Michael Clarke and Ian Bell. Two munchkin-faced, thimble-sized men who’ve made knowledgeable cricket folk go all quivery with their batsmanship. They’re much the same age and apparently both have “natural talent” instead of a skeleton.
However, one’s dithering along the same as he always has done, while the other’s a cussed run machine. No prizes for guessing which one’s which – not because it’s easy, but because we never have prizes.
Michael Clarke’s career can be neatly split in two. His first 22 matches defines a period of Ian Bell ditheration, where he played some blinding innings and got himself out a fair few times. In the next 22 matches, he averages 63.3.
Clarke’s not as much fun to watch any more and he’s turned into a bit of a holier-than-thou puritan, but you’d want him in the side. He’s now hit a hundred in each of his last seven series following the relatively sluggish 138 he made over the weekend.
Michael Clarke’s taken the same approach as Gautam Gambhir. He’s an attacking batsman who doesn’t feel he HAS to attack. Those are always the best batsmen. They’ve got range.16 Appeals
You’d be forgiven for thinking so with some of the things you read. The fact is Australia are still a feisty outfit and England in particular shouldn’t be fancying their chances against them too much. Australia may have slid a bit, but they’ll never implode. It’s not the Aussie way.
England will not be bowling at Matthew Hayden in the next Ashes series. They shouldn’t be grateful. They should be wary. Hayden’s been a walking wicket of late and had a pretty dire Ashes in 2005.
In contrast, Simon Katich has averaged 56 since returning to the side as an opener, hitting four hundreds in 12 matches. The man most likely to replace Hayden, Phil Jaques, will actually strengthen Australia’s batting. He averages 47 in Tests and, unlike Hayden, is on an upward curve.
England supporters might want to note the name Phil Hughes at this stage as well. 20 years old and with the priceless ability to score runs when no-one else can. You might as well save time and start hating him now.
It’s hard to guess Australia’s number six. You wouldn’t want to rely on either Andrew Symonds or Shane Watson turning up on any given day. If they go with a specialist batsman, they’ve a zillion to choose from.
He’s not Adam Gilchrist, but when did that become a crime? Brad Haddin is up there with the best wicketkeeper-batsmen in Test cricket already. Honestly, have a think about it. Who’s better? Dhoni? Sangakkara isn’t Sri Lanka’s wicketkeeper any more, you know.
Bowling averages over the last two years: Brett Lee – 25.82, Mitchell Johnson – 27.85, Stuart Clark – 27.52. It isn’t the best bowling attack that Australia have had, but it seems worse than it really is when you compare it to previous incarnations.
The attack seemed weak when Australia toured India last year as well, but none of those three bowlers had previously played at Test in India and India is traditionally branded ‘unforgiving’ for fast bowlers.
Johnson and Lee can both bat better than you think they can, as well.
We’re saying they’re not the worst team in the world. Even in cricket it’s not always possible to ‘take the positives’.
They also have a secret weapon – Pat Farhart.6 Appeals
The seeds of the fall-out were sown during a conversation between Peter Moores and Andrew Strauss. The pair were discussing manufactured pop bands and Moores branded Liberty X ‘derivative’ and ‘lacking in true vocal talent’. As Kevin Pietersen is married to ex-Liberty X chanteuse, Jessica Taylor, Strauss felt moved to tell him about the comment.
Pietersen took it badly, saying: “He’s so two-faced. If I’ve got a problem with someone, I tell them to their face. I don’t go around behind people’s backs like he’s done.”
The discord simmered with Pietersen making continual wisecracks about Moores being from Macclesfield, even though he no longer lives there. Many of the comments were childish, revolving around inbreeding and an unseemly love of the produce of Gregg’s the bakers.
Following a stressful tour of India, matters came to a head in the form of a huge stand-up row between the pair.
Pietersen said that Moores was boring everyone with his continual complaints about the fortnightly wheelie bin collections in Macclesfield. Moores countered by saying that a non-Maxonian couldn’t know what it was like; that previously the bins had been emptied weekly, but now families couldn’t fit all their rubbish in the bins and it was lying around rotting, attracting vermin.
Pietersen called the people of Macclesfield ‘idiots’, citing the increased capacity of the wheelie bin compared to the old style bin that it had replaced. Moores said Pietersen was an idiot, before rather unnecessarily adding that Liberty X’s ‘A Night To Remember’ was inferior to the Shalamar original.
The relationship has been strained ever since.14 Appeals
Doug Bollinger’s making his debut for Australia. How much effort is he going to put in?
“If I happen to play I’ll put 150,000 percent in.”
That’s the bare minimum these days. Remember when Damien Martyn retired because he could only muster a puny 100% dedication. That was a long time ago. Cricket’s moved on from then.
Matthew Hayden once claimed that Ricky Ponting had always been a thousand percent behind him during his career. In a comment on this site, David Barry pondered what it meant for Ponting to be a thousand percent behind Hayden while Hayden was a billion percent behind Ponting, as the latter had claimed in a separate quote.
In terms of effort, we generally just coast by on about 20-30%. In the mornings we can drop into single figures.11 Appeals
2007’s Lord Megachief of Gold was Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but who will be given the most exalted title in all of cricket for 2008?
Gautam Gambhir came of age as a Test batsman and averaged 70.87 during 2008. Graeme Smith did his things and averaged 72. Ajantha Mendis took his Test wickets at 18 and his one-day international wickets at 10. He also brought us the carrom ball.
Who will it be? Who will be crowned Lord Megachief of Gold 2008?
2008’s Lord Megachief of Gold is…17 Appeals
Graeme Smith’s things are hitting the bulk of the runs in a fourth innings chase and winning Test series.
There were no miracles from Australia’s bowlers, because the bowlers who could perform them are gone. South Africa chased down 183 for the loss of one wicket, won the match, won the series and perhaps even won the right to be considered the best side in the world.
Graeme Smith is a hard man. Our hero, Neil Manthorp, describes a captain who takes fitness tests when injured and if he fails, tears up the results and plays anyway. Smith seems to play the majority of his cricket with a broken finger or rib. His team are made in his image.
They play to win and they do what’s necessary. They’ve got stroke players like AB de Villiers and fast bowlers like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. They’ve also got Paul Harris who everyone says is shite, but who doesn’t give a toss and just gets on with the business of going for hardly any runs and letting the fast bowlers storm in.
They’ve also got Neil McKenzie, whose batting is so hypnotically unspectacular, it doesn’t just sedate the crowd, it impairs their motor skills as well. Graeme Smith wants these players in his side because he wants his side to win and he doesn’t much care how that happens.
The proof is in the texture and succulence of the biltong.19 Appeals
Ricky Ponting, eh? He’s not likeable, because of the face, the face and also the face. However, he is admirable as a batsman.
Look Ponting in the face and it’s tricky to know whether to sigh and hope he goes away or to start with the punching. Watch him bat and it’s all simpler. You just think to yourself: “Man, this guy can bat. Wish I could punch him in the face.”
While we’ve written before about how we think that several Australian batting averages have been inflated by the match situations that were created by their exceptional bowlers, we wouldn’t want to knock Ponting’s status as a batsman down more than a single rung. He’s extraordinarily good and it’s inappropriate that he’s often mentioned in the same breath as that gobshite, Hayden.
Ricky Ponting’s scored a hundred in India this year, when everyone thought that he suffered subcontinental spazzeritis. In this match, he helped pick Australia up after a dispiriting first Test loss by scoring 101. That should have been a vital innings.
His captaincy’s famously feeble and the more Australia slide, the more he’s under pressure. They’ve been making a bit of a bollocks of this match and as his batsmen struggled in the second innings, you could have forgiven Ponting for folding under the weight of it all.
But he didn’t. He top scored with 99, while the rest of the batsmen failed to get out of the twenties (runs that is – they weren’t smearing their hair into side partings and doing the Charleston).7 Appeals
Neil McKenzie did something. Tony Greig called him brave, Mark Nicholas branded him stupid. We’d like to add ‘mental’ to the equation as well.
Of course, Neil McKenzie is known to be a bit mental, but this was a different kind of mental. He took up a fielding position maybe two yards from the bat, almost directly in front, wearing no protection whatsoever.
Entirely predictably, Ricky Ponting drove the next ball straight into him. It was hard to gauge whether Ponting had middled it or not in the yard and a half that the ball travelled, but he definitely didn’t hold back. It was a full backlift, full follow-through kind of a drive.
In slow motion replays you can see McKenzie’s arm flesh doing a macabre disco dance at the point of impact. He grimaced as the shot was being played, but ensured he didn’t really make much of a fuss afterwards. You know why? It’s because he’s hard.
This kind of thing irritates us. We all know that it hurt like hell. We’ve all got nerves. We know how they work. Being hit by a hard driven cricket ball causes pain and pain hurts – that’s very much its defining feature.
McKenzie moved out of that fielding position immediately afterwards, so perhaps he’s not as brave, stupid or mental as he’d have us believe.4 Appeals
JP Duminy’s Test record is improving: one in his first innings, 50 not out in his second and 166 in his third.
The 166 kicks in the balls that he gave Australia’s bowlers were particularly useful as they helped produce 275 ball kicks for South Africa’s last three wickets. Those are some heavily kicked balls in that Aussie bowling attack.
It strikes us that South Africa are turning into the kind of side who you can never quite get on top of. You think you’re on top of them, then you look away for a moment and suddenly they’re standing above you calmly hefting a huge club with a nail in it while giving you a raised eyebrow look that says ‘our turn now’.
We’re also struck by the fact that Australia’s bowling attack only ever seems to have the feeblest, soapiest grip on the opposition these days.8 Appeals
Arch woodchopper cum fourth choice Australian quick, Peter Siddle, can whang the ball at speeds up to about 150kph, which is about 93mph in old money and officially makes him a fast bowler on the King Cricket scale.
In light of this, we now want to see all young English quick bowlers spending their time chopping wood rather than playing on Xbox 360s or ‘conditioning’ themselves. If you spend all your time in the gym, that’s what you’re fit for – lifting things up and putting them down again inside a gym.
Bowl some balls and chop some wood, you fin-haired jessies.8 Appeals