Tag Archives: Ryan Harris

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.

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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.