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.

England name squad for Sri Lanka tour

England have named their squad for the tour of Sri Lanka, and it’s pretty much as predicted:

Vaughan, Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Collingwood, Shah, Bopara, Mustard, Prior, Broad, Hoggard, Anderson, Sidebottom, Swann, Panesar.

Some initial thoughts:

1) It’s pretty harsh on Chris Tremlett, who hasn’t really put a foot wrong yet for England. Unless – gasp! – they’re punishing him unfairly for his indifferent one-day form.

2) If the selectors were going to drop Strauss they should have replaced him with another opener, rather than naming three number sixes and promoting Vaughan, who doesn’t even want to open.

3) If both of Harmison’s practice games get rained off, where does that leave him?

4) Either Broad or Swann has to bat at number eight. Which means that, cruelly, one of Anderson or Sidebottom has to sit out. Or both, if Harmison waltzes back into the team. In other words, all three pacemen from the India series could be left out in favour of someone who wasn’t even good enough to make the side at the time. Hmmm.

5) The fact that Mustard has been named in the full squad, rather than placed on standby in Chennai, is hardly a resounding vote of confidence in Prior. Is Mustard, in fact, the reserve opening batsman?

What are everyone else’s thoughts?

The thing that didn’t happen

Watching glimpses of the India vs Australia and Sri Lanka vs England ODI series, I’ve been struck by just how conventional these ODI games have been. We were told last month that the arrival of the Twenty20 game would revolutionise tactics and game-plans in the 50 over game.

But it hasn’t happened. The Sri Lanka vs England games were especially low-scoring, attritional affairs, and that played right into England’s hands. No doubt the slow and difficult batting conditions contributed to that. But even in relatively free-scoring Indian venues, the same old rhymes and rythyms of the 50 over game have continued.

It is early days, of course, but what this might point to is that there is little real impact that the two games can have on each other. Those extra thirty overs are clearly making a difference to the way that teams go about their business. I cheerfully confess to being surprised by this turn of events.

England win a one-day series

Even I, an insufferable cynic of one-day cricket, had to be impressed by England today. In fact, they have been the better team all series. Athletic in the field, imaginative and flexible with the ball, generally industrious with the bat and captained sensibly by Paul Collingwood.

Your thoughts on the match and series? Is this the turning point or were Sri Lanka caught napping in light of being Muraliless?

Ye Gods! A Test match is happening!

We don’t get a lot of South Africans or Pakistanis in these here parts, but there IS a Test match going on as we speak- South Africa, batting first, are 104 for 1, with Gibbs on 50 – Smith out for 42.

Ahh. White clothes and a red ball. God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, et cetera!

Meanwhile, England play Sri Lanka in a Fifty/50 tonight, and Australia play India tomorrow. But who cares? Tests are the best!

Sri Lanka crumble

Sri Lanka crumble. Sounds like a tempting pudding, that. They’re 80 for 7, Australia running through them like maniacs. Are they suddenly up for this match? Seems so. I’m not watching, but might force my German friends to listen to it on TMS later. Jawohl!

Cricinfo’s steaming-hot comms is here.

Understudy tourists

England will soon have to pick its squad for the winter tours and the three understudy roles up for grabs are those of top-three batsman, wicketkeeper and spinner. My calls for Bob Key were largely dismissed, so I’ll move on to the ‘keeper, who will start as Matt Prior’s back-up, but may get a crack if the Sussex man drops Sangakkara on 0 and becomes Murali’s latest bunny.

It seems England now have an embarrassment of riches at keeper with several stumpers scoring regular runs this season. Foster, Ambrose, Mustard, Read, Jones, Batty have all scored well. Read and Jones have likely had their turn, but Foster may be due another one? Ambrose has been excellent too. Tricky. Mustard must be in line for ODIs, because he’s brilliant at the top of the order for Durham. It’s a shame for Steven Davies that Worcestershire have hardly played this season.

Spinners are more of a quandary. I don’t agree that Pietersen and Vaughan can fill in the gaps. We need a genuine spinner to support Monty, especially in Sri Lanka. The problem is that, as ever, there are no English spinners topping the charts, although I can’t see what Graeme Swann has done to upset the selectors. He would do alright. Adil Rashid has great potential and can bat too. As can Alex Loudon. But would any of them bowl out Sri Lanka? I’m at a loss.

Bring back Shaggy?!

Over and out

The final live was every bit as loony as it must have appeared on telly, but it was still a cracking day out. Indeed, given we were staring at rain covers for the first couple of hours, any action was good action. Gilchrist’s innings was worth the entry fee alone. I also loved the partnership between Jayasuriya and Sangakkara. But no team, however plucky, could have maintained 8 an over against those bowlers in that light.

The ICC has yet again proved itself to be an ass, but it may have dodged a bullet on Saturday. It was lucky that Ponting won the toss and batted first. Had Sri Lanka posted, say, 230 runs for the Aussies to chase in the half-light, it would have been a tall order, even for them. If it had been the Lankans dragging their heels between deliveries to waste time and Malinga bowling 85 mph in the gloomy drizzle, it could have kicked off some ugly scenes in the crowd. Would Australia have accepted being dealt such a poor hand as graciously as Sri Lanka?

OK, so I’m stirring. The right team won and it would have been a travesty if Ponting’s men had been robbed by weather conditions. As my cabbie said the night before, “if you’re the best team, you’re the best team, and you deserve to win”. I’ll admit too that the Aussie supporters were excellent in our stand. Save, of course, for the shouts of ‘no-ball’ whenever Murali bowled – can you not just let it go?!

There is the temptation to dismiss the Aussie players as charmless automatons who grind out results, but that is a disservice. They have flair, instinct, guile and panache by the bucket load. The players’ celebrations at Gilchrist’s hundred and the ultimate victory (both times) were genuinely endearing. There is no arrogance, just well-earned confidence. It matters more to these Australians and so they deserve the glory. Thank goodness they can’t play forever.

Ian Valetine is a freelance journalist blogging who has blogged the World Cup for The Corridor

World Cup final: Australia v Sri Lanka

The interminable 2007 tournament is finally drawing to a close, but before we tear the ICC apart for organising such a ridiculously long event, Australia take on Sri Lanka in the final. Both teams are deserved finalists.

I’m rooting for Sri Lanka. The teams are pretty well matched but I just hope Sri Lanka can apply some of their own bulldozering techniques and not let Australia gain an early upper hand. Get that Matthew Hayden early, too.

Anyway, keep an eye on the scorecard and leave your thoughts below.