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 show the beginnings of a long reign as No. 1

Kyle Abbott’s seven wickets on debut is the second best ever by a South African on debut.

South Africa just keep rolling on. Another three day demolition, this time Pakistan the victims, shows that the Proteas spell as number have the depth that is key to longevity at the top of the world’s Test pile.

Having lost both Morne Morkel, and crucially Jacques Kallis, the man who has given South Africa balance year after year after year, Rory Kleinveldt was drafted, as was Kyle Abbott for his Test debut.

Perhaps seen as more a steady performer than the sort of bowler to blow sides away, Abbott bowled and excellent line and length, akin to the sort of stuff Vernon Philander normally dishes out on a regular basis. This, aided with his above average bounce saw his pick up the best ever 1st innings debut figures for a South African bowler, and the second best of all time for the Proteas, behind Lance Klusener’s eight in India over 10 year ago.

After posting 400 plus, the Proteas bowling once again showed its class. It would be heartening since Kleinveldt seems to have the chops for Test cricket, while Abbott’s performance means there are now three high quality replacements when needed if the likes of Steyn, Morkel and Philander aren’t fit.

It also gave a glimpse into what the team’s future will be like when Kallis does eventually call it a day. Given the strength of the top six, South Africa at this stage can afford to pick five bowlers, with all of them able to hold a bat while Philander and Robin Peterson are more than capable of making regular contributions.

This focus will now shift to limited overs cricket as South Africa have some time before playing another Test. As things stand, this is the first time South Africa have swept three Test-plus series (ignoring Bangladesh, ZImbabawe and New Zealand) since the West Indies in 1998. 

The signs are good for a long reign at the top. 

Selectors giving Tsolekile raw deal

Will Tsolekile be given a chance during South Africa’s home summer?

Race, 18 years after apartheid officially ended in South Africa, still holds an essential place within the discourse of this country. If you do not live in South Africa and suggest otherwise, you are being ignorant of where race is in the current South African story.

Hence why, whenever race, politics and sport are mixed, many sports lovers get rather prickly, saying politics (read race) and sport must not mix.

Being a former politics student myself, I am of the view that politics is inseparable from day-to-day life, and by extension, sport. In a world of interconnectedness, to suggest that politics and sport are separate entities that co-exist beyond each other is naive.

This perhaps helps put the current plight of Proteas “reserve” wicketkeeper Thami Tsolekile in perspective. When Mark Boucher’s career was ended through a freak injury in his first tour match on the Proteas tour of England this year (2012), many names were thrown about as to who might replace Boucher in the Test line-up. 

Many media pundits thought Dane Vilas, from the Cape Cobras (formerly Western Province, based in Cape Town) would get the nod. However, it was Tsolekile who convenor of selectors Andrew Hudson appeared to anoint as the next man to wear the gloves for South Africa.

While Tsolekile has said since that he didn’t expect to play in England or Australia, he was told that he would likely wear the gloves against New Zealand. However, he was dropped all together from the Test squad, and told that his batting wasn’t good enough to strand up to the rigours of a modern Test no.7, which he didn’t agree with. Confusing isn’t it?

Tsolekile has complained that while Proteas head coach Gary Kirsten has been clear with him, the message that he has been receiving from the selectors has been mixed.

While South Africa’s batting line-up is probably in better shape fielding seven specialist batsman, the worst thing that could have happened for Tsolekile was AB de Villiers’ scoring 169 against Australia at Perth, expunging the argument that he couldn’t bat and hold the gloves at the same time.

I still believe De Villiers would be more valuable without the gloves, which brings me back to race. With Makhaya Ntini making comments recently that Tsolekile would’ve played for the Proteas if he was white, which Tsolekile admirable distanced himself from, perhaps Ntini is right. There is an onus on black sportsman, more of a unseen veneer than an obvious deduction, that they have to prove more to find themselves worthy in the still white-dominated sports of cricket and rugby in South Africa.

While I am not suggesting that Tsolekile was simply taken on tour to score political points, his poor treatment by the Proteas selectors begs the question Ntini asked: would he have played if he wasn’t black?

It’s unfair to tell Tsolekile that he wasn’t of Test standard after previously indicating that he was the next man in line. Why pick him then, if he won’t even be given a chance?

The selectors, it could be interpreted, have deceived Tsolekile to a certain degree, even going as far as giving him a national contract, while paradoxically not even letting his boots grace an international cricket field.

Thami Tsolekile has been given a raw deal.

India need to take responsibility for their own failings

India’s series loss against England has raised questions about Dhoni’s future as India captain

England’s outstanding 2-1 series win over India in India, following a draw in the fourth and final Test in Nagpur, has raised the temerity of those who feel that now is the time for change within the Indian playing group.

With the benefit of hindsight (that old chestnut), England’s victory is not too surprising given how professional there set up is, and the way Alistair Cook has seamlessly taken over the captaincy following Andrew Strauss’ retirement.

For India, bar Cheteshwar Puruja and Virat Kohli who finally added aptitude in the fourth Test to talent following some brazen dismissals, they need to look inward and realise that all is not well. For Indian fans, it is disconcerting to see all the way from the southern tip of Africa that Mahendra Singh Dhoni and co have gotten into the nasty habit of believing their own hype, and excuses.

From blaming the ball, to the pitch to conditions, Dhoni and the likes of Virender Sehwag have refused to take the appropriate amount responsibility for a poor performance. Take no credit away from England, who deserved their first series win in India in 28 years, but India didn’t help themselves through the own performances on the field.

Sachin Tendulkar typifies this. Given that the last 18 months of Test cricket haven’t been the kindest to him, his continued presence within the Indian set-up seems to be reaching Ponting-esque proportions. No matter how much Michael Clarke tells us that Ponting’s presence in the team was beneficial, his presence at no.4 during their series loss against South Africa was a drag on the Baggy Greens, with normal Channel Nine flunkie Mark Nicholas requiring the freedom of a South African commentary booth to say as much during the recent series.

Perhaps even more frightening for Indian fans is the lack of a truly world class spinner. Harbhajan Singh’s ability to take wickets has been retarded by the constant grind of flat limited overs cricket, while Ravichandran Ashwin contributed more with the bat then he did with the ball during the series.

Pragyun Ohja had a fine series, being the leading Indian bowler with 20 wickets at just over 30. Given his accuracy and control, he looks India’s best spinner by some distance, even if he appears the type of bowler that won’t run through a Test batting line-up like the great Anil Kumble could on his best days.

Will Dhoni remain skipper? Probably. Will Tendulkar suddenly retire? Nope. Change is as good as a holiday goes the old English saying, but if India can’t see the need for change in the first place, they will continue to under perform at Test level.

Given India’s playing and financial resources, a higher standard should be demanded. While the monolithic BCCI continues to boss the world game in the boardroom it is on the field, their prioritisation of limited overs cricket is beginning to take its toll on cricket’s toughest format on the Indian sub-continent.

With a growing Australia set to travel to India early next year, now is a critical time for India to take stock otherwise they could be in for another nasty surprise.

Tendulkar should walk away before it’s too late

One of cricket’s greatest ever players is nearing the end. Could it be England or will he wait till he tours South Africa next year? Probably the latter

Seasons pass, rain comes and goes,  while the circle of life, to quote a fictional lion from a Disney movie, continues. Sachin Tendulkar, the man who has scored the most centuries ever on the international stage, the most runs, and is also the most capped international player of all time, has endured 23 years of international cricket.

That is a lot of seasons.

He has seen Test cricket get supplanted by first ODI cricket, and now the devil we know all too well, T20 cricket, as the game’s money spinner. He has seen the careers of Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Shaun Pollcok, Gary Kirsten, Alec Stewart, Brain Lara, Martin Crowe, Rahul Dravid and Andy Flower come and go. He has outlasted them all. Heck, he was the very first batsman given out by the third umpire in Test crkcet way back in 1992.

He’s won a World Cup, played cricket around the world and was/is the game’s first true global superstar (Warne might argue with that, but Tendulkar got their first). He is adored by millions, anointed by Sir Donald Bradman as the batsman that most resembled him in style and technique at the crease and is even now a member of India’s parliament.

However, in Tendulkar’s last 16 Tests (and 29 innings), he has scored 951 runs, with no centuries and only seven fifties at a mediocre average of 32.79. He has very little of the fluency that used to inspire fear into bowlers, the assurance of movement that sent a message to the fielding team that he was in the sort of mood to build a house on the crease, he was going to be there so long.

During the T20 Champions League in South Africa this year, I was sitting in the press box at the Wanderers when the Highveld Lions’ Aaron Phangiso bowled Tendulkar, playing for the Mumbai Indians.

It was an ugly shot, with Tendulkar playing all round it. Phangiso was ecstatic, and I made the comment that “Tendulkar isn’t the batsman he used to be”. This caused murmurs and stirs, but why do we have to tip-toe around a subject that is clear to see. Sachin Tendulkar isn’t the batsman he used to be, and the longer he suspends his coming retirement, the more damage he is doing to his legacy, and arguably the Indian team the medium term.

India have been shown by England to be short of skill and hunger in their own conditions, which should be an embarrassment to the BCCI for the way they have neglected the first class game in India. Instead we hear excuses from the players and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, blaming everyone or everything else but themselves.

The Indian team, like Tendulkar, need to take responsibility for their performances. For the cricket world’s most populous nation to be losing so easily to an England team that is good but no where close to the level of Steve Waugh’s Australian side in the 2000s, something is wrong. Media reports today state that the selectors wanted to sack Dhoni only for the decision to be overturned by the BCCI president.

As India’s cricket exploits on the field, and the boardroom, get murkier, Tendulkar should like Ricky Ponting and Andrew Strauss this year, realise that by hanging on, the strands of rope that form his place in the history of cricket will only be stretched and distorted into a shape that a man of his once exceptional talent does not deserve.

Sachin Tendulkar should retire after the fourth and last England Test starting on Thursday. Will he? Rob Steen has an amusing crack at it…

Me? I doubt it very much.

Alistair Cook destined for greatness

Alistair Cook has scored five centuries in his five Tests as captain, with three in a row against India on the current tour

Five Tests as skipper, five centuries. Alistair Cook has now established himself as an England legend by becoming the leading Test centurion for England, with his 23rd Test hundred in Kolkata surpassing Kevin Pietersen, Wally Hammond, Colin Cowdrey and Geoffrey Boycott. Pietersen might still catch up, but with Cook 27 and Pietersen 32, time is on the side of England’s latest Test skipper.

It is fitting that his record-breaking century be scored in the country where he got his first, in Nagpur in 2006 on debut. I lived in Australia during England’s all-conquering 2010/2011 Ashes tour where Cook scored over 700 runs, including a fine double century in Brisbane. The man’s footwork was sound and exact, his technique efficient and well-understood. The man never looked like getting out, and it has so proven since, where lean patches between 2008 and 2009 and mid-2010 have been coupled by a deluge of runs, especially when he has the (c) next to his name.

With a batting style reminiscent of Gary Kirsten in many ways, except slightly better (which is no insult to South Africa’s current coach), Cook understands his game inside out, which is the key to his batting. He knows his strengths and his weaknesses, making him an extremely difficult player to bowl into in that mistakes are rare.

While he perhaps underperformed when South Africa visited England earlier this year, like Michael Clarke, the captaincy has seemed to make him even more focused, with bowlers around the world giving a collective sigh.

Alistair Cook will soon be Sir Alistair Cook, no doubt. Especially if he leads England to victory in India, which is looking increasingly likely. interestingly enough, he is the youngest man to ever score 7000 Test runs. Whose record did he beat? Sachin Tendulkar’s.

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.