India: done and dusted

Sachin Tendulkar and an Indian teammate suppor...

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I’ve just watched Australia wrap up the test series against India 4-0. There have been some great Australian teams over the last 20 years, but this isn’t one of them (though hindsight may prove otherwise). It’s hard though to think of a more comprehensive series win by Australia. It’s not just that it’s been a whitewash, but that every match has eventuated in a crushing win to Australia. India haven’t got close. I nearest I can think of is the 5-0 drubbing of England in 2006-07, but that was with a team chock full of legends and probably not quite as one-sided.

It’s hard to judge precisely the full worth of this victory. India have been very disappointing. Coming into the series I had doubts that India had the attack to dominate Australia, but I was sure that their batting would make an impact. That hasn’t eventuated. Their bowling has outshone their batting, but even so gave up scores in excess of 600 twice, and were patchy throughout. Their batting has some all time greats of Indian cricket, and world batting. Out of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman you would have thought at least would make a test century this series, and more likely a few. In fact the only century scored by India was by a rookie, and all their champions struggled, and some very badly.

There’s no doubt Australia played very well. The bowling was a revelation, tight, skilled and aggressive. Fielding throughout was top-notch, as you expect from Australian teams. While there were a few weak spots the Australian batting was highlighted by some imperious innings, two by Clarke, one each by Ponting and Warner, as well as some great supporting roles. With Watson coming back into the team that will only get better. Australia may not be the best team in the world right now (though it is in the best form), but I’m confident it will be inside 2 years.

As for India? They made mistakes across the board I feel. You have to question their selection policies to begin with. Too much is expected of their champions, now in their mid to late thirties. The poor performances we’ve seen in this series are partly form, but more likely evidence of terminal decline. India should have transitioned younger players into the team like they have Kohli, instead have burdened themselves with players with great records but indifferent form. To lose them all now with leave a gaping hole, but they must act soon.

I suspect we’ve seen the last of Dravid. He’s one of my favourite international players, a courtly, old-fashioned gentleman who was also a bloody good cricketer. Serious questions about (Very, Very Special) Laxman too. A great batsman to watch on his day, and a thorn in the side of past Australian teams, he seems to have slowed up. If I was the Indian selection panel I’d be calling time on them.

Sehwag is safe for a while yet, though his recent record suggests he is struggling at test level. Then there’s Tendulkar. He’s much revered, and not just in India, but I don’t view him through the same rose coloured glasses as most. He’s bee a great batsman and showed the best form of this group. Still there are signs of decline I think, not so much in technique – he’s still a great defensive batsman – but of body. I wonder if he has it in him to sustain form over a series. He’s good for a while yet should he want to continue, but the end is nigh. Incidentally, I think it’s bollocks those people claiming we wanted to see Tendulkar crack his hundredth ton. Not me. I want him out, and if it’s a golden duck all the better.

The Indians erred through the series too. I wonder if they played the wrong spinner throughout. Ojha being a leggie would have been much more dangerous than Ashwin. And I thought that when the situation demanded more aggression they failed to step up. Come Perth they should have dropped a batsman and played an extra bowler if they were serious about getting back on level terms. Tactics on the field have been pretty dubious too.

That’s it anyway. Australia is not back to its best, but getting there. That’s one of the things I’ve liked most this summer. Throughout the series Aussie crowds have supported their resurgent team. There are no people on earth who have higher expectations of their cricket team than Australians, and it’s rare that we’re disappointed. It’s been a topsy turvy 2 years, and with some dire lows, but unlike many places we haven’t turned on our own. We’ve supported the hard work and the commitment, knowing that was the only way back and with faith that we would not be let down. The crowds this year showed their appreciation knowing their hopes have been vindicated, and good dividends returned sooner than we might have thought.

Clarke says Test win is best ever

Clarke says Test win is best ever.

I lay in bed last night watching this to the end. I thought it was all over when Punter went out. Then when Hussey was given out LBW I thought that was probably it too. But then the enigmatic Johnson came in and played as he is perfectly capable of doing, but so rarely does. His was a crucial innings. A flurry of wickets towards the end brought Cummins to the crease, from which point there was only ever going to be one result.

If you believe in fairy-tales then Patrick Cummins is your sweetheart right now. Eighteen years old, playing his test match, he takes 6-79 in the second innings to give Australia a chance and then comes in to hit the winning runs. Talk about charmed.

We’re going to be hearing a lot about Cummins in the years to come. It’s a dramatic debut, and there’s a little of the Dennis Lillee’s about him I think. Different personalities, but they both bowl(ed) fast, and I think Cummins will likely become a great bowler as Dennis was (the greatest) – in fact I think Cummins will take over 400 test wickets for Oz and will be the best in the world within a few years. High praise I guess, but the one attribute he’s shown in this test match is the ability to make things happen. He enters the fray and changes the course of the match. Dennis Lillee was very much like that. It’s an intangible skill, but so valuable, and one of the things that made Dennis Lillee (and Shane Warne) such a magnetic and charismatic figure. Events parted for him; hopefully they will for years to come for Cummins also.

Back to the match and it is a great victory. I’m not quite sure how it happened. On paper I think South Africa is the better team, and certainly has the better attack. Playing at home against an injury depleted Australia coming off a humiliating loss, South Africa always really looked more likely. Down a bowler with the injury of Watson, and with a couple other bowlers misfiring we still managed to bowl South Africa out twice for moderate scores – helped I think, with an occasional lack of application by the SA batsmen.

On the other side of the coin our batting has been brittle at best. Ponting is enduring a run of low scores, Haddin unreliable, Hughes whimsical, and even Watson sometimes just plain dumb, it was not a batting team to inspire confidence. They did it though, on the back of Cummins great bowling, some pretty determined batting, and the predictable South African frailty in tight situations.

Interesting to see the flow on from this. Wins like that grow self belief. That’s great, but it shouldn’t obscure the facts: changes need to be made. I love Ponting and believe he should be picked for the summer, then retire. I’ve never been a big rap for Haddin, and he’s aging and unreliable. Wade is the obvious replacement now, but I’m a big advocate for Tim Paine, who has ability and good head on his shoulders. Unfortunately there are not a lot of batsmen pressing their claims at the moment.

The bowling is of more immediate concern. I love Siddle’s aggression, though it gets stupid sometimes, and he can be a dangerous bowler – but too often he is loose, and at worst, a pie chucker. Johnson is the enigma, a potential matchwinner with both bat and ball, he just doesn’t do it enough. Micky Arthur has been announced as the new Australian coach today (a good appointment), and maybe he can turn Johnson’s head around. Too valuable to dismiss, but on very thin ice.

In any case I’d be looking to introduce more of the young guns. In bowling we look great. In comes Pattinson I think for Siddle. Down the track others such as Cutting, Starc and eventually Hazlewood should come into contention.

The transition has to come, and it may not be a bad time now with the Kiwi’s on their way. Injuries make it difficult, but eventually I’d like to see Marsh opening, preferably not opposite Hughes, Khawaja at three, and Watson down the order as the classic all-rounder, with Paine/Wade keeping, and a bowling attack spear-headed by Cummins and Pattinson.

Watch what happens – will be surprised if that doesn’t eventuate at some point in the next 12 months.

Australians don’t mind losing; they can’t stand not trying to win – Cricket

Australians don’t mind losing; they can’t stand not trying to win – Cricket.

Shocked this morning to hear that Peter Roebuck had died. He was my favourite cricket commentator and reporter, fearless, incisive, and always entertaining, his was a distinctive and elegant voice. He had a beautiful, resonant way with the English language that elevated these games of cricket into contests of deeper import. It was only a couple of hours ago that I read what now transpires to be his final piece. Now he’s dead.

I find myself more affected by this than I might have imagined. I didn’t always agree with what he wrote, but often did. I loved his passion and perspective on the game that went beyond the fence. His is a voice we have become familiar with over many summers, and expected to for many more summers to come. Though he was English born he became a great Aussie, and the love for his adopted home is clear in the article I have clipped here. I will miss him.

I suspect there will be more to this story to come out. He was a flawed individual like all of us, and divided opinions. It seems likely that he took his own life, and quite possibly as a consequence of earlier events which will surely come to light. I don’t know what unsavoury news will come to hand, though I can guess. Regardless, my memories of him will be of that voice, that quiet sense of humour, that insight, passion and straight talking. It’s a very sad day.