense of change to West Indian cricket. Although the test series with New Zealand drawn, and the ODIs lost 2-1 (decided by D/L decided match which the WI looked like to win), things were changing.

And this test win at Sabina Park supports this theory. It was a sight for the sore eyes of many fans that have waited for this day to come for almost two decades. That a Chanderpaul innings was not depended on for this victory, speaks volume of the growing maturity of this team. Taylor and Benn were phenomenal, and their partnership will sure deliver similar memorable results in the future.

We will watch with great anticipation, if this cricketing super power of old can invigorate this rekindled flame and cause Strauss' England a great deal more torment and pain.

Continued >> >>

Friday, February 06, 2009

Australian Selectors Tick All the Boxes in South African Tour Squad

Australian selectors have finally shown a bit of enterprise in the naming of its 14 man tour party to South Africa later this month. The selectors have chosen three uncapped players and have persisted with a couple of players who have only just debuted within the past few months. Below is a breakdown of the touring squad and commentary on the more interesting selections.

Australian Test Squad to Tour South Africa: Feb – Mar 09

Automatic Selections:

Ricky Ponting (c)
Simon Katich
Michael Hussey
Michael Clarke (vc)
Brad Haddin (wk)
Mitchell Johnson
Peter Siddle

Phillip Hughes:

Hughes selection is a reward for a brilliant summer with the bat as opener for New South Wales. He is guaranteed to debut as the selectors opted to choose the one rather than two openers to South Africa, in addition to Simon Katich. At only 20 years of age, Hughes will be the youngest Australian debutant since Craig McDermott’s debut at age 19 in the 1984/85 series against the West Indies.

How will he fare? A tough tour to debut, however with battle hardened players like Katich, Ponting and Hussey around him, a perfect time to start. Don’t be surprised if he cracks a ton in one of the three tests.

Marcus North:

At 29 years of age, Marcus North has finally been rewarded for years of consistency at first class level for his home state, Western Australia. Although selected as an all-rounder, North will fit into the test side as a genuine number 6 batsman who can bowl some useful off spin when required. In 125 first class games, North has scored close to 9000 runs @ 43.60 and taken 90 wickets @ 44.46.

How will he fare? Probably won’t play a test, but if he does, will be a better batsman than McDonald, Symonds or Watson but not as likely a wicket taker. If McDonald fails miserably in the first test, should be strongly considered. A good selection considering should another batsman fall injured, can fit into the side alongside McDonald and saves selecting a specialist batsman in the squad.

Andrew McDonald:

A surprise selection for the third test against South Africa at the SCG in January, McDonald impressed with the ball and has now earned a tour to South Africa. The selectors have persisted with him, which is a positive move that shows faith in the Victorian. Both he and North have been clearly aided by the absence of Symonds and Watson. In 46 first class games, McDonald has scored 2067 runs @ 37.58 and taken 104 wickets @ 29.05, an impressive combination.

How will he fare? Deserves to start in the first test and this tour will give a strong guide as to whether he will be a long term fixture in the squad. Needs to score some decent runs to prove he’s more than just a change bowler.

Nathan Hauritz:

Called from the wilderness for the third test in Adelaide against the Kiwi’s as a replacement for the injured Jason Krejza, Hauritz ended the summer as the first choice spinner for the Aussies. His efforts, though not game changing, were certainly respectable. He became the lead spinner in the side when Krejza was omitted from the second test in Melbourne against South Africa as the selectors believed Hauritz was the more economical and consistent option.

How will he fare? Hauritz still remains a mystery as to where he fits within the Australian side. With Bryce McGain fit and picked in the squad, it is expected that Hauritz will once again make way for another spinner. It is unlikely the Aussies will need two specialist spinners within their XI. This will mean in the past 6 tests: Hauritz will have played a test, out for two tests, played two tests and then out again.

Bryce McGain:

This is the second tour in which McGain has been selected to represent Australia, the first (India - 2008) saw McGain play not a single match due to a shoulder injury that required surgery and a few months on the sidelines. McGain only had the one opportunity to show selectors he was right to tour South Africa in last week’s Sheffield Shield game against South Australia, where he took 5/104 in the second innings, spinning Victoria to a nail-biting 25 run triumph.

How will he fare? Aged 36 and yet to play a test, McGain is considered as the answer to Australia’s spinning woes at test level and should play in the first test ahead of Hauritz.. He will face a stern test against a strong South African batting line up boasting several players in form. If Australia is to win a test or indeed the series, McGain needs to play a big part in the bowling department.

Doug Bollinger:

Bollinger is a natural selection for the touring party and was selected for the West Indies and Indian tours last year. He made his debut in the third test against South Africa and took two wickets in the second innings. A left arm seamer, it will be either he or Ben Hilfenhaus who takes the third fast bowling position within the lineup to join Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.

How will he fare? Should play the first test. Bollinger is a fiery character and when on song can rip through an attack as he has done many a time for New South Wales. Needs to take wickets in the first test to have a successful series as he is a confidence player.

Ben Hilfenhaus:

Hilfenhaus has long been a fringe selection in the Australian test lineup. He’s part of the current one day squad and has performed reasonably, but can’t seem to find a way to make it to the test XI. An excellent left arm swing bowler, should he be selected, will be exciting to watch.

How will he fare? Will compete with Bollinger for the third seamer position and will be the likely 12th man for the first test. Must perform in the opening tour game against South Africa A to have a chance of making his test debut.

Despite being a largely inexperienced playing group, the 14 man squad is a well balanced outfit. The standout selections are of Hughes and North who are the boldest picks. It certainly won’t be an easy tour for Australia and it is set to be the first tour in many years in which they start as the underdog.

In any case, we are set for yet another three tests of absorbing cricket between two arch rivals competing for the mantle of number one test nation in the world.

Continued >> >>

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Next Big Thing II: Phillip Hughes

New South Wales opening batsman and 2009 Bradman Young Cricketer of the Year, Phillip Hughes, is on the cusp of breaking into the Australian test side. With the 14 man squad to tour South Africa being announced this week, Hughes finds himself a near certainty to board the plane across the Indian Ocean and join his state captain Simon Katich in opening the innings for Australia.

The retirement of Matthew Hayden has created a vacancy in the Australian opening lineup. It was widely tipped for Hayden to retire at this season’s end, which has seen Hughes locked in a four way battle for his position over the past few months. His competition over this period has been fellow New South Wales and former test opener Phil Jaques, Victorian Chris Rogers and South Australian Michael Klinger.

On a comparative form basis, Jaques has been out of the side due to injury until last week. However Rogers and Klinger have been plundering runs and alongside Hughes, have formed the leading batting trio in the Australian first class scene. This has seen quite an intriguing battle for the vacant opening slot.

Out of the four players mentioned, Hughes is clearly the youngest player at 20 years of age and appears set to be the first Australian batsman since Ricky Ponting in 1995 to make his test debut before the age of 21.

Since becoming the youngest New South Wales player to debut in first class cricket, aged 18 years and 355 days, Hughes has had a tremendous start to his cricketing career. In his first season he recorded a hugely impressive 559 runs @ 62.11 from 12 innings, finishing the season in grand style by scoring 116 in the second innings of the Pura Cup final against Victoria in a winning cause. This was also another record, being the youngest player to score a century in the domestic first class final.

This season he has taken things to the next level and has been the cornerstone of the NSW batting lineup given his more senior teammates Katich, Michael Clarke, and Brad Haddin have been on national duties along with Jaques out injured. The key to Hughes’ success has been his patience and willingness to bat for extensive periods at the crease, leading from the front. New South Wales has a relatively inexperienced line up, with the exception of the above mentioned players, and by opening the innings, Hughes has been able to set a solid platform for the team on many an occasion.

To date, Hughes has scored 891 runs @ 74.25 from 13 innings with four centuries and a personal highest score of 198. His return in last week’s game against Tasmania of 151 and 82 not out was a timely reminder of his talents leading into the selector’s announcement of the South African touring party.

Hughes must be selected to tour South Africa and if selected must play in the first test in Johannesburg on February 26. The importance of his selection is due to the fact that Hughes shapes as a long term player and with a transformation of the Australian batting makeup over the past two years due to the retirements of Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist, the time is right to nuture a young batsman into the side.

Australia has a busy 12 month schedule ahead, which includes the tough tour of South Africa and a lengthy Ashes campaign in England. At a time where their supremacy in world cricket has been the most threatened since the mid 1990s, they must select players who are ready to work hard and commit to the cause. Phillip Hughes has demonstrated all the necessary qualities to succeed at the highest level and has done so at a very young age. The time for him is now!

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Continued >> >>

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Australia Caught Cheating...Again

Another year, another series and another controversy. What is it with Australian cricket that for all its vows to play hard but fair, the "fair" part of the bargain is always first to be ditched in a tough tussle?

12 months ago it was erstwhile captain Ricky Ponting claiming a catch after he had quite clearly grounded the ball (see video below) and then teaching a rookie international umpire how to raise his finger after another "catch" off a bumped ball.

In 2008 the popular defence was that Team India had lost the match and were carrying on like sore losers - as they always do when they lost a match. They're rich, spoilt, whinge all the time and should not be taken seriously.

12 months on, Daniel Vettori quite rightly airs his views on a blatant incidence of cheating (see video below) and the perpetrator, backed by his erstwhile captain, has the audacity to proffer that Vettori should have spoken to him privately instead of going to the media. Huh?

Where were such noble thoughts when Ponting deemed it fit to report Harbhajan Singh for acting like a monkey, after quite obviously deigning himself far too important to consult his Indian counterpart?

I could wax lyrical about the need for Brad Haddin to be banned for his ill-deeds, for Ponting to be sacked and for Australian cricket to take a long hard look at its culture. All these recommendations are valid and necessary.

However, the more disturbing trend that has been exposed is the absence of any semblance of introspection, repentance and at times respect for for the game or the warriors in the opposing rooms.

Everyone makes mistakes. For all of Haddin and Ponting's self-belief and determination, even they are mere mortals. It is a quality of fine gentlemen that they admit their mistakes, right the wrong with at least an apology and ensure that such indiscretions are not repeated. Lambasting the victim is a trait of unworthy and characterless simpletons.

By sitting idle, aloof and in support of a clearly compromised Ponting, Cricket Australia is condoning a culture that will only bring future scorn and ridicule. The time to act still has not passed. Whether the will to act is even present is an unforgivable and shamefully debatable at this moment in time.

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Continued >> >>

An Honourable Exception

I use the term with my tongue firmly ensconsced in my cheek and my teeth providing a vice-like grip to ensure against its swift escape. In the wake of every coincidence / conspiracy we have been treated to by Pakistani cricket over the previous two years, I hold nothing but outright contempt, venom and pity for the Pakistan Cricket Board. It is in this mood I read that the PCB has barred its players from playing in the IPL. Excuse me?

After using the pretext of a shamelessly coerced court case to escape the clutches of the BCCI, with what spectre of dignity, self-respect and / or authority does the PCB (again hiding behind another body, this time the sports ministry) see fit to ban Pakistani players from the IPL?

Make up all the excuses you will. Throw in copious amounts of 'benefit of the doubt'. The fact remains that this is an open-and-shut case of the PCB jumping before being pushed. for it was as good as done that

Even given his greed, impetuosity and lack of forethought, Lalit Modi is not stupid and could see the tides of public opinion working against the IPL if Pakistani players were allowed to participate. In fact I would go as far as to say that he was probably in the throes of drafting a letter advising the PCB to keep their stock at home.

The question remains, what face is the PCB trying to save with this latest move? Surely they have more pressing concerns to address (eg. the shonky means through which to ensure that Mohammad Asif escapes his latest doping ban)?

Just as an aside, thank God for these ever-so-precious moments of common sense.

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Continued >> >>
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