Axing of Australian players from over report seems a bit much

Shane Watson is on his way back to Australia after being disciplined for not handing in a report. Will this mark the beginning of the end for his Test career, or Mickey Arthur?

I wonder how many of Australia’s former cricketers are either rolling in their graves or shaking their heads in dismay at the news that vice-captain Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, Mitchell Johnson and James Pattinson have been axed from the Test side for their third encounter against India for supposedly not handing a report in on time.

This does not seem like the Australia we know. The Australia world cricket knows does not take such dramatic action then broadcast it to hammer home the point. While details of why the players have been axed probably would have leaked out anyway, it seems a bit harsh for a minor error. Cricket players are paid to play cricket, not write reports.

Look, there is probably a lot more to it than just not doing as asked, but Watson flying home is a bad look for Australia considering he is the vice-captain and one of Australia’s more experienced players. Considering how they have been outplayed on their Indian tour thus far, Australia need all the help they can get.

Watson is more motivated returning home since his wife is expecting, but his words to the Australian newspaper do not make great reading for cricket officials Down Under.

Watson: “Anytime you are suspended from a Test match, unless you have done something unbelievably wrong . . . I think it is very harsh,” he said. “In the end I have got to live with it . . . I am at a stage where I have to weigh up my future with what I want to do with my cricket in general, to be honest.”

One also wonders what sort of effect this might have on feelings about Mickey Arthur being the man at the top. Not a universal choice, and a South African to boot which the Australians deep down inside don’t like (or trust perhaps), he is struggling for credibility. However, this latest diktat will only boost the call for his head ever louder, regardless of whether his job is at stake at all.

 

The only ones mildly amused by this would be India, who now look ever better favourites to finish the series off with a match to play in Mohali, starting on Thursday. Michael Clarke’s involvement in all this will also fall under the microscope, but given he is the only man essentially keeping the Australian batting order together, he has other problems on his plate. 

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South Africa look difficult to stop at no.1

South Africa legitimised their no.1 status in Perth

South Africa, in brutally crushing Australia in a fashion reminiscent of the way Australia dealt with the Shaun Pollock-led tour of 2001, have locked in their place as the world’s no.1 ranked Test side.

While they should count themselves lucky for Faf du Plessis’ unstoppable resilience in Adelaide (who know what might have happened at the Gabba if a day hadn’t been lost), their performance in Perth is one of the best by a South African side, if not the best, in the modern era.

Such was the efficiency and ruthlessness of Australia’s defeat, by over 300 runs, there has been barely a whisper from the Australian press, normally so strident when the Proteas visit their shores, contesting South Africa’s status as the best Test team in the world.

They came close twice, but in the end South Africa took their opportunity when it arose in Perth, where the bowling performance on the second day being the key one of the series. Australia, in bowling out South Africa for 225, could have perhaps done better conersidering it was South Africa’s lower order that bailed them out of trouble, with Du Plessis’ fine undefeated 78 supported by Robin Petersen’s 31 and Vernon Philander’s 30.

Then, Day 2 was where it all happened for Steyn, Philander and co, knocking over Australia for 163. Then by amassing 569, with Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers scoring big centuries, and assisted by captain Graeme Smith’s fifty, South Africa truly arrived, and subsequently bowled the hosts out 322 wining the game with a day to spare.

It seems Smith himself has grown more comfortable with the no.1 tag, and Gary Kirsten has re-energised him as a leader. South Africa’s leader now carries with him an aura of authority and achievement that South Africans have trouble seeing because he is their captain, but rest assured, the cricketing world sees Graeme Smith, and his team of cricket playing South Africans, as a looming juggernaut in the five-day game.

For Australia, Ricky Ponting’s retirement (and timed correctly), wasn’t enough to inspire them against their old foes. Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey aside, their is an element of inconsistency in their batting line-up, with it being not entirely settled, especially now that Ponting has gone.

Michael Clarke should really consider moving up to no.4 at least, if not no.3. Michael Hussey should stay at six with his experience vital to the lower and middle order. Ed Cowan looks to have the right stuff, scoring a century and 50 in the series against the Proteas. Dave Warner is explosive all right, but he doesn’t offer that consistency that a Justin Langer, Alistair Cook or Gautam Gambhir offer. Shane Watson personally should bat at five, if Australia want to be really serious about using him as an allrounder.

It would also suit Watson’s style of batsmanship, protecting him from the swinging ball early in the innings that often sees his front foot square in front of the stumps. Of the replacements, Usman Khawaja seems to have the best temperament, but whether he gets selected is another matter.

On the bowling front, Chris Pattinson and Peter Siddle look the right partnership, with Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson perhaps in the rear. Nathan Lyon has what it takes to continue as Australia’s best Test spinner, and will get better with experience.

South Africa next face New Zealand for two Tests and Pakistan for three over the African summer. South Africa will beat New Zealand, no doubt about that, regardless of Ross Taylor’s teams’ fine second Test performance in Sri Lanka. Many others have also dismissed Pakistan as a threat, which would be foolhardy as they have always proven tough opponents than South Africa give them credit for. South Africa should be able to beat Pakistan, but should not underestimate them one bit, considering that talent has never been a problem for the sub-continent nation, rather applying it.

Atlas Smith carries his team’s hopes…again

Graeme Smith’s 26th Test hundred once again gave South Africa hope after a terrible start to the second Test in Adelaide

Considering how badly South Africa were looking after Day 1, Day 2 ended with skipper Graeme Smith once again showing there was still plenty of room to carry the hopes of a nation after another nerveless hundred (111*) away from home.

If the statistics are to be believed, now that Smith has notched up his 26th Test century, South Africa will not lose. When Graeme Smith has scored a century, South Africa have not lost the game, and won the majority of them (17 ).

On a pitch so lifeless, making a graveyard look like a club with pumping house music, Smith went about his business knowing that with Jacques Kallis only coming in at number seven due to injury, it was up to him to ensure his side made it to the end of Day 2 with minimal fuss.

He had a couple of close encounters, with James Pattinson throwing his toys once again after Smith got his dismissal via an edge reversed, but all in all South Africa while still deep in the abyss, can see the light above.

217/2 would sound a lot better at 217/0 but due to Alviro Petersen’s careless and frankly unacceptable dismissal (how at international level can you be that naive and not ground your bat?), and Hashim Amla yorking himself against the part time spin of David Warner, Jacques Rudolph now has a chance to save his Test career with a defining knock where he can bat all day.

Imran Tahir’s Test career hang’s on a knife edge, following his dismal display of 0/180 in 23 overs at 7.82 runs an over. What is even more galling is part timer Faf du Plessis looked the better of the two leggies, registering seven over for 34.

Hats off to Michael Clarke for another outstanding knock (230), and to David Warner and Michael Hussey once again making South Africa pay with centuries of their own. The Proteas managed to haul themselves back by taking the last five Australian wickets in the morning session, but many will ask whether South Africa prepared hard-enough after their much publicised break between Test matches, where the squad went their separate ways.

However, I don’t think Gary Kirsten and the break is to blame, but rather the Australians entering the game the more motivated of the two sides, and following another disruption with Vernon Philander being unable to play on the morning of the match, plus Tahir who is suffering a confidence crisis (along with fellow bowling cohort Rory Kleinveldt), Kirsten and co will have much thinking to do before the last Test.

I doubt you will see Tahir play, with the calmer Robin Petersen given the spin duties.

For now however, if Smith and South Africa can continue their vigil, the Proteas still have a good chance of drawing this match and going to Perth for the third and final Test at 0-0 all, even though they will admit to themselves that Australia have had their number thus far.

Word to the groundsman, who should have done better than produce a tar road for a Test pitch, late spin or not.

Short balls to Clarke?

 

Michael Clarke…on a bad day

I’ve read talk about South Africa intending on sending down many a chin-warmer against Michael Clarke, the Australian skipper, following his fine 259* not out against the Proteas at the Gabba.

Something tells me that isn’t quite going to happen, more of a bluff perhaps? The best way to get Michael Clarke, is the same way you get the very best out, and he is now one of those. Put the ball into the channel, bowl a good length and keep probing away, ball after ball after ball. Fuller rather than shorter.

Yes, Clarke will receive some bouncers chin-music, there can be no doubt about that. However, to think that in his current form that they will pepper him with short balls all day, seems too blunt an approach for Gary Kirsten, Graeme Smith and the bowling attack in general. Yes, the Gabba was a bad day at the office, actually three, but South Africa have not become number through bowling the same way series by series.

There is a reason the Proteas haven’t lost an away series since 2006 especially. It’s because Smith’s attack has learned and more importantly learned to adapt to the situation around them.

The ball that will get Michael Clarke out will be fullish, outside or on off stump. Why would this happen? Because that’s where good bowlers get out good batsman.

On a separate note, it feels Ricky Ponting is only two bad scores away from being dropped? Of those batsman who made their debut in the 90s, Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar (89 for him), Mahela Jayawardene, and Jacques Kallis are left. While Kallis and Jayawardene have been more consistent, Ponting and especially Tendulkar have looked vulnerable. This could be Ricky Ponting’s last series if we’re not watching.