November 6 2010

Aussies Fall Down, Go Boom

Once upon a time — in the bad old days of the early to mid eighties — Australian cricket was the laughing stock of the world. Teams queued up to play us. Spectators flocked in droves to watch their teams slaughter us. Television guides listed all our matches under the comedy section.

Until we picked ourselves up and turned ourselves into cricketing giants.

We became virtually unbeatable. Teams feared us. We had a cornucopia of talent that saw our team become better and better. Champions retired only to be replaced by new champions. Until the last round of retirements five years ago. A slew of champions left and we were left with…let’s just say that I thought a cornucopia was forever; I was wrong.

The experts said it was a transition phase. Nothing to worry about, mate. She’ll be right, mate. A minor hiccup, that’s all.

A hiccup that lasts five years is hardly minor, is it? Mate?

The sad truth is that Ricky Ponting leads a ragtag band of mediocrity while his brilliance is fading with age. The poor guy is now in the history books as the first Australian captain to lose the Ashes twice. He was captain when South Africa won their very first test series in Australia. And last night Sri Lanka won their first ever series of anything in Australia. They lit up Guy Fawkes Day while we provided the damp squibs.

Awwwww, Rickeeeeeee. (Please don’t sue me Desilu Studios.)

So what are the problem areas? Let’s see now:

1. Mitchell Johnson and company just can’t get the last two or three batsmen out: England’s last pair held on for hours to turn an Aussie win into a draw; India’s last two wickets put on ninety odd runs to win a match that was Australia’s; Sri Lanka’s ninth wicket scored a world record to win a match that was Australia’s.

2. Our batsmen find ways of getting out, often gifting their wickets. Mid innings collapses are now the norm. Where once somebody would put up their hand and pull us out of a hole we now just dig the hole deeper.

3. Our fielding is less than spectacular. Those who saw Michael Clarke hit Shane Watson in the leg last night will know how far our standards have fallen.

So what’s wrong? Well that would be the batting, the bowling and the fielding, wouldn’t it? Fix those soon and we just might win back the Ashes.

August 8 2009

Outbowled, Outfielded and Outclassed

Australian cricket isn’t the force it was a couple of years ago. Back then other countries wondered how they could draw a match against us, let alone win. Even the retirements of great players had little effect because each retirement only opened the door for another talent to make his mark. That all changed when a large number of players retired at or around the same time. Gone are the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer. No team in the world could withstand such a depletion of talent and the aura of invincibility that grew around it. Our national cricket team has come back to the pack. It was bound to happen but we didn’t want a slide towards the mediocrity of the 80s. I still have a shudder or two when I remember the bad old days that were the 80s. We were the easybeats and I’m not talking about the rock group that gave us “Friday On My Mind”.

The first few matches of the Ashes series in 2009 saw an Australia that looked a lot like those easybeats. We were headed for victory in Cardiff but Mitchell Johnson needed a few extra stumps to aim at and some of Ricky Ponting’s decisions had us scratching our heads. We should have won that match but we couldn’t remove England’s tailenders. England saved that match and went on to steamroll us in the second test. The third test was headed for an English victory but for the heroics of Michael Clarke and Marcus North. We were outbowled, outfielded and outsmarted. Mitchell Johnson made a century or two but not off his bat. Our foremost strike bowler just couldn’t find the stumps. Peter Siddle was almost as bad although there were occasions when he at least looked like taking wickets. Only the previously unsung Ben Hilfenhaus and the much derided Nathan Hauritz could hold their heads high. Strangely four of the top five wicket takers in this Ashes series are Australian; it’s just a pity that each of those wickets came at a such a high price. Even I can take ten wickets if you allow me the luxury of leaking a thousand runs.

We were a little unlucky, too. Brett Lee was injured before the first test and won’t be available until the fifth. He could have made a huge difference to our bowling attack. That, however, doesn’t explain the strange decision to omit Stuart Clarke. While Clarke is not a potent strike bowler he does tie up an end and builds pressure on the batsmen. He was exactly what we needed with Johnson and Siddle leaking runs. His inclusion in the fourth test highlights just how important his bowling is to Australia.

We can’t even blame the umpires who have provided us with a master class in poor decision making. Australia and England both received howlers from the unpires and Rudi Koertzen has been the arch villain so far. Cricketers who are struggling with a bit of poor form generally lose their place in the team but umpires merely continue to inflict pain. “Unfair” doesn’t even begin to describe the situation.

The Australia I know have finally turned up for the fourth test. Our bowling so far is as good as England’s was in the preceding tests. We have to win this match to give us a chance at retaining the Ashes. There’s still plenty of time left in the fourth test and so many things can happen but, win or lose, I can confidently say we are still a long way from the nadir of the 80s. That is enough to keep the nightmares at bay for some time yet.

April 19 2009

I Don’t Like Cricket. I Love It.

In a couple of months the new look Aussies will land on English soil to defend an urn full of ashes. I can’t say I’m full of optimism for our chances but I’m looking forward to a great series. In anticipation of the event and in an attempt to fire a few salvos in the battle for the Ashes – and because I have run into a rather large block that strike fear into writers of all persuasions — I present to you some cricket related humour including some that are firmly at the expense of the English cricket team (sorry Sy and others, including relatives – I can still stay with you when I visit, right?)

Let’s begin with an explanation of the laws of cricket for those of you who aren’t clear about the game:

 

There are two sides, one out in the field and one in. Each player that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next player goes in until he’s out. When they are all out the side that’s out comes in and the side that was in goes out and tries to get those that are now in, out. Sometimes there are players who are still in and not out.

There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and out twice, including the not outs, that’s the end of the game.

 

Got that? Good. Now we can go on to some jokes I found floating around the Web.

 

Q: What is the height of optimism?

A: An English batsman putting on sunscreen.

Q: What’s the English version of a hat trick?

A: Three runs in three balls.

Q: What do you call an Englishman with 100 runs against his name?

A: A bowler.

 

Sometimes the best humour comes from the commentary box. Here are some examples:

 

Richie Benaud: He’s usually a good puller but he couldn’t get it up that time.

Richie Benaud (referring to a streaker): A slight interruption there for athletics.

Brian Johnston: Ray Illingworth has just relieved himself at the pavilion end.

Brian Johnston: The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey.

Trevor Bailey: On the first day, Logie decided to chance his arm and it came off.

Steve Waugh (in response to “what’s your favourite animal”): Merv Hughes

Jim Maxwell: The sight of Bright holds no fright for Wright (to which someone riposted “that’s right”)

Tony Greig: Marshall’s bowling with his head.

 

And finally a definition courtesy of the Cricket Jokes site.

 

COMMENTATOR

He’s venerable.His eyesight is not as good as it was in 1938 but it’s remarkable how he can still pick an inswinger or an outswinger from 200 metres. What’s going on in the centre can be a wretched inconvenience when he’s just recalling that marvellous incident on the fourth day of the Fifth Test in 1948. He is superb at describing seagulls and most graceful at 5pm when he refers to the long shadows moving across the ground.At 6pm during the summing up he can usually cause a shock by actually referring to the days play.

March 27 2009

Only Cricket Fogies Will Understand

It happened last year during one of those spring cleaning marathons that plague a man now and again. In the process of moving years of accumulated junk from one corner to another, I found it. Buried beneath a plastic Christmas tree, numerous toys and boxes full of assorted knick knacks was my old cricket bag. Moments later I was on the phone organizing a a session at the local cricket nets. A few moments after that I was racing off to the nearest sporting goods store to replace the items in my kit bag which now resembled the swamp thing – there was enough mould in that bag to guarantee the world wouldn’t run out of penicillin for several years.

So we met at the nets and, as a former opening batsmen, I had the honour of batting first. Waves of nostalgia swept over me as I padded up, strode to the crease and took guard. The bowler, much younger than most of us old timers, raced in and unleashed a thunderbolt. It was full and just inside off stump so I moved onto the front foot and played a majestic off drive.

Then I straightened up, threw the ball back to the bowler and put the middle stump back into the ground.

I obviously wasn’t the batsmen I used to be twenty five years ago.

I had to ease myself back into form. The rest of my batting stint was a master class in the defensive shot. The backward defensive shot, to be precise, because somewhere in the intervening twenty five years the cricket ball had morphed into a deadly weapon. Going forward really wasn’t an option and yet, by the end of my batting stint I felt I could outperform Geoffrey Boycott and Bill Lawry and Chris Tavare. (I think I just went too far. It takes a very special talent to out block Tavare.)

So much for my attempt to rekindle my batting prowess. Surely things would be better with the ball. I picked one out of the motley collection and paced my run-up – sixteen steps. Just like twenty five years ago. Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a complete fool so I knew I should warm up a little. With that in mind I merely jogged the sixteen steps and delivered my first ball. It sailed back over my head.

Young whippersnapper was pretty handy with the bat.

“Good…shot,” I said just a little out of breath. It was a sixteen step jog, after all.

I ran in for my next ball and bowled just that little bit faster. It sailed back over my head just that little bit higher.

“Very (gasp) good (pant, wheeze) shot (pant, pant).”

The young whippersnapper was starting to grate on my nerves. Flying Saucer Jones used to be a pretty handy bowler in the glory days. It was time to show him. I walked back to the top of my mark and summoned up all the energy I could muster. I raced in, eyes firmly on the whippersnapper’s feet. The ball was fast and furious. It swung in late and his stumps ricocheted off the back of the nets. The ball had torn through his defences.

Their were tears in my eyes. I had torn something in my bowling arm.

I obviously wasn’t the bowler I used to be twenty five years ago.

That was a year ago. In a couple of weeks we will do it again. I will dust off my cricket gear, check it for penicillin and head off to the nets.

Even if I’m not the cricketer I used to be twenty five years ago.

March 14 2009

Is That a Phoenix Head Poking Out Of the Ashes?

People say that you will know when the time is ripe for retirement. It is a truism that several Australian cricket greats trotted out over the last year or so. Damien Martyn, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer departed en masse after the 2006-2007 Ashes series. Adam Gilchrist followed shortly thereafter and Matthew Hayden left in the middle of the Australian summer. Australia’s cricket juggernaut had suddenly become weaker, smaller, beatable. And beaten they were.

The summer of 2008-2009 was bleak for Australian cricket fans. For the first time in sixteen years Australia tasted a series defeat at home. South Africa, ranked second, were challenging and overhauling Australia’s top spot. All they had to do was make it a clean sweep by winning the third and final test match in Sydney. Somehow Ricky Ponting managed to get a gutsy performance out of his new look young team and South Africa had to wait until the return joust on their home turf.

But this young and raw Australia went to South Africa, saw and conquered.

To an Australian cricket fan this represents the perfect tonic to the ills of the Australian summer. We have won the first two tests and, therefore, the series. The cricket has been brilliant and we have uncovered some promising talent. We have one more test to play followed by some matches in the shorter form of the game before we can look towards England and the Ashes. If we continue to play the way we have in South Africa and England continues their dire form from the West Indies tour then the urn will remain in Australia.

The Australian phoenix may well be on the rise.

March 4 2009

Cricketers Under Fire

Australian cricketers have been criticized many times for pulling out of tours due to security concerns. I have always defended their decisions based on the simple observation that cricket is only a game – risking several lives for a game would be insane. My arguments were scorned by expats from Sri Lank, India and Pakistan. These expats repeated the oft heard claim that terrorists would not target cricketers since these nations were (and are) cricket mad nations. Yesterday’s events showed that such claims were patently silly.

According to the news bulletins in Australia six Sri Lankan players were injured after terrorists attacked their bus on the way to the Gaddafi stadium. Only the brave actions of the bus driver prevented any serious injuries to the players and the umpires who were on a second bus. Six policeman escorting the players and officials weren’t so lucky. Neither were two civilians.

 

 

I hope that cricketers and officials around the world wake up and get their priorities straight. There are people out there who don’t care about lives. They will kill for their ideologies. Please realize that while a lot of us live and breathe cricket it is still just a game.

February 6 2009

Broken Record Plays Australian Cricket Song

Gobsmacked! I am truly gobsmacked! Somehow our national cricket team manages to pull off ever deepening nadirs this summer. How, please tell me, how can a team that has seven wickets up their sleeve not go for big hits in the last seven overs? Every batsman plays as if they are afraid of losing their spot. New Zealand cantered to the total.

Australia now need to win the final three games to take the series. I wouldn’t bet on it. In fact, given the current economic climate, it might be prudent to bet on New Zealand winning all five instead.

Gobsmacked. Enough said.

February 2 2009

Shades Of An Underarm Ball

On the first of February, 1981, a one day match between Australia and New Zealand went down to the wire. New Zealand needed a six off the last ball to tie the match. Australia’s captain, Greg Chappell, instructed his brother, Trevor, to bowl the ball underarm which prevented the six and created a furore that refuses to die down. Twenty eight years later, to the day, relations between the two nation are strained once again.

Yesterday’s one day international between Australia and New Zealand also went down to the wire. This time, though, the incident in question happened a few overs before the end when New Zealand’s Neil Broom was bowled. Except he wasn’t. Replays show that Australia’s keeper, Brad Haddin, knocked the bails off with his gloves. Haddin claims that he is positive the ball hit the stumps first. The replays show otherwise. So did Haddin make an honest mistake or did he cheat?

Oh, by the way, Haddin’s “heroics” didn’t help. We lost. Again!

January 31 2009

What Happened to the Big #1?

Ahhhh! What a glorious Summer. That is if you are South African or if you love to see Australian cricket taking a boot in the ribs, head and groin. Yes we are down and writhing in pain.

We only managed to win one test — the final test in a dead rubber — and one limited overs match. We did win both 20-20 matches but that only emphasizes my point really. The South Africans even sent a second eleven onto the park last night. Didn’t matter to us. We managed to lose as badly as we did on Australia Day, thank you very much. Even I gave up hope when the asking rate went over three runs per over.

So where now? Losing the series 4-1 means that our number one ranking is gone. We can regain it by winning the first one-dayer against New Zealand tomorrow but we don’t deserve it. Besides, given our performance so far, a victory against New Zealand is far from a given. Our top order, with the exception of Ricky Ponting, has failed consistently this Summer and even Ricky failed to capitalize on good starts more often than not. This is, ironically, the only bright spot for us – the top order can’t keep failing. Right? Right? So our batting will improve. Just don’t talk about the bowling.

January 26 2009

Australia Day – Spoiling the Party

We had to win the match to level the series. We may have lost our test cricket muscle but we were still a formidable one day side. Supposedly. The Australia I know didn’t even show up. Where was the intensity? The determination? The common sense? Australia Day should have seen all of that but we insisted on inviting South Africa to the party. They came and they watched the host staggering around and falling all over. Then they stole the silverware.

Watching Australia bat was an exercise in torture once Ponting and Mike Hussey lost their wickets. The level of ineptitude displayed by our middle order was breathtaking. They heaved. They flailed. They missed. On a good batting deck, in front of a parochial Australia Day crowd, we could only manage 28 off a slow bowler’s ten overs. We now have the happy knack of setting up scores in excess of three hundred only to fall well short. Spectacularly short in this case. The final score of 222 was an apology of a run chase: “sorry about making you bat lads but they did pay their money.”

I didn’t get a chance to further torture myself by watching our bowlers trying to defend 222. I might have lost a perfectly good flat screen TV if I had. South Africa only lost two wickets. They passed the total with more than ten overs to spare. I wonder if we can even defend 400.

Well done, South Africa.

Australia, take a good, long look at yourselves.