Saturday, March 15, 2003

Cricket Update

A few cricketing stories today, none of them terribly unexpected.

Firstly, Steve Waugh has declared himself available for the Australian tour of the West Indies after the World Cup. I didn't really expect anything else, but it is good to see, becase, as Scott Wickstein says, you don't want to blood a new captain on a West Indies tour. One theory seems to be that Waugh is still pissed off with the selectors for dropping him from the one day team, and he was therefore fucking with their minds. (This is like him). It has been suggested that he left off announcing anything because he was hoping to be selected as a replacement for the World Cup, and he didn't want to spoil any chance he had. (However, this argument only seems to make sense if he was planning to announce his retirement, as I would have thought that announcing he was available for that tour would have been good for his chances of being selected as a replacement for the World Cup. I suppose there is the theory that he was planning on retiring, but changed his mind due to his form for New South Wales being so good).

I suppose one should look at the issue of Steve Waugh's form. It was excellent until the 2001 Ashes series. In that series, he injured himself in the third test, missed the fourth, and then played in the fifth because he didn't want his last monent in test cricket in England to be limping off the field with a torn hamstring. So, instead, he played in the Fifth test despite clearly being unfit, through shear willpower hobbled his way to an unbeaten 150, and his last innings of test cricket in England concluded with him hobbling off the field to an enormous ovation. However, he aggravated the injury, got Deep Vein Thrombosis, and wasn't properly recovered by the start of the 2001-2 Australian season. His form that season was consequently bad, he lost the one day captaincy, and his batting form took about a year to recover, being good enough by the end of the recent domestic Ashes series to hold his place. It is only since then that he has really looked to be in his best form, and he probably thinks that he can play for a year or two more, score a few more centuries, get his average back up to that 50 mark that separates the good players from the great, and then retire at home. He will be under pressure to score runs in every series now, and might concevably lose his place after one bad series. He clearly wants to play in India in the second half of 2004. He may or may not make it, but one issue will become clearer as that series comes closer, which is that the timing of any captaincy change has to be got right. Between the West Indies series and the tour of India late next year, Australia play Bangladesh at home (a good time for a new captain), either two are three home series against some presently unconfirmed combination of India, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe (any of these would be good times) , and a tour of Sri Lanka (a bad time). When Steve Waugh was made captain, his first two series were away against the West Indies and Sri Lanka, and these tours did not go especially well (Australia drew with the WI and lost to Sri Lanka). I cannot imagine the ACB wants to make the same mistake again, but if they are not carefull and Steve Waugh loses form, they may find they have no choice. The best thing would be for Steve Waugh to simply get to the end of the India tour and retire. After that, Australia has a year of relatively easy cricket.

Secondly, New South Wales won the Pura Cup (formerly Sheffield Shield) for the first time in nine years. Steve Waugh's superb batting and captaincy for the second half of the season had a lot to do with this. Queensland were bowled out for 84 in the final, and it seemed just like old times. For much of the last 110 years, NSW have seen winning this almost as their right, so the last few years (in which they have finished last a number of occasions) have been painful. I cannot imagine that the players will be sober any time soon.

Thirdly, South Africa have sacked Shaun Pollock as captain. His captaincy in this tournament was so dreadful that it had to be done. Neophyte batsman Graeme Smith appears to have been appointed the replacement. Meanwhile Pollock has complained that he had much less power as captain than had been held by Hansie Cronje and Kepler Wessels. Another interpretation of his remark is simply that he had little support from behind the scenes. The betting scandal, the affirmative action issue, and lots of other less obvious things are mixed up in this, but South African cricket is clearly a shambles. I do not expect to see the South Africans win much in the next few years. Smith has just been handed a poisoned chalice, I think.

Fourthly the last two Super Six games of the World Cup took place. Sri Lanka needed to beat Zimbabwe to make the semi finals, and they did so with ease. A century from Atapattu and good support from the rest of the top order got Sri Lanka to 5/256 off their 50 overs. Zimbabwe were never in the hunt, being bowled out for 182. Andy Flower was second top scorer with 38 in his last game for Zimbabwe. Sri Lanka make the semi-finals, despite an inconsistent up and down tournament. Still, well done to them. Sri Lanka play Australia in Port Elizabeth on Tuesday.

In the other game, Australia played Kenya in a day/night match in Durban. The match started with Brett Lee producing one of his hot spells and taking a hat trick, the 17th in all one day internationals, the fourth in World Cups, the second in this World Cup, and the third by an Australian. Kenya fought back from this, and thanks to 46 from Shah, 51 from Tikolo, and 39 from Modi, plus some support from the tail, Kenya managed a reasonably respectable 8/174 off the 50 overs. This didn't look like any problem for the Australian, and they scored at 8 per over, getting to 1/98 off the first 11 overs, thanks to 6? from 4? balls. However, some good bowling by Karim reduced Australia to 5/117, and the Kenyans must have thought they had a little hope. However, Symonds and Harvey then stopped the rot and Australia got home with five wickets to spare off 31.2 overs. Australia were never in great danger, particularly since they had elevated a few players higher in the order than usual, and Martyn was yet to bat, but once again in this game Kenya demonstrated that they are always willing to fight. They have taken their chances and really have proved a lot in this tournament. Kenya now play India in the semi final in Durban on Thursday, another day/night game.

Frankly, Australia's middle order are a little bit of a worry. Of the openers, Gilchrist looks in great form, and Hayden looks on the brink of a big score. Ponting, Martyn, and Lehmann, however, have not got many runs lately. Against England, New Zealand, and now Kenya, the lower order have had to do the work. For Australia to win the tournament, these guys need to start scoring runs again.

On the positive side, the continued good form of Brett Lee remains encouraging. He is a player who can come in and win a game with one or two brilliant overs. We may need that.

No comments:

Blog Archive