Thursday, February 27, 2003

World Cup Update

Two games today. Firstly, Australia versus Namibia. This was expected to be one sided, and it was. Australia fiddled with their batting order a bit to give Bevan (who hadn't yet had a bat in the tournament) and Symonds (who hadn't had a bat since his marvellous century against Pakistan in the first game) some time in the middle. Australia got off to a quick start with a good innings from Hayden. Bevan didn't do that much, scoring only 17, but Symonds scored a decent 59. Australia had a minor stumble to go to 6/231 after 42.5 overs, at which time it looked like they would score 260-270. However, Lehamann and Hogg put on a splendid 70 off the last 7 overs to take the score to 6/301 off the 50 overs.

In reply, Australia's top fast bowler Glenn McGrath took seven wickets for 15 runs, the second best bowling figures in all one day internationals, and the best ever for Australia and the best ever in the World Cup. McGrath at one point had seven wickets out of eight to fall, and he could have ended up with nine, but Andy Bichel spoiled the party by taking the last two wickets. Namibia were bowled out for 45, and Australia won by 256 runs - a huge but probably not unexpected margin.

If there has been a weakness in the Australian side in the last few years, it is that they have had too long a tail. In a one day side, the optimum team has something like five specialist batsmen, a wicket keeper batsmen, two or three all rounders who can both bat and bowl a reliable ten overs, and three or two specialist bowlers. Australia have had great difficulty finding suitable all rounders, and have usually played four specialist bowlers in recent years. This can mean trouble if the top order batsmen don't score many runs. Australia have tried a lot of players to try and fill the all rounder position: Symonds, Harvey, Watson, and a few more, but have never succeeded. Until now, when Brad Hogg has somewhat unexpectedly but very welcomely filled the role.

Brad Hogg played one test and half a dozen one day internationals for Australia in 1996 as a left arm spin bowler, took one wicket for 69 in the test, and looked out of his depth to most people. During the years since, he has been occasionally mentioned as an example of a bad test selection. Not many people expected to see him play for Australia again. However, after steadily improving domestic performances in the last couple of years, he was brought back into the Australian side as a replacement for the injured Shane Warne this January. Since then he has prospered in the team, taken 19 wickets in 10 matches, made the World Cup squad, and with Shane Warne's suspension is suddenly the number one spinner in the one day team. He hasn't been called on to bat very much, but when he has, he has revealed himself to be a much better batsmen than anyone realised, scoring 118 runs in four innings for only once out, including a match winning 71 not out in the second VB series final in Melbourne. He was not groomed for the all rounder role, but has simply filled it extremely well when called upon. He only scored 19 not out today, but provided great support for Lehmann and continued his good performances. His last couple of months have been absolutely a top effort. I don't know if we will ever see Hogg in the test side again, but it looks like he will play many more one day internationals.

In the second match, South Africa played Canada. South Africa lost some wickets early and at one point were 3/23. However, thanks mostly to 80 from Dippenaar, they managed to take their score to 8/254 off 50 overs, an adequate score, but not all that impressive given the humble status of the opposition. In reply, Canada quickly lost wickets early, including Davison and Billcliff, their two quick scoring batsmen. After this, Canada were content to merely survive the 50 overs, which they did by batting slowly through the innings, ending up with 5/136 for a South African win by 118 runs. Maraj scored a Gavaskar like 53 off the full 50 overs. Unlike Australia, South Africa appeared to lack the bowling firepower to get the batsmen of one of the lesser sides all out.

What can I say. South Africa were lackluster. I have been saying all tournament that the South Africans will not win it. I see nothing to make me change my mind now. Australia look good, but the question is whether they can keep up this form for the whole length of the tournament, which is quite a bit to ask. Of the other sides, at the moment India look the best.

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