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Monday, November 29, 2010

First Test lessons

The First Test, Australia v England, has ended in a draw yet several things have come out of the game.

First, there was some excellent batting by both teams, with four century makers and one double-century. Hopefully this is a sign of more excellent batting displays to come across the rest of the summer.

One thing is patently clear, however, that the current Australian bowling attack lacks sufficient penetration to bowl a decent time out twice. And make no bones about it, the touring Englishman are a much improved line-up than of a few years ago.

When a good player is out of sorts, sometimes they need to be sent down to get their head together. Surely that time has been reached with Mitchel Johnson? His arm action seems appreciatively lower as it was during his horror last tour of England. In my opinion, when Johnson's arm is dropping lower it is a sign that he is in trouble, with that changed action becoming increasingly erratic. He also seems to lose fluency in his action which I suspect is a sign of him tensing up too much in his delivery.

If I were a selector, I would be giving Johnson a rest and reinstating Dougie Bollinger for the Second Test.

Spare a thought for the Englishman, Alastair Cook. First he fielded through the fairly lengthy Australian first innings, then batted right through the English innings for his unbeaten double-century then returned to the field yet again for the short Australian second innings before they agreed to call it quits. The poor sod must be absolutely knackered.

I couldn't help but notice how mouthy English bowler James Anderson is getting between deliveries. Verbals between a fiery fast bowler and the batters is nothing new but a bowler needs to be able to back it up with the ball. Let's be honest - the moment the ball isn't swinging, Anderson has nothing much left. Apart from making him look like a goose, plenty of batsmen feel encouraged when a bowler who isn't cutting the mustard, feels the need to mouth off. It is generally a sign that you're on top of him. Wake up to yourself, Jimmy, lad.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lost our way

Being part of a major sporting comeback is always a great thrill. I have experienced a few of those in my time such as a successful defence of 80 in a one-day game against a far stronger opponent. But the Sri Lankan comeback in last night’s first one day international against Australia, was something else again.

At 8/107 chasing 239, you wouldn’t have backed the Sri Lankans with someone else’s money, let alone your own. Yet they did it. When the ninth wicket fell at 239 bringing Muralitharan to the crease, Australia still had a chance. Such excitement and tension!

What a wonderfully entertaining, record-breaking ninth wicket stand of 132 between Mathews and Malinga! They had nothing to lose and chose to be defiant, stealing the game away in the process.

The Australian bowling became increasingly lacklustre with the Sri Lankan pair making the most of things. Hastings became increasingly erratic and was fortunate to only go for only 27 runs from his six overs. Mitchell Johnson had another one of those days when nothing would go right.

Doherty was the surprise packet, starting with a run-out and following up with a crucial four wickets during an impressive Sri Lankan batting collapse.

I was left with two important questions.

First, what happened to Steve Smith? He bowled three overs for eight runs earlier in the innings, not to be seen again. Was he injured?

Why wasn’t someone in Doherty’s ear about flighting the ball more and more often. During the Mathews-Malinga partnership, the Australian bowling attack developed a real sense of sameness. Mathews was able to start well within the batting increase, allowing him to came forward and pick the ball up on the rise at will, or sit back and hammer the short balls. What was desparately needed was a change of pace. And I don’t mind the slow, loopy bouncer that seems to have come into vogue these days.

Doherty was consistently bowling flat, quicker deliveries. Yet with Mathews and Malinga in full flow, a far better option would have been to entirely change things up with slower, more flighted deliveries, drawing the false shot. The Australians at that point certainly had sufficient runs to play with. Yet the one time I saw Doherty hold one back at that time, Malinga cleared the boundary with a huge swat. So Doherty went back into his shell once more, becoming more of an attempted containing bowler rather than attacking.

Steve Smith would have been an ideal alternative option at that point, raising the question again of why he was not returned to the bowling attack.

The fact that Sri Lanka were able to steal this one, emphasises the problems the Australians have in actually finishing a game. The success of the Taylor and Waugh years was in no small way predicated on the principle of never-ending attack. These days we seem to have entirely lost our way.

The soon-to-arrive English team must be rubbing their hands in anticipation.