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.

Why didn’t the ICC award a ‘Blog of the Year’ as well?

The ICC Awards were held in Johannesburg, and there were gongs for everyone, it seems. Ricky Ponting got the best gong, but every entrant won a prize, except for The Corridor. We’re miffed, oh yes, we are!

Ponting in doubt for the Twenty20 World Cup

Ricky Ponting has missed the flight to South Africa for the Twenty20 World Cup, due to “private family reasons”. I certainly hope that he can still make the tournament, as he’s one of the great sights in world cricket in full flight, even for a euphemerial event such as this.

Too highly rated?

I see Kevin Pietersen has been knocked off the top spot in the ODIs by Ricky Ponting. Very difficult to argue with that – Ponting is surely the stand out batsman in both forms of the game. Looking at the other batting rankings, it is difficult to find fault, although on current form, Shiv Chanderpaul ought to be in the test top three at least. Also, I struggle to understand how Mahela Jayawardene doesn’t break into either top ten, while Hussey retains a top five place in both. He’s very good, granted, but is he top five?

Jason Gillespie

The bowlers are altogether more perplexing. For one, how can Shoaib Akhtar still be at number 10 in tests? He’s played four tests since the start of 2006 and taken only a handful of wickets. Maybe in the current game, not playing is the way to climb the rankings. Likewise, Jason Gillespie (22) is still deemed a better Test bowler than Lasith Malinga (28)!

Agreed, it must be difficult to devise a workable system. Also, stats don’t tell the full story. But things start to look decidedly suspect when you inspect the Best Ever Ratings, which is a list of players at their peak. Ponting at four is just about fair enough, given his recent dominance. However, Peter May above Viv Richards shows a flaw, while Matthew Hayden in the top ten is just crazy. KP (21) is one place higher than Sachin and two places higher than Wally Hammond. Enough said.

For the bowlers, I half expected to see the list packed high with bowlers of yesteryear, given how modern bowlers are meant to have struggled, but it does put Murali, McGrath, Pollock, Waqar and Warne in the top 15. Of course, Warne should be in the top three, if not top of the pile. Wasim Akram limps in at number 57 behind the likes of Ntini, Shoaib and Harmison, which doesn’t seem right.

That said, like most critics, I can’t think of a better way. There must be some bright spark at Cricinfo with a formula….?

The big one! Australia v England, Super Eights

Right then. Australia v England, 2007 World Cup. Actually Bangladesh kind of spoiled this by beating South Africa last night; had that gone to script, this would be a do-or-die dogfight for England. Now, England can still make the semi-finals even if they lose, as Andrew Miller pointed out. Still, Australia could take on England at Twister and there’d be an edge to the contest, and after losing the Commonwealth Bank finals, Australia’s quite keen to dish out some revenge to England. Revenge really motives Ricky Ponting.

The main question about the Australian team is if they will go with an extra batsman or an extra bowler to cover the injury to Shane Watson. Brad Hodge has a claim for scoring a century in his last innings, but I would prefer to see Australia go with an extra bowler.

Obviously an impartial writer would hope for a good close game, but I’m not impartial. I want England to be thrashed. I doubt it will happen mind you- England are getting to be good at derailing Australia’s best laid plans. In fact, I think England might just sneak a victory on this occasion. There’s been a few upsets about, and I think this might be another one.

Scorecard.

A grotesque mismatch masked as an ODI

Coming into Friday’s game between Australia and England, for what surely must be the final time this summer, the contrast between the two squads could hardly be greater.

The Australians are happy, confident, and feel that everything is on track going towards the winning of the series and into the World Cup. England look patently miserable, tired, out of ideas, and with no appetitite for the battle. The contrast between this side and the one that won the Ashes eighteen months ago is so stark it can barely be believed.

England fans have every right to be furious with their team and especially their administration for allowing such a state of affairs.

They go into Friday’s game against Australia without Michael Vaughan, and also without James Anderson, who is flying home after a back strain. All of England’s bowling hopes will therefore rest with Flintoff and the redoubtable Monty Panesar, who looks like he’s the only Englishman with both the ability and the desire to play at this level at this point in time.

Meanwhile, Australia are feeling confident enough to introduce Shaun Tait to their one-day side, who is replacing Brett Lee. It is very much a ‘like for like’ substitution. Tait is perhaps even faster then Lee these days, and similarly erratic in performance. England faced him in the last two Tests of 2005, and also in the first game of this tour where he played in the Prime Minister’s XI. He did so well in that game that there was speculation that he would be the third seamer in the Test lineup, but Stuart Clark got the nod, and did so well that Tait’s hopes subsided.

Ricky Ponting has a slight hip strain and is in some doubt, but if he fails a fitness test, he’ll be replaced by the in-form Brad Hodge, who scored 115 off 100 balls for Victoria against South Australa on Wednesday.

A quick check of the bookies has some amazing prices. Not many betting houses are offering better then 10 to 1 on for Australia, whereas you can get odds of 13/2 on England. Remarkable, in a two horse race.

But wait, there’s more!

I’m tired of reading post-mortems about the Ashes. The result is decided, but there are two Tests to go. As an Australian, I’m absolutely delighted that Australia have won the series. But the future of both teams is not set in stone yet.

It seems to me that both sides, but especially England, have a lot riding on the outcome of the final two Test matches. It is by no means a given that Australia will go on for the 5-0 outcome that is being loosely bandied about, but if that happens, 2007 will be a year of woe for England. The inquisition will be a sight to behold.

On the other hand, a fighting England performance, with England coming home 3-2, will give a tremendous filip to English morale. There will be positives for the English team to hang their hats on.

For Australia, a 5-0 win will be the peak for several of the team’s veterans to call it a day. While Australia will seek to manage the retirement of their key players, looking ahead to 2009, the batting looks strong, with Michael Clarke, Hussey and Ponting being a core middle order to build around.

So it is not over yet kids. The Fourth Test starts in a week, and Warne is one wicket away from 700 wickets.

So, will Roy deliver this time?

Australia have chosen Andrew “Roy” Symonds to replace Damien Martyn in the middle order for the Third Test, a selection that is strongly suggestive of Ricky Ponting’s clout at the selection table. Symonds, to my mind, has not done anything of note to justify his inclusion in Australian first class cricket this season, but Ponting’s faith in Symonds has been unbound for a long time.

I hope he’s as right as he was when as captain of the 2003 World Cup team, he demanded Symonds be included, despite the general consensus of pundits and wise men that Symonds, for all his talents, was a ne’er do well. He had been given multiple opportunites in ODI games since 1999 and had not taken them. However, Ponting’s faith that he would deliver when it mattered in one-day cricket was proved spectacularly correct in 2003, and he’s been doing it ever since.

And the likes of me have been happy to be proved wrong to boot.

Last summer, Symonds finally made his Test debut, and oddly enough a similar story of underperformance and hestitance that marked his early ODI career returned. He lost his place in the side, but clearly he hasn’t lost the confidence of his captain.

And I certainly hope that Ponting is right. For if Symonds unleashes as we all know that he can, then he can be the most devastating striker in world cricket.

He also brings some more bowling options for Ponting. The once feared WACA pitch is now on life support, with ground-staff scouring the West Australian countryside for the right sort of soil to bring it back to its old self. There is hope that it can be revived for the 2010/11 Ashes series, but this time around, it is likely to be a near-death experience for pace bowlers.

Just the facts, Ma’am

There’s an old saying where you only believe half what you read. Sadly, that applies to cricket journalism, too. For example, in the Times, Simon Wilde is writing about Ricky Ponting, and how to thwart him. Wilde thinks Ponting’s temper is his weak spot, and he writes:

And only three months ago, in a meaningless one-day tournament in Malaysia, he lost his rag so completely when umpire Asad Rauf made a call of “wide” that he was fined his entire match fee. Revealingly, the Sydney Daily Telegraph reported the story under the headline “Ponting’s bullying tactics: here we go again.”

In fact, Ponting didn’t lose his temper at all. I was watching it on television. What actually happened was that Ponting reacted to umpire Asad’s call with a mixture of disbelief and scorn. It was the sort of scorn that doesn’t look good and it was that disrespect that he was fined for. Not ‘losing his temper’.

Why did Wilde make this blunder? I rather doubt it was from malice. I think he just read about the incident in the Australian papers, and took them as gospel. It is remarkable how gullible cricket writers are towards other writers, just as great salesmen can not resist other salesmen.

But who are you going to believe? Me, or your own lying eyes?

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.