Michael Clarke concluded early on in his tenure that his man management of Mitchell Johnson would involve unconditional love, no matter what the tufty-haired purveyor of left-arm ineptitude did with the ball.
Johnson hasn’t taken many wickets recently, but Clarke’s been steadfast in his support. Someone should tell him he can give it a rest now.
Johnson is expected to have surgery on his left big toe this week and is likely to be out of action for about five months.
Seemingly engaging ‘mindless support mode’, Clarke said:
“I think it could have a good impact on him. It will give him more time away from the game to clear his head and get himself fit and strong.”
For once, we’ve got some sympathy for Johnson, because the poor sod’s already at a low ebb and is now going to miss basically a whole season. However, the idea that sitting on his arse with his foot in the air for half a year will somehow improve him as a bowler isn’t all that convincing.
There’s little point criticising the 2012 county cricket fixture list. They’d made a report saying how they might change it before it had even been released. That said, we still find the Twenty20 Cup schedule bizarre.
They play every day for a month. Then they play quarter finals two-and-a-half weeks later. Then they play the semi-finals and final another month after that.
For a sport so besotted with momentum, they sure know how to screen its calls and forget its birthday.
Should we take it badly if someone says, “This is the ONLY article that I dont read on Page 2” about our work?
Hard to say, isn’t it? If they haven’t read it, they can’t really evaluate the quality. Or maybe they’re saying that they take in the article in some other way. Maybe they print it off and then eat it.
If you’d like to read or eat our latest Cricinfo piece, you can find it here.
It was a glorious and gleefully shambolic finish to the third Test between India and West Indies. West Indies were one wicket away from a tie, India one run away from a win. R Ashwin was run out going for what would have been the winning run and the match ended in a draw – but the Windies had chances in those closing overs too.
Our initial thought was that it would be boring if we repeated ourself about how a close Test match is generally superior to a close one-day or Twenty20 match. But then we thought, no, to hell with you. We’re incredibly boring in real life and we repeat ourself constantly. It’s our website and if we want to be as repetitive as the snatch of music on a DVD title menu, that’s our decision.
The closing overs of a Test match that’s in the balance
As a child, we loved Lego. We would spend five hours making an elaborate Lego spaceship the like of which had never been seen before. Sometimes, in attempting to secure an awkward piece towards the end of the construction process, we would inadvertently explode the whole damn thing. When this happened, we would make a sound.
The sound started low and quiet, slowly rose in both pitch and volume and culminated in an angry shriek. It was pretty foul. Anyone who heard that sound would have instantly known the emotion behind it. It was borne of the profound frustration you can only feel when you’ve spent bloody ages on something and then made a balls of it at the end.
Where are you going with this?
If there was Lego crumblage in the first few minutes of construction, we didn’t make the sound. Quite simply, you have to have invested time and effort in something in order to feel that level of emotion.
It doesn’t have to be a negative emotion. You’ll generally feel more pride over something you’ve slaved over than something you knocked up in five minutes.
The point is that having made an investment, you care more about the outcome. That is why a close Test match finish feels so electrifying to those who have followed proceedings from day one.
We like R Ashwin. He seems… keen.
He’s talented too, but talented players are ten-a-penny. Who cares about them? No, what we like is a stony face when someone runs in to bowl; a face that says: ‘Shut up, I’m working. No, seriously, stop it. I’m trying to concentrate. I’ve got to get this finished otherwise I won’t be able to leave on time and I hate – absolutely HATE – staying late’ – that kind of face.
R Ashwin has replaced Harbhajan Singh in the side. We wouldn’t say Harbhajan became complacent exactly, but he did start to cling to his own record and past reputation a little too tightly.
Speaking to us in a fictional interview, Harbhajan reacted to Ashwin’s hundred and five-for against the Windies in Mumbai by saying:
“Obviously, as a senior player, I’m delighted for him. It’s great to see that I’ve mentored these youngsters so well and if they ever want more advice, they know they can count on me as a senior player.
“His performance in this match brings to mind my own in Cape Town earlier in the year. As a senior player, I made a whirlwind 40 and took 7-195 on a pitch that was tougher for both batting and bowling than this one.
“Hopefully, one day, Ashwin will become a senior player and will replicate such astonishing feats. Also, while we’re on this subject, I think it’s important to emphasise that I’m a senior player.”
Home ground. Series won. You could be forgiven for wondering whether the Wankhede pitch has been tailored for one man’s benefit – one man and his legion of fans, that is.
We could say that placing so much emphasis on one man’s achievement is disrespectful towards the 21 marionettes who will also be gracing the pitch during this Test, but it’s also disrespectful towards the beneficiary. Devalue the run and you devalue run-making achievements too. Tendulkar is good enough to deserve better.
Besides, sport is about naturally occurring tales. Steer the narrative and you diminish the story. A 20-over run chase in a Test match is infinitely more alluring than that in a manipulated 20-over format. It has greater context.
Similarly, all Test hundreds should have context. Matches are played to see which team will win, not as run-scoring exercises. Runs are a means to an end.
Or maybe it’s not deliberate. Maybe it’s just a crappy pitch.
There’s a danger of being too bloody sneering about high scores these days. We know we’re as guilty of this as anyone. It’s all too easy to blame the pitch, as if the humans standing on top of it play no part.
The Windies have batted like spanners for years, so it’s encouraging to see them keep India in the field for two full days of Test cricket, no matter what the conditions. Darren Bravo, in particular, has seemed pleasingly averse to shit-shot-seppuku and a few others, such as Kirk Edwards, have followed his lead. It’s all well and good playing with ‘Caribbean flair’, but quite often it’s actually a lot smarter to keep the ball on the deck.
West Indies cricket is fractious enough that this will probably all unravel in an acrimonious contract dispute, but for now there’s just a little bit of solidity about this team and we welcome it.
We’ve got behind Australia to a quite sickening degree in recent days. We’ve intimated that South African defeats can be enjoyable and we’ve sympathised – SYMPATHISED – with Australians when they weren’t able to win a Test series after one little catastrophe.
Well enough of that. Let’s get back to the catastrophe. Not content with writing about it here and basing an entire weekly newsletter on it for The Cricketer, we’ve also written about the 47 all out for Cricinfo.
Australian defeats, South African defeats, brilliant fast bowling, feisty batting, 47 all out and everyone feeling profoundly irritated at being massively short-changed by there only being two matches – this was the perfect Test series.
It was better than anything. It was better than turning up at a restaurant and only being allowed to have a starter. “Lamb shanks? Get out. You’ve already had four scallops, you greedy bastard.”
It was better than going to the pub at 7pm and only having time to get one round in before they inexplicably close. “Quarter past seven, mate. I’m not hanging round here to pull you pints all night. What do you think I am?”
It was better than going to a theme park and sitting on a rollercoaster on the initial steep climb only to find there is no more track and so having to get off and walk back down again.
It was better than reading the first 42 pages of a brilliant book only to find that they’ve recycled the rest of the paper to manufacture the junk mail that you threw away that morning.
It was better than being sliced open for much-needed surgery and then being totally neglected and left to bleed to death.
The fifth day of a Test can be dreadful. It can also be the best thing ever. When you get the right ingredients, it’s rich and intoxicating, like a creamy mustard sauce laced with smack.
The second (and final) Test between South Africa and Australia is set up perfectly. South Africa could win or Australia could win. Nor is a draw out of the equation and that’s a good thing. People talk about wanting a result, but a draw is a result and that extra layer of complexity is one more thing that affects the way in which play develops. The changing tones of the action are what make cricket what it is.
Then there are the subplots. The most significant is that of old man Ponting. The crease-faced munchkin is being written off because he’s not been getting into double figures of late, but the man’s always looked gash early on. He managed to get up and running yesterday and if he does so again, it’ll be fascinating to see how he does.
Follow today’s play in person, on TV, on the radio or via the internet. It will be better than whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing by some margin.