Big two bow out


Australia are in trouble at 3/10 when Ricky Po...Image via Wikipedia

The winner of the cricket world cup of 2011 is still to be decided, but for two of the big teams of world cricket it's all over.

Australia's demise was no big surprise. The slow decline of Australian cricket has been oft reported, and though still competitive they have have lost that fearsome cutting edge they once had. In this tournament they never really seemed to get going in the manner we have come to expect. As if believing reports of their vulnerability they often played tentative, unambitious cricket. Batting particularly they seemed more concerned about protecting their wickets than pushing the scoring rate along. In days past a departing batsman was replaced by someone just as capable – I think that is still true, but I don't know if the squad retains that faith. And so they played smaller when batting. It was enough to win; in past days winning was not enough, Australia sought to dominate.

Confusing instructions didn't help much. Haddin, a very capable, but occasionally dumb cricketer seemed unsure as to what his role was. A natural stroke-player he seemed to reign himself in when the occasion demanded he should go for it, only to generally get himself out stupidly when the discipline got to much for him. He should have been told to play his natural game, which is to blaze. Statistically Haddin had a good tournament, yet his contribution should have been greater.

Cameron White was disappointing. A very astute leader of men and cricket brain he seems robotic sometimes batting. He's in the side for his big hitting, but with that deserting him he had no other gear. As a batsman he seems to be fully on or switched off altogether. He seemed incapable of pushing for the quick single and rotating the strike, and seems never to be to encoraged to do so. In hindsight he was clearly a handicap to the team and though I'm a fan, persisted with too long.

The biggest deficiency in this side was the lack of a quality spinner. Australia was unfortunate to be queered by injuries and forced into a bold bowling strategem. It might have worked had the missing ingredient – a decent spinner – had been in the team. No offense to Krezja but he lacks control and, in 50 over cricket at least, venom. Ultimately our part time bowlers looked more threatening than him, and that's why we bowed out at the quarter final stage. Give me a hald decent spinner and we would have reached the final.

Still, I can't be too disappointed, and if I sound harsh then I don't mean to be. For all the shortcomings in the squad the team fought tooth and nail to the end, as they always do.

Leadinmg the way was Ponting. He's a divisive figure Ponting. I love him, but many don't. Women particularly seem to take against him while men, more attunmed to that spirit, are more forgiving. Ponting is a warrior. He's the toughest cricketer in world cricket and has been for many years. He's one of the best batsmen of all time, which he proves again and again by rising to the occasion again and again. His century in the QF after being besieged in the weeks before is just the latest proof of that.

Ponting is a great leader. Criticised from outside he seems genuinely loved by those in his charge. It's easy to see why – he's one those strong, unflinching types who lead by example. He's an ordinary on-field captain however – which leads now to the next big decision.

In the wake of the Ashes disaster a review was initiated. My hope is that it goes deep. I want Ponting to stay in the side, though I think he drop down the order in tests. I think he should be replaced as captain though, if only because the next generation needs to step forward. Selection policies and selectors themselves should be reviewed. And Tim Nielson as coach – a great disappointment in my book – should be replaced. Off field there seems insufficient guidance outside of Ponting, and some of the things Australia have traditionally been so good at have slipped back in standard.

I'll take the quick single as an example – once upon a time it was the corner-stone of the re-build of an Australian team by Bobby Simpson. The game has moved on, big hitting is much more prevalent, yet running between wickets is one of cricket's one percenters. They seemed to have been overlooked or forgotten, yet it is in the combination of these that is often the difference between winning and losing. Australia used to be way out in front in this area. Today, we're probably the best fielding side in the world still, but otherwise have become much sloppier than we once were, and someone has to be accountable for that.

If Australia's loss was no great surprise, South Africa's loss was – in a way at least. Probably the tournament favourite they went into the QF final playing the only other team never to have won a knock-out match in the comp. That's an astounding statistic. Australia have probably lost 3 over the distance, and won about 15. South Africa, perpetual favourites, seem always to fall away when the pressure is on. And so in a way their loss was no great surprise either.

Australia and South Africa leave the tournament in different states. Australia knows it must re-build, but at least there is an exciting batch of youngsters coming through. And our rich tradition of tough, uncompromising cricket has been upheld – we lose, but with our heads held high.

On the field South Africa appear to be in a much healthier state than us. They have a strong batting line-up with a good sprinkling of youth, and they have the best bowler in the world. I have a lot of time for Steyn as bowler and as a man. But they leave also with this sorry record of underperformance – let's face it, of choking – underlined once again. Amazing. The monkey on their back must be the size of a gorilla. For the likes of Kallis and Smith that's probably it – they won't be around next time. In any case, how do they recover from this.

So that's where it is. Australia, the West Indies (who have won a combined 6 of the 9 previous world cups) and South Africa out. I think Sri Lanka will win it. They've been my pick from the get-go. They're a well balanced team with good hitters, some sublime batsman (Sangakkara is world best imo) and a potentially potent attack. They'll likely play India in the final, who I'll be glad to see lose. I don't mind they beat us, but I mind the typically ungracious way so many of their supporters celebrated it. We won't forget.

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Michael Hussey stuns Pakistan | Australia v Pakistan, 2nd semi-final, St Lucia Report | Cricket News | Cricinfo.com


This is what makes a champion side and don’t Pakistan know it. In 40 overs Australia re-taught their opponents the lessons of four days in Sydney from earlier this year, the moral of which remains that till the precise moment Australia are out, they are never out. Pakistan were on top for three days in Sydney, and 39 overs here, but Australia hunted away, gripped in, stuck at it. And with one ball to go, they pulled off an astonishing chase of 192 to enter Sunday’s final, leaving on Pakistan the deepest kind of scars in an already abusive relationship. On this form, England needn’t bother turning up.

via www.cricinfo.com

Man, I wish I had have seen this. I’ve not been a big fan of T20 cricket but I’m warming to it. Not hard with matches like this one (I’m watching the replay now). Possibly the best ever T20 match to date, and certainly the best ever run chase.

I may rattle on sometimes about how good the Australian cricket team is, but it’s easy to understand why. Their greatness lies not in the spread of talent, which is exceptional, but it is rather their spirit and undying belief. They are champions because they win against the odds, again and again.

There is always someone putting their hand up. At different times different parts of the team have fired, and in many games this tournament all aspects have been dominant. Last night the bowlers where smashed around the ground for the first time this series. Then the top order failed chasing the biggest target thus far, and in the semi-final. Looking down the barrel Cameron White kicked started things again and then, extraordinarily, Mr Cricket (Michael Hussey) came to the rescue.

This is a game Australia should have lost. They just refused to, like so often. Hard to see them beaten from here, but there’s no room for complacency. Get over England and celebrate then. In the meantime, all credit to the Aussies – they’re titans of the sport.

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The players to watch


Having spent a lifetime watching Australian cricket I have come to recognise it's prime characteristics. You can count on a committed effort in the field, the batting aggressive, the fielding athletic, the bowling hostile, the attitude unrelenting. I doubt any of our rivals would dispute that. I've been witness to a great era of success that has bordered on dominance. I'm old enough to remember the great West Indian teams of the eighties, but what was fleeting success for them has been sustained by an Australian team from one generation to the next.

Looking back over the last 20 years Australia has probably won about 70% of all the contests they've been in, a great rate when you consider that cricket is one sport where draws are a frequent occurrence. When they've won it seems to me they've won in one of two ways: dominating from start to finish and cantering away; or overcoming a tough opponent, a difficult situation, gritting their teeth and fighting to the last. Some teams lose games in those situations; Australia wins them.

Today I watched the final of the U19 Cricket World Cup from New Zealand. Australia were playing Pakistan. Australia has won this twice before, but it's never really been big in the public's consciousness. In an interesting article today Peter Roebuck made the point correctly that in the Australian mind winning a junior tournament is nice, but it's really the grown up stuff that counts. To a degree that has been the cricketing administrations view also: they were quoted going into the tournament that the first priority was to develop players who can progress to the senior team in years to come. The trophy would be nice, but this is all about the future and ensuring the success of our senior team continues far into the future.

That said you always want to win, and no kid walking onto the ground today would have had any other thought than that. In the end it was a very good, tight game. Australia batted first and struggled along to a mediocre score, but kept going when they might have been bowled out. Pakistan looked good early but then Australia in their inimitable way put the screws on with excellent fielding, smart bowling, and astute captaincy. As the game went on the screws were further tightened as Pakistan slowly lost their way and succumbed to the pressure. In the end Australia comfortably won a match they should have lost, very much in the manner of the senior team.

Now they have the trophy that's the end of that team. They'll go back to their states and make their way, progressing individually or falling away. One thing is certain that there are players we saw today who will one day play test cricket for Australia. For me their are two leading candidates. Josh Hazlewood is six and half feet tall and was the match-winning bowler today. I think he's a special. In fact I think one day we'll be speaking of him in the same breath as Glen McGrath.

The other is the skipper of today's team, Mitch Marsh. Son of a former player and the brother of Australias's one day opening batsman, I think Mitch Marsh is a good chance to captain the senior team too one day. Tall, powerful, aggressive, confident he possesses that intangible quality that separates the good from the great. If I was a selector I'd be inclined to fast track him because I think he's one of those rare players without limit. The harder you put it to him, the better he'll go.

Other than those also impressed with Jason Flores, Luke Doran and Tom Triffitt , the wicketkeeper. The other one to remember is Darren Pattinson, playing for Victoria – in fact bowling stocks look pretty good. Look out for them.

On a sort of related note I saw highlights last night of a match in the early nineties between  the senior Australian side and Australia A, made up of the young up and comers. The senior side was good, the best in the world, and they beat Australia A on the night. It was a good contest though, and fascinating to look back at the A team and those players who would bridge the gap and be integral members of what was to become probably the best team of all time: Ponting, Hayden, Martyn, Blewett to add to McGrath, Warne, the Waugh's in the senior team.

We've been very spoiled.

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My best ever Aussie cricket team


Australian cricket squadImage via Wikipedia

For some reason I lay in bed post-midnight last night and contemplated who would be in my best ever Australian cricket team. Speculations like that are always fun, especially for a man. Men will happily debate the likes of this for hours on end while their girlfriends roll their eyes; and most men are inveterate and informal listmakers. We may not put them on paper, but we're always ranking things.

Anyway, here's my team:

The first thing to note is that it has an extra bowler. I ummed and aahed over this as I lay in my cot, but reasoned eventually that the great all-round talents of Miller and Davidson made up for the deficiency. It's a great bowling attack. Miller is a romantic choice maybe, the dashing, glamorous ex fighter pilot, he had serious chops as a fast bowler and is the best all-rounder Australia has produced. Davidson is possibly the most contentious choice but he was selected largely on the basis of being a left-armer, and occasional match-winner. He was the stalwart of the Australian bowling attack for many years, and was also a damaging batsman. Warne picks himself. There have been great spinners play for Australia, but Warne is the greatest of all from any country, and quite possibly the best bowler of any type of all time. Handy batsman, great competitor, shrewd cricket brain and larger than life character, he's impossible to overlook.

D K Lillee is similar in his own way. He is the best fast bowler I have ever seen and I grew up devoted to his deeds, as were most of my contemporaries. Like Warne he combined great skill with a magnetic personality mixed in with a dash of flamboyance. I loved Dennis. McGrath gets a gig not because he's took more wickets than any other Australian bowler, and I wonder on the balance of things whether he is one of the best five Australian bowlers of all time. He gets the nod for the balance of the bowling attack. Lillee and Miller both started as tearaways before maturing into canny operators. Davidson is the left-armer, Warne the spinner, and McGrath the line and length bowler who will winkle you out. He's a great bowler, but great bowlers have missed out: Lindwall, Spofforth, O'Reilly, Benaud and so on.

Batting is tough too, and a lot of greats missed out. The toughest call were the openers. I considered Morris, Lawry, Woodfull, Simpson, but eventually plumped for Ponsford and Hayden. They are similar in that they were capable of compiling huge scores. Ponsford had his flaws, but his record for Australia is pretty good. Hayden is simply one of the most intimidating batsmen the world has seen. And he's a left-hander, which counts for him in this team.

Bradman picks himself obviously. The biggest name in cricket still years after his death, by far and away the greatest batsman ever, a once in a millennium cricketer who averaged 40 runs better than the next serious contender. He's the captain too, a position I thought long and hard on. Counting against him was his puritan streak, but he was also a very canny skipper and a man of superior intelligence. Next in is the current Aussie captain, Ricky Ponting. He's scored more runs and more centuries than any other Australian. He's a great batsman capable of ripping teams apart, and of batting for hours to save a situation. Cometh the hour cometh the man – that's Ponting. Just about the toughest cricketer I've seen.

Greg Chappell was one of the great stylists of the game. A fluid driver through the covers and owner of a famous and ever graceful flick off his pads to the mid-wicket boundary. Also a very handy medium pace bowler who would complement the attack well.

He was great to watch. Great batsmen to miss out : Neil Harvey, Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ian Chappell, Stan McCabe, Victor Trumper.

There have been some great Australian keepers and great names – Grout, Tallon, Marsh, Healy. In the end though it's an easy selection. Adam Gilchrist may not be the best pure keeper of them all, but he didn't miss much. As a batting keeper though he was unsurpassed. One of the most exhilarating players to watch in full flight, he was also one of the most destructive. He's personal favourite of just about everyone, not just for his great cricket but for the style of the man. This was a no-brainer.

So that's it. Match it against the best ever from other countries and it would win 3 out of 4 such has been the pedigree and dominance of Australia over the journey.Of that team there are two who would be first selections in a world team – Bradman and Warne. I think Lillee and Gilchrist would likely make it too, and Ponting, Hayden and McGrath would be considered closely.

Funnily enough the West Indian team might be the most likely to challenge in a heavenly match-up: (my estimate) Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lara, Walcott (c), Sobers, Dujon, Roberts, Hall, Garner, Gibbs. That's a great team too and leaves out greats like Worrell, Weekes, Headley, Lloyd, Marshall, Ambrose, Holding. They would be great contests.

England? Well you're really testing my knowledge of cricket history, but I'll take a punt regardless: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Barrington, Hammond, Hutton, Knott, Botham, Bedser, Trueman, Snow, Underwood. Hobbs and Sutcliffe are probably openers for the World XI such was their partnership, and it's full of great players, but easy to discern the difference in styles – maybe because the bulk of their players come in the period around the war. There are exceptions – Botham and Snow for example, but generally they are more craftsmen in the traditional English way, less aggressive and attacking, more methodical, Barrington was a grafter as was Hutton to some degree, Bedser a great bowler with unerring control, likewise Underwood. Just missed out: May, Compton, Gooch, Gower, Paynter, Evans.

This is fun, and I haven't even looked at half the teams.

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