If there is a point to Shahid Afridi – and really, his genius is all about absolute commitment to joyous, unfocused, futile pointlessness – then it is that he should mishit sixes to win matches. That is what happened today.
India and Pakistan have much in common, but they also have their differences – you may even have heard about this. In cricket, the most striking difference is in their respective ‘finishers’.
For India, Mahendra Singh Dhoni typically fills this role. Dhoni is one of the finest one-day batsmen of all time and utterly, utterly reliable. In 214 innings, he appears to have learnt everything there is to know about closing out a 50-over innings and he’s so cool that anyone else on the field of play is at risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Pakistan field Shahid Afridi at seven. Afridi is basically one last roll of the dice. These dice have just one side that doesn’t say ‘wicket’ and it says ‘six’. In approach, he is as cool as the fires of Hell and in 348 one-day innings, he has learnt precisely nothing. If anything, he has shed knowledge. Certainly, his first innings remains his best.
“The captain told me to take my time and I did that.”
He hit 34 off 18 balls.8 Appeals
Nobody’s happy about that fact, but we might as well get used to it because when he shuts that toolish mouth and plays cricket, he can score some runs.
One thing we really like about this Australian team is that it’s a lesson to everyone on the importance of having diversity within your team. Australian wickets tend to herald change, whereas an incoming England batsman is typically ‘much like the last guy, only more so’.
You need to mix things up. If blocking and leaving isn’t a valid strategy, England tend to gradually move towards ‘really, really blocking and leaving’. In contrast, Australia have one opener trying to split the leather every chance he gets and another who basically just likes standing at the non-striker’s end.
Sometimes obduracy is the better approach. Sometimes giddy pummelling is the way to go. Australia’s opening partnership is almost like a fact-finding mission, allowing the rest of the team to gather information on how they should approach things. Whichever opener’s out first, do the opposite.
The perfect team
Good sides are rarely one-dimensional. That goes for batting and bowling. The perfect cricket team would be a sickly mélange of top chaps and bell ends of all shapes and sizes, boasting a troubling array of mental health problems and physical abnormalities. It would be like a cross between the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons and my local pub on days when a herd of idiots decide to stop in after the football.14 Appeals
We wish they’d warned us. We hate change. We have to prepare for it properly. We needed at least eight weeks’ notice to come to terms with something like this.
Look at it!
The main bit’s slightly off to the left!
We’re used to the main bit being in the middle. Now our eyes are in slightly the wrong place when the page loads and we have to move them. THIS WASTES TIME.
Plus there’s extra information. Why does everyone always assume you want extra information these days? We don’t want to see big facts or tweets from well-known cricketers. We want to see cricketers’ names with numbers next to them. That’s what we like: cricketers’ names and numbers. That’s what cricket’s all about.
This is almost as bad as when they started putting videos that automatically play at the top of just about every single article. Videos are not the future. Videos take ages because you can’t scan them in four seconds, ignoring all the boring bits. Plus, if you open 14 articles in different tabs, you have to play ‘hunt the video’ when you should be scanning/ignoring the first article.22 Appeals
It’s been suggested that this could be Ryan Harris’s last Test. He’s scheduled to have a load of loose knobbles and flakes of bone dug out of his crappy knee shortly after it finishes. Although he’s then got seven months or so to recuperate before Australia’s next Test, he hasn’t actually got many opportunities to prove his form and fitness. The Australian cricket team might move on.
Dennis Lillee, angling for an improved contract with Cricket Australia, is currently talking up the younger bowlers (and therefore himself), but that talk doesn’t actually equate to wickets. We’ve been here before. Australia have had plenty of promising bowlers for quite some time now, but there’s a gap between being capable of performing in Tests and doing so consistently.
We’re not saying Lillee’s bag o’ bairns are bad bowlers or that they won’t become top Test bowlers one day. We’re just saying that it’s wrong to be blasé about the potential loss of a bowler like Harris, acting like you’ve got readymade replacements and it’s no big deal.
Ryan Harris is currently on 96 Test wickets, incidentally.8 Appeals
Ahead of the third Test between South Africa and Australia, Hashim Amla has said:
“There’s a lot riding on the last Test and fortunately we’ve got a bit of momentum.”
Let’s very quickly examine how ‘momentum‘ has influenced the series thus far.
Australia won the first Test and thus gained momentum. They then lost the second Test. South Africa lost the first Test, but won the second despite not having momentum.
So basically ‘momentum’ has had precisely zero impact on performances and results thus far.15 Appeals
It was like they were running late, had got onto the motorway heading in the wrong direction and had to race to the next exit so that they could turn round and race back again. Batsman One made 107, Batsman Two made 66 and then the next highest score was six.
That big opening partnership built the tension and then, for the rest of the day, it was released one spurt at a time until the stores were dry. It was glorious stuff all round and crammed full of the oddities that make Test cricket so great.
David Warner’s dismissal led to a prolonged spell of braking while Alex Doolan was at the crease and then the U-turn came when the ball started reverse swinging. We got Dale Steyn’s red-faced fist pumping celebration four times after a prolonged Waqar Younis impression with the old ball. Umpire Dharmasena inadvertently revving his celebrations up further on one occasion by delaying the finger raise.
We got Chris Rogers munting a magnificent hundred before being run out – the third umpire taking several minutes to determine whether the bails were out of their groove or not. What other sport even has something like ‘the bails being out of their groove’?
Shaun Marsh had lasted two balls in the first innings. In the second, he halved his stay at the crease. Then Brad Haddin recreated his first innings dismissal exactly. Haddin knows precisely where his off stump is. If someone can now inform him that the middle stump is immediately inside it, he’ll be fine.
Towards the end, we got Graeme Smith saying “It’s another warm-up if you don’t oblige,” to Nathan Lyon when South Africa needed one wicket to win – alluding to the fact that there could still have been a fifth day of this match. Fortunately for everyone, Nathan Lyon did oblige and then we even got bathos as relentlessly high quality cricket made way for a Dean Elgar lbw to finish things. Needless to say, Lyon had got an edge on it.
The score had been 141-1 at tea.
Sometimes they say of a match that ‘it had everything’. But you can never have everything in a Test match. There are simply too many things to have. However, this one had a nice selection.9 Appeals
No, he did. One of the three deliveries he faced in this Test match didn’t see the fall of his wicket. He really hung around.
When Shaun Marsh was brought back into the Test side, we wrote:
“Whether you think he’s good or not largely depends on whether you consider ‘his best’ to be the norm or an occasional aberrative state.”
Sometimes it’s nice when someone defies your expectations, but there are also occasions when all you want is for someone to carry on exactly as they have been doing. For example, it was impressive to see Hugh Laurie somehow become an American leading man in House, whereas if something’s got Matt Berry in it, you pretty much know what you want from him.
We’ve highlighted this before, but it’s worth linking to Shaun Marsh’s Test scores again in light of recent performances. Six ducks and two 140-plus scores in 15 innings. Majestic stuff.12 Appeals
We’ve not actually seen it yet, but we’re hearing great things about Quinton de Kock’s dismissal; that maybe it was the stupidest in a winter which has seen its fair share of stupid dismissals. It’s surely no coincidence that Steve Smith was the bowler.
Much is made of the fact that Steve Smith makes the most of his occasionally freakish batting technique. He also makes the most of what he has as a bowler.
Here is a list of Steve Smith’s bowling attributes:
- Quite bad bowling
- An annoying face
- A stupid, double-elbowed chicken dance action
The combination of these things appears to incense batsmen into rash behaviour. Many players seem intent on hitting Smith out of the attack just so that they don’t have to look at him any more. Then they flat-bat a full toss to midwicket.15 Appeals
Cricinfo are making reference to ‘toss drama’ but don’t be misled. The second Test between South Africa and Australia demands your attention in a relentless, whinging, shirt-tugging way. We briefly wondered why we hadn’t really latched onto the Under-19 World Cup or why we didn’t feel moved to write anything about Ireland’s victory over the West Indies, but the answer’s obvious. It’s this.
The South African team
- Alviro Peterson OUT – Dean Elgar IN
- Ryan McLaren OUT – Quinton de Kock IN
- Robin Peterson OUT – Wayne Parnell IN
It’s also worth noting that Quinton de Kock, a wicketkeeper, will not be keeping wicket. AB de Villiers – who isn’t really a wicketkeeper – will retain the gloves. They’re his gloves. Stop looking at his gloves. Get your own gloves.
The South African scorecard
In the time it took us to write that last section, South Africa lost two wickets. We’re going to come up with a terrible headline and click publish now so that there’s somewhere relevant to leave comments for the rest of the day.
Update: Dean Elgar wasn’t out by the time we clicked ‘publish’, opening up the possibility that this headline could appear less and less appropriate as the day wears on. Remember kids, don’t headline articles in haste. It could come back to haunt you, like a low-key ghost which is faintly irritating without being in any way scary.32 Appeals
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