Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Day four update

There are three absolutely top notch batsmen in the present Australian test cricket team. These are Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, and Matthew Hayden. If asked to list the top five batsmen in the world, I would include these three in my list, I think. (The rest of the Australian top order consists of Justin Langer, who is also outstanding, but not quite in the same class as the other three, captain Steve Waugh, who used to be as good as any of them, but is now past his best, and Darren Lehmann, who came into the side when Mark Waugh was dropped six months ago. In normal circumstances, the top order also includes Damien Martyn, who is of similar quality to Langer, or perhaps a little behind).

If I was asked six months ago who was the best batsman in the Australian side, the answer would have to have been "Matthew Hayden". Since then he hasn't been out of form especially, and nobody has been worried about him especially, but he has not been scoring runs with the brilliance of the previous couple of years. Ricky Ponting has instead been the star, and he has received good support from Langer. Which was why, yesterday, Hayden likely felt that he needed some runs. It was a golden opportunity, with Hayden starting the day on 15 and Australia likely to bat for about two sessions before declaring the innings closed and setting the West Indies a target.

In the first half hour, Hayden and Ponting went along nicely. They didn't score extremely quickly, but certainly scored faster than they did the previous evening. Ponting continued to look the form player, and Ponting's second century of the match appeared to be there for the taking. Hayden didn't play flamboyantly and played a limited range of shots, but However, as sometimes happens, he got an edge on one to the keeper and was caught for 45. Lehmann then joined Hayden at the crease. Hayden continued to play decently but without real aggression. Lehmann on the other hand (perhaps under instructions from Waugh) after a while started to push the scoring rate a bit. He gave one chance - a shot to gully that really should have been caught. He hit two enormous sixes mid way through the middle session, helped Hayden to his hundred, and then decided to attempt to really push the run rate. (Assuming Steve Waugh intended to declare at tea, Lehmann had time to bring up his second century of the match if he really got a move on. However, when he did this, the weaknesses in his technique became very visible. His footwork was a dreadful mess, and his innings looked like the ugliest of one day innings' in the last five overs. Scott Wickstein commented the other day that Lehmann's technique has been spoiled by playing too much one day cricket, and he may be right, but the best one day players do not get into this kind of mess. Did Ponting's? footwork look like this in his brilliant century in the World Cup final? No way. Does Gilchrist ever look like this in one day games? No. Does Andrew Symonds ever look this bad? No. With Lehmann playing like this, he was very vulnerable to a bowler who genuinely bowled a good ball at the stumps, and Dillon was smart enough to notice this and bowl a good yorker. Lehmann was out bowled for 66. Steve Waugh declared at that point, setting the West Indies a target of 407 to win.

My thoughts on this are well done to Hayden. He was in a position where it would be good for him to score a century, and he was able to put one together when he needed to. He's all class. On the other hand, it may be uncharitable for me to call for the dropping of a player who has just scored 160 and 66 in a test match, but I am going to do this with respect to Lehmann. He clearly doesn't have the technique to succeed against good opposition. Australia have two more tests against the West Indies, then two against Bangladesh, then two against Zimbabwe. In that time, Lehmann could score quite a lot of runs. Then, however, some time soon he will encounter a genuinely good bowler in an opposing side, at which point Lehmann will look like, well, Dean Jones against Richard Hadlee, or Robin Smith against Shane Warne. Except that Lehmann isn't as good a player as either Jones or Smith, and he is capable of coming a cropper against lesser bowlers than Hadlee or Warne. There are potentially better players out there (Michael Clarke, for instance), and Lehmann isn't that young. Better to go with someone else, in my opinion. (I was less than impressed by the "black c---s" incident, too. The man really should know better).

I think Waugh made the declaration around the right time, but I don't think the target was big enough for me to be entirely comfortable. I think Australia should have been able to score more runs in the match up to now. They should have scored 50 more leading up to the declaration in the first innings, and they should have scored 20 or 30 more in the evening on the third day. This game was always likely to end up with Waugh setting a target around tea on the fourth day. Given that, making this target as big as possible should have been the number one target. Australia lost a total of seven wickets in two innings out of a possible 20. Surely they could have got a few runs. It might have meant losing a couple more wickets, but who really cares. Australia have not played many matches like this lately, and it shows.

Still Australia got off to a good start, with Smith and more importantly Ganga out early to good fast bowling. At 2/12 it looked like Australia might win it easily. Then, however, Lara and Hinds got together and put on a good century partnership. Perhaps it wasn't so easy out there. It looked possible that the West Indies might finish the fourth day not exactly in a winning position, but at least with a certain amount of momentum going their way. However, MacGill got the wicket of Hinds in the second last over, with a ball that ran back onto the batsman's stumps after he hit it. The batsman was perhaps a little unlucky that it rolled onto the stumps, but he did play a bad shot, so he can't really complain. The intiative was therefore back with the Australians at stumps, which they wanted.

Still, Lara and Sarwan were batting. Another 300 is required from 90 overs with 7 wickets in hand. If Lara can bat all day, the West Indies will win. If he doesn't, they won't, and they will likely lose. That is now pretty much all there is to it. Lara is certainly capable of doing it, but the odds will be against him. If he does do it, then Steve Waugh will have to take a fair bit of the blame. A side that scores a total of 7/814 in its two innings of a match really shouldn't lose. They probably won't, but I think that if Waugh's captaincy had been better it would be out of the question entirely.

Update: Lara scored a brilliant century, and the West Indies got to lunch without losing another wicket, but it was not enough. Lara was eventually out for 122. The West Indies were all out for 288. Some fine bowling from Andy Bichel started the end for the West Indies, and Stuart MacGill took the key wicket of Lara. Steve Waugh will now no doubt receive praise for his good judgement. Australia win their eighth test in a row against the West Indies, and retain the Frank Worrell trophy, although they need to at least draw one of the two remaining tests to regain their top place in the ICC World Test Championship. Still, a tremendous way to celebrate England's national day. Blogging from me shall resume once I recover from the party.

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