Ordinarily we don’t report on injuries – and not just because we don’t report on anything in any meaningful sense. However, Ryan McLaren’s rattled brain is more significant in that it will shine a light on the impact Mitchell Johnson has had on the South Africans.
We’re not talking about the physical impact. McLaren has mild concussion after unwittingly nodding a bouncer into the back of some imaginary net, so the physical impact is obvious. We’re talking about the impact Johnson has had on the home team’s approach.
“We feel we need to strengthen the…”
McLaren’s selection gave South Africa a fourth seam bowler and a middling batsman. In a sense, he gave them neither one thing nor the other – although that’s harsh because he’s a good, if unremarkable player. However, in replacing him, they will need to choose which side to land when dropping down off the fence.
Option one is to go for Wayne Parnell. Parnell’s being talked up as an all-rounder these days, but he’s the kind of all-rounder who’s good for a few on a flat one-day pitch. In short, he’s exactly the sort of all-rounder who’s an out-and-out bowler when Mitchell Johnson’s involved. However, it’s being reported that he’s been bowling at over 150km/h (93mph) this season, so he’d give them something with the ball.
Option two would be to pick another batsman. South Africa have long had a reputation for reverting to conservatism when threatened, shortening their tail however they can. This has seemed unfair in recent years when Imran Tahir has been given a fair few matches when he could long ago have been discarded for being a liability. But with the pressure on, will they revert to type?
We’re not saying that either option is the right one because, on the evidence of the first Test, there is no right answer. It’ll just be interesting to see how South Africa go about putting together their jigsaw now that they’ve accepted that the big Kallis-shaped piece won’t ever be recovered from down the back of the sofa.18 Appeals
Brendon McCullum is a positive person; the kind of irritating, upbeat character who can’t understand everyone else’s entirely logical can’t-do attitude to things. When he was joined at the crease by BJ Watling in the second Test against India on day three, he’ll have thought: ‘Okay, if we can just put on 352 runs for this wicket, we’ll be in with a shout.’
So he and BJ promptly put on 352 runs for the sixth wicket. When the two came together, New Zealand were 94-5 and 152 runs away from making India back again. 123 overs later, when Watling was finally dismissed, they were 200 ahead. At this point, McCullum thought to himself: ‘Okay, if we can just put on at least 125 runs for this wicket…’32 Appeals
That’s a reference to his name cropping up in talk of IPL match fixing and the fact that he’s won 12 international tosses in a row, including all of them on this tour of New Zealand (without yet winning a match). Top tossing, Mahendra. Top tossing.
Even if the perfect toss record continues, the winless streak might end, as India are in a very strong position after day one of the second Test. Ross Taylor’s missus has a lot ot answer for. He’s away for the birth of a new Taylor and New Zealand’s seemingly-resilient middle-order looked rather more wonky without him. Kane Williamson couldn’t even benefit from twice being dismissed off a no-ball.
As for the match-fixing thing, is anyone else surprised by how little coverage there’s been, even if things haven’t yet got past the question marks in headlines stage.15 Appeals
It’s not just England then. South Africa have been forcefully Johnsonned and are probably already considering reverting to a more conservative team for the second Test. Five bowlers is great when you’re top of the world and full of confidence, but let’s just see what happens now that they’re rattled.
But bring in a batsman and it’s over. The problem for South Africa wasn’t the sixth wicket partnership, it was that they were 43-4. Even Australia aren’t happy with that kind of batting score – and they’ve been winning from that position.
Vehement letter-C denier, AB de Villiers, has been the only man to show resistance thus far. He may have averaged almost 80 in 2013, but for how much longer is he going to keep wicket? We can’t see it lasting. Not sure why. We just can’t.11 Appeals
If there’s one thing Australia have been lacking, it’s dull, steady, three-an-over partnerships in the middle order. Today they got one and they look like a proper team again.
Even while gaily twerking atop England’s comatose body, there was a fragility about the Aussie Test team. How odd that they should give the impression of solidity through Shaun Marsh, the flakiest cricketer since… well, since Shane Watson, who he replaced.
Marsh is a true all-rounder when it comes to flakiness. Physically, he’s only ever one ill-advised blink away from a major muscle strain and behaviour-wise, he’s been known to partake of liquid refreshment. He once made reference to having a favourite vodka. Honestly, who has a favourite vodka?
Then there’s performance. It takes real commitment to the art of making a balls of things to maintain an average of 35 in first-class cricket when you’re also capable of looking as skilled as Shaun Marsh. At the age of 30, this is only his ninth first-class hundred. And just look at this run of Test scores. It’s demented. It’s top form or no form and no middle ground. Yet somehow this is the man who delivered much-needed easy-not-to-watch functionality.15 Appeals
“We’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“No, we’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“Not being funny, but actually, I think you’ll find we’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“Yeah, right, whatever. Have you even seen our fast bowlers?”
The build-up to what promises to be a fascinating Test series between South Africa and Australia has been a bit one-note and we haven’t really learnt much from it.
The Kallis-shaped, Kallis-sized hole
How did South Africa become the top-ranked Test side? They scored plenty of runs and they fielded four cracking seam bowlers as well as a spinner. Very few sides can manage this because very few sides can field a guy who averages eight runs more than Kevin Pietersen with the bat and who also happens to be a darn handy pace bowler in his spare time.
Of course Jacques Kallis is irreplaceable, which must therefore beg the question: how exactly are you going to replace Jacques Kallis?
Wayne Parnell and Ryan McLaren seem the most likely beneficiaries, which means shedding around 30 runs an innings and gaining precisely what in terms of bowling? Not a lot when you’re talking about a fourth or fifth bowler.
This South Africa side is not what it was.
Long handle deployment
Complete these two sequences:
- Steyn, Philander, Morkel…
- Johnson, Harris, Siddle…
What comes next is the word ‘attack’. If the main threat comes from the seamers, how will the batsmen approach the spinners? Probably with a fairly wild look in their eyes, you’d think.
But that goes both ways. A handful of spin bowlers can dismiss batsmen intent on survival, but there are plenty more who can outfox a psychopath who’s lost all perspective.
Robin Peterson isn’t even his mum’s favourite spin bowler, but he thinks he might profit from being underestimated and he might well be right. Nathan Lyon’s in a similar position and, as has been pointed out, how might the Ashes have gone in England had he been selected from the start?
Okay, it probably warrants a mention. The one thing we would say about this is that while Mitchell Johnson’s on a six-month hot streak, Dale Steyn’s maintained a pretty decent temperature for many years. We’re not sure whether that’ll prove pertinent, but we have greater faith in the latter ‘turning up’ and then remaining ‘up’ once there.20 Appeals
Late season, I always try to take in a day of county cricket with my old friend, Charley “The Gent” Malloy. It helps us both to prepare for the inevitable winter withdrawal symptoms to come.
By 11am we were already tucking in to sesame bagels stuffed with honey roasted salmon, washed down with a perfumed Austrian Riesling, quite similar to the German jobbie we had enjoyed at Chester-le-Street.
“I did something very metrosexual the other week; about as metrosexual as it gets”, said Charley. “Can you guess what it was?”
I looked him up and down carefully. “Nothing to do with hair gel?” I stated, more than asked. “But was it something to do with clothes?”
“Listen carefully to what I said,” instructed Charley. “I DID something. Not wore something. But that’s more than enough clues. You have until one o’clock to guess what it was.”
The puzzle felt a bit light on clues, actually, but then Charley is like a TV quiz master without quiz structure. And without prizes.
Around 12:15, Charley said to me: “Any idea yet what my uber-metrosexual deed was, then?”
“Still, pondering, Charley, still pondering,” I said. “I’ve got until one o’clock anyway, so plenty of time to mull some more and possibly even watch some cricket just now.”
“You’ve got until 12:30,” said Charley. “That’s when lunch is being taken.”
“But you said one o’clock, Charley,” I protested. “I forgot that everything is half-an-hour earlier in September,” he replied.
Just shy of 12:30, I decided to distract Charley by changing the subject. “By the way, I saw your boy on the TV the other evening, right at the end of the Women’s Ashes T20 at Chelmsford. I’m certain it was him.” Charley smiled and said: “Yup, all three of us were there; the missus too. Well done. Had you worked it out all along then?”
“Worked it out? Oh…” I winked at Charley and secretly winked at myself.
“Taking the family to women’s cricket. It doesn’t get much more metrosexual than that, does it?” effused Charley. “Shame you spotted the boy on the TV – made my puzzle too easy for you.”
“I’m sure you’ll find something more challenging for next season, Charley,” I replied.6 Appeals
‘How about we put together a nice cosy environment where everyone goes along with everything Alastair says?’
Imagine we’re not talking about cricket for a second and put yourself in a position where someone’s just said that to you. How do you feel? Do you think that sounds like a good idea? Some bloke called Alastair? Does he know best?
As ever, there’s the fact that we DON’T KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL, but if you overlook that minor detail and read the words of yesterday’s ECB statement, that first paragraph feels like the subtext.
“We must invest in our captain Alastair Cook and we must support him in creating a culture in which we can be confident he will have the full support of all players, with everyone pulling in the same direction and able to trust each other.”
No. You earn support. You earn support by making good decisions. Did England lose because the captain didn’t have the full support of his team, or did the captain not have the full support of the team because they were losing?
People should be challenged. Leaders, in particular, need to be challenged – if only because they tend to be the kinds of people who think they know best. The kinds of people who see themselves as leaders are, by and large, less open to other opinions than your average sentient human.
We’ll be honest, our opinion is coloured by our own experiences, but we’ve been in enough work situations where someone has demanded loyalty to know that it is almost always a sign that they have lost control – usually because that person doesn’t really know what they’re doing.
The disappointing part is that we’d kind of warmed to Alastair Cook’s captaincy. Back when he was the anointed one, we were far from onside, but the more Shane Warne slagged him off, the more we thought he was doing plenty right. The on-field tactics were often a bit wobbly, but that’s the kind of thing you can pick up over time. The off-field stuff’s harder and Cook appeared to be keeping things together.
That view would now appear to be massively, massively wrong. A week or so ago, we really felt like this winter battering might have been the making of Cook. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but apparently it can also make you weaker and a little bit insecure.28 Appeals
Leading India by 301 runs after the first innings, New Zealand frittered away all but 40 of them in the second innings to ensure an unexpectedly exciting finish to the first Test. If you’re in an almost unassailable position and want to make things interesting for yourself, get bowled out for 105 and invite India to chase a target.
As we said on Friday, India will be tough opponents for England this summer. The fact that they’re losing masks how they’re losing. They’re losing with grit and running good teams very close where once they were just sort of having a bit of a sit-down and waiting for matches to end. They’re genuinely rebuilding rather than just using that word as a meaningless excuse for being beaten.
New Zealand are more building than rebuilding. You could say that they’re exploiting India while they’re in a state of flux, but we suspect there’s more to it than that. They have a middle-order and a well organised seam attack, although they could still do with some reliable opening batsmen.
Another weakness is that they’re full of Trents, Coreys and Kanes. In an ideal world, all Kiwi cricketers would be called Chris, Martin or both.8 Appeals
Well that was easily the tensest sporting moment of the last 20 years. Possibly ever. There he was, on 99, and Cricinfo refreshed several times with no change to his score. Surely this moment couldn’t be ripped away from us so cruelly? We were absolutely on tenterhooks.
But huzzah! After the next refresh, his score did change and Mominul Haque has another Test hundred. They’ll be dancing in the streets of Cox’s Bazar tonight. There’d be dancing here too if it weren’t for the fact that we don’t dance and wouldn’t dream of celebrating anything in such a ridiculous way, let alone the achievements of a 22-year-old Bangladeshi batsman whose career we’re following largely because we think his name sounds kind of funny.
Mominul is currently batting with Shakib al Hasan who newer readers may not know we’ve been following since 2006. That should probably be considered a warning that Mominul coverage is unlikely to die down any time soon.7 Appeals