Test Ratings

Test CricketThere can be little doubt that watching cricket in four dimensions is way better than two and that was proven again as I watched the Australians play damn good Test cricket to swamp the New Zealanders in Brisbane. Having been introduced to Test cricket at the SCG and still living closer to it than any other Test ground, I’ve never ventured to any others until this last week.

The Gabba is a great place to watch cricket. Forget the horror stories of dog tracks and old stands that were fire traps and Lord Mayors who divested coat and tie beside the roller and walked out in mud and rain to push sticky bits from one end to the other. The Gabba is now a modern arena, with a continuous circle of stands and amenities the equal of the SCG. The stands have smaller or no concourses and appear to drop straight onto the ground. The effect is to bring more fans closer to the action. The pitch is far removed from the glue pots of the late 1940’s and since the decline of the WACA track, is probably the fastest and hardest wicket in the Test rotation.

The crowds were surprising, although Cricket Australia must be pleased to draw more than ten thousand on each of the four days. The Australian performance has done much to bolster crowds for next week in Hobart.┬áIt’s similar to when people first witness what a good food processor can do. Speaking of food processors, why not visit trustyappliances.co.uk for the best food processor.

Based on my time in the stands, watching the game ebb and flow for the first two days until Michael Clarke took control on the third, its clear Australian fans, left distraught by the decline of their side last summer, would have received the good news well, especially if they had paid little regard to events of the winter and early spring. For many, if cricket isn’t on free to air television, then there’s little they will do to follow fortunes.

Let’s not talk this win down because it was against New Zealand. Ten years ago when Australia was at it dominant best, Stephen Fleming bought an average side across the ditch and drew all three Tests of the series. In the previous home season, the West Indies had been crushed 5-0, England were flogged 4-1 in the Old Dart and twelve months after the Kiwis visit, Australia was beating South Africa 5-1 home and away, so it wasn’t as if they were in poor form. The Australians bristled with all her modern legends: McGrath and Warne, the Waughs, Torvill & Dean (or is that Hayden and Langer), Martyn, Lee, Gillespie and its only modern survivor, Ricky Ponting. Yet Fleming, surely the smartest captain to come from the Shakeys, hatched a plan which allowed his ordinary batsmen to survive McGrath and Warne and frustrate the Australians. Leaving as much as possible outside off stump to McGrath and padding away Warne they survived long enough to make good runs and scores which kept the Australians under pressure to score runs … which they did by the bucketful against an attack where only Daniel Vettori averaged below 40.

No such planning was apparent in the New Zealand approach at Brisbane. Only ex-pat Dean Brownlie seemed able to control his bat outside off stump and know when and when not to play at outswingers from the Australian quicks. Time and again, Ross Taylor’s men handed wickets to the Australian rookies, preferring to play from instinct rather than intelligence. Its unfair to single anyone out in such a thoughtless, gutless performance but batting which lacks application always looks worse in players like Jessie Ryder who has such a wealth of natural ability to strike the ball and sweet timing to back it up. Out cutting a Starc long hop to Warner and sending a soft lob to Hussey at mid off from a standard Lyon off break are condemnable offences at any level of the game. His problem appears to be that he cares zip about anything, including the criticism which should rightly pile upon him. You first need to be a millionaire to spend like one. Ponting didn’t reach legend status by lazily splashing his gifts about to every ball he ever faced.

The Australians were very, very good. Recovery is the mark of the strength of teams. Because no one’s perfect, mistakes are inevitable. Training and intensity can hone skills only so far and will reduce but never remove the rare event … like when the skipper drops a sitter at first slip and the mistake costs 150 runs. Clarke and his bowlers lifted their heads and went back to basics. When Vettori chose death over glory and took on Hussey at mid on, the vigilant Australians seized the opportunity and wrapped up the last five wickets in just sixteen overs. Then with Australia in trouble at 2-25, Khawaja-Ponting, Ponting-Clarke and Clarke-Haddin batted in pairs to crush New Zealand. Clarke had all the luck but so what? He made the most of it and made the opposition pay for their mistakes. Pattinson’s work on the third evening and fourth morning was the icing on the cake. Among the bowlers, Pattinson made a strong debut, with that spell on the fourth morning far better than anything else he produced in the first innings, where he lacked rhythm. Starc was like a badly cooked steak – tasty in parts but raw in others. Lyon is developing that happy knack of destroying the lower order and looks to be the spinner we have been waiting for. Spare some happy thoughts for Peter Siddle. He was far and away the best bowler in the first innings having two catches dropped and in the second, he was the bloke at the other end applying the pressure when Pattinson was beserking his way through the Kiwi top order.

Marking the card of the players from both teams – where 5 is average – might look like this:

New Zealand
Martin Guptil (3) – caught Phil Hughes in the gully twice but spent an hour and a half batting for little return
Brendon McCullum (4) – looked the goods in the first hour of the Test but was out twice to bad shots
Kaine Williamson (2) – shuffles too far across and still waves outside off stump
Ross Taylor (4) – played two dreadful shots to get out but his leadership in the field was good, shepherding Doug Bracewell at mid off when the youngster was under fire
Jessie Ryder (2) – bats like it doesn’t matter. Imposing figure at short leg.
Dean Brownlie (8) – very impressive in both innings. Played conservatively early on and then expanded his range of shots. The only NZ batsmen who seems to know where his off stump is and the dangers that lie outside it
Daniel Vettori (8) – a small range of shots but fiercely determined. Bowled masses of overs cheaply but as always, failed to penetrate
Reece Young (6) – a clean gloveman, who’s only mistake was a clanger. He’s batting too high at 8. Gets an extra point for guts, returning behind the sticks after having stitches in his mouth
Doug Bracewell (5) – bowled without luck, having three catches dropped and bowling Clarke off a no ball. Was attacked early by the Australians but came back
Tim Southee (4) – got the first and last wickets … Warner with a corker just before stumps on Day 1. Didn’t look like worrying the batsmen after that
Chris Martin (6) – the old man of the team, he was non-stop effort and deserved the scalps of Ponting and Clarke. He again exposed Ponting’s flaw. Added to his duck tally in the second innings

David Warner (4) – can hardly be blamed for his first innings failure. Fielded superbly.
Phil Hughes (1) – gets a point for turning up each day. Didn’t do anything else.
Usman Khawaja (6) – batted well in a key partnership with Ponting and fielded well in close
Ricky Ponting (8) – some vintage drives and pulls turned back the calendar to the old Ricky up until he went around his front pad to Martin and was lbw looking like the recent model. Caught well at slip. He deserved a hundred, playing the most attractive hand of the Test
Michael Clarke (9) – fabulous captaincy, pulling the right changes at the right time and always prepared to think outside the square (bringing Hussey on … I wouldn’t bowl him in the nets!) and then rode his luck to play the crucial innings of the Test match
Michael Hussey (4) – was unlucky to inside edge Vettori. Fielded well with a sensational runout.
Brad Haddin (10) – only good things to say in a faultless display behind the stumps and a fine innings, out only when quick runs were called for
Peter Siddle (8) – bowled well in both innings without luck. Australia best bowler in this Test
James Pattinson (7) – his length and direction were all over the place in the first innings but that fourth morning more than made up for it. Kept thinking I was watching Kasprowicz
Mitchell Starc (5) a reasonable debut. Bowled some good bouncers but was inconsistent with his fuller deliveries. Batted well.
Nathan Lyon (8) – does everything well. Cleaned out the tail in both innings. Can come on when the ball is new and be most effective. His fielding was energetic.

That’s how it looked from Bay 40.

Pakistan Wins In Dubai

Pakistan won the 2nd Test against Sri Lanka, taking a 1-0 lead in the three Tests being played in neutral venues in the UAE.

It was a strange Test. Despite winning with ease by nine wickets, it was less the work of her bowlers that secured the victory for Pakistan than it was the work of the Sri Lankan batsmen. With a batting order that has been declining in performance for some time, it was again their ineptitude in twice being dismissed around the 250 mark which gifted the match to Pakistan. Kumar Sangakkara and regular keeper Prasanna Jayawardene have nearly 450 runs between them for the series which is the same as the combined runs of the remaining six players who have batted in the top seven. Mahela Jayawardene and captain Tillakaratne Dilshan have a combined aggregate of 81 runs in eight innings which should be the greatest cause for concern, especially as the skipper is calling on his batsmen for more application. Its always a worry when the leader starts talking to himself.

It was also strange that Saeed Ajmal was awarded Man of the Match for capturing eight wickets, including 5-68 in the Sri Lankan second innings. Like a good proctologist, his best work was done cleaning out the tail, with only two of his eight scalps in the top seven of the batting order. Why Azhar Ali didn’t win is a mystery, as his first Test century after 10 scores over fifty, was the main reason Pakistan were in a winning position and he was not out at the end when the victory was had.

Sri Lanka resumed at 1-88 and the loss of Sangakkara was the blow they didn’t need, especially to yet another roughy from umpire Tony Hill. He has had more howlers this year than a werewolves convention and the ICC needs to act to either improve or remove him from the international panel. The soft middle order again left without resistance: Jayawardene sweeping at a ball outside off from Ajmal and losing his leg stump and Dilshan lbw to Junaid Khan with one that jagged back into his pads from the off. When opener Tharanga Paranavitana’s 80 overs of resistance ended soon after, Angelo Matthews was again left to bat with the tail and added another fifty to a growing record which requires another move up the order, probably to four. Prassad tried hardest in the tail but Ajmal was too good for the likes of these. Hafeez and Ali made comfortable work of scoring the 94 needed for victory at four runs an over.

Pakistan were impressive but Sri Lanka were very disappointing and their poor showing in recent months is putting Australia’s “improvement” into perspective. Lets not start celebrating just yet.

Overseas Tests

Pakistan v Sri Lanka
Overseas CricketAfter Pakistan had occupied the crease for some of the first day, all of the second and most of the third to accumulate 511, Sri Lanka batted the fourth day out with the same endeavour, scoring just 251 for the loss of 4 wickets. Thanks chiefly to Kumar Sangakkara’s unbeaten 161 and inept Pakistani catching, Sri Lanka are within 16 runs of making Pakistan bat again. Five catches were grassed, three of them by Mohammad Hafeez off the blade Lahiru Thirimanne, including misses at slip of successive deliveries from Junaid Khan. Thirimanne added 153 with Sangakkara who also had his share of luck being dropped twice by Younis Khan. As often happens, after such a long partnership, Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan fell inside ten overs of Thirimanne’s dismissal but Sangakkara continued to resist with Angelo Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene, bringing up his 26th Test century, 14 of which have been beyond the 150 mark. In fact, if he reaches his double century, it will be his eighth, leaving Hammond behind and with only Lara and Bradman scoring more. They say you are defined by the company you keep.

As great as this Sri Lankan team is, they are in steady decline with Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara in the same bracket as Ricky Ponting: still good players who can hurt you on occasion but unlikely to bat you out of a series because their high scoring consistency is dissipating. Dilshan never was a great, averaging no better than early forties which once was well considered but not in the modern game where only averages over 50 attract attention. Since Murali and Vaas left, allowing the wallpapered cracks to weather and be exposed, Sri Lanka have not found youngsters of the same verve. There are too many conservatives with no audacity in the batting and their bowlers are at best honest. Malinga was a match winner but he prefers to win matches for more generous paymasters. Angelo Mathews, now vice captain, also stands apart from the bunch but whether team mates will be prepared to follow a leader with only a two syllable surname is debatable.

Pakistan should win on the last day if the lofted ball doesn’t continue to find Hafeez. On a docile wicket, their bowlers have worked hard for the victory and deserve a change of luck. Their batting lacks endeavour, with Azhar, Younis and particularly Taufeeq batting like children hiding in a bedroom cupboard from the boogie man. On a placid pitch, against an opposition which appear to be finding cricket a chore and an opposing captain who shows as much interest in the game as a nun at an underwear party, there was no excuse for personal scoring rate below 50 per hundred balls.

Bangladesh v West Indies
The Stuart Law coached Bangladesh started their first home series since March of 2010, with the opening day against the West Indies at Chittagong. Mushfiqur Rahm won the toss in his debut Test as Bangladesh captain and batted. Much confidence has been placed in the 23 year old, who will also keep wicket. He debuted as a 16 year old – the youngest of all nations to have played at Lords – and despite concerns about his form a year ago, has risen to the top. He top scored on a day of steady batting which threatened to run away from the West Indies only to be pegged back by its own enthusiasm for stroke play. Darren Sammy did a good job on a dead wicket, changing his bowlers around often and varying angles of attack and field placings. Iqbal Kayes was the only batsman not to make a start, snicking o Baugh of Ravi Rampaul. The others all made inroads but failed to take it all the way down the highway.

As a result, quick wickets tomorrow could well undo their good work.

Davendra Bishoo got spin after lunch and the odd ball kept disturbingly low for a first day track. Marlon Samuels, cast into the second spinner role despite getting first use of the ball, was gifted two wickets when Iqbal and Hasan threw their hands away with senseless slogs after they had batted their way into command. Fidel Edwards was his usual aggressive self, channelling Charlie Griffiths with an around the wicket bouncer which sent No 3 Nafees from the field with a bloodied nose when the ball either snuck between visor and grill or just hit with enough impact to force the grill back into his face. Cause was irrelevant as effect was the same.

An even day that could have been even better for Bangladesh but they don’t play enough cricket to have that experience on hand. Rain will be the biggest threat to both sides over the next few days.

One Day Test Cricket

The West Indies are in a powerful position thanks to some fast and bullish fast bowling from Fidel Edwards and some lunatic fringe batting from the Bangladeshi top order.

Resuming at 5-253, the West Indies added another 100 runs as Kirk Edwards reached his second hundred in only five Test innings and Marlon Samuels breezed to 48 before playing loosely and being caught and bowled in spectacular fashion by Nasir Hossain.

Bangladesh started like they had a bus to catch and the more they swung, the faster and shorter Fidel Edwards bowled. By the ninth over they had 59 on the board but Edwards, then in his fifth over, had five wickets. It was slap and tickle cricket which included a brilliant at catch at short leg by Darren Bravo from Tamim Iqbal and mostly dumb batting from Bangladesh.

Shakib Al Hasan, after taking five wickets, continued the free strokeplay in face of a crisis, scoring 73 at a run a ball and adding 84 with Naeem Islam before Davendra Bishoo turned one through the gate and bowled him. Naeem was run out near the end of the day in mix up with Nasir over a third run.

With the batsmen starting and stopping, Roach threw to the wrong end and Bishoo redirected to the keeper in a display of Keystone Cops cricket. Naeem had looked the best of the batsmen and it was waste that may turn this Test match.

No 4 – Adam Gilchrist

Adam GilchristYep, yep, yep … the single best timer of a cricket ball I have watched. Not as good a keeper as Healy or Oldfield but the difference is hardly worth the comparison when one considers what else he bought to the team.

Here was a man who greatest trait was nothing to do with the amazing skills he possessed as a cricketer … he is simply one of the most decent men to have worn the Baggy Green.

Loved to win, fought as hard as any international cricketer but never felt the need to descend to the low points of abuse and gamesmanship of others around him.

Read the detailed assessment by Malcolm Knox of one of this correspondents favourite two or three cricketers.