Blimey Marto, we didn’t mean it!

From the Corridor last week:

Martyn (Retail Manager): The irritating but smooth bloke you’re always trying to get rid of but customers love him and he sells just enough to keep his place.

I think there’s a bit more to Damien Martyn‘s retirement then meets the eye. With Martyn, there always is. He is a sensitive and wary character that doesn’t care for the spotlight, and he’s had enough of the guff that comes with being a Test cricketer. That’s what I am guessing has happened here.

He wasn’t always so shy though.

Martyn was the brightest star in a ‘new wave’ of talented young Australian batsmen that emerged around 1990. He captained Australia’s under 19 side that toured England, leading the likes of Adam Gilchrist. There were plenty of other good players in that ‘new wave’ like Matthew Hayden, Darren Lehmann and Justin Langer. But there was no doubt that ‘Marto’ was the best.

He was ‘fast-tracked’ as they say, and along with Justin Langer, he was cast into the furnace of facing Ambrose and Walsh and co at their height in 1992-93. He proved he had the makings, scoring a vital half century in the same match that Warne first made his name.

But he couldn’t score that breakthrough century that would have sealed his place, and there were stories going ’round the traps’ about his attitude. He had replaced Dean Jones in the side and brought not only a Jones-like talent, but a Jones-like mouth. When he specacularly failed to bring Australia home in a Test match the next summer, he was made the scapegoat, and cast back into the grind of State cricket.

The demotion was hard for Martyn and he lost his way for several years. He was even dropped from the West Australian side for a while, and it seemed a great talent had been lost.

I do not know what it was that turned things around for him. However, he got back into the side when Ricky Ponting injured his knee prior to the New Zealand tour of 1999/2000, and made some valuable contributions. However he was a different sort of player- still as elegant and obviously talented as ever, but clearly not altogether anxious to attract attention.

He piled on the runs though, and had the support of his team-mates. 2004 was his golden year, as he scored centuries against India and Sri Lanka that were crucial to series victories. In 2003 he had played in the World Cup Final with a broken finger and still scored a masterful innings, albiet completely over-shadowed by Ricky Ponting. And this year in the ICC Champion’s Trophy, he was playing as well as ever.

Well, whatever is behind this, good luck to ‘Marto’ in whatever he decides to do. He got married in the off-season, and maybe he just wants to settle down and enjoy life. He left plenty of fond memories in the minds of cricket lovers not just in Australia but around the world.

All fired up

There were those of us, and I was one of them, that saw the fairly knackered Adam Gilchrist stagger home from Bangladesh wondering if he would play on after the World Cup in 2007. Seems like he was one of them. But there is good news; the man himself is all fired up after a break and ready to go again!

“If you had sat me down after Bangladesh and asked me how much time I had left in the game, you probably would have gotten a different answer to now,” Gilchrist said. “I’m not keen on making any big statements, but right now, I am looking to keep playing.

“I have voiced the opinion that I think there is too much cricket being played at the moment, but after a three-month break, I am dead keen for the summer to start and the Champions Trophy, the Ashes and the World Cup to begin.

“Beyond that, you never know if your physical game or the skills are still going to be there, but if they are, I can’t see why I would stop. The schedule is pretty clear for a while after the World Cup.”

Aside from Haddin and Hartley, who now could be forgiven for exploring all Geraint Jones-type avenues, Gilchrist’s statement is cause for cartwheels among Australian cricket followers.

I don’t do cartwheels myself, but yeah, I’m thrilled too.

Brett Lee’s burnout tale is starting to wear thin

I noticed another story in the Australian media about how Australian cricketers are highlighting the danger of ‘burnout’, this time it is Brett Lee doing the talking. Interestingly, he is in India doing promotional work. He may be burnt out, but clearly not so much that international travel is beyond him.

Local authorities are nervous about Australia’s commitment to the Champions Trophy after suggestions from Adam Gilchrist that some Aussies may need to rest from the event which ends a week before the Ashes series begins.

England coach Duncan Fletcher has suggested that players such as Andrew Flintoff may also need to be given a break during the one-day series.

According to local reports Lee was less than convincing when asked if he would return for the tournament.

“I would love to play it because that’s the only trophy we haven’t won. But, then, I will play if I am fit enough to play at that time. Frankly, I love coming to the subcontinent,” Lee said.

“To us the Ashes is more important than anything else. We had the hold over it for 18 long years. We are very keen to win it back.”

To be fair to Brett, I’m sure that he IS very tired right now, and promoting watches is not the most difficult of tasks. However, the Champions Trophy is not now, it is in October. The Australian players will be coming into the tournament after a five month break.

I think there is a hidden agenda here. I think that the Australians are planning to tank the tournament so that they can come home and play a couple of domestic first class games to prepare for the Ashes.

That is a big claim to make, and one that Australian players will, I am sure, deny with shocked expressions if you were put it to them. However, given the demands of the fixtures list in the 2006/07 seasons, it is in fact the only sensible thing to do. The Australian team has four different contests on its plate next summer.

  • The Champions Trophy
  • The Ashes
  • The domestic ODI triangular
  • The World Cup

Now, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand which two of those four contests are going to be a high priority for the players. If the domestic ODI triangular was axed, the Ashes could be spread out into January, and the players from both England and Australia could have a decent preparation. But it isn’t so they won’t get that preparation, UNLESS they take a dive in the Champions Trophy.

Of course it is not acceptable to say that in public, so they are coming out with this nonsense about ‘burnout’.

That dillema is actually made explicit in this story about Glenn McGrath’s preparation for his comeback next season.

McGrath, 36, wants to begin his comeback in earnest in the Champions Trophy limited-overs tournament in India in October, then return home for a couple of Pura Cup matches for New South Wales.

But if Australia reaches at least the semi-final stage of the Champions Trophy – a tournament it has never won – he won’t feature in the Pura Cup.

The Blues have matches between October 27 and 30 at the Gabba and November 3 to 6 in Adelaide, with their next from November 24 to 27 at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

The first Ashes Test begins at the Gabba on November 23.

Selection chairman Andrew Hilditch said this week McGrath was “gearing himself up” to be ready for the tournament, but captain Ricky Ponting has advised him to bypass the Indian trip and prepare via a stint in English county cricket.This would enable him to deliver some long and repeated spells and regain match fitness. McGrath traditionally takes times to find his rhythm, and Australia cannot afford to ease him into the Ashes.

“Personally, I feel that it would be perfect for me to (play in the Champions Trophy) and have a couple of games in the Pura Cup,” McGrath said.

“That’s my plan. But if they would prefer me to look at county cricket, I would look at that.”

So you can see where the priority of the cricketers lies. And I do not blame them one bit. It is the administrators that force this on players with ridiculous ODI tournaments. The Champions Trophy has no credibility because it is forced into odd places in the international calendar by the likes of Australia’s triangulars, a tournament that lost its credibility a long time ago anyway.

And these considerations apply just as much to the English who by coming off a busy domestic season have a much more valid claim to cite burnout.

Andrew “Roy” Symonds starts repaying what he owes.

Andrew Symonds’ big night out on the day before an ODI against Bangladesh in 2005 will go down in infamy in Australian cricket lore, and probably will be celebrated in Bangladesh for a while to come as well. But he did redeem himself somewhat with a match-winning century in Dhaka to win the 2nd ODI for Australia yesterday.

It must be said, in all honesty, that at the moment he looks like he’s been on an even bigger bender then his 2005 effort. The dreadlocks look scruffy and the beard makes him look like a vagabond. At the moment, if any Australian cricketer is crying out for a makeover by the folks from ‘queer eye for the straight guy’, it is Symonds.

He may look like a drunken derelict, but his 5th ODI century for Australia was a most sober and abstemious effort. He came in with a bit of a crisis happening and Australia struggling after losing 3 for 10 after Adam Gilchrist got interrupted just as he was really warming up. That brought to mind his innings in Sydney against Sri Lanka, where Chaminda Vaas roughed up the Australian top order. Starting this time at 3 for 65, he combined with Michael Clarke to compose a brilliant but ungainly knock.

It’s one thing to score a glittering century on an easy paced but reliable SCG wicket; this wicket at Dhaka was simply diabolical. It was slower then a Madagascar sloth and deader then WG Grace. He came out wearing a helmet but there was no way Mashrafe Mortaza was going to get a bouncer to get beyond rib high at best. Pitch preparation is a black art at the best of times, but whoever was in charge of this one should hang his head in shame. Bangladesh may be poor, but if they can afford to put on a gloriously manicured outfield, there’s no excuse for a pitch like this.

So once the fast men finished their spells with the new ball, we had the rather dreary sight of spinners bowling and the batsmen working them over for singles. It is this sort of cricket that drove the ICC in frustration to introduce monstrosities like power-plays and supersubs. It is hardly the batsmen at fault in situations like this; in Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds, Australia had two of its most positive minded batsmen at the crease. But Clarke only scored 2 boundaries in his 54.

Credit must go to the bowlers, especially the redoubtable Mohammed Rafique. The veteran spinner has clearly been the pick of Bangladesh’s bowlers right through this Australian tour. Of course, it does help his cause that as a slow left arm spinner, he is a member of the spin caste that has troubled Australians the most over recent years. Daniel Vettori is another that springs to mind.

So Symonds played Rafique with respect, picking him off, working him over for the singles, and waiting for the loose ball from the other end. These were not in short supply once Bashar had to face the chore of juggling to find ten overs from his ‘fifth’ bowler, but again the conditions conspired, and the lack of bounce clearly frustrated Symonds. However, instead of losing his head and his innings, he managed to keep his composure, and his wicket, and in the end his century came off 122 balls; slow by his standards but fast in the conditions.

Bashar perhaps missed a trick; he seemed content to allow Australia to pick off singles, and I wonder when a captain is going to be bold enough to try keeping his inner fielders close enough to the batsmen to make singles hard work. It could have paid dividends.

But it was never tried, so they tied Australia down for a while but they could not get them out though, and a late burst saw Australia through to 250. And once the Australian fast men knocked off the top order of Bangladesh’s batting, that was it as a game. Habibul Bashar played a good captain’s knock to ensure Bangladesh had some respectability with their reply of 183, but Symonds was the man who made the difference. And a good thing too, because against this opponent, Symonds owed his country a match-winning innings or three.

Is too much cricket really never enough?

With all this media blather about over-worked cricket, I might as well put in my 0.02 cents.

Look, in one sense, it’s a bit rich for cricketers to complain that they are over-worked. Yes, Australia have played eleven Test matches and 18 ODI’s since October, but it is April, now. That is 70 odd days work in six months. Hardly the most onerous of work loads. And Australia have got a few extra days off in that lot by defeating opponents in Test matches in pretty short order. And they get paid literally millions. And they get the best groupies, as you might have noticed if you watch the Allan Border Medal night. So, you know, it’s not that hard a life being an international cricketer.

But on another level, it IS hard work. Adam Gilchrist is not only a fine keeper, passable stand-in captain, mighty batting hero and all round good guy, but he’s usually quite particular about his appearance. I’m not accusing him of being a metrosexual or a wannabe David Beckham, he’s just normally a neat and tidy guy. But in the First Test, he gave a fair impression that he was dressing like a flood victim. Overdue for a shave, too. Miss Zainub would NOT have approved.

Because it is what they are doing on those days off that really tells on the players. English domestic cricket is far more demanding because you are playing cricket day in, day out for months on end. However it takes far less of a toll on the players because they don’t have to travel nearly as much. For a player in a midlands county, away games are just a shire away. None of this intercontinental travel stuff. If you are playing for Derbyshire, half your away games are in driving distance. I’ve had daily commutes longer then the distance between Headingley and Old Trafford.

But for the international cricketer, it is a way bit tougher then that. The cricket is more intense, the pressure higher, the distances are further, and the time away from family is more crushing. Away from the field the temptations and distractions of fame slowly become a burden, the aches and pains dull the senses and it is a wonder that players stay as switched on as they do.

I’m not sure the current surfeit of international Test cricket is entirely good for the fans either. I think something is lost from the anticipation point of view, and that takes away something of the ‘specialness’ of the occasion. Test Cricket, like caviar, should not be indulged in every week of the year. It isn’t good for the players or the fans. When the players identify with Bob Segar, we know we have a problem

Game. On.

Entering into the fifth day, and who thought we’d be writing about this, but the First Test between Bangladesh and Australia could go either way. At stumps, Australia are 212 for 4 chasing 307. Things were looking good for Australia while Hayden and Ponting were at the crease, but Hayden’s run out sparked a late collapse at the end of the day. Adam Gilchrist will resume tomorrow with Ponting.
So anyway, here’s a thread for you all to post predictions. Can Australia get home, or will Bangladesh complete an astonishing Test victory? I am going to go with the upset, on the grounds that Australia rarely wins the close ones, and we just won a close one last week against South Africa. Bangladesh to win by under 20 runs is my guess.

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Adam Gilchrist is very clever!

A number of Australia’s senior players were understood to have agreed to the prank as a one-off on the second day of the first Test against Bangladesh, to hit broadcasters in the hip pocket.

Television executives do not take kindly to free on-air advertising, and it was a clever tactic of Gilchrist to name team sponsors.

He was overhead saying “Get one for the boys at Travelex” or “Phone home on 3 Mobile” during play.

But the most clearly audible plug was heard after Andrew Symonds, nicknamed Roy, fired in a throw.

“That’s the one, Roy,” Gilchrist enthused.

“Plenty of energy … from a … Milo energy bar.”

A Cricket Australia spokesman said the players had concerns over the volume of stump mikes.

“It is the second Test in a row that (Australia) team manager Steve Bernard has requested the International Cricket Council match referee to ensure the international protocol of stump mikes are turned down when the ball is dead, and only turned back up when the bowler is at his run-up,” he said.

That is a clever tactic by Gilchrist to force the hand of television broadcasters. It would be nice to think that what is said on the field is all good clean stuff, but sadly this is not so, and probably never was so. International Cricket has always been played at a fairly intense level.

Who was that masked man, anyway?

GillyA long time since I’ve written. Not been well, writers block, work, etc. Will is sick of hearing my excuses.

Anyroad, as The Corridor of Uncertainty’s resident Australian and cudmurgeon-in-chief, I thought it was appropriate that I comment on the extraordinary events in Bangladesh, where the locals have just bowled Australia out for 269 to get a large first innings lead.

Old grumble-bum I might be, but I am fine with Bangladesh doing well against Australia. The national pride is a teeny bit mortified, to be true, to see my team struggle against the minnows-in-chief of world cricket. But my first loyalty is to Test cricket, and you can not argue that this Test is going to be a huge boost to Bangladesh cricket, regardless of the eventual result.

If you haven’t had a chance to watch, the wicket is slow, and the odd ball is keeping very low. I think this is what’s caught out the Australian batsmen.

But one batsman didn’t have any trouble- Adam Gilchrist got 144, with six sixes, and although he was slightly more cautious then of old, for the most part it was the authentic Gilchrist, with a smile, swagger, and confidence galore. After his recent form slump, he’ll be delighted to find that he can still smash bowlers all around the park.

But it got me thinking how, for a batsman out of form, a change is as good as a holiday. Gilchrist has been struggling for ages on the pacey, bouncy wickets of Australia and South Africa. Soon as he arrives to the sub-continent, he’s hit his straps, and he’s back to his best. Coincidence?

By the way, Habibal Bashir mis-read the situation with the latter part of the Australian innings. I’ll give him a pass on that- he’s not used to dealing with batsman manipulating the strike to avoid the follow on. But the way Bangladesh are improving since Dav Whatmore took over, he’ll get more practice in the future.

Anyway, I think Bangladesh will set Australia a huge target. Lee is lining up to bowl, but his back is dodgy. Warne’s shoulder is crook too. The Bangladesh batsmen should be able to cope with the pitch, and it’s up to them to get out there and seize a famous victory. And good on them.

Bangladesh v Australia, 1st Test, Fatullah, 3rd day

(1st day | 2nd day)

Cor, this Test is getting a bit tasty. Chat away, for those lucky enough to be watching it.

Live scorecard

Update: Gilchrist left stranded on 144 to give Bangladesh a lead of 158!

Also see Scott’s thoughts on the match.