Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A new world order

So South Africa have finally won a test series in Australia. Even if they don't win the 3rd test they deserve to be number 1 in the world. They have won 9 out of 10 series in the last 2 years. The other series was a draw against India, which would have been a win if the BCCI hadn't ordered one of the worst pitches ever for the last test, which surprisingly enough India won.

Smith may not be as brilliant a captain as Mark Taylor or Stephen Fleming but gets the job done. More importantly than any field placing or bowling changes he leads from the front. For SA to have any chance in this series he had to overcome his previous batting problems against Australia. He has over 250 runs in the series so far despite batting with a destroyed elbow and has done the job he needed to do. Throughout the year he has scored crucial 4th innings runs and managed more at the MCG to get his team close enough to the target for the fear to disappear.

This is now his team - it's taken 5 years of working within a system of targets and quotas to reach a point where the team that takes the field is there on merit and includes coloured players of outstanding talent - Prince, Duminy and Ntini as well as Asian descent - Amla. The senior players such as Boucher and Kallis support him completely and the newer players into the team have learnt from his approach and are now fearless and confident.

The Proteas have a well balanced batting line up, a brilliant keeper and a bowling attack capable of taking 20 wickets on most pitches in the world. Morne Morkel finally showed what he is capable of on day 4 with spells that were consistent and aggressive, Dale Steyn is the best quick around and Ntini and Kallis will always get wickets. Harris may not be the greatest spinner ever but he takes wickets and can keep things tight.

2009 looks like being a good one for cricket - SA looking to hold onto the number 1 spot, India continuing their run under Dhoni, Sri Lanka coming from nowhere to be rather good, England responding to KP's pushing and Australia fighting back.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Ponting stands tall

I may not have been the greatest fan of his captaincy over the last few months but I've always loved watching him bat. This test match has shown us why he's one of the best batsmen in the world.

Ignoring all the pressure put on him by the media and the fans he has played two of his best innings. The first innings hundred (101 off 126) was fluent, attacking and determined and an example to the rest of his team. He didn't believe that the series was lost and set out to prove everyone wrong. He believed his team were still world leaders and world beaters.

In the second innings he ignored the fact that his bowlers hadn't done the job and Australia were now in a position of having to save the game. He ignored Hayden's kamikaze innings, Katich's brain freeze, Clarke's return to playing loose shots and Hussey's poor decision. His innings was briliant to watch. He took quick singles and put pressure on the field and scored off any loose deliveries. He deserved a hundred.

Despite all his efforts Australia look like losing this game and the series. If the rest of the batsmen had followed their captain's example they would probably be heading to Sydney still 1-0 down with a chance to square things.

Monday, 22 December 2008

So the impossible became possible...

SA were exceptional on day 5 and thoroughly deserved their win. AB de Villiers played the innings of his career so far - I would rate it above the double hundred he made against India earlier this year even if he doesn't! JP Duminy came in and looked nervous at first but determined to get on with things and deal with the pressure. He handled the situation so well that even the horribly biased Ian Chappell was impressed. SA should be raring to go in Melbourne with nearly all the batsmen in good form. The seamers weren't at their best at the WACA but the feel-good vibes in the team should perk them up.

Australia have many problems. The main one being their captain. Ponting is rude, clueless, irritating and spends far too much time moaning. His attack on Brett Lee was unjustified given that Lee had actually bowled pretty well in the game. He should have been critising the batsmen - Hayden has to go. His feet aren't moving and he looks lost. But he won't be going anywhere cos he happens to be one of Ponting's best mates.

Meanwhile new boy Krejza has been dumped out of the team. Why are the bowlers always punished after losses but the batsmen keep their places. Hayden, Ponting himself and Hussey all need to start scoring runs and captain-in-waiting Clarke has to learn not to throw his wicket away. You'd hope that after 42 tests he'd have managed that but apparently not. Symonds has been defended repeatedly by his captain and needs to make lots of runs to justify his continued selection.

The next few days and continued fall-out from this loss are going to be interesting.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Brilliance at the WACA

Regular readers will know that I have a soft spot for South Africa and especially their captain and today's play at the WACA showed why. SA need 414 to win and are currently 187 runs away thanks mainly to another brilliant innings from their captain (it was worth waking up at 3am for).

Graeme Smith isn't everyone's favourite person but is definitely the driving force and inspiration for the Saffers. His innings today (108 from 147 balls) was scratchy at the start as Lee and Johnson were superb with the new ball and he struggled with the tennis elbow that has been a problem since the IPL earlier this year. Once McKenzie was dismissed and Amla came to the crease he started to relax a bit and after tea was much more fluent. His partnership with Amla(who made 53 from 112 balls) has set the game up nicely and a good partnership between Kallis and De Villiers could take SA a long way towards what was seemingly an impossible total.

Australia were mostly very good today. Haddin's innings in the morning was a wonderful counter attack and seemed to have taken the game away from SA. He appears to be channelling the spirit of Gilchrist at the moment and has the same skill of playing well with the tail. Australia's tail including Haddin have made over 200 runs in this game whereas the SA tail has struggled. Lee and Johnson bowled well all day with Lee unlucky not to have 4 or 5 wickets in the game so far. His duel with Kallis late in the evening brought back memories of Flintoff vs Kallis at Edgbaston this year.

At the end of day 4 Australia are slightly ahead but anything could happen tomorrow.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Test cricket is alive

Having been trapped in Bedford for the past four weeks in rubbish hospital accomodation without a TV anywhere or internet in my room I haven't seen any cricket for a while. I get to come home at weekends and have spent today watching one of the best days of test cricket I've seen in a long while.

England have been surprisingly good in this game following their fractured build up. Strauss has reminded me why I've rated him so highly over the past few years. He's never going to look the most stylish of batsmen but he's effective and knows what he can and can't do. His hundred in the second innings was exactly what England needed, given the pathetic performance of the rest of the top order until Collingwood turned up. He paced himself and picked up runs where he could with a few aggressive shots when needed and avoided any stupid shots. I could attempt to praise Collingwood but the man is so boring to watch I can't be bothered.

India started the chase better than they could have expected - Sehwag destroyed Harmison and Anderson to make 83 runs off 68 balls and cause KP a few problems. He was dropped by Cook in the 20s and took advantage of his second life. India look as if they believe they can win this game and much will depend on Gambhir to stick around and play the anchor role tomorrow allowing Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni to come in and play freely. If they can get through the first session for the loss of only one wicket, maybe two, then they will be in a very strong position.

The game is set up nicely although I won't be able to comment on how it finishes because I'll be back in bloody Bedford until the 19th. There are no words to describe how gutted I am to be missing this and the start of Aus-SA.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

We come to it at last...the great battle of our time

The South Africans have landed in Australia at last. They are full of confidence and ready to go. This series has the potential to be one of the best seen in long time and I have my fingers crossed that the quality of cricket will be better than that seen in the just gone Aus vs India series which was brilliant in patches but also dire in others.

The South African line-up is very similar to the Aussie one - settled opening pair, strong middle order, battery of good quicks and a dodgy spinner. The fact that the groundsman at the WACA has prepared an older pitch without any of the restored pace and bounce suggests the Aussies are slightly nervous. Graeme Smith is much more sensible this time around and a well-led South African team should be able to win a test if not the series.

Ponting is still under pressure following the series in India and the Aussies are involved in various distractions such as the dispute with Cricket Australia over how much time they spend on sponsors activities. South Africa have grabbed the early edge in terms of media coverage. Their players appear to be more willing to talk to journalists and tend to be honest and interesting.

Both teams have had a similar build-up - thrashing miserably poor touring teams (NZ and Bangladesh respectively) doesn't provide much of an insight into how the players will cope in a close contest. South Africa have the confidence of winning 8 out of their last 9 series while Australia appear to be coming to terms with losing in India. The series is too close to call but having seen South Africa demolish England this summer, I think they might take this series as well providing that Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn live up to the hype.