England fans appear to be making the most of Australia’s eight wicket defeat to India, drawing all sorts of conclusions based on this one Test match. This shows a certain lack of awareness when their own team recently lost the first Test in a series in India by nine wickets.
There are plenty of similarities as well. With the bat, England had little to show for their defeat beyond a hundred from their captain and a feisty display from their number seven. Ditto Australia. In terms of the bowling, Graeme Swann took five wickets, giving some cause for optimism and while Australia’s spinner didn’t do a right lot, James Pattinson took 5-96.
Some people seem to think that just because England happened to win a series by using two spinners, that that’s the way you should do things in India. But cricket isn’t a tightly plotted videogame where you have to locate the sole route to completion. England themselves opted to leave out Monty Panesar for that first match in large part because South Africa had managed to draw their 2010 series thanks to Dale Steyn.
England thought they were playing to their strengths, not recognising that their spin attack was actually as good as their pace attack. In contrast, Australia’s self-assessment is probably accurate. This doesn’t mean that they can’t win, however – but they do need to find their own approach.
Maybe they could bring back Mitchell Johnson.13 Appeals
If we had to sum up the opinions aired regarding Dhoni’s captaincy yesterday, it basically boils down to something like: “Yes, he could do a bit more to support and encourage his bowlers, but it probably doesn’t matter all that much because they’d still be pretty middling even then – plus he’s good in other ways.”
Like scoring 224 with fine style in order to make the opposition bowling attack look even more limited than your own. This isn’t technically captaincy, but people still label it ‘leading by example,’ which basically just involves doing anything good while you happen to be captain.
For Australia, Moises Henriques has again scored runs – which is just as well, because nobody else did. Allied to the one wicket that he took, he increasingly looks like a Test number seven who might take the odd wicket – a slot that Australia have been desperate to fill for some time, along with all the others.19 Appeals
Speaking about captaincy in his interview with the Guardian, Ian Chappell said:
“I also felt – and I think this is overlooked a bit – that it was your job to make the cricket interesting for the players. In doing that, you get the best out of your best players. If you make it dull and bloody boring for them, they’ll just go through the motions.”
When we read that, MS Dhoni immediately came to mind. You don’t think of him as being a boring player – certainly not in in his younger days – but his captaincy can seem really insipid, particularly in Tests and even more so when the match is getting away from him.
Dhoni’s supporters will say that he has to captain within his means; that he has to set defensive fields because of the bowlers he has at his disposal. But how much does the captain’s approach and attitude affect how those bowlers perform?
It isn’t about setting defensive fields, necessarily. It’s about setting interesting fields and asking the batsmen different questions. That can keep bowlers engaged and motivated where the same-old, same-old will not.
Is this unfair? Do you think Dhoni’s a predictable captain? Do you think he creates an environment where his players sometimes merely go through the motions?21 Appeals
There’s an interview with Ian Chappell over at The Guardian (in which he comes across very well) and there’s a couple of things in it that we want to talk about.
The first is Chappell’s view of the modern world of rest and rotation:
“I can understand that you’ve got to give the fast bowlers a breather every now and then, but to rest batsmen is bollocks.”
Broadly speaking, we agree with this and we think it highlights our main issue with the fixture list and the necessity for rest. However, first we’ll nitpick.
Physical rest versus mental rest
In general, batsmen – and perhaps spinners as well – don’t need physical rest in the way that fast bowlers do. We therefore see little point in resting them from a particular match. However, we do think that they can occasionally benefit from skipping a tour or series in order to retain their enthusiasm.
If that sounds unduly soft, let us explain. It’s not about how the poor millionaires are suffering. It’s more to do with top level sport being about incredibly fine margins and how enthusiasm can ensure that a player fully engages with practice and preparation and all that crap. If you want a batsman at his best for a particular Test series, enthusiasm is one of the ingredients you need and if you’ve eroded that by picking him for a seven-match one-day international series, you’ll have to settle for him performing at 90 per cent or whatever.
But that isn’t really the issue that’s raised by Chappell’s comments. What bothers us is the imbalance. If fast bowlers need resting more than batsmen, you’re forever pitting one nation’s very best batsmen against ‘some of the better bowlers’ from another country.
We suppose this comes back to that question of whether Test cricket should be about identifying the best team or the best squad. Part of us is fine with modern cricket being about having a great stack of bowlers to pick from. It’s a decent measure of a nation’s strength and it’s the same for everyone. However, another part of us thinks it should be about trying to put together a McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and Warne or a Roberts, Holding, Croft and Garner.
Those sorts of attacks test the best batsmen in a way that ‘the best options currently available considering we’ve got half an eye on the next match as well’ don’t and it therefore feels like something is missing from the game at the top level as a consequence.
We’ve something else to say arising from Chappell’s interview, but we’ll save that for tomorrow. That’s right, it’s a double-update weekend. Whatever next?8 Appeals
That’s the big news for the Australians today. Moises Henriques might well turn into the next Jacques Kallis or the next Imran Khan, but at present there’s a vague scent of bits and the distinct whiff of pieces in the air.
Henriques is one of the better Test players born in Portugal. Indeed, we could argue that he has already outperformed Dick Westcott in order to be considered the absolute best. However, he has made one first-class hundred in his career and is yet to bowl at Test level. We’re not quite sure what he brings to the team, other than a bit of a breather for Shane Watson.
From India’s perspective, R Ashwin put Australia on the ropes and then invited someone – anyone – to land the killer blow. His team-mates then just sort of shuffled about, looking at their feet before Ravindra Jadeja mustered an effete slap via another non-spinning clean-bowled. If anyone can deduce precisely what it is that persuades batsmen to play for the turn against him, please let us know.26 Appeals
Ricky Ponting’s signed for Surrey. He also got fined the other day for throwing his bat after being dismissed. Mindlessly throwing the bat is how one or two Surrey batsmen approach first-class cricket, so he should fit in well.
About this time last year, there were a stack of articles about how exciting everything was at Surrey, about how they had all this young talent and how the glory days were about to return.
If Surrey do have some sort of ‘vision’ it is one where they keep placing fivers on the table until good players snatch them up and come and play for them.
There’s nothing wrong with this approach – in fact there’s little point having the money if you aren’t going to do anything with it – but it does make talk of ‘building a side’ and ‘investing in youth’ sound just a little bit hollow.
Yes, Surrey doubtless are coaching their youngsters hoping that they’ll become future greats, but they simply don’t have as much vested in this process as other counties because over the last year or so they’ve imported:
- Graeme Smith
- Ricky Ponting
- Kevin Pietersen
- Vikram Solanki
- Steven Davies
- Gareth Batty
- Jon Lewis
- Gary Keedy
- Chris Tremlett
Every county imports a few players, but the above isn’t a million miles away from being some sort of county superteam. Even with nine players.16 Appeals
Most people seem to be saying ‘Joe Root is amazing’ but we’ll take it down a few notches from there. We’re still forming an opinion. There’s no rush.
The story so far seems to have followed this course:
- He looks an excellent stodgy blocker
- Wait, he can score quick runs
- Wow, he can do everything
Set against that, our thoughts have been:
- Hard to judge whether he can do more
- Looked like other players could have scored quicker
- He seems okay
Today’s 79 off 56 balls against New Zealand was more impressive than the last one-day innings which saw everyone waxing lyrical. On that previous occasion, there seemed to be too many missed reverse sweeps to our eyes. Even if he scored well overall, we saw someone who was maybe trying too hard.
Today’s innings was far less awkward and you’d bet that he’ll get stronger and start hitting safer sixes as well. Set against that is the fact that he was dropped twice, so it could have turned out quite differently. He’s far from flawless.
We’re just playing devil’s advocate here. If you look 15 and play like a 30-year-old, everyone loses perspective.14 Appeals
England Lions are in the process of playing (and losing) ‘unofficial ODIs’ against Australia A. Even though it’s of no consequence whatsoever, we aren’t happy with that label.
ODI stands for one-day international, but if two sides defined by their players being from particular countries play each other, is that necessarily an international match? We suppose it is, but to us the label ‘one-day international’ describes the top level of one-day cricket and nothing else.
This is kind of a joke anyway with few nations fielding their first choice team in any given ODI. Selectors tend to resort to the logic of saying that whichever players are picked, that by definition constitutes a ‘first choice XI’ because otherwise they would have picked someone else. Even so, at least there’s some pretence of selecting the best team, whereas Australia A and England Lions are, at best, second best.
As far as we’re concerned, England Lions and Australia A are playing plain old one-day matches. We don’t need to upgrade them to internationals and then downgrade them by labelling them ‘unofficial’.
There are so many things by which to be irritated in life, but sometimes it’s important to really latch onto the least consequential and least logical of those in order to distinguish yourself from everyone else.23 Appeals
That is a deeply unsatisfactory title and we’ll tell you why – fire and ice are not equal.
No matter how dangerous ice can be, fire is just fundamentally scarier. Talk about fire and it conjures images of blazing infernos. Talk about ice and you think of slipping over and bruising your coccyx.
For the purposes of this article, imagine fire and ice are equally intimidatory because what we’re trying to convey is that there’s more than one way to reprimand a cat (we’ve decided to update that idiom for a modern world which has greater respect for animals).
Test cricket is particularly absorbing when teams with contrasting approaches are pitted against each other. It’s partly a test of which team is the better, but it also allows us to scrutinise and evaluate different methodologies.
The South African approach is pretty obvious. Their fast bowlers exploit the new ball; their batsmen play sensibly. This is an incredibly effective gameplan in their home conditions, but in the second Test against Pakistan, we are seeing it pitted against something rather different.
The Pakistan approach is far less reliant on the new ball. Their most threatening bowlers are spinners, but on top of that their fast bowlers are generally more adept at reverse swing than the conventional kind.
This Pakistani approach to bowling alters the rhythm of the match and the South African innings will doubtless follow a different pattern to Pakistan’s. They may well end up 338 all out as well, but they’ll have arrived at that destination via different roads.
Or perhaps they’ll score far more than 338. Fire melts ice, after all.26 Appeals
For a man with 21 Test hundreds and an average of over 50 who’s also been involved in his fair share of drama, Younus Khan can be surprisingly low profile. That said, your singy, shouty ‘look at me’ types tend to lack inner steel. Younus is far too busy getting the job done to bother with fripperies like talking or showing any kind of emotion whatsoever.
People often talk about how much they like a certain cricketer ‘because he always plays with a smile on his face’.
If you’re supporting a team, it’s actually very reassuring to see that somebody’s taking the job really bloody seriously indeed. We don’t want to see a batsman aiming a wild swish at a wide one and then grinning sheepishly. We want to see him leaving it alone while sporting a face like thunder. Younus Khan delivers in that regard.
He’s also turned a potentially dull South African cakewalk into a Test match and for that he and Asad Shafiq should be thanked. At 33-4, it seemed like a simultaneously spectacular and yawnsome rehash of the first Test, in which Pakistan were bowled out for 49. Instead, we have a cricket match which will hold the interest for a good while yet. Their stand of 219 should also be viewed in light of the fact that when they came together, a repeat humiliation seemed not just likely, but probable.10 Appeals