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 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. 

Questions remain as we head into a summer of cricket.

The form of Shaun Marsh, and his ability to nail down a top order position, will be one of the keys if Australia are to have success this Summer.

With six tests split between New Zealand and India, this summer promises to be a chance for Australian cricket to climb the test ladder and hopefully regain some of the prestige that was left battered and bruised following last season’s Ashes defeat. New Zealand, ranked only above Bangladesh in the Test rankings, will provide the Aussies with little more than a warm up to the main event of the season with a four Test series against a flagging Indian side the main drawcard. If Australia are to re-assert their position in the upper echelons of test cricket then series like this, at home, must be won.  New boys Nathan Lyon, Trent Copeland and Shaun Marsh all contributed to the series win away to Sri Lanka; the latter with a fine century on debut in Rick Ponting’s absence. However a new coat of paint does little to improve cracked foundations and question marks still persist over Australia’s ability to compete with the top nations around the world.

1. Which Mitchell Johnson Will We See

Mitchell Johnson has failed to fire in 2011 and was poor in Sri Lanka, just 6 wickets in the test series, at an average of 52.19 is not good enough for a bowler who has the bowling attack built around him. A two match series in South Africa will see Johnson back at Kingsmead, the ground in which he produced one of the nastier spells of bowling I’ve seen, and will hopefully give him some impetus going into the Australian summer. Five wickets in a recent Sheffield Shield game, picking up centurion George Bailey and taking vital wickets with Tasmania chasing a big total, provided a much needed confidence boost before South Africa. If Johnson has the radar working and the ball swinging then he can be virtually unplayable, if not, then class batsmen can work with the angle, driving confidently through the covers if he over pitches then work him off the pads when he inevitably over corrects. Johnson must begin to execute and find ways to adjust when conditions are not ideal, for if he can take wickets Australia has a chance of rolling through any lineup; which leads into my next question.

2. Can Australia Take Twenty Wickets

Ryan Harris has been the most consistent bowler in the attack, mixing an immaculate line and length with that ¼ bat movement off the deck and through the air that enables bowlers to extract wickets via catches behind the bat. Unfortunately his knees and body have regularly let him down and are not capable of enduring the stress needed to shoulder the responsibility of a heavy workload; placing question marks over his ability to play back to back tests on short rest. Trent Copeland provides the side with a metronome like figure, able to hold up an end by employing the age old method of attempting to hit the top of off stump with every delivery, unfortunately this tactic will not bring large hauls and is only useful if a spearhead is getting among the batsmen at the other end. Nathan Lyon provided the selectors with a ray of light in regards to the revolving door that is Australia’s spin attack; picking up five wickets on debut. However he is a work in progress, the five wicket haul coming on a dust bowl in Galle and he only took 3 more wickets for the series. Finding ways to take wickets and bowl Australia to victory, especially in second innings efforts, are a must if he is to cement a place in the side. Victorian paceman, Peter Siddle,  for all his aggression and effort, remains an honest toiler at best ;a test match average of 31.26 is far from what is needed out of a frontline paceman. If he gets accommodating pitches to bowl on then Siddle could trouble the Indians and New Zealanders with shorter pitched deliveries, but he must not rely solely on aggression and intimidation, when was the last time that worked on someone like Tendulker! The big question of the summer is if selectors decide to take a punt and give New South Wales quick Pat Cummins a Test cap; early reports are that the 18 year old is capable of genuine pace and can move the ball both ways, it will be interesting to see if selectors decide to go with a safe pick in Siddle or go for the high risk, high ceiling option in Cummins. Shane Watson will also be a factor in this equation, having shouldered an increased workload in Sri Lanka and providing valuable wickets, injury is always a concern with the all rounder; as the responsibility of bowling long spells and opening the batting is a difficult proposition for any player.

3. Will Watson Continue As Opener.

It cannot be denied that the Queenslanders promotion to the opening spot has been a mildly successful experiment as he has provided the side with a consistent run scorer at the top of the order. However if Australia are to get the full benefit out of Watson “the all-rounder” then a shuffling of the batting order must occur; nineteen times past fifty, in Test cricket, has only seen a return of two centuries, this is not the conversion rate of an out and out opener and Watsons talent and fluid stroke play would be better harnessed at number six.  Shaun Marsh’s technique and mentality seem to me a perfect fit for the position; he possesses the ability to occupy the crease for extended periods, has shots all around the ground and would be a perfect foil to Phil Hughes’s extravagance at the other end. This option would also free Watson up to bowl more overs, providing captain Michael Clarke with a backup plan if the likes of Johnson and company fail, he has shown an ability to consistently move the ball through the air, being the one Australian bowler to constantly reverse the ball and his value on pitches with slight variance in bounce is not to be dismissed as he is able to maintain line and length by bowling stump to stump picking up many of his wickets via L.B.W and bowled.

4. How Long Can Ponting Retain His Position

Ricky Ponting has been Australia’s greatest batsmen since Don Bradman, but the last two years has seen a significant drop in the prolific run scorer’s contributions; two hundreds and a batting average of just 35.57 in the last three years is a meagre return for any test number three and a significant drop in the Tasmanian’s previous output. Usman Khawaja looked solid, without setting the world on fire when called upon last summer and would be the obvious choice as Ponting’s replacement. If the former captain fails to make big scores against New Zealand then pressure will be right on the selectors to ring changes and continue a policy of injecting youth into the side. With captaincy now a non issue Ponting should be free to focus purely on his batting; but if the runs do not come then Australians may be seeing the last of one of the all time greats of the game.


The time is now for Haddin

There is no finer exponent of the straight hit down the ground as Brad Haddin

When Brad Haddin donned the Baggy Green for the first time, in the West Indies 2008, he faced the unenviable job of stepping into a position left vacant by a player that had redefined the term keeper/ batsman. The havoc that Adam Gilchrist wreaked on bowling attacks all around the world was always going to be impossible to recreate; a point that Haddin was always keen to impress on journalists in the lead up to his debut. It would be remiss not to acknowledge the fact that Haddin’s credentials as a hard hitting top order bat, with probably one of the sweetest straight drives in world cricket, were already set; having carved out a reputation as an impressive opening bat in the Australian domestic one day competition and averaging well over fifty, for four straight Sheffield Shield seasons, leading up to his international call up. Many assumed that Haddin’s aggressive stroke play and solid, if unspectacular glove work, would be the perfect antidote to an Australian test side sans Gilchrist.

But Haddin has failed to capture the imagination of the Australian public; the likes of Gilchrist and his explosive batting, Ian Healy with superior work behind the stumps and the “I could have a drink with him” persona of Rod Marsh all are looked upon more favourably than Haddin who is faced with being remembered as the “bloke that came after Gilly.” Critics will point out an inability to turn starts into bigger scores; a return of just eight fifties and three hundreds in a test career spanning thirty five tests seen as insufficient thanks to the lofty standards set by his predecessor.  Criticism has also gathered around his glove work, a record 39 byes against India in 2008, on a difficult track in Bangalore, giving many around the country reason to doubt the New South Welshman’s ability to keep up to the stumps to spin. Technical flaws, such as a tendency to reach out and grab for the ball when standing up, resulted in Haddin’s receiving of the ball to appear stiff, a flaw that ensures hard hands and leads to balls popping out of the gloves.

However Haddin’s recent form behind the stumps indicates to me that adjustments have been made; his work in keeping up to both medium pacerNathan Copeland and spinner Nathan Lyon, in the recently completed tour of Sri Lanka, was first rate. Just the one bye in 144 overs of work on adry dusty Galle pitch, in the first test, a testament to the work that Haddin has put into his keeping as he looks to shape his future in the side instead of having it shaped for him. However a test keeper can no longer rely solely on what he brings to the side in the field; it is with the bat that long term positions are cemented. Haddin’s exploits for New South Wales had filled the selectors thoughts with dreams of a like for like replacement for Gilchrist; and at times he has lived up to the expectations. Opening regularly for Australia in the shorter form of the game and a return of close to 2000 test runs at the number 7 position is nothing to be sneezed at. His record against England is particularly impressive; a shining light for the Australian’s in a losing effort, last Summer, as he compiled 360 runs at an average of 45.00, including 3 half centuries and a First Test century at the Gabba. However recent form with the bat has been less than stellar with Haddin failing to pass fifty in 2011 with an average of just 18.00. His signature drive has been the problem child of late; playing away from his body and foregoing the footwork needed to bring his head over the ball costing him; as catches behind the wicket and in the mid off to cover region have dominated his mode of dismissal throughout the year.

The Australian Summer of 2011/2012 will be a pivotal season in the career of Brad Haddin; if he is to retain his spot as wicket keeper of the Test side he must make significant contributions with both bat and behind the wicket. It seems to me that an Indian bowling attack, which got flogged to all corners of England in their recent series, is a perfect opportunity for a fruitful season and a chance to put to rest any talk of change behind the stumps. But with heir apparent, Tasmanian Tim Paine, already showing in his limited chances that he will not be overawed and the rising reputation of Victorian Matthew Wade and the technician like glove work of Queensland’s Chris Hartley ready to step in at any slip up the time has come for Haddin to rise to the challenges thrown down by those competing for his spot and shape his reputation with a still unconvinced Australian public.