Australia trounce Sri Lanka

So much for my hopes of a good contest- Australia thrashed Sri Lanka by an innings and 40 runs. (scorecard) What went wrong?

Well, while there’s been a lot written about the Australian performance, I think the finger needs to be pointed at the Sri Lankans. They made every mistake in the book, and invented a few more.

Errors in team selection. Check.

Wrong call at the toss. Check.

Dropped catches. Check.

Players underperforming when they were needed. Check.

I must confess to some surprise though when Marvin Atapattu came out with an extraordinary attack on the Sri Lankan selectors, characterising them as ‘muppets’ in an interview after the third day’s play. That sort of mistake was one that was out of the book. It’s going to be interesting to see if he’s permitted to continue with the tour. One batsman has to make way for the return of Sangakkara, after all.

But questions have to be asked of the Sri Lankan bowling line up too. It was generally thought by Australian pundits in the prelude to this series that this was the best Sri Lankan attack that we’d ever seen in this country, but they conceded 551 for 4 at a rate of knots. Had Ponting not been in a hurry to get at the Sri Lankan batsmen, 700 might not have been out of the question. What might have happened if only Malinga had got a game? As it was, none of the Sri Lankan bowlers made much of an impression- of the four wickets to fall, only Ponting was actually beaten by the bowler- Jaques, Hayden and Hussey got out through poor shot selection.

And Muralithiran? Well 2 for 170 was a pretty fair reflection of how he bowled. He did bowl a good spell after tea on the first day but apart from that stint, he was pretty unthreatening, and he copped some hammer from Ponting and Clarke. It is worth pointing out that for all his success, he doesn’t have much of a record against Australia, and also worth noting that finger spinners rarely do well here. You have to go back to the days of Phil Edmonds and John Emburey to find finger spinners that have had success in Australia. Bearing that in mind, perhaps expectations should be lowered a bit.

The Sri Lankan batting was somewhat disappointing too. Only somewhat though, because they were under constant pressure, first from the scoreboard, and second by the Australian attack. It was easy for the Australian batsman as they were fed a steady diet of pies, but Sri Lanka’s batsmen had to take risks to score runs, and except during the Vandort/Jayawardene partnership in the second innings, no batsman looked secure. Of the Australian bowlers, Lee gave his best performance in a long time, Macgill was probing, Stuart Clark continued his McGrath impersonation, and Johnson showed enough to suggest he has what it takes at Test level.

Can Sri Lanka regroup in time to make things a bit more even for the Second Test? They have the players to do so, but it must be hard. The Hobart wicket isn’t the sort of wicket that bowlers who are low on confidence are likely to take wickets on.  Australia’s bowlers on the other hand, will fancy their chances. But I still think that the margin in this Test isn’t a true reflection in the gap between the teams. Here’s hoping for a closer match starting on Friday.

Australia vs Sri Lanka

Australia play Sri Lanka in an actual Test match on Thursday, and it is rumoured that the ICC have started an internal investigation to find out how such an anachronism got on the international fixtures list.

Australia haven’t played a Test since they farewelled their trio of stars in January; in that period they’ve played an abomination of ODI games and Twenty20 fixtures. These days, when the Australian players wish to get about town unrecognised, they wear their white Test outfits.

As to the actual game itself, the portents are not promising. Rain is forecast to play havoc for the first three days, no bad thing in itself, given the drought in Australia, but neither side comes into this game with much form. The Australian bowlers who played in four day cricket last weekend failed to impress, with the exception of Stuart Clark, and the Sri Lankans have likewise found the going hard, failing to beat a side comprising the best of Australia’s state Second XI’s, and then being defeated by Queensland. No doubt after so much ODI cricket, the disciplines of line and length, batting judgement and patience, have become a little rusty.

For all that, I’m looking forward to a good contest. Sri Lanka are, in my view, one of the stronger sides in world cricket, with a potent batting line up and a balanced bowling attack. It is a disgrace that Cricket Australia, for commercial reasons of course, has only invited the Sri Lankans to play two Tests. I do expect Australia to still win- even without McGrath and Warne they are a very powerful team, but it won’t be quite so easy as it used to be.

Australia give a first cap to Mitchell Johnson, and Phil Jacques and Stuart MacGill are recalled. Sri Lanka’s team is not quite settled, but they are hampered by the loss of Kumar Sangakarra with a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, in a further outbreak of Test cricket, South Africa host New Zealand. The main talking point there is that South Africa are not playing their veteran Shaun Pollock, preferring the younger brigade. Daniel Vettori makes his debut as New Zealand captain.

Australia vs Sri Lanka preview.

South Africa vs New Zealand preview.

More injury woes for the Australians

Ye gods, the news keeps getting worse.

While New Zealand will field their first choices during the three games, Australia have left their captain and vice-captain at home and Andrew Symonds is recovering from a serious arm injury.

Adding to the visitors’ lack of power is a Brett Lee ankle injury and a hip problem to Michael Clarke, who is second-in-charge after Ricky Ponting decided to have treatment on his back and Adam Gilchrist rested. The changes mean Australia have picked a raw squad, including Adam Voges, Cameron White, Brad Haddin and the on-standby Phil Jaques, and the competition that has been wedged into a crammed itinerary has become an inconvenience, even though they were upended in the CB Series finals.

If Clarke is ruled out, Matthew Hayden will be the only one of Australia’s top four who is batting in his usual position while Brad Hodge, the No. 5, is keeping Symonds’ spot warm. The third-year series that the organisers pipe-dreamed would develop into an All Blacks-Wallabies rivalry is achieving the credibility of a pre-season warm-up.

Well, rivalries take some time to develop. And this particular chapter of the Chappell-Hadlee trophy is suffering because it is caught in a wedge right before the World Cup. There wasn’t time to hold it earlier in the summer though. I like the concept of the annual series though, and given ten years it will be a highlight of the summer.

The injury to Lee gives Mitchell Johnson a chance to strut his stuff as a key strike bowler. When fit, Lee, Bracken and McGrath are just about certain starters, and there is a lot of competition for the fourth bowling slot. Johnson has a chance to take it.

Meanwhile New Zealand have the chance to win back the trophy against an unbalanced Australia which is collectively as out of form and low on confidence as any Australian side has been in limited overs cricket, at least in the last decade or so. I’m looking forward to watching three very keenly contested matches.

Spin City

John Buchanan’s attempts to spin Australia’s bowling in the Second Test looked even more ineffective then Shane Warne’s leg-spinners.

Admittedly, the pitch offered nothing, and England batted superbly, but you can hardly say Australia have bowled well after taking only six wickets in nearly two full days.

McGrath spent time off the field fixing his boot in the opening session to ease a heel problem. Although he has not been complaining about the injury, his effectiveness was limited and his speed has dropped significantly on the flat surface. “He pounded down 20-plus overs,” Buchanan said, “so, so far so good.” He returned 0 for 103.

Warne gave up 167 runs for the wicket of Geraint Jones while Brett Lee also won praise from Buchanan for his 1 for 139. “I think Brett’s bowled exceptionally well,” he said. “He’s held his pace and bowled good lines. It’s encouraging for the second innings and the rest of the series.

“The measure of Shane’s bowling is how many bad balls there were. He bowled a couple late yesterday when he got tired and maybe a few today. His control has been excellent, he hasn’t got the rub of the green, a bit like Brett.”

Stuart Clark was the only bowler not to win compliments from Buchanan and he was the man who performed the best. Throughout the first two days he troubled England with short and full deliveries and added three victims to continue his strong series.

Excuse me while I roll my eyes at that one. McGrath was clearly not fully fit, and the Australian team heirarchy deserve censure for allowing him to play. Mitchell Johnson probably wouldn’t have fared any better but at least there wouldn’t have been a worry about him worsening an injury.

From an English point of view, the day belonged once again to Collingwood and Pieterson. They were, it has to be admitted, magnificent. They learned their lessons from Brisbane and gave England the whip hand. And it was good to see that Flintoff was prepared, late in the day, to lead aggressively from the front. Fancy declaring, and taking the new ball for himself. Full marks to Freddy on that one!

England can attack on day three. It will be interesting to see how Australia’s batsmen, and England’s bowlers, respond to the challenge.

The plot (and the humidity) thickens

The second Test here in Adelaide has had an interesting prelude with the news that Glenn McGrath will need a fitness test in the morning. It appears that his troublesome heel isn’t getting better and there must be doubts as to whether or not he is fit enough to last five days.

Faster then you can say ‘Mitchell Johnson’, the English writers are reminding us of Edgbaston. Certainly, removing McGrath from the game goes some way to making it an even contest, but that won’t help England’s bowlers take 20 wickets.

What might help though is that about 4pm this afternoon a sudden downpour hit the city of Adelaide. I was about a mile from Adelaide Oval when it struck, and if the pitch was uncovered when it happened, it will have had an effect on it. It was not very long, but it was enough to put a dampener on the Oval (and me).

The recent hot spell that has been engulfing Adelaide will now subside, and players should enjoy almost perfect weather conditions to play in, without the enervating heat of Brisbane, and there might be more humidity then at Brisbane as well. So the fates are turning ever so slightly in England’s favour. The question that remains is, are they good enough to seize the moment?

An interruption while the sightscreen is adjusted….

In other words, there is sod all news. There’s a new round of county championship matches going on, if that is your cup of tea. Personally, I prefer Bundaburg Rum.

Journalists asked Mike Hussey for his thoughts, and all he could come up with was some lame talk about how reverse swing won’t have such an impact in Australia. That’s not really news; Pakistani bowlers have been coming to Australia for ages and keep getting carted.

I don’t think that reverse swing by itself is a magic bullet, and to keep going on about it, I think, takes away some of the gloss on just how well Simon Jones bowled last year. It’s kind of like a wrong-un that a leg spinner brings out of the hat. It’s a great ball, sure, but the other deliveries have to be on the money as well.

See, it’s not that hard to have opinions!

In desperation, the journalists went to the old firm c Marsh b Lillee. Rod Marsh obliged with some nice things to say about Monty Panesar.

While much of the focus has been on the pace attack, Marsh — Panesar’s former coach — said the bowler had what it took to succeed on Australian wickets.

“Technically, I think he’s a very fine bowler,” Marsh said. “He’s got as good an action as I reckon I’ve ever seen on a finger spinner.”

The 24-year-old left-armer, the first Sikh to play for England, rocketed into Ashes contention with eight wickets in England’s morale-boosting innings victory over Pakistan at Old Trafford this week. Panesar took 5-72 on the last day.

“They’ve got to bring him here (for the Ashes),” said Marsh, who helped guide Panesar’s development at the England Cricket Academy. “He’s become a bit of a cult figure in England. The crowds will love him here — one way or the other.”

Former England captain David Gower is another who thinks Panesar has what it takes, saying: “His big challenge will come in Australia this winter … where the home crowds will be quick to seize on any signs of weakness.”

The home crowds will be full of English tourists so Monty’s got nowt to worry about.

Meanwhile DK Lillee was waving the flag for Australia’s up and coming pace duo of Tait and Mitchell Johnson, and saying that England would miss Vaughan.

Well, yeah.  And????

That slacker Will is lazing on a beach, without a care in the world. It’s a tough life for some. How about for you?

Never too old to learn

Brett Lee is making good use of his time in Bangladesh, talking to Wasim Akram about reverse swing.

Wasim Akram has given Brett Lee, the Australian fast bowler, a tip or two on reverse-swing and believes he will unleash it on England in this winter’s Ashes. Lee and two of his Australian bowling mates, Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson, approached Akram, now a television commentator, during the second Test against Bangladesh earlier this week.

“These guys want to improve, so they want to ask the top cricketers [for advice] and that’s good,” Akram told AAP. “I did tell them the little details about reverse-swing. I think soon in the Ashes we will be seeing Brett Lee bowling reverse-swing.”

Akram, perhaps the finest practioner of the art of reverse swing, tormented many batsman during the 1990s in partnership with Waqar Younis. “It was about action, about seam, a lot of talk about reverse-swing,” Akram said. “Brett Lee is a sight to watch in world cricket. Any bowler comes to me from any nationality, I am there to help.”

I’m very glad to see the Australian bowlers go out of their way to learn. Wasim Akram was one of the all time great bowlers, a player I loved to watch, and I’m glad that he’s been willing to teach. One of the best ways for players to learn is to ask, and I hope that when he’s retired, Lee in turn will help all comers in the finer points of fast bowling and reverse swing.

Bangladesh vs Australia, 2nd Test, Day 1

Lightning can’t strike twice, can it? No, surely not. Will Australia give a Baggy Green to Dan Cullen or Mitch Johnson? It’s the Second Test folks, so here’s an open threads for mocking or told-you-so’s, or even just to say hello.

Resurrection of new-ball pairing is fanciful

Excellent piece by Alex Brown in tomorrow’ Sydney Morning Herald, in which he talks about Jason Gillespie’s recall and the tantalising prospect of his return to taking the new ball with Glenn McGrath. Brown is insistent that this won’t (and shouldn’t?) happen. I’ve been murmuring about Australia’s fast-bowling problems for a few months now, and remain convinced that serious problems exist. Stuart Clark has done exceptionally well, and has improved rapidly – and that after his debut game in which he took nine wickets. He is, though, no sping chicken.

Which is why, as I keep saying, the performance of Mitchell Johnson will be so fascinating to watch. He’s young, raw, very fast and a left-armer. Ingredients, you might argue, that might very quickly earn him the new ball with Brett Lee if he’s successful against Bangladesh. If if if. He’s clearly being weened into Test cricket in preparations for the Ashes, while Gillespie’s recall is more of a “well, maybe your Pura Cup form might help dissipate your nightmares of the Ashes”. I’m less convinced that he can be a force again.

But any thoughts of McGrath and Gillespie returning to lead the attack in a throwback to a golden period of Australian cricket would seem unrealistic, however nice an image it may be for the romantics. Certainly, both are still capable of making a telling contribution to an Australian attack, however the new ball appears to have been passed on.

Brown also talks about McGrath’s requirement of a heavy workload, which is a not-often discussed aspect of his bowling. The other day, it was mentioned that he is considering a county stint. Assuming his wife regains her health, I would find it surprising if he didn’t play a month or six weeks of county cricket; how else is he going to get his bowling legs back, otherwise?

Very very interesting times ahead for Austalia’s bowlers.

Return of the caravan

Jason Gillespie has been recalled for Australia’s tour of Bangladesh. Interesting selection – all eyes will be on Mitchell Johnson, though, assuming he plays a Test. Australia need a young fast bowler to make an impact before the Ashes.