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.

World Cup squads announced

My tooth is out, and I’m all doped up. Who said drugs are bad?

The World Cup squads have been announced. For Australia, the main surprise was the inclusion of Shaun Tait who was preferred over Stuart Clark. As Tait is from my home town, I’m personally delighted, although I doubt he will play much, at least after the first group games. Scotland might be facing a new ball attack of Tait and Lee, which would be a rough initiation for them. Clark is not happy about being omitted but has vowed to come back next season as a better bowler.

Meanwhile, Australia’s cheif medical officer has come out to warn injured Andrew Symonds about rushing his come-back. The Australian dressing room is full of half-fit players, and given the lack of fitness and form of so many players, I do not think Australia can really be favourites for this tournament anymore. Even a player of Symonds ability can’t just be rushed back into the side and perform at top level.

England on the other hand have a fairly predictable World Cup squad, the only major changes are the return of Pieterson and the omission of Mal Loye. It’s tough on Loye given the job he has done in Australia, but the other alternative of dropping Bopara would not have made much sense, and would have left England’s squad top-heavy with openers.

I still can’t understand why Alastair Cook hasn’t appeared in the frame at all in coloured clothes though.

Meanwhile, as I write, Pakistan are in awful trouble against South Africa in the 5th ODI in Johannesburg. Pollock, South Africa’s ‘old man river’ has defied the years and ripped the Pakistani top order apart by taking 5 for 23.

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.

Now that’s Test cricket!

Right then, that’s the sort of cricket I want to see.

Tough, hard as nails, no mucking about, just getting in down and dirty.

Before we have any complaints that England ‘batted slow’, I just want to point out that it used to be always like this. Steve Waugh’s first day as captain was in the West Indies and Australia crawled to be 6 for 174 at stumps on Day 1. Off the full 90 overs. Of course, you don’t want to rush when you are facing Walsh and Ambrose.

And Australia went on to win that game by a mile.

No, today’s play was classic cricket, at its best. The Adelaide Oval was packed, the pitch was perfect, so it was just head to head between batsmen and bowlers. And a lot of what we saw in Brisbane flowed through to this game. England can bat well enough, but they just let themselves down with poor concentration. Strauss, Cook and Bell all gave their wickets away, after playing themselves in. These guys just have to kick themselves, because they’ll never get a better place to bat.

Not that it was that easy out there, because Australia did bowl well. Clark was the pick of the bowlers, even though he was confused as to why he didn’t bowl more. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely surprised myself- Clark was bowling beautiful lines and all, but you want to be bowling Lee in conditions like this. Lee bowled plenty of rubbish between his best bowling, and that is actually more likely to get you a wicket

That’s how Bell got himself out.

Even though England have had a strong day, as an Australian I’m not too worried yet. Once both sides have had a bat, it will be easier to tell who is placed the best. Australia’s batsmen are good at concentrating as well, and if England back themselves to score 450, Australia’s game-plan will be to first get something like that themselves, then, if possible, to build a first innings lead and try to erase the worry of a fourth innings chase.

But having said that, it has been a very good day for England and they will sleep well tonight.

Scorecard 

I’m a cricketer, get me out of here

John Buchanan, the tireless laptop-addict and innovator-in-chief of Australian cricket (he is also a coach) is sending his troops on a not-so-secret-but-he’s-trying-to-keep-it-close-to-his-chest camping trip to a remote region of Queensland. The Ashes might be several months away, but they’ve effectively already begun. Tomorrow’s third Test against Pakistan will provide yet more speculation as to England’s preparations. And meanwhile, Australia are to venture into the outback – avoiding those very poisonous spiders and snakes, we hope… – for team-building and other such pitiful phrases which masquerade as a jolly old holiday.

Glen McGrath and Stuart Clark

Officials are adamant that it will not be the kind of boot camp that has become the trend for football clubs, at which players have been pushed to their physical limits along the Kokoda Trail, in the case of Hawthorn, or Arizona, in the case of Collingwood.

While the leadership course is a departure from the usual routine of gathering for a cricket training camp at the Centre of Excellence in Brisbane before the summer, Buchanan has a history of overseeing physical and spiritual team-building exercises during his coaching tenure.

No sign of Ant and Dec yet…

Blast from the past

A blast from the past just now. Or, as Tony Greig would say, “a blorst from the porst, nice and hord and forst”. November 2004 I wroteth the following:

Richie Benaud commented during New Zealand’s first innings against Australia that no Australian bowler exceeded 140kph “which is pretty worrying.” It was a brief comment, but very interesting. The pitch and conditions suited extreme-pace, so it’s odd that Gillespie in particular didn’t make it to 140.

I don’t want to make this blog entirely biased towards England (but!) England’s bowlers averaged around 140 in most innings this summer. Steve Harmison in particular reached 96mph (154kph) (and averaged 94mph in his 10 overs) in an ODI. The Aussies are getting old…

Did whatshisname, erm…Stuart Clark reach 140 the other day? Don’t think so. Not that speed is the be-all and end-all, of course, but a four-pronged pace attack is such a luxury. And Australia’s bowlers are all, well…they need this bloke Mitchell Johnson to have an immediate impact. Left-armer too.

South Africa v Australia, 1st Test, Cape Town, Day Three

Day three of the first Test between South Africa and Australia at Cape Town

Chat away. (posted in advance, hence lack of any interesting words here)

Stuart Clark called up for Australia

Stuart Clark (who?) has been called up to Australia’s squad as cover for Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath. He’s been playing for my county, Middlesex, but I still have no idea about him. Anyone seen him play?