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.

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 bowlers have a good day for once.

Bowlers around the world are actually full of the joy of living today.

In Faisalabad, Pakistan’s bowlers have been right on top in the Second ODI, and have bowled out West Indies for 151.

Meanwhile in Christchurch, Mahela Jayawardene showed that making bad decisions is not a monopoly of the English coach, because Sri Lanka batted on a greentop in the First Test, and were skittled for 154. New Zealand had some early alarms with Lasith Malinga, as you do when he’s sending them down at 94 mph, but are 2 for 85 at stumps.

In Ashes news, Shane Watson has been ruled out of the Third Test, with his hamstring injury not recovering in time.  I really feel for the guy. He has had a torrid time with injuries throughout his career.

And Shane Warne has (and you’ll NEVER believe this) still got plenty to say about Adelaide and the Second Test, and the Third…

“At this stage we are not getting carried away with the win,” he said.

“We are just concentrating on playing good cricket. We said all the way along we are just going to play each Test match and just keep our feet on the ground and keep playing good cricket.

“If we keep playing good cricket then hopefully things will go our way for the rest of the series. Tp win a Test that way has given us a bit of momentum going into next week’s match and we are 2-0 up which means they have to win two of the next three Test matches to retain the Ashes.

“Hopefully we can win in Perth and go 3-0 up and win the series.”

Warne admitted that bowling 27 straight overs took its toll on his body and he was looking forward to the week’s rest before the next Test in Perth, beginning on December 14.

“Yeah, the body is pretty sore and I’ve got a bit of a headache,” Warne said after the Australian team celebrated long into the evening.

“So I am glad we have a week until the next Test.”

Indeed. There are, in effect, three Tests in a row once the Perth Test starts, which is a drain on the players, and even the spectators. Blame Cricket Australia for that one.

Musings on individual records in a team game

I read an interesting article by former England captain Mike Brealey that was published on the weekend. He was mostly talking about Andrew Strauss’ philosophy on declarations, but he had some remarks about Mahela Jayawadene’s attempt to get the world batting record as well.

Meanwhile, 6,000 miles to the south east we have the spectacle of Sri Lanka batting on to a lead of 587 in the hope of a world record individual Test score for Mahela Jayawardene against South Africa at Colombo. Fortunately, he did not get it.

What has happened to the team game when several pointless hours are pressed into the service of individual glory and local prestige? I think a narcissistic attitude is fed by pressures from the social network. Jayawardene’s quest for personal glory at the possible expense of the team must have been amplified by nationalistic excitement. He was carrying the projections of a nation. Not only had Sri Lanka just seen their heroes compile a world record partnership (624, overtaking the previous best by their compatriots Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama’s 576, also in Colombo, in 1997), they had the chance of this other record.

I hope I am not being too puritanical, or too carping, here. Certainly personal landmarks are important. Strauss would have been foolish and heartless to have declared before Bell got to a hundred, especially when he was furthering England’s cause so admirably. And if England had had wickets in hand, perhaps there would have been more of a case for batting on into Saturday.

I think there is a fair case for having an extra world-record holder in your side. I have to say that I think Brealey IS being a tad too puritanical on this score. For a country like Sri Lanka, which doesn’t have life so easy in its day to day business, what with tsunamis and civil wars, a bit of nationalistic excitement about the cricket is a positive, not a negative.

Mahela Jayawardene gives South Africa a hiding

He’s approaching Brian Lara’s record score of 400. After losing Sangakkara for 287, to bring to an end the all-wicket record partnership of 624, Jayawardene has kicked on, to now be 373 not out of Sri Lanka’s 4 for 754. There is still two full days to go for Sri Lanka to go so do not expect a generous declaration anytime soon!

Ashwell Prince’s debut Test as South Africa captain is proving to be memorable in more ways then he would like.

Update – Top-shelf mozz from the Corridor, as Jayawardene is bowled for 374. Only Lara (twice) and Hayden have scored more.

Jayawardene’s hundred

We said he’d need it, but boy did he provide something special. Mahela Jayawardene played an outstanding knock today, a really hard-fought, gutsy, resolute innings. The ball seamed around most of the day – rarely was batting easy – and he had the courage and conviction to play over-by-over, session-by-session.

His dismissal was unfortunate but Andrew Flintoff’s celebration rather demonstrated the respect Jayawardene is afforded. Flintoff was absolutely pumped to get that wicket (albeit fortuitously). And while England are still odds-on to win, don’t discount rain ruining their fun tomorrow. Torrential rain is forecast, and the cynic writing this post has a tenner on the draw!

England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Lord’s, 4th day

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