A tactical masterpiece underappreciated

New Zealand's planning and execution on the 4th day in Hobart was first class, and deserved more focus from the Australian media.

Ross Taylor’s captaincy on the fourth day in Hobart was supreme; his situational field placements were first class, and the awareness he displayed in recognising what was working, and what was not, assured that his decision making played a significant role in the New Zealand victory.

Just before lunch on the final day Warner and Ponting had seen Australia close to within 81 runs of the target in accumulating a 37 run partnership and if the home side went to lunch only three down then the situation would have been very difficult for the New Zealanders. However the screws had begun to be applied by Taylor and his bowlers; Ponting’s runs had dried up thanks to an immaculate line and length and he had edged through slips and survived a very close l.b.w decision in the overs leading up to his dismissal. So with overcast conditions assisting movement through the air Taylor threw the ball to Doug Bracewell, who dragged a shot out of Ponting that made him look like he was an old man participating in a young man’s sport. A strange back foot drive to a ball on a length, he managed to only spoon the ball to cover and New Zealand knew that they were in with a sniff thanks to the brittle middle order batting that the Australians are capable of these days. Bracewell’s next over saw him persisting with what is becoming de rigueur for opponents against the Australians, middle and off line with movement away, Clarke obliged by going hard at the ball early in his innings and by the end of the over Hussey had departed as well. Haddin was the next to perish via the extravagant drive, having survived an edge through slips the ball before, the Australian keeper edged to slip off Southee and the Black Caps had only to get through the tail. A quick aside on the wicketkeepers dismissal; all the focus has been on Phil Hughes and the regularity in which he finds himself nicking the ball into the cordon but criticism must be also levelled at Haddin who‘s is failing to adapt his technique and method of scoring to the situation at hand. His inability to put away the big flashy off drive has seen the New South Welshman regularly caught behind the wicket and for me is a massive concern for a side that needs runs out of the late middle order/tailenders more than ever. Bracewell and Southee persisted with getting the ball into a corridor in which late order batsman seemed to find their bats mystically drawn towards the ball;  Siddle and Pattinson came and went quickly with the bats dangling meekly away from their bodies and provided the vacuum like slips cordon with two more catches for the match. Doug Bracewell then sealed the victory by bowling both Mitchell Starc and Nathn Lyon; New Zealand achieving their first victory on Australian soil since 1993.

All the plaudits after the game revolved around Bracewell’s effort with the ball and Warners performance in carrying his bat for 122 not out. However Taylor’s manipulation of his bowling attack and the subtle situational field placements cannot be underestimated; Warners wagon wheel is notable for the amount of singles from point through to cover as Taylor recognised that the opener was not going to flash outside off,  his bowlers then  dragged their length back two or three feet and moved the line so the ball started on off stump. Warner was happy to play the short arm jab out to the sweeper regularly (almost half his runs came in this area) but this only served to bring batsman on strike that were more likely to go hard at the full ball outside off. It is perhaps the biggest indicator that opposition sides no longer fear Ricky Ponting when during their partnership the New Zealanders were happy to give Warner the easy single then tighten the field and line to the former captain; the tactic worked, Ponting found runs hard to come by leading up to his departure and in the end his strange dismissal was a product of a declining skill set, fantastic bowling and a captain demonstrating a superb situational cricketing brain. Praise of course must also be given to the Black Caps attack that were able to compliment Taylor’s excellent positioning of the field by getting the ball into the correct areas thus allowing the batsmen to rarely play shots to a vacant area of the ground. Bracewell was the star of the show taking six wickets but Chris Martin also did a job, picking up Phil Hughes and only going for 2.75 runs an over in the second innings. Also the catching form of the slips fielders cannot be underestimated, Ross Taylors catch off Usman Khwaje, with Guptil diving in front of him, was the standout but the New Zealanders did not miss a chance and must be commended for not letting the batting side get off lightly for their aggressive strokeplay.

So credit where credit is due; yes the Australians definitely have problems against the moving ball, yes the conditions in Hobart were not unlike those you would find in New Zealand and were perfectly suited to the four seam attack that the Black Caps selected. But on the last day I saw a team that went out to execute a plan and they executed perfectly; they had obviously studied the Australian bats and implemented a plan that nullified the batting order. Taylor also was flexible in his tactics and adjusted them when he realised that Warner was unlikely to throw his wicket away. It was beautiful to watch and Ross Taylor and his team should be receiving a greater amount of praise for their performance.

Attempting to kick the habit: the story of Phil Hughes and addiction

Phil Hughes demonstrates how not to play off the back foot against England last year.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,

George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905
US (Spanish-born) philosopher (1863 – 1952)


I wonder if Santayana had struggling Australian top order cricketers in mind when he first came up with this quote in 1905. This line does wrap quite nicely around the Phil Hughes narrative that is currently evolving; a career arc that has struggled to maintain the breakneck momentum witnessed at the start of his career in South Africa two years ago. His technical deficiencies were initially uncovered by the likes of Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff through the last Ashes series in England as he was exposed by short pitched bowling in at the body, eventually being dropped from the side before the 3rd test of that series. However Simon Katichs’ injury, and subsequent demotion from the side, towards the end of 2010 created an avenue for Hughes back into the squad; his recall was seen by many as a sign that the selectors still had the 23 year old New South Welshman playing a big part in the Australian side’s future. Repeat struggles against England, this time on home soil, led to the familiar cries for a different answer at the opening spot, and the critics were out in full force until he slightly solidified his position in the team with 122 (on a very flat pitch) in the 3rd test against Sri Lanka earlier this year. There was further evidence of his potential when he feasted on some wayward South African bowling in Johannesburg with a cavalier 88, but massive questions marks remain over his spot in the side; his double failure in the 1st test against New Zealand had an exclamation point added to it via the farcical nature of his dismissal in the second inning as he was dropped once then the very next ball, out, attempting exactly the same shot, even rats learn after a time that it is not wise to continually try to eat the electrified piece of cheese (poor analogy but you get what I mean).

Baseball scouts, when evaluating prospects, talk about high ceiling guys, or guys you can dream on. They might have gone to a game and witnessed a pitcher flash a 95mph fastball or seen a guy hit 450ft home runs; now these players may not be consistent but scouts recognise the skill set is there it just needs to be developed and time needs to be given for players to adjust as they move up through the different levels of competition. This is Phil Hughes in a nutshell; high ceiling guy, who could potentially put up massive numbers. He possesses an unbelievable eye and the speed in which he gets his hands through the ball when executing his security blanket shot, the cut, is almost Steve Waugh like. Statistically he boasts exceptional numbers, 17 first class centuries at the age of 23 cannot be achieved without inherent talent, he is the youngest player to score two centuries in a game at test level and the youngest to score a century in a Shield final; proving that mentally he is capable of competing in pressure situations and always willing to trust in his technique (which is also a weakness, more later)

These same high ceiling guys also have a floor and Hughes’s floor is low……. really low. Technically he is far from orthodox, his back foot (left) frequently steps towards the leg side; as he looks to give himself room to thrash the ball square through the offside. Steve Thomlinson, who coached Hughes when he was a part of the NSW schoolboy’s side in 2005, recognised even at an early stage that the young opener needed to work on his footwork in order for him to achieve at a higher level.  Unfortunately this method of stepping away removes what is normally a left handers bread and butter shot; working a straight ball off the pads through the on- side. It also means his head is often far from the ball which causes unsatisfactory balance and balls played in the air. This leads me to write about the elephant in the room, the edges, and the frequency in which Hughes gets caught behind the wicket; 19 of his 29 dismissals in tests, including each of the past 6, have been caught between wicketkeeper and gully. Black Caps bowler Chris Martin has exposed the technical flaw perfectly and Hughes will get no respite when facing Ishant Sharma later in the summer as he pushes the ball across left handers and can get awkward bounce on Australian pitches. Now Hughes is not the first left hander to struggle with the ball angled across them but the time has come to address this imperfection when executing a test innings.

I hate nothing more than players, when going through a lean patch, uttering the phrase, “I’ll just keep playing my natural game,” if your natural game was working then you would be succeeding right? Sachin Tendulkar’s longevity in the sport has been due to the evolving nature of his technique and his ability to alter the method in which he goes about constructing an innings. Steve Waugh was another who at an even younger age evolved from a flashy, attack driven player into a batsman that rarely played the hook shot, as he was able to highlight areas of his game that could go by the wayside as he sought to make the most out of the abilities he was born with. Hughes must begin to do the same, bowlers know how to bowl to him, the proof is in the statistics, you cannot deny the hard evidence, great players adapt their games in order to combat the adjustments made by bowlers. Look at Hughes first two test hundreds in South Africa, Steyn, Kallis and Morkel were short but gave the opener a lot of width to work with. Fast forward to the Ashes in England and we see Flintoff and Harmison short, but at the body. It is all about learning from the past and applying those lessons to the present.

But what can be done with Hughes, personally I would love to see him stick in the side and make the adjustments. This will involve Mitchell Johnson like patience on the selectors behalf as attempting to overhaul your game at test level will be a struggle. I think he has shown that at Shield level he can dominate; it is this domination at the lower level that also leads me to think that time in the domestic competition helps to encourage Hughes’s attacking instincts. The preoccupation of bowlers at state level to be happy with short of a length bowling feeds right into the New South Welshman’s wheelhouse; inconsistent lines means that he will quite often get the ball outside off and is able to live off the cut all day long. At the higher level the quality of bowling will ensure he very rarely get the room to successfully execute the cut; instead clumsily attempting the shot with a delivery too close to the body. So it’s time for rehab for our opener, like methadone replaces heroin for a junkie, Hughes needs to find a method in which to kick the addiction, leaving the ball outside off is the cold turkey approach and is a tough way to go; it may ultimately be the only way to succeed in the near future. He needs to find another area to score in, particularly on the on-side. If Hughes can make the adjustments to his technique then he will fill another part of the puzzle that has begun to be completed by the surprise form of Nathan Lyon and inexperienced paceman. Phil Hughes in form is a beautiful sight and I hope that he is able to find a level of consistency required from a test opener and begins to be a force in international cricket.

Bowl,Edge,Catch…… Repeat

Pattinson picks up McCullum late on Day Three. The young Australian quick ended the innings with 5/27.

Australia wrapped up a convincing win at the Gabba today with an impressive nine wicket victory over a very poor New Zealand outfit. It was an old fashioned hiding as the Black Caps were made to look very ordinary with both bat and ball and I am hoping they lift for Hobart so that cricket fans get to witness at least something resembling a contest throughout the series.

Technique wise the New Zealand bats were extremely poor; McCullum and Ryder fell to woeful cut shots as they failed to transfer weight through the ball and ended up spooning regulation catches to Warner at point. Captain Ross Taylor decided that you do not need to move your feet as he dangled the bat outside off and only managed to drag the ball back on to his off stump. Kane Williamson looked all at sea against some very good off spin bowling from Nathan Lyon; his shuffle, shuffle routine inevitably ended with the New Zealander popping a catch up to forward short leg. These guys had a great chance to perform and back up the big talk leading into the series, but the execution was just not up to test standard. I do not think the Australian pace bowlers really bowled particularly well on the first day, they tended to be either very full or short and lacked genuine consistency in line and length.

In the second inning we saw some test match quality swing bowling from debutant James Pattinson and the New Zealanders were unable to handle it. The footwork from New Zealands top order was unbelievably poor; you only need to see how far the bats were away from the player’s body to realise that these guys were not ready for a test match. McCullum got a good nut from Pattinson, late on day three, that would have brought many batsmen undone, but the procession that unfolded on day four was a mixture of decent bowling and truly inept test match batting. Ross Taylor as captain deserves the greatest amount of criticism as he failed to learn from the first inning and once again failed to get any lateral foot movement happening and dangled the bat outside off resulting in a catch though to Haddin. It was schoolboy stuff and very disappointing from a team that was full of big talk leading into the series. That’s not to take away anything from Pattinson’s spell in the morning; I just wonder if the Indians will be so generous in the next series?

A quick aside; although Pattinson will get all the credit and deservedly so, for his 5/27 in the second inning, I have to say I’m very impressed with Nathan Lyon. He was extremely unfortunate not to pick up five wickets in the first innings and extracted a ton of bounce and spin on the first day as he seems to be a very attacking finger spinner. Lyon frequently gets the ball above the eye level of the batsmen and seems unfazed if he goes for a few runs. It will be interesting to see how he fairs against the Indians later in the summer, but for now it looks like the South Australian has locked down the spinners position.

Hopefully cricket fans get an improved effort out of the Black Caps down in Tasmania, and the young Aussie bowlers are made to toil a bit harder so they can be prepared for the likes of Dravid, Laxman and Tendulker later in the season.



The Australians have to be full of it!

One worrying aspect to come out of the Australia A game against New Zealand was the performance of the young trio of paceman all vying for a spot in the walk on eleven in Brisbane on Thursday. The first innings was played in overcast conditions, conducive to fast bowling, but  Guptil, Taylor and McCullum all feasted on what was offered up by the young paceman. McCullum was particularly savage in scoring 146 off just 115 deliveries; his opinion was that the Australia A attack was too short and he felt that the New Zealand batsman had won an early battle against a number of potential debutants.

Many opposition sides have come to Australia, and on the first morning in Brisbane, got carried away with the seam and bounce on offer and banged the ball in back of a length; overexcited with the deliveries going past the edge on numerous occasions but downhearted when faced with a lunchtime score of one or two down and 100 runs on the scoreboard. The problem is that excess movement, coupled with short bowling, allows the batsman to play the line; the ball either holds its length and a defensive shot is completed or the ball jags too much and it is a simple play and miss.

The key for Australia’s attack is to get the ball up to the batsmen, half a bat worth of movement with the full ball ensures that the batsman is committed to playing the ball. Glenn McGrath and Richard Hadlee are prime examples of bowlers who have got the ball up to the bat and had success in the 1st innings in Brisbane, the New Zealand great with nine in Australia’s first innings in 1985 and McGrath demolishing the West Indies with six in 2000. Peter Siddle will shoulder a ton of responsibility in an attack decimated by injury, but he will do well to remember last season’s Gabba test, his 1st innings 6/54 included 3 LBWs and 3 catches from batsman driving and finding the edge, it will be vital that the Victorian does not get carried away with leading a test attack for the first time and remember what has worked for him at the Gabba previously.

And this will also be the big test for any of the debutants; both Ben Cutting and Mitchell Starc are ‘bang the ball into the pitch’ type bowlers their natural length will be back of a length, and it will be key that they get enough deliveries into the front quarter of the pitch. I have a feeling that Cutting may have the edge over Starc when it comes to the final 11, purely based on the fact that the game will be played at his home venue. James Pattinson’s ability to move the ball both ways in the air should ensure a spot in Thursdays lineup; the swinging ball seems to confound many lineups around the world these days and accounted for many batsmen in the recent South Africa series; a New Zealand side with just the 1 test against Zimbabwe in recent times may find genuine swing bowling hard to deal with

So I think that the message is clear, get the ball full, draw batsman forward and look for the edge. New Zealand’s strength lays in their batting with the likes of McCullum, Taylor and Ryder all aggressive natured and capable of scoring quickly, the Australians must use their tendency to go hard at the ball by getting full and inducing edges. If the Black Caps do not get contributions from any of these three then I cannot see them coming away from the series with anything other than a 2-0 series defeat.

Drop ’em All

Wow haven’t the armchair experts come out in force this week; after the carnage in Cape Town last week, every man, woman and child I’ve talked to had an opinion on what needed to be done to right the ship.

“Johnson’s had too many chances get rid of him.”

“Ponting’s too old.”

“Get Cummins into the side.”

“Hughes can’t bat terrible technique for an opener, and not up for the fight.” (How do you quantify whether someone is up for the fight?)

“What was Haddin doing, worst shot I’ve ever seen.”

Whether you believe any of the above quotes to be true or not there is no denying that all of the above statements have been at the forefront of discussion and had been trotted out on the back pages and editorials in newspapers around the country well before last week’s capitulation.

However a close friend of mine viewed the situation as an even greater disaster than anyone else, as he trumped all the above generic statements with.

“Drop ‘em all bring in a fresh 11 players”

Gee harsh words, I pumped him for more info on what the side would look like in terms of batting order, do you go with 4 paceman or 3 and a spinner but he wasn’t elaborating. Like many Australians who love their cricket team (as I do) the warmth of a blanket statement is too comfortable and does not bear closer examination.

So I thought I would give it a shot; pick an Australian Test team, devoid of any current members of the squad in South Africa, with an emphasis on current form. I’ve tried to steer clear of players who have featured in the test side before so the likes of Simon Katich (who is probably the best spinner in the country at the moment!), Marcus North, Chris Rodgers etc miss out.

It also means that I could not find a place for a spinner, as not many are really putting their hand up with big hauls at the moment.

The team also doubles as an early season indicator of Shield form. I’m not trying to predict future Australian debutants just merely highlighting who has started the season well. Where possible I’ve kept batsman to the position they’ve held in the order so far this year; from 7 down things get a little skewed in comparison to state batting order but overall the order is not too far way from what you would see in reality.

1. Ryan Broad- Queensland

2011/12- Avg: 41.66 Runs: 250 Highest Score: 135

His 135 for Queensland against Western Australia, earlier this month, earned him a man of the match award and included 25 boundaries. Also very impressed by his 56 scored on a Gabba green top ,against a Ben Hilfenhaus led Tasmanian attack, in October.


2. Liam Davis- Western Australia

2011/12- Avg: 56.37 Runs: 451 Highest Score: 135

Liam Davis has been in fantastic touch throughout the early part of the 2011/12 season; 2 centuries and 2 half centuries have him close to 500 runs in 4 matches. His highest score of the season came against Tasmania; but it was 108 in Western Australia’s pursuit of 365 against Victoria last week that was the standout innings. Very small sample size, I know, but it’s a great time to be making runs; and with so much uncertainty surrounding the top 2 spots in the Australian test team Davis could put his name right in the mix with a continuation of his current form.


3. Alex Doolan- Tasmania

2011/12- Avg: 36.80 Runs: 184 Highest Score: 74

Alex Doolan sneaks into the side due to a poor return from all eligible number 3s around the country. Doolan has got starts in his 4 innings this season with his 74 against Victoria the only decent return, cashing in on those scores in the 20-30 range are essential but show that technically he is equipped to make bigger totals.

4. Tom Cooper- South Australia

2011/12- Avg: 82.60 Runs: 413 Highest Score: 203*

Had the kind of game most players dream about against New South Wales; game scores of 98 and 203*ensuring that South Australia avoided defeat on what was, in reality, a flat Bankstown Oval pitch. Has occupied the crease, for moderate returns in all of his innings so far this season bar 1 score of 0 against Western Australia. A hard hitting middle order bat, who has represented Holland in 18 ODI’s but is still eligible for Australia.

5. George Bailey- Tasmania (C)

2011/12- Avg: 38.85 Runs: 272 Highest Score: 116

Number 5 is another position that is light on for runs in the domestic competition so far. George Bailey gets the nod for a near match winning 116 against Western Australia; Tasmania falling just 25 runs short in their pursuit of 408. He has been quiet since the game against the Warriors, but with the position bereft of runs, Bailey’s knock and the added bonus his captaincy would bring ensures a spot.

6. Adam Voges- Western Australia

2011/12- Avg: 63.28 Runs: 443 Highest Score: 150*

At 31 years of age the ship might have sailed on Adam Voges international hopes, but with an unbeaten 150 against the Tasmanians in Perth, along with 3 scores of 50 plus, he is displaying career best form. He has still managed to fit 2 ducks into his season so far and will hope to move away from the “feast or famine” inning type he has been known for in the past. When in full flow there are not many better batsmen to watch on the domestic scene.

7. Matthew Wade- Victoria (WK)

2011/12- Avg: 55.60 Runs: 278 Highest Score: 108

With Brad Haddin struggling with the bat and assumed successor Tim Paine suffering from a finger injury, Wade has shown he will not miss an opportunity to put his name in the selector’s minds. 108 in the 1st innings against Tasmania earlier in the month his highest score for the year; but it was the 80 he scored out of a Victorian total of 190, in a spiteful  2ndinning, that demonstrates to me some of the qualities needed in a test match keeper. His work behind the stumps is still a work in progress and is the 1 knock on his game, but the bat is legitimate and out of the whole team would be the most likely to go on and represent Australia in test cricket this season.

8. Ben Cutting- Queensland

2011/12- Avg: 20.66 Runs: 124 Highest Score: 58

                    Bowling Avg: 15.94 Wickets: 19 Best Bowled: 5/43

Cutting is the leading wicket taker for surprise leaders Queensland through the early part of the season. His devastating spell of 5/12 off 37 balls, against the Warriors, ensured an outright for his side; the final figures of 5/43 his best for the season. Decent hauls against Victoria and Tasmania adding to an impressive haul of 19 wickets so far. His late order big hitting has also provided some highlights. A career high 58 off just 51 balls against New South Wales yesterday included 44 coming in 4s and 6s.

9. Jade Herrick- Victoria

2011/12- Bowling Avg: 27.30 Wickets: 20 Best Bowled: 5/79

Tattoos, Dennis Lillee headband and erratic with line and length Jade Herrick is the anti-cricketer and I rate him. He picked up his maiden 5 wicket haul against New South Wales earlier in the season and contributed 7 wickets in the game against Tasmania. This was his 1st full pre season with the Victorian squad and his fitness is showing with 154 overs bowled so far, the second highest workload in the country. Can struggle with consistency and will go for runs but he is taking wickets at the moment and that’s all you can ask for out of a bowler.

10. Peter George- South Australia

2011/12- Bowling Avg: 27.00 Wickets: 17 Best Bowled: 5/36

It would seem that the likes of Nathan Copeland and Patrick Cummins have replaced George in the minds of the national selectors. But with his height and awkward bounce he can be, at times, a very difficult proposition for any batsman. The game against New South Wales was a reminder of the skill set that enabled him to earn a baggy green in India last October; taking care of Katich, Hughes and Khwaje on the way to season best figures of 5/36.

11. Michael Hogan- Western Australia

2011/12- Bowling Avg: 26.40 Wickets: 20 Best Bowled: 5/30

20 wickets for the season, valuable contributions in every game and a body that can stand up to high over counts; Michael Hogan has been as productive player for his State as any in the competition. His 5/30 against Tasmania in the 1st game of the season turned the match on its head as he took charge of an attack missing Mitchell Johnson through injury. He was also impressive against South Australia as the 32 year old looks to be in supreme form.

Understanding in a Car Crash

Ahh the old "If I can't see it then it's not really happening" trick.

I needed time between “the incident” and deciding how to go about trying to explain why Australia threatened to snatch the record for lowest test innings away from New Zealand. I could have written something the next day; emotion ruling the words as I hammered out a piece denouncing one and all who took part on that god forsaken afternoon in Cape Town, but I just needed to ………… well forget.  I’d sat through that whole 2nd day listening to the wickets fall and could not fully comprehend what was occurring. I was disgusted in the score line and refused to listen the next night; some kind of silent protest at the worst performance I have ever seen from an Australian cricket team.

It was only today, 3 days after the fact, that I felt free from the constraints that emotion brings to analysis; and began attempting to make some sense of the collapse that took place. Australia were bowled out for 47, that is, even by U/10s level, atrocious. How did this happen? Why were a group of professional athletes unable to execute skills that they have spent half their life practising? The technical abilities are in place but the skills are only one piece of the puzzle when at the crease, the mind, plays just as important role and amidst a collapse, such as the one witnessed in Cape Town, normal patterns of thought can go by the wayside.

Cricket, at its very core, is about pure reactions, you see the ball and you hit the ball. From a young age cricketers are taught the fundamentals, decisive move forward or back, getting your head over the ball, which delivery to leave, which shot to play; pure muscle memory reflex, actions that enables a test match cricketer to process all the aforementioned decisions within half second or so it takes for a cricket ball to travel, at 140kmph, the length of a pitch. But when a player lets their head prevail over pure reflexes, momentary pauses in reaction occur, leading to the inevitability of a false stroke; that perfect cover drive in the nets through the week becomes an edge in to the slip cordon as feet, head and hands fail to operate in synch with one another; a split second of self doubt usurping the muscle memory learnt from 100s of training hours.

The stop start nature of cricket ensures that negativity is given ample time to build in between deliveries;  fielders, who outnumber the batsman 11 to 2, prey on any uncertainty  and weak willed individuals get found out very quickly. Insecurity sweeps through a dressing room like some medieval contagion, enveloping everyone involved as thigh pads, gloves and protectors get mixed in with others, heightening the tensions of those who are yet to bat while conjuring up those horrible cricket dreams of not finding your gear and being dismissed for not being at the crease in time.

It’s this sort of mania that manifests itself in shots like Haddin’s crazed T20 style hack. At 5 for 18 the time had come for level heads, the Australian keeper walks out to bat; South African fielders, to a man, full of chat; no doubt reminding Haddin that his spot in the team is far from secure. It was within this vacuum that he begins to feel the need to make something happen…… and quick.

“If I can just get off the mark, I’ll be away and feel more relaxed”

“There’s space behind the cover fielder, I’ll just give myself a bit of room”

“I’m an attacking player, not going to change my style now!”

Now this is all just pure supposition on my behalf but I am just attempting to come to grips with what would possess an experienced cricketer, like Brad Haddin, to charge down the pitch like that. It was schoolboy stuff and illustrates why cricket is a test of the players ability to trust their own instinct and to block out extraneous thoughts. How many times do you think Haddin would have charged down the pitch like that, 3rd ball he faced, in the nets?

I’d also assume that 99 times out of 100 Mike Hussey would have shouldered arms to the same ball he received first up. Outside off and posing no threat; his reactions would be to allow the ball to pass safely, gauging the pace and bounce of the wicket and giving himself an idea of how to deal with a delivery when he was forced to play. Instead the thought process becomes clouded; there was a sense of tentativeness in the stroke, almost a need to feel the ball on bat;  Hussey failed to move his feet correctly, stuck to the crease with no weight transference, his head too far from both bat and ball resulting in a thickish edge into the cordon.

It’s all about execution; we get too mired in abstract words such as resilience, grit or courage. The best batsman compartmentalise the game down to the individual ball being faced; not the delivery before, not the one to come  but simply what is being offered to them in terms of length and line in that moment. Australia needs to get back to this way; the old saying, “play each ball on its merit” still has a ton of substance and is the key to any successful batsmen. It is also the hardest skill to perfect.

If Australia are to exorcise the demons of Cape Town they will have get back to breaking the game down to individual deliveries and forget about the past; a past that the opposition will be eager to remind them of at every opportunity.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Came to the realisation last night that Michael Clarke is going to be a very good captain; his innings so far has endured some fearsome spells of bowling from Dale Steyn and, apart from Shaun Marsh, teammates unable to cope with the conditions. It’s the kind of back to the wall innings that is needed out of a leader and Clarke well and truly led from the front last night.

Clarke has already shown that he is determined to put his own mark on the side demonstrating a thinking outside of the box mentality with field placements and bowling changes in Sri Lanka; never willing to let the game drift and never afraid to try something different; Mike Hussey with 2 wickets in the test series an indication of the New South Welshman’s ability to ring changes that many would not consider.

His batting has also shifted from the disappointment of the previous 12 months. His second inning 60 off 80 balls, on a turner in Galle, put the match out of Sri Lanka’s grasp and was a considerable chunk of Australia’s final total of just 210. His 3rd test knock of 112, on the fifth day, ensured a draw, and series win, but was compiled on a deck that was more reminiscent of a 2nd or 3rd day pitch as opposed to a final day deck.

But last night’s effort cannot be dismissed so easily; a brutal over from Steyn early on and a mid pitch exchange demonstrated the South Africans eagerness to get under the new captains skin. But Clarke was not flustered, the introduction of Kallis allowed Clarke to get moving; driving the all rounder through the covers frequently and also prepared to go square when the ball was short of a length.

His century came off just 108 balls; his skill level and execution were streets ahead of anyone else in the order; the final move now for Clarke is to reclaim his number 4 position in the order. Ricky Ponting is starting to look all of his 36 years of age; a late moving Steyn full ball his downfall last night; but Clarke must now assume the responsibility of rebuilding an innings with his side only 1 or 2 wickets down. The time has come for Ponting to either slide down to 5 or 6 in the order.

Regardless of batting positions and future line-ups; Clarke’s effort, against a world class bowler in Steyn and an environment conducive to the paceman, was pure class.  Michael Clarke is going to be a very good test captain, displaying an unconventional streak in regards to tactics and providing a fresh approach when dealing with the player group; a valuable commodity in a team that is set to lose experienced players in the coming seasons.

The King is dead, long live the King!

Allan Donald….. He was good! 2nd Test Sydney 1994

At work yesterday thinking about the first test, starting in South Africa today, got me reminiscing about memorable South Africa v Australia match ups in my lifetime. Those two see saw matches in the World Cup that saw Steve Waugh lifted to deity like proportions in this country (he didn’t really tell Gibbs that he dropped the World Cup- makes for a good story though!), Warnie giving opener, and by all accounts Mr nice guy, Andrew Hudson the mother of all send offs in 1994 at Johannesburg and the personal highlight of seeing Allan Donald bowl in a tour match in Devonport, Tasmania.

But the game, and memory, that image that kept coming back into my head, was that of  Donald, both arms held aloft, when he dismissed Damien Martyn in the 2nd test at the Sydney cricket Ground 1994. A game that was decided by just 5 runs and has gone down as one of the greatest test matches in my lifetime.

The defining image. Donald dismisses Damien Martyn and Aussie hopes fade

In a pre internet/pay tv era my only glimpse of the South Africans had been their involvement in the one day World Cup two years earlier in Australia.  They had some impressive moments throughout that tournament and so I had some idea of what was to be expected when they arrived in Australia for a three test series in 1993/94. Rain had ensured that the 1st test in Melbourne ended in a draw and so both teams headed to Sydney hopeful of taking a series lead.

And it all went to script for a heavily favoured Australian team, South Africa were rolled for just 169 batting first; Warne was on the rise at this stage of his career and the seven wickets in the innings provided an exhibition in quality spin bowling. Kirsten, Rhodes and his old mate Cullinan were all undone by the flipper.  Matthews, Richardson and Symcox victims of classic leg spinning deliveries, the Symcox dismissal was vintage Warne; around the wicket to the right hander, obviously attempting to bowl the batsman around his legs, the ball drifted slightly further to leg before spitting off the pitch and glancing leg stump. Symcox did his best Mike Gatting face as he found it difficult to believe that he could be bowled from a ball pitching that far outside leg.

Australia then scraped together a lead of 123 runs; Michael Slater, his career still in its formative stages, was dismissed, in what was to become an all to common occurrence, just short of his century; 92 the top score for both sides in the match.  Runs also came from a young Damien Martyn and Captain Allan Border as they helped give the Australians a decent buffer, but it was hard work; Allan Donald and Fanie de Villiers both took 4 wickets and the run rate of 2.02 throughout the innings shows how difficult the pitch was playing.

It was the Warne show once again in the 2nd innings as he took 5 more wickets but for me the memory that sticks in my mind from that innings was watching Jonty Rhodes play Shane Warne; liberal use of the sweep shot and a willingness to play attacking shots set him apart from others in the series, partnerships of 76 with Dave Richardson and 36 with Allan Donald ensured that Australia would have to bat for a 2nd time and meant that the South Africans now, at the very least, had a defendable lead of 116.

By the end of day 4 the door had been left slightly ajar for a South African win; de Villiers had taken 3 wickets in 5 balls towards the end of the penultimate day and Australia went to stumps at 4/63. I remember the start of last day perfectly Allan Border shouldering arms to Donald 2nd ball of the day and the ball just clipping the top of the off bail; all I can recall is thinking “oh no, not again” perfectly aware of the disappointment I’d felt a year earlier as Australia fell 1 run short, against the West Indies in Adelaide, chasing a similar total. And my god it was painful, stand in Captain Hansie Cronje applied the screws with fantastic field placements while Donald and De Villiers bowled superbly. Waugh was next to go after the Border dismissal; Donald full and fast with a hint of reverse too good for the Australian, Healy dragged one back onto his stumps and  Warne panicked and run himself out with 42 still needed for victory. But Craig McDermott, the man who had almost dragged Australia across the line against the West Indies a year earlier, set about narrowing the deficit. He played aggressively and with Damien Martyn put on 35; bringing the Australians to within 7 runs of victory. It was at this point my enduring image of this game occurred. Martyn ,who had looked well and truly overawed by the bowling and field placement ,in scratching out 6 runs in 1 hr and 46 minutes at the crease, threw his hand through a wide full delivery from Donald ,the ball flew straight to Andrew Hudson at cover, a guttural scream of joy emanated from the great South African quick as he sprinted to the fielder, arms held aloft, Martyn would not play test cricket for another 6 years and the match was as good as over. McGrath spooned a catch back to Fanie de Villiers the next over and South Africa had notched a memorable victory.

Fanie de Villiers picks up Glenn McGrath to secure a 5 run victory for South Africa

As we head into another test series between the two countries I can only hope we see some fantastic performances and some closely fought cricket. If we get anything close to the excitement of the S.C.G test in 1994 then fans are in for a treat.

Australia vs South Africa A

Mitchell Johnson continued his love affair with South Africa, picking up 9 wickets for the match.

Australia wrapped up their 4 day tour game against a South African A side in Potchefstroom this week, securing victory by 7 wickets on Thursday. Peter Siddle put his hand up for a spot in the 1st test picking up test hopefuls J.P Duminy and Alviro Petersen; a return of 3/16 off 14 overs in the 1st innings a decent effort. Another 2 wickets in the 2nd innings left the Victorian paceman with 5 for the match, and would have done his chances at earning a recall to the side no harm. Mitchell Johnson continued his love affair with South Africa picking up 9 wickets for the match and was, judging by reports, a handful for the batsman. The Cricinfo descriptions of Johnsons dismissals are dominated by the words “full and straight”, it would appear that he was also getting inswing when bowling to the right handers; 4 l.b.ws and 3 bowled a reflection of his accuracy and a real positive for the side heading into the 1st test. Watson chipped in with a valuable 3 wickets in the 1st innings and was not required to bowl in South Africa’s 2nd dig; I still worry about Australia’s overreliance on Watson; a hip injury and back spasms suffered during the T20s and One Day International’s, at the start of the tour, a reminder that the all rounder must be treated with kid gloves and every effort must be made to limit his workload. A caveat must be added to the bowling performance though; the pitch was a bit of a minefield with some balls leaping off a length while others stayed down ideal conditions for the paceman and fully exploited by Johnson, Siddle and Watson. Disappointingly Trent Copeland was only able to pick up 1 wicket for the match, he also was relatively expensive going for 44 off 13 over’s in the 1st innings and 55 off 14 in the 2nd, not an ideal warm up for the medium pacer but with conditions as they were it is not surprising that the South African bats chose to attack the milder pace sent down by the New South Welshmen. Nathan Lyon also failed to have a significant impact on the game, picking up 2 wickets, as he found the opposition keen to attack him; the pitch was not particularly suited to the off spinners skills and with no real alternatives present I would be a surprised to see Lyon left out of the  test side. So the question remains, who does Australia go with, in regards to bowlers, for the 1st test? Johnson, and the returning Ryan Harris, are givens and a Newlands pitch that promises to offer more assistance for the slower bowlers assures a spot for Lyon. Which leaves the selectors with the question of the 3rd seamers position; Siddle’s effort in Potchefstroom certainly puts him in the mix but Copeland’s ability to dry up the runs, despite what he showed in the tour game, will be a valuable commodity; allowing Johnson and Harris to “grip it and rip it” at the other end. So if I were a betting man I would say that Copeland will fill the 3rd seamer role with Siddle confined to carrying the drinks.

On a spicy pitch Australia’s batting struggled in the 1st innings; young right handed paceman Marchant de Lange was particularly awkward troubling all the batsmen with bounce and pace on his way to 5 wickets for the innings. Shaun Marsh once again proved that he is prepared to dig in and put a massive price on his wicket; 57 off 129 balls, in difficult conditions showing that the Western Australian is not about to miss any opportunities to cement a place at the top of the order. His second innings dig also showed another side to his game; his 73 coming off just 87 balls and  included 15 boundaries proving that he is far from a one pace player and is capable of controlling the flow of a game. This ability to blend defensive attitudes with attacking flair is an evolution from the “attack at all costs” nature of Australian’s of the past decade as we look to negate teams, like England, that have used our offensive nature against us in recent years. Michael Clarke’s 74 was the highest score for Australia in the 1st innings and I am hoping that he continues to build on the form shown in Sri Lanka; the short highlight package I saw showed Clarke strong square of the wicket and he looks to be settling in to his position as captain. Shane Watson and Michael Hussey also got valuable time at the crease; Watson with a fluent 77 in the 2nd innings and Hussey’s defiant 44 not out in the 1st giving them a solid hit out in the lead up game. On the downside the likes of Hughes, Ponting and Haddin  all failed to compile big scores; Haddin and Hughes were particularly disappointing, I would have loved to see Hughes make runs on a difficult deck and show that, against disciplined accurate short bowling, that his technique could stand up; I am still to be convinced. In Dale Steyn South Africa posses one of the world’s top paceman and I am sure Hughes will get worked over a great deal more than when he was in the country last time. Haddins dismissal as described by Cricinfo ,“guided straight into the hands of Behardien at gully, another wicket goes down for Australia, not a good shot by Haddin.” The Australian wicketkeeper has been given a stay of execution due to the fractured finger suffered by Tim Paine, but crunch time is arriving for Haddin; runs in the test series are a must if he is to justify a place in the Australian side for the upcoming series against New Zealand.

So a decent hit up for the Aussies; a very difficult deck giving the side a good warm up before facing the likes of Steyn and Morkel on Wednesday. The form of Siddle has given the selectors something to think about; I still like the idea of Copeland’s accuracy, it gives the attack more of a balanced feel. Do not expect Johnson to be as devastating as he was in this game, the pitch at Newlands has always been known to favour spin and Johnson will struggle to extract the bounce that was provided by a green top in Potchefstroom. Nathan Lyon will have to contribute wickets, in the handful of times i’ve seen him bowl it seems that he does not lack courage; he frequently gets the ball above the eyeline of the batsman and is prepared to go for a few runs in search of wickets, and as he proved on debut, if conditions suit, he is capable of picking up big hauls. With the bat Hussey and Marsh proved that the old adage of “making the bowler bowl to you” still rings true, leaving the ball outside off and waiting for the bowler to get too straight will be important against a world class bowler, in Steyn, and a more than capable partner in Morkel.

In the next few days I will be breaking down  the key matchups in the series and attempting to make an educated prediction on who will come out on top.

Propagandhi’s album: Supporting Caste

Canadian punk veterans Propagandhi are one of those rare bands that I find among my iTunes collection. Rare in the fact that, in my opinion, they do not have a dud album, also rare is the fact that I like their new stuff better than their older stuff; a pattern that is continued with the release of their fifth album A Supporting Caste. Never a band to shy away from political beliefs they hold dear to their hearts Propagandhi pull out all the stops on their 2009 release; Chris Hanna’s lyrics are a lesson in passionate song writing and provide a vehicle in which he gets his, and the bands, message out to a wider audience. His lead guitar work is first rate as usual and the vocals are still spat out in that hoarse, forceful manner that has been a trademark since the Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes album; I have to admit I am a bit of a Hanna fan boy and his efforts on this album set Propagandhi streets ahead of most in the genre; both from the technical side and lyrically.

Another side of the band that impresses me greatly is the dedication to causes they promote in their songs; having been heavily involved in many activist movements promoting both human and animal rights. Now I don’t always agree with everything they promote but I am always stunned by people that have the constitution to take on the status quo and question things that they feel are wrong in the world (probably got something to do with my own strict adherence to authority). Women’s rights in Afghanistan, veganism, Amnesty International and raising awareness of Haiti’s vulnerability to foreign investment and the pitfalls that could befall the country if it is rebuilt with business in mind and not the Haitian people following 2010’s deadly earthquake. Their website provides a ton of information and links to the various NGO’s site; it is a strictly left leaning view the band takes and one must always be certain to gain all the facts before making up their mind but their dedication to the causes can never be questioned.

Some highlights from the album are:

Track 1- Supporting Caste

“Cause history observes only the pornography of force”

Fascinating song concerning the way that history is always written by the victors of wars, it also deals with the predominance that Christianity plays; casting many great men and women to the fringes of history while mainstream religions promote the teachings of men and women who may or may not even exist. The outro to the song reasons that going against the grain is the only way to go when in reality we’re never to remembered anyway.

A piece of advice: if you’re cast on thin ice, you may as well dance. Do what you feel you must, but as for me I was not put upon this earth to subjugate or serve.”

Fantastic start and a well deserved title track on a great album.

Track 4- Dear Coach’s Corner

“Dear Ron MacLean. Dear Coachs Corner. Im writing in order for someone to explain to my niece the distinction between these mandatory pre-game group rites of submission and the rallies at Nuremburg.”

Lyrically this song is a statement against the merging of sporting events with military propaganda; the song taking the form of a question addressed to the host of a popular hockey telecast in Canada, Ron Mclean, lurching from comparisons to the Nazi rallies of the late 1930s to railing against the conservative, troop praising rants by McLean’s long-time co host Don Cherry.

“a strange and bitter fruit that sad old man beside you keeps feeding to young minds as virtue. It takes a village to raise a child but just a flag to raze the children until they’re nothing more than ballast for fulfilling a madman’s dream of a paradise where complexity is reduced to black and white.”

A brilliant observation of the role mainstream media plays today in normalising military actions and the way it goes about creating myths surrounding those involved.

Track 7- Potemkin City Limits

Hanna’s passion for animal rights comes through in this track; recounting the true story of Francis the pig, who escaped from an Alberta abattoir in 1990 and roamed free for 5 months before capture. The abattoir in question now has a bronze statue of Francis at the front of their factory and the story has become a novelty in the region.

“The panic grew as the humans stalked among them. When the screaming began, Francis shut his eyes and felt the hand of inhumanity brush over him. But his would-be killer’s back turned for a moment and a blinding ray of light spread across the floor. In a crimson pool he saw his own reflection as he bolted for the door.”

The song does everything it sets out to achieve and is a fantastic example of smart, well written, political punk; it made me, at least, questions the hypocrisy surrounding supposed “humane” killing of animals and provoked research into the topic. Hanna’s ability to create empathy for Francis in the outro to the song causes the hair to stand on the back of my head and displays perfectly the stance that Hanna takes, a blurring of lines between animals and humans, it’s a fascinating insight into what drives people pursuing veganism

“And where for 5 months he ran free and replayed his only fond memory just a warm and distant dream of his mother’s loving eyes upon him. Francis made it farther than she did a quarter mile just short of the city limits they finally captured him.”

Goddamn that final section gets me every time!! Now I’m not about to jump on the vegan bandwagon but as I always say, very impressed by people who back their beliefs with actions and that is one thing that you could never accuse the guys from Propagandhi of not doing.

If you have any interest in fast, melodic, technical music and have yet to stumble onto any of the bands material then I can wholeheartedly recommend anything from the bands discography. But  Supporting Caste, is for me, the high water mark, an album that leaves nothing to the imagination, displaying a mixture of tight musicianship with heartfelt lyrics; daring the listener to question the norm and backing the songwriting with a mountain of information that will have you googling for days.