Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A fairly dull conclusion to one game, and something remarkable in another

Firstly, a piece of cricketing terminology. A "hat trick" is well known. This is when a bowler takes three wickets with three consecutive balls. These seem to be one in a career things in test criket for great bowlers. Shane Warne took one in test cricket. Glenn McGrath took one in test cricket. In one day international cricket they are a little more common as towards the end of the innings batsmen are more concerned with scoring runs than not getting out. However, they are still considered quite rare ans special when they happen.

A less well known piece of terminology is a "double hat trick". A first thought is that this might mean six wickets from six balls, but in fact it means four wickets from four consecutive balls. The "double" comes from the fact that four wickets in four balls contains two hat tricks, one with the first, second, and third balls, and one with the second, third, and fourth balls. As of this morning, nobody had ever taken a double hat trick in international cricket, although a very small number had happened in first class cricket.

But, back to that later. Firstly, today's cricket. The West Indies started their innings in Antigua today requiring 323 to beat Australia. It had rained overnight and the moisture in the air led to speculation that the ball would swing pretty much from the start. Thinking of Shaun Tait's successful inswingers against the South Africans on Saturday made us think that the West Indian batsmen might be in trouble.

And so it happened. McGrath and Tait got movement. Chanderpaul, Gayle, and Samuels were all out with only 20 runs on the board. Somehow that took them ten overs. (Part of the somehow was tight fielding and bowling from Australia, of course). Sarwan and Lara dug in, but the run rate required was fairly quickly qpproaching ten an over. The strategy seemed to be to stick in until about the 35th over, and then hope that Lara could find a really purple patch. It really would have had to have been something to even match Hayden's purple patch of the previous day, and it was always a really long shot. Lara stayed in, but lost Sarwan and Bravo along the way. At 5/132 in the 33rd over, Lara understood it was time, and went after Brad Hogg, in particular hitting a big six over long off. It was crunch time.

However, Hogg was as canny as always, and bowled an accurate ball with plenty of air in the next over, that hit the inside of Lara's pad right in front as he was trying to sweep. Lara was out LBW. For all practical purposes that was it. Hogg did almost exactly the same thing to Smith an over later - he was hit for six and then immediately bowled a good one and took the wicket, again lbw. Hogg is so good in these situations.

At that point the West Indians did not know whether to defend of attack pointlessly, and despite a solid 52 from wicket keeper Ramdin, they surrended the rest of their wickets fairly feebly to be all out for 219 off 45.3 overs. Australia won by an extremely convinving 103 runs. There is not much to say. The West Indies were never really in it. They were not impressive. Right now they do not look like making much of a challenge for the tournament. Thanks to scheduling and the rain delay, tomorrow will be the third day in a row that they have to play. They really need a win against New Zealand to get some confidence back.

Australia on the other hand were very impressive. Tait and Hogg bowled well again, Australia's fielding was good, and the batting was great yesterday. Hayden's batting was awesome. Australians were not certain whether to play him in this tournament, but we are now glad they did. Symonds needs still to spend more time in the middle - I might be tempted to bat him at three or four in one of the next games to give him a little time to get his eye in. Hussey similarly could use some runs, but it is probably to early to yet say he is out of form. The truth though is that Australia's batting is spectacular, and the bowling and feeling is better than I expected, and much better than I feared it might be.

In the other game, I was thinking positive things about Sri Lanka's chances, but they did not start well. Tharanga, Jayasuriya, Jayawardene, Sangakkara and went, and it was 5/98 off 24.3 overs. It was possible that they could have lost their remaining wickets and really suffered embarrassment, but Dilshan and Arnold both scored 50s, and took Sri Lanka to 5/195 off 45.5 overs. At that point, Sri Lanka should have got the score to about 230, which in tricky conditions would have been reasonable. However, Sri Lanka played the last five overs extremely badly. Dilshan and Arnold both got out attempting to push the run rate. This can happen, but the players who come in then have a responsibility to not waste the good work. That means under no circumstances get all out, and keep the scoreboard ticking over. Instead the remaining Sri Lankans attempted to do things like the first ball they faced for six, and thus get caught in the outfield first ball. Scoring three singles and then attempting to hit a six would have been much smarter, but there was none of this. Sri Lanka were all out after 49.3 overs for 209, having scored little more than ten runs in the last four overs. It was a waste of a good recovery, and at that point I was disappointed - Sri Lanka do not appear to be as canny a side as I thought.

South Africa lost de Villers in the first over, but after that Smith, Kallis, and then Gibbs appeared to be cruising to the target. South Africa took the score to 2/160 off 32 overs. At that point, I was talking on the phone to Brian Micklethwait. As we spoke, Muralitharan took two wickets in two balls to reduce the score to 4/160. He didn't complete the hat trick, and Brian and I both thought that it didn't matter and South Africa would win still win easily. Slightly prophetically I said that it would require something remarkable, like "Muralitharan now taking a hat trick" (in addition to those wickets) for Sri Lanka to win.

It didn't initially appear to happen. Kemp got out a little later to take it to 5/182, but there was plenty of time and it still looked easy enough. However, Malinga was bowling. Malinga is a wonderful bowler to watch when on his day. He has a Jeff Thomson like slingshot action, and although he ocasionally sprays it around, he is very fast and very hard to play when on his game.

However, at 5/106 with four needed to win, this did not seem to matter. Malinga removed both Kallis and Hall to really good fast yorkers with the last two balls of the 45th over. This was impressive, but the interest was still really whether the game would finish in the 46th over to deny him the chance to go for his hat trick in the 47th. It didn't, and Kallis faced in on the hat trick ball. Kallis went for a square drive, nicked it and was caught behind. That hat trick was taken, but there were only three runs needed and two wickets and three overs to go. This probably the moment when the South Africans got nervous. Malinga, amazingly, bowled the next ball This was yet another screaming yorker and Ntini was bowled first ball. Malinga had taken the first double hat trick in the history of international cricket.

South Africa could suddenly lose it. It still required another wicket though. If the South Africans could avoid this, then they would get the runs and win. Malinga had to take another wicket. He almost did, his next ball just missing the stumps. I am so sorry he didn't do it, because a triple hat trick to win a match from an impossible position would have been one of the great moments in one day cricket. Langevelt (who, I think, has one of the best names in world cricket) survived the over, and he and Peterson got the runs and got South Africa home. For some stupid reason (well, for taking 5/39) Langevelt was given the man of the match award. Sometimes it should be given to a player from the losing side, and this actually was one of those times. This game will be remembered for Malinga's double hat trick and his bowling, and it should have been given to him

Still, South Africa won by one wicket with ten balls to spare. In truth, South Africa will take more from this game from Sri Lanka. South Africa were on top for the whole game except for five minutes at the end. Their bowling was good, and their top order was pretty good too. Sri Lanka did not look well organised when batting or bowling. The fact that they got back into it speaks well of them, and having a fine bowler like Malinga in form is good, but their canniness and ability to graft a win looks worse after today than it did before.

In truth though, both sides showed weakness. As these are the second and third favourites in the tournament and I am an Australian, I thought it was a very positive day.

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