Poor New Zealand. In recent times, they have slowly been putting together a solid side. Since losing to England last year, they have drawn one Test series and won three. They have one of the more promising seam attacks around and have even found a few batsmen. Now they find themselves up against a happy, determined, organised, well prepared, in-form Pakistan.
What are the chances?
Do stars align? We’ve never really understood that saying and not solely because we fail to see the link between the relative positions of celestial bodies and events on Earth. Does it literally mean some stars appearing in a straight line? Why is that a good thing?
However rare an event star alignment is, Pakistan’s current status is rarer still. It’s like all the planets and stars – every last one of them – getting into a giant, intergalactic queue. It’ll never happen again and nor can it last.
At the time of writing, Pakistan are 347-1 and Brendon McCullum’s already had a bowl. New Zealand are really up against it and they haven’t even caught sight of Younus Khan yet.16 Appeals
Sorry, we know content’s been a bit thin on the ground this week. Our nickname in one job was ‘Bare Minimum’ and we seem to have been harking back to those days.
Michael Clarke earlier this week: “We were hopeful that we learnt some lessons from our trip to India but it doesn’t look that way.”
Michael Clarke today: “I think we learnt a lot about the way we went about it in the UAE.”
To be continued…
Bangladesh v Zimbabwe
There’s always a suspicion that Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are Test nations in the same way that McDonald’s is a restaurant, but we’re always interested in the former’s progress or lack of.
Bangladesh won the first Test – a match even their coach, Dav Whatmore, said both teams seemed to be trying to lose. The second Test has seen a stronger performance. A big first innings total, a good lead, a declaration (just) and then skittleage. Our man Shakib Al Hasan hit 137, took 5-80 in Zimbabwe’s first innings and currently has 4-35 in the second.
Kemar Roach round-up
Technically, the piece we do for Cricinfo is supposed to involve other cricketers who are on Twitter, but Roach is just such a character.
The tweet below was supposed to appear in this week’s round-up but doesn’t seem to show up.
Stay In The Background Or You Will Become A Target!
— Kemar AJ Roach (@KemarAJR) October 26, 2014
Obviously you could live without that, but we thought we’d present it here for you all to get an even better sense of the man.17 Appeals
It may feel like Australia lost the series against Pakistan 4-0, but actually it was only two. No matter how you play, you can’t lose more than two matches when you only play two.
This has allowed Michael Clarke to somewhat disingenuously plead that his captaincy shouldn’t be judged on the basis of two Tests. People will be quick to draw his attention to last year’s 4-0 defeat to India, which is perhaps what he wants as such talk distracts from his batting form.
The truth is that Clarke’s got away with a 2-0 defeat. He can pretend that Australia might have bounced back were they playing a third Test, but history tends to suggest that learning is more than outweighed by the negative effects of reacting whenever Australia start losing.
“We’re learning,” they say. “Look!”
But changing isn’t the same as improving.
The captain’s view
Ricky Ponting’s main redeeming feature as a captain was that he was plain-speaking. He always erred on the side of blunt honesty and had an unusual predilection for answering the questions asked of him.
But there is quite some distance between being open and honest as an international cricket captain and being open and honest as a columnist. The former is like being the least annoying daytime Radio 1 DJ. You’re the least bad of a group that’s pretty much defined by one negative characteristic.
It is therefore no surprise to see that Ponting’s first column for Cricinfo is fairly banal. He still knows those involved, so his criticism is qualified and weak. You have to read between the lines a bit and magnify some of what he’s saying to interpret his true meaning.
When Ponting says that “a lot of what I saw was a bit frenetic, a bit fast,” then maybe – just maybe – he’s talking about Australia’s number three reverse sweeping his way to 37 off 28 balls in a match in which the opposition’s just posted 570-6 with one guy making a double hundred.
Glenn Maxwell at three – but what would have been next?
The selection of Glenn Maxwell to bat at number three might rank as one of the greatest cricketing decisions of all time. In this context, we’re using ‘greatest’ to mean ‘inexplicable and hilarious’.
But all we can think about is what might have happened next.
If this series had run on, who knows where Australia might have ended up. If you’re picking Maxwell at three by the second Test, what do you do when you’ve lost four on the bounce? The team physio, Alex Kontouris, must have harboured serious hopes of opening the bowling if there had been such a match.
Playing a five Test series when all you can do is lose is like being asked to build an elaborate timber framed home when the only tools you’ve got are a spoon and a spatula. It’s a painful, humiliating farce, but every day you have to turn up for work and do your best and then explain your progress to the client afterwards.
If you ever have to go through this, the after-effects are huge. There’s no hiding place. You had ample opportunities to do a good job so if all you managed was abject failure, you have to answer for that. By slinking off after two Tests, the Australian team has minimised the damage.
The moral of the story
Your averages, captain, coaches and players can probably survive incompetence over a relatively short series, so if you’re going to be rubbish against someone, make sure it’s Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand or someone.21 Appeals
It’s a difficult gear change from second to 14th, but today Misbah-ul-Haq managed it. Doctor Deadbat transformed into Professor Pulverise and equalled Viv Richards’ record for the fastest-ever Test hundred off 56 balls.
For some batsmen, quick scoring is a numbers game. They play aggressively all the time and a handful of their innings come off. What’s far more impressive is when it’s a one-off. Misbah’s innings is pretty much the only fast-scoring attempt he’s ever attempted. Likewise the fifth-fastest Test hundred, Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s 69-ball effort also against Australia. That was another cracker. En route to his hundred, Misbah also took the record for the fastest Test fifty after going three better than Jacques Kallis’s 24-ball effort against Zimbabwe.
As much as we love Shahid Afridi, you can keep your Gilchrists and your Gayles. These are the innings we value. The inexplicable ones.
A major contributor to this innings was Steve Smith. As a bowler, Smith certainly has a golden arm (he dismissed Younus Khan in this innings). However, quite often that golden arm appears to be part of a golden robot who is employed as a waiter in a Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s not buffet bowling. It’s more accommodating than that. Fours and sixes are presented on a silver salver.
Misbah took 38 off 11 Smith deliveries today, but that isn’t intended to diminish his achievement. It’s just an observation. He still had to play the shots and those shots are certainly worth watching. Cricket Australia have thoughtfully uploaded a video of all the boundaries. Watch out for the straight sixes. They’re eerily similar to each other.17 Appeals
Because surely you are. Australia are 136-5 in reply to Pakistan’s 570-6 at the time of writing. Younis Khan is averaging over 200 in the series. Unless this current partnership really goes somewhere, that’s better than Australia’s top six combined.
But never mind unheralded Pakistani bowlers ripping through top Test teams. Time was, they had incredibly well-known bowlers who ripped through Test teams. Wasim Akram is our second King of Cricket for All Out Cricket.5 Appeals
Younus Khan’s just made his third Test hundred on the bounce. We mentioned that he was underrated after the first one. Let’s revisit that.
We all know Younus averages some way north of 50 and that he’s now made Test hundreds against every nation, but let’s dig a little deeper. Last time we mentioned that only 19 of his 93 Tests have been played truly at home and that hints at what’s so great about him. He’s adaptable.
The first of this trio of hundreds saw him construct non-scoring foundations for his innings. Since then, he’s become ever-more expansive. This third hundred came off 128 balls.
But it’s conditions as well. Not only has Younus scored a hundred against every Test-playing nation, he’s also scored one in every country bar Australia, where he’s only played three matches. Only in South Africa and the West Indies does he average less than 40 and only in the Windies does he average less than 30. There are always gaps and that’s some CV.
Midway through our Cricinfo piece about how Pakistan and Australia have prepared for this Test, we poked fun at Australia’s tendency to believe that their success is directly linked to how attacking they are. It was therefore quite amusing to see that they’d tweaked their team and brought Glenn Maxwell in to bat at number three.
Maybe it’ll work.
YouTube can make wasters of us all, but every now and again a long shift is justified when you catch a glimpse of what must rank as being one of the all-time great cricket banners.17 Appeals
Fans of inexplicable additional consonants in first names rejoiced today when it was announced that one of England’s former bowling coaches will be returning to the setup, albeit on a short-term basis.
No, it’s not Allan Donald – it’s Ottis Gibson.
Gibson may or may not have said:
“I was sitting at home, watching The Last Airbender, when someone with an English accent phoned and asked me if I wanted to spend three weeks in Potchefstroom telling 20-year-olds to put in the right areas. At first, I was completely irritated because I hadn’t pressed pause, but then I realised I could rewind.”
There are echoes here of the first time Gibson was asked to work with England. Back then, a telephone call caused him to miss vital scenes in Thunderpants and he subsequently struggled to follow the plot.
Regarding whether even more coaches are likely to come in, Peter Moores or someone may or may not have commented:
“If Kraigg Brathwaite needs a new job, all he has to do is get in touch.”
At least we think that’s what’s happened. As far as we can tell, Trott and a handful of others have signed for Yorkshire in time for the county’s tour to South Africa. Weirdly, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation why only seven of last year’s Championship-winning squad will be travelling. Maybe they’ve had a clear-out.
In what may be related news, Trott has also been passed mentally fit for England selection by the same ECB staff who let him train himself into a pit. If we’re reading today’s news correctly and he really has signed for Yorkshire, does that sound like the act of a man who is mentally fit? What kind of a person would willingly move to Yorkshire, even if only for a few years?
It could be that Trott is aiming to learn some superior vowel sounds. That is the only explanation we will accept. Kevin Pietersen once promised us that he would develop a ‘northern’ accent – whatever the hell that is – but he clearly didn’t, the lying shit.
We may have erroneously inferred the promise part of that promise, but if there’s one thing we’ve all learnt in the last month, it’s that you can take anything KP says and use it to reinforce whatever position you already hold. Our position was that he was looking to learn a better accent and we must therefore conclude that he reneged on that promise.16 Appeals
It can be hard to keep up with Pakistan’s playing staff. Mitchell Marsh gets a debut and great tracts of webspace are devoted to him, explaining what this decision means and why it’s such a monumental event. In contrast, Pakistan players ghost into the side and it’s only when they’ve become the top-ranked batsman or bowler in the world that anyone finally pays any attention to them.
For one reason or another, Pakistan’s bowling attack is particularly untested at the minute but they seem to be doing okay. Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah, the two spinners, were the architects of Australia’s downfall and it’s tempting to wonder whether we’ve just seen the first steps taken by a duo that will one day rank alongside Wasim and Waqar, Lillee and Thompson and Ambrose and Walsh.
Then you look at them and this clearly isn’t the case. Spring chickens they are not. Zulfiqar Babar in particular is an old stewing chicken. He looks like an Indian Railways employee on his Cricinfo profile page. In fact we’re pretty sure we once bought a ticket off him. We remember him repeatedly answering our question about whether the train stopped at a particular station with the Indian ‘maybe, maybe not’ head wobble. Apparently there’s a version of ‘yes’ which is quite similar to that movement, but to Western eyes it was a decidedly unhelpful response. Yasir Shah is at least wearing cricket gear in his picture, but he could still pass for a ticket inspector.
As for Australia, where do they stand after this heavy defeat? We didn’t see the match, but apparently Alex Doolan looked out of his depth, while Mitchell Marsh is never a number six batsman. The two spinners were also strikingly ineffectual on what was clearly a turning pitch. You could perhaps defend Steve O’Keefe by saying it was his debut, but that rings a little hollow when Pakistan’s entire attack was pretty much new to Test cricket.
The whole Australia team probably just needs to be a little bit more aggressive. That’s the answer. That’ll sort it.9 Appeals
Pakistan. Is there any sporting team in the world for which the link between sound preparation and performance is less meaningful?
Having lost what was arguably the best new ball attack of its time as a result of that spot fixing thing, Pakistan rebuilt their bowling around Saeed Ajmal. Being as he’s been banned for chucking, they have now been forced to field an attack where the four main bowlers boast eight Test matches between them.
Needless to say, they’re absolutely battering Australia.
Australia’s first innings 303 hinted that maybe the pitch was deteriorating. Pakistan’s second innings 286-2 rebuffed that. Pakistan’s batting has been dire for the last few years but it has just managed 700-odd runs for the loss of 12 wickets.
Younus Khan has spent most of the build-up to this series maintaining a gold standard strop about being dropped from the one-day side.
“Don’t select me, not even in Tests – I sacrifice my future,” he said a couple of weeks ago. Today he scored his second hundred of the match.
Australia are currently 59-4 chasing 438 and will almost certainly win.32 Appeals