Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Cricket update

Okay, we are now three days in to the second test between Australia and the West Indies at Port of Spain, Trinidad. I predicted a high scoring match, and that is what we have had so far.

Loosely, there are two ways of winning a game of test cricket. One way is to have extremely good bowlers that are capable of bowling out almost any opposition. Teams that have this sort of bowling are involved in very few matches that are drawn, and they generally win a lot, because getting a bowling attack like this together is relatively difficult. Occasionally two sides with bowling like this meat, and the results can be very unpredictable. Games can be very short, and tend to swing rapidly from one side to another, and the games in a series will generally be widely different from one another. Australia are normally such a side. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are this kind of bowler. The other bowlers (especially Gillespie and Lee) are effective, but not always on their own. They are much more useful when they have Warne or McGrath keeping things in control at the other end.

The other way of winning a cricket match is through what may be described as a battle of attrition. This is how you attempt to win if you don't have great bowlers. You hopefully bat first, you score a lot of runs, you then bowl tightly and try not to concede runs rapidly, and you make sure you field well and take your catches, and hopefully you can be ahead when the game is played out. Games played this way tend to go for the whole five days. Quite a few of them are drawn. The trick is to play a series like this without making mistakes or having batting collapses. It's about discipline. However, a team which plays this way is generally in trouble if it comes up with a team with great bowlers that plays the first way.

England in recent years have actually become pretty good at playing the second way. It was very effective against Sri Lanka and India during the last English summer (although they did lose one match to India). However, they went into a series against Australia at the end of last year trying to play the same way, and got thrashed, because they couldn't cope with Australia's better bowlers.

In the present match, Australia are without Warne and McGrath. Their choice was therefore to play as aggressively as always, and hope that Gillespie, Lee, and the other bowlers could step up their games. Or, they could play the game of attrition. This is not necessarily such a bad idea, because they have the resources to play that way very well. They have outstanding batsmen, their fielding is terrific and they have great discipline. The West Indies on the other hand have batting that is great at its best but incosistent, sloppy fielding, and very questionable discipline.

So, going into the match it was interesting to see what they were going to do. Australia batted first, and got off to a good start. Unfortunately, both openers Langer and Hayden (who needed some runs) were out early on day one, both to shocking LBW decisions. After that, however, Australia had no trouble batting at all. Ponting looked superb in scoring a double century, and while Lehmann's technique looked at time questionable, he scored a maiden test century, and kept going to score 160. Gilchrist had scored 101 not out when Steve Waugh called an end to it at 4/576. This was curious. The West Indian bowling was inadequate, and Australia could have scored 700, 800 or 900 if they wanted to. If you were playing a game of attrition you would have done that, so Steve Waugh seemed to have faith in his bowlers to get the West Indians out quickly. On the other hand, if he had been batting for a declaration, one would have thought he would have told his batsment to score runs faster leading up to it. My feeling was he was rather caught in two minds with respect to what to do.

The declaration looked well timed at first. Both openers were out cheaply thanks to good bowling from Lee and Gilchrist. However, after that, the West Indians dug in. Lara batted very well for 91, but was out just before stumps on day 2. Sarwan played well for a while, before being out for 26 just before lunch on day 3. Once again, the star was Gangu, who scored a fine 117, his second consecutive test century. It's just great to see a playing rise to the occasion the way he has in the last couple of matches. He looks like he now feels he belongs in the team. Later in the day, he was seen nonchalently signing autographs between overs while fielding on the boundary. His home crowd certainly enjoyed watching him.

The West Indies kept scoring runs and occasionally losing wickets. 68 from Samuels helped them to 408 all out, trailing by 168. Steve Waugh did not have the option of enforcing the follow on, and it is pretty clear that when he declared he thought the West Indies could be bowled out for less than that. Personally I think he should have waited for another 50-100 runs before declaring in the first innings. I think he was two aggressive given his reduced bowling resources.

In any event, Australia needed to score several hundred runs in the second innings before declaring and trying to bowl out the West Indies for not too much again. They may still do that, but their start yesterday evening was puzzling, to be honest. They weren't helped by the fact that Langer was given clearly incorrectly out lbw by umpire De Silva for the second time in the game. He didn't look happy, but he walked off. Australia then only scored 31 runs off 14 overs before the close. This was strange, because if they really wanted to bat towards a declation I would have expected more than that. The bowling was still inadequate, so it couldn't have been that hard. it was almost as if they were playing for a draw. Earlier in the game Steve Waugh was perhaps too aggressive, and now the Australians seem too defensive. I think Steve Waugh is not used to being without his best bowlers, and he is not quite sure what to do.

Of course, drawing the match and then going into the third test 1-0 up with Glenn McGrath returning would be just fine from the Australian point of view. However, I would like to at least see them try to win the match. (I think they probably will. I am just not quite sure what they were doing for 14 overs yesterday). However, I don't want to see them try too hard. Losing a match for being too aggressive after two generous declarations is not something you ever want to happen.

In other cricket, the one day final between India and South Africa in Bangladesh was abandoned after it was washed out both on the scheduled day and the reserve day. This was a shame, as it promised to be a good game.

No comments:

Blog Archive