Saturday, August 3, 2013

Thoughts: Old Trafford Test : Day 2

Steve Smith tries to hit Swann into Salford and
ends up skying a simple catch to Bairstow at midwicket

It was a strangely positive day for Australia, who tried to predominantly dominated with the bat, though the manner of the dismissals should irk the players and their coaches. Michael Clarke and Steve Smith began the day on  125* and 70* respectively and made a brisk start, bringing up their 200 run partnership inside the first hour of play before drinks. The understanding between Smith and Clarke looks to be a solid one, with both comfortable against spin and swing, they both run well together and seem to feed of each other's confidence. It was a shame to see Smith waste such a solidly built platform and lost a great chance to score his maiden Test century. It was doubly disappointing given the timing, England were looking down and out going into the drinks break, and Smith could have made 150+ if he hadn't lost his composure, especially so soon after a break in play, in which Clarke and Lehmann (via Wade & Hughes) would have told him to be himself but bat til lunch.

Warner reviews in vain. 
Smith's dismissal brought England's pantomime-villain David Warner to the crease. Greeted by resounding boos and whistles, Warner strode to the crease with a determined smile on his face, and for once, I thought he might be in the right frame of mind to be both solid in defense and patient in attack.  His footwork against Swann, was for the most part, solid, quick and smart, but he is still in the habit of coming forward heavily for his front foot defensive press, which ultimately proved to be his downfall.  The farcical nature of Warner's dismissal raised the ire of many Australian spectators on twitter, with a great joke posted by Dave Tickner

In the post-stumps interview given by Captain Clarke, which was covered by Cricinfo here, Clarke admits he supported Warner's decision to review the verdict, although he tried to convince Warner that he had got an edge.  "My reaction was, yes, I thought Davey hit it," Clarke said. "But in fairness to Davey, if you have a look at the replay, he actually hit his pad at the same time so he obviously didn't feel the ball hit the bat. We had a little discussion in the middle.
"Let's just say we disagreed, but in saying that, I did say to Davey that I would back his judgement 100%. He was confident he didn't hit it so it was worth a look and I've said before I think that's the way DRS should be used. I think if the batter feels that he didn't hit the ball then his partner should back his judgement." 
Didn't challenge the verdict, although it was
To me, backing the batsman's judgement is absolutely the worst way of using the DRS system. The self preservation instinct is too great in batsmen, and although competition for places is high, I doubt your teammate on the field is going to give you bad advice on purpose, regardless of the insecurity he may feel. I have no doubt that Rogers had told Watson not to review his marginal LBW verdicts (calling them marginal is being gentle isn't it), while in this case, Clarke didn't have the force of personality to convince Warner not to waste a review.Does this say more about Warner's arrogance/confidence, Clarke's inability to persuade and take executive decisions as captain or the current DRS usage strategy employed by the Australian squad?

Contrast Watson and Warner's bad decision's with Tim Bresnan's decision not to use a review, even though he wasn't sure if he had hit the ball. Bresnan missed the ball, it hit his hip, and although he shook his head when the umpire's finger went up,  the slight shake of the head from his captain at the non-striker's end meant that either he, Cook, was not certain that Bresnan would be successful with the review, nor was it worth gambling on a review for a nightwatchman.  
Haddin hits with the spin.
Vice-captain Brad Haddin came in at 7 when the momentum was slowly shifting toward England after they had taken a couple of wickets in the span of 4 overs. Haddin was aggressive from the outset of his innings, hitting his second ball for 4 over mid-wicket, slog-sweeping with the spin, and lifting length balls over the infield with ease. Although it looked flashy and risky, Haddin went about his business smartly, not going after low-percentage shots, playing with the spin, rotating the strike and finding the gaps.

Clarke's "captain's innings" concluded
 with a strange dismissal

Clarke's dismissal, after an epic captain's knock of 187 runs, was really quite ugly, badly misjudging a short pitched ball outside off stump that was neither short or wide enough to guide to third-man and ended up inside edging a ball onto his stumps. It was a great innings, full of confident stroke play, smart running and great footwork against Swann. 

Starc celebrates his quick fire 50. 

Clarke's dismissal brought Mitchell Starc to the crease, who, along with Haddin, increased the scoring rate by playing some awesome cricket shots. With his Gilchrist-esqe hand eye coordination and uninhibited swing through the line of the ball,  Starc dispatched length balls on the stumps past the bowler, pulled short balls through midwicket with ease and drove balls through the covers with impressive elegance. Combined with Haddin, these two added a quick 97 runs together, before Clarke pulled the pin on the innings just after tea.  As discussed by Lee and Chappell on the GEM coverage, Clarke no doubt wanted to keep the English openers guessing, not wanting to give them the chance to shower and freshen themselves before batting during the tea break, and wanted to take a few wickets in the fading light while the batsmen, who had spent several hours in the field, were weary and potentially fatigued. Regardless of that rationale, I question the timing of the declaration and the size of the first innings total. 527 is a formidable first innings total, but it leaves doubt in the mind as to Clarke and Lehmann's strategy on winning the game. A total of 450 could be read as a total from which they don't expect to enforce the follow on and will look to build upon a 100-odd run lead and then bowl for victory. However this total gives rise to more questions than answers. Are they trying to win by an innings(a tough ask of the bowlers, who i doubt would be able to contain the English batsman to under 500 for 20 wickets)  or are they prepared to chase down a sub 200 run score in the 4th innings or are they not going to enforce the follow on at all? Given the amount of turn Swann was able to get on days 1 and 2, does Clarke really want to be chasing down a total late on day 5? If the plan was not to enforce the follow on, why waste time scoring an extra 75, and if the plan is to try and win by an innings, surely a score 600 would make defeat impossible. Another matter also raised a question with me, why give the England openers so long to bat after tea. 

Peter Siddle celebrates the wicket of young
danger-man Joe Root 
Yes, Peter Siddle came into the attack and got two wickets, but Cook is well set, and with Trott joining him at the crease, unless a cheap wicket can be taken early on, the ball-now 30 overs old, which will not be conducive to regular swing and will not reverse easily in the morning Manchester conditions, could make scoring quite easy, given how easily the Aussie batsman faced the English quicks. That said, the variations of Starc and the consistency of Harris may be enough to eek out a few more wickets before the ball begins reversing.  

Lyon looked dangerous
in the evening session and should
have had Cook caught at behind if
either Haddin or Clarke had
reacted fast enough
Most Aussie fans hate Graeme Swann for being arrogant, celebrating ostentatiously, for his general demeanor,  and for the fact that he doesn't seem to do so much with the ball but still gets wickets(such behaviour can only be tolerated if it's our man Warney). Given Swann was able to get 5 wickets, ( 2 of which were absolute gifts, Smith and Siddle and 1 shouldn't have been given at all) Nathan Lyon should be able to extract similar amounts of turn and hopefully more wickets than Agar did in his four attempts combined.   

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Ashes: Old Trafford Day 1

The Ashes continued last night at the newly refurbished Old Trafford, with England 2-0 up with 3 to play and one draw away from sealing a series win.

With Clarke electing to bat having won the toss, Rogers and Watson made a comparatively good start, reaching a modest 76 before losing a wicket, with previous opening partnerships of 19, 84, 42 and 24, the Rogers led partnership dealt heavily in boundaries, and Watson who looked to be settling in for a long grind of an innings. Rogers made a dominant start to the match, making a solid 84 which went a fair way to consolidating his position for the rest of the series.
Rogers driving through the off side

Having watched the highlights of the wickets, I'm more disappointed in the fact that:
1- Watson didn't leave that ball, he'd made a nice watchful start and got drawn forward for standard ball that wasn't doing much at all. Once again, he got impatient, trying to force the pace of the game in a Test match against a ball that didn't need to be defended against. Another dismissal that supports my theory that Watson needs to be dropped from the test side. He simply doesn't have the patience for this game.
2- Khawaja didn't drive that ball to the fence. Nice and full ball outside off stump, turning away, and instead of moving his feet properly and connecting with it, and sending it to the fence, he plonks his front foot almost straight down the wicket and has a swipe with his head nice and high. Didn't deserve to go out under the amount of controversy but the technique and terrible shot execution gave Swann the moral victory in this instance anyway.

DRS needs people a non-umpire to operate it, as it seems too many of the thirds are currently too scared of the political backlash to overturn wrong decisions. What exactly is the ICC match referee doing if not this?

Clarke celebrating his hard fought  century.
Having gone to bed quite early last night, it was nice to wake up to the news that Clarke and Smith had made a 174 run partnership. Hopefully tonight we will see Clarke go on and make it a double while Smith, Warner and Haddin push the score over 550 before bowling.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ashes 2-0 down with 3 to play, time for some bold decisions

Given the unsurprising revelations in Micky Arthurs' lawsuit that emerged before the Lord's test and the manner and size of the 2 defeats so far this series, I think the national selection panel should take some bold decisions to change things. Declare a goal-long term building of the side, or short term fix to ensure we don't lose the ashes 10-0.
At the moment, I'd take the short term approach, as i don't think we have the necessary batting talent to make wholesale changes to the team. With this in mind, I'd do the following, 1. drop Watson from the side and bring back Katich to open the batting with Rogers. Watson's has talent to burn but without the ability to make more than the occasional 50+ score, he doesn't fulfill the role of an opening batsman. Added to that,  he keeps wasting DRS challenges on out plumb LBW decisions because he is too stubborn to accept he has a technical flaw in his batting, he has to go.

Bring in Cowan back at 3, although Cowan didn't make many in the first test and went out quite softly, he has the ability to face high quality swing bowling better than Kawaja or Hughes, and uses his feet to spin.

Kawaja showed mental fortitude in the 2nd test and seems to be in better form than Hughes at the moment, so I'd retain him at 4.

Clarke at 5, ideally he should bat at 3 but he doesn't seem to have the self belief to succeed in the position, its as though he's seen his stats at various positions and its become a self fulfilling prophesy.
Haddin at 6, still a better keeper than Wade and makes useful runs at the lower middle order and bats well with the tail, almost got the Aussies home in the 1st Test.
Faulkner( a better all round option than Smith, even though he got wickets in the last game) at 7, and his bowling will help apply pressure to the English batsmen, who to my eye, found the going too easy against tiring bowlers.
I'd then round out the XI with Siddle, Harris, Starc and Lyon. Yes, Lyon. Ashton Agar impressed on debut with the bat, playing with the simplicity of a batman unfettered by over-analysis and coaching, relying on his hand eye coordination and the old chestnut of playing each ball on its merit. However, the  but his bowling requires improvement, with a return of 2/248 off 84 overs not good enough at this level, though with training, he will soon replace Lyon as Australia's best spinning option.  With Pattinson out for the rest of the series, I'd back Starc and Faulkner as left arm bowlers to provide an alternative threat tothe front line pacemen Siddle and Harris.
Even though conventional wisdom says that Australia's batsmen let down the side so far, and that Agar, Haddin and the tailenders have bailed them out, i think reinforcements in the bowling department are required as well, especially given how easy Bell and Root made batting look at Lords.

Being a bit more adventurous with selection- almost abandoning this series of the Ashes with an eye on winning at home, I'd give as many younger players an extended opportunity in the side, to give them the chance to show their true colours, 6 innings to cement a spot for the Australian series or have their spot taken by a player whose qualities are already known. I'd have the side consisting of the following players;

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Selectors Name Ashes Squad, Debate Ensues.

This morning, Cricket Australia Chief Selector John Inverarity,
John Inverarity explained the "logic"
behind selections with a short term outlook.
on behalf of the the "National Selection Panel (NSP) announced the 16 man squad for the tour to England for this winter's Ashes series. 
Dan Brettig made the case a couple of days ago for picking elder statesmen from the Australian domestic scene who are tough, committed and reliable performers and who have gained experience playing in the UK, and it seems the NSP have listened. 
Many analysts and commentators have reluctantly supported the squad selection, while the British press are delighted with the selection, with odds for a 5-0 whitewash shortening since the announcement.  

Batsmen: Michael Clarke (c), Brad Haddin (vc),  Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja, Chris Rogers,Matt Wade, David Warner, and Shane Watson 
Chris Rogers: my ideal candidate to open with Cowan

The inclusion of in form Chris Rogers is a great sign, a "horses for courses" selection policy is always risky,  but in Rogers, the NSP have selected an experienced player who knows and is comfortable in his technique and range of shots, knows the conditions through his years of county cricket and is hungry to add to his 1 test cap without being a newly minted debutant. Although Haddin is no doubt an experienced campaigner, his batting temperament has always been under question, as he is prone to withering under the pressure of quality swing bowling and being dismissed cheaply/softly after getting his "eye in". Although Hughes gained some experience of the conditions prior to the previous away Ashes, he is still vulnerable to quality swing bowling, while Warner, Khawaja, Wade and to some extent Watson, have all struggled against top quality swing and seam bowling. 

How much ever we would like to, we cannot recall Ponting and Hussey for a single series and we must trust in the best available players to perform at their peak in the conditions. 

Bowlers: Jackson Bird, James Faulkner, Ryan Harris,  Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson,  Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, 
The only surprise is the inclusion of James Faulkner and to a lesser extent Ryan Harris and the omissions of a second spinner, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson.

Wicketkeepers: Brad Haddin (vc), Matt Wade.
Slightly surprised to see Paine not called up in the initial squad, while the "leadership" reasons for Haddin's call up are understandable, and his recent Bupa Shield form is promising and is hopefully indicative of a change in batting temperament.  

Having overseen the disastrous tour of India where the side didn't win a session, let alone a game, and where once critical members of the squad were suspended for ill discipline and poor attitude.  Although Watson, Pattinson, Khawaja and Johnson were all identified as potential rotten apples in the cart, the NSP have thought it wise to include 3 of them in the squad for the arguably the most important and difficult tour of the year.  As a part of the press conference, Inverarity made some interesting remarks in regards to the process and thoughts behind certain selections and omissions. 
Haddin could be in the side as a specialist batsman.

"“You will immediately see that Brad Haddin has come in as vice-captain. The CA Board approved the NSP’s recommendation that Brad take up the vice-captaincy. As the case with the awarding of player contracts, Michael Clarke was not part of the decision to recommend Brad. Having said that, Michael absolutely supports the NSP and the Board’s decision to appoint Brad as the new vice-captain of the Test team.  It is a strange day in sport and leadership science when a non-regular team member can be elevated straight into a position of leadership. Yes, Haddin had been a regular for a long period before his years absence, but the dynamic of the team has no doubt changed in that period of time. I would also like to know just how enthusiastic Clarke is to have Haddin as his 2nd in command. "Absolutely supporting" a decision after it has been made is a political statement to keep the peace in the selection panel, and the veracity of that statement can only be verified by Clarke in the future. I remain skeptical of this "absolute support", as I think Clarke would rather have a younger member of the side take up the formal rank, while elder campaigners, who might not be in the side for the long term, support him from an informal advisory position, like Ponting and Hussey did for the last 18 months. 

“In regards to the vice-captaincy, we feel it’s important to have a senior, seasoned player support Michael at this time. When Shane Watson advised of his decision to stand down, the NSP viewed Brad as the exceptional candidate to step into this leadership void." 
The Shane Watson subplot to the fiasco in India posed many questions in regards to his cricketing worth, his personal characteristics & his leadership qualities. Seemingly rewarded for his ill-discipline in the early part of the Indian tour with the captaincy in the 4th Test, Watson's contributions on the field were woeful, scoring a series total 99 runs at 16.5 while not bowling, and this was after he had the temerity to put pressure on his fellow teammates my declaring himself to be the best opener in the squad but he would bat where required.
Upon returning to the tour, he led the side in a more aggressive performance from the side, with the players around him performing to a higher standard, though his own form did not improve. Having "taken the decision" to  step down from the vice-captaincy to focus on his form, a decision which I believe does more to highlight his own ego than show any humility or concern for team dynamics, (especially when he so emphatically insisted that it was purely his decision to stand down), I wonder if he does enough with as a pure batsman to warrant a place in the side.
Watson bowling is, at least for now, a thing of the past.
I have a theory that an all-rounder must be sufficiently skilled with both bat and ball to warrant a place in the side as an "individualist".  This means that an all-rounder should not get into the side if he is a top batsmen and but would fail to consistently take 10 wickets a series, or a top bowler but couldn't be relied upon to average 40 in most series.  The popular consensus is that a all-rounder does their job if they contribute with either bat or ball and its a bonus if they do so with both. However this is a false dichotomy, as I think sides that don't field an all-rounder but instead include another specialist have been successful throughout the history of cricket.

Given Watson's lack of reliable fitness to bowl prolonged or even short spell, I don't think the current Australian side can afford to carry him either as an all-rounder nor as a specialist batsman, when other options are available, both in terms of all-rounders ( Smith, Maxwell,Henriques, McDonald) or specialist batsmen (Doolan, Rogers,Bailey etc).

Wicket-keeping Situation:
 Upon re-reading the top quote from the previous section, no-where did Inverarity state that Haddin had the wicket-keeping sport secured, with the following line leaving things in a state of tension and uncertainty. “Matthew Wade is a very good cricketer and remains central to our plans for the future."  With Wade's inclusion in the squad, and with no real or clear insights given to the make up of the starting XI, it is not inconceivable that both Wade and Haddin could fit into the side, with one playing as a lower middle order batsman. 
As for the relatively small squad size, Inverarity gave hope to some of the Aussies playing in the British domestic circuit,"We’ll have approximately 30 players in England at the start of the northern summer and the NSP can add to the Ashes squad at any stage if the need arises."

Hopefully the NSP bring in some top performers from the county circuit to supplement the squad, and reward those in form instead of turning to old hands who are under performing. Otherwise, what is always a difficult tour will become another exercise in futility, and a tour to forget.