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.

Bangladesh lose Test but win admirers

Bangladesh wasted their chance to spring a massive surprise on Australia in the First Test, and it was no surprise to anyone that the roused Australians would react with their customary vehemence to quell Bangladesh’s resistance in the Second Test. So it came to pass, but the agency with which this was inflicted was perhaps an even greater surprise then Bangladesh’s inspiring First Test performance.

In a golden age of batsmanship, we cricket lovers have had a chance to see some delightful innings. Back in the 1980’s it was a rare thing for an Australian summer to be punctuated with a double century, but now it is a rare summer we don’t see one. However, I’ve never seen anything quite so unlikely as Jason Gillespie’s 201 not out at Chittagong.

It’s not that he can’t bat. Australia’s recent cricket history is dotted with examples of ‘Dizzy’s stout defensive efforts with the bat. Quite a few nations have experienced the frustration of trying to dig him out, and Australia’s top order batsmen know that they can bat normally and not worry about him giving his wicket away. However, his method of stern and stubborn defence is not especially effective in quick scoring.

This monumental innings by Gillespie did not see a change of his traditional modus-operandi. A stout defence, a cover drive, and a dab around the corner provided him with the bulk of his runs, and it was only after he was well into his second century that he became more adventurous. He was kept company for the bulk of his epic by the redoubtable Mike Hussey, who scored the most un-remarked upon 182 that he’s ever likely to score. Together they put on 320, and sealed the fate of Bangladesh who had been skittled on the first day for 197.

Bangladesh’s response to this huge deficit was discouraging, with only Shahriar Nafees and Habibul Bashar showing the required skill and discipline. The Bangladesh batsmen benefited from some sloppy Australian fielding on the fourth evening, but fell quickly to Warne and MacGill on the fifth morning, with only a delightful cameo by Mohammed Rafique to give the Bangladesh supporters cheer.

So is it really a case of one step forward and two steps back? I do not think so myself. While Bangladesh will be embarrassed that it was Jason Gillespie that filled their boots against them, rather then one of the more established batting stars, the result in Chittagong surprised no one. But the First Test did surprise everyone, and there is no denying that there is some real talent in the Bangladesh batting lineup. Bangladesh have started a long way behind the field, and while progress has been slow for them, it is nevertheless clearly there. They did not win any Tests this time round, and it will be a while before they do against Australia but they did win admirers.

Always back self-interest.

Stuart Macgill wants to lend his old mate Shane Warne a hand.

STUART MacGill says he can help extend the career of fellow leg-spinner Shane Warne if he is just given the opportunity.

MacGill said more regular selection of himself could ease the heavy workload thrust onto the world’s most successful Test bowler.

MacGill said more regular selection of himself could ease the heavy workload thrust onto the world’s most successful Test bowler.”For both of us (it could have been managed better). It’d work out great for me because I’d play more and probably will stretch Shane’s career a little bit too and that’s got to be good for everybody I think,” he said.

“I don’t necessarily see there being a huge difference between the end of Shane’s career and the end of my career.

“So it’s not as if you’re going to be saving me up for later. We’re similar ages and we’ve both got other things to do so from my point of view, it would be great to be used at the moment.”

It would be touching if it wasn’t so transparent. There are very good reasons to not play two legspinners most times Australia take the field, and Macgill doesn’t offer as much as Warne does as a bowler, batsman or fielder.

Stuart Macgill is a very fine legspinner, and it is unfortunate that he’s been so over-shadowed. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’ll only play when we need two legspinners. Or Warne is injured. It’s the way of things.

Stuart MacGill keeps upbeat

Stuart MacGill is still in a bullish mood, suggesting that Australia can still win despite Bangladesh now having a lead of 282, with five wickets in hand.

“The game is not finished. The game is far from finished. Although Bangladesh is in a very strong position, I know that Australia will fight very hard to firstly get another bowl and then see what happens,” MacGill said.

“We certainly haven’t given up at this stage … the talk in the rooms is certainly still about how we would go about winning the game. That’s what’s being talked about.”

I’m glad to see that the players are keeping positive. No point running up the white flag! Meanwhile, Bangladesh coach Dav Whatmore is unsurprisingly up-beat.

I think coming from South Africa and Australia in the last six months, it [the conditions] probably needed a bit of adjusting,” Whatmore said of Australia. “We’re really enjoying the situation at the moment. It [the bowling] puts Bangladesh very much on top in this game and barring any mishaps in the second innings, we’re in the driving seat.

It’s a hard ask to adjust to totally different conditions without a warm-up game, and I would guess that is Cricket Australia’s doing, trying to do the right thing by the players in not working them too hard. But there IS something to be said for proper preparation. It is very hard to escape the conclusion that Australia has taken Bangladesh far too lightly and may pay a heavy price for their arrogance.

Bangladesh v Australia, 1st Test, Fatullah, 2nd day

So BangBang have fallen short of a massive total, Stuart MacGill picking up eight wickets, but their 427 far exceeds their wildest wishes. And now, Australia are 30 for 1!

Update they’re 50 for 3!

Live scorecard

Test Cricket today. Hurray!

Tests are the best!

Australia take on South Africa in the First Test at Perth. South African captain Graeme Smith is ‘braced for bullies‘ and given that his side lost to a weak West Australian state side by an innings, the Australian urge to kick sand in South African faces is strong.

A personal confession, here. I loathe South African cricket, which has done nothing but bombastic boasting, boring and unadventurous captains and hilarious World Cup chokes since they were re-admitted in 1992. The last two times Australia toured the place, we heard a great deal in the South African press about how they were going to stuff us, and Australia responded by crushing them by an innings in the First Test. I suppose I owe it to my readers that I can’t be entirely objective about South Africans, and should bear that in mind when they read my stuff.

South Africans must be pretty anxious about the crowd because Andre Nel says that they aren’t worried about being abused by the crowds. If you weren’t worried about it, why would you talk about it? It is not like South African crowds are prim and proper-Johannesburg is not known as ‘the Bullring’ for nothing.

Australia have included Nathan Bracken in the lineup, instead of Stuart MacGill, and South Africa are likely to be missing Jacques Kallis. He is one of the few South Africans with a proven record against Australia so they will miss him.

Australia have never lost a series to South Africa since readmission, and have not lost a series at home since 1992-93. I do not think South Africa have the bowling attack to change those facts. Also, Smith does not strike me as the sort of cool figure that can lead his side to an upset victory. But it’s Test cricket so hurray!

Australia v West Indies – the battle resumes

So, just a few hours to go until Australia play the West Indies and the latter unleash their “battery” of fast bowlers. It remains to be seen whether the battery is fully charged (geddit?) or a cheap, supermarket-branded throwaway which only lasts a day, at best. But, as Peter English says in his excellent preview, an Australia-West Indies encounter is always exciting and does, indeed, raise expectations. This is the start of the Aussie summer, after all, and is their first challenge since being humbled by the English.

For Australia, tonight’s game sees a debut for Mike Hussey who so impressed in England during the one-dayers in the summer. He looks a very fine prospect, and will add a much-needed spark to the fielding of Australia, quite aside from his obvious talent as a batsman. These are interesting times for Australia. I wouldn’t say desperate, or subscribe to some of the media’s feeling that this inexperienced side could slip up easily against the Windies – it’s just interesting. Hussey in; Kasper out; Gillespie out; Langer injured (“it hurts,” he said today).

And for the West Indies, Mr Walsh is quietly confident that the young battery of fast bowlers can trouble Australia’s run machines. Fidel “Castro” Edwards told Peter English: ‘I don’t bowl to hit people, I bowl to get wickets,’ which is surely comfort for all West Indians, not to mention the Australian batsmen.

Ryan will no doubt be posting his thoughts, so keep an eye on his blog. And if you have any comments about the game, you can leave them in a post which will “appear” magically at about 23.00 GMT/UTC. Perhaps someone can explain to me, again, why Stu MacGill has been excluded. Yes, I know Nathan Bracken’s a good bowler and yes I know the pitch is likely to assist seamers. But MacGill + Warne v West Indies would surely equal carnage?

MacGill aims to outlast Warne

MacGill aims to outlast Warne

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for a few days – forgot to post it. You’ve gotta feel for MacGill haven’t you?