Johnson Mo’s Down South Africa

The familiar figure stood at the top of his mark. Moustache bristling with the ball in his left hand. He lent into the slight breeze and began his run-up. His left wrist cocked to his shoulder as his body turned side on. His right arm led his body through the crease as the left arm slung forward.

The ball appeared out of the tattooed left arm, the batsman, Graeme Smith, bat at the ready, lost the flight of the delivery and despairingly ducked in self preservation, popping a catch to Shaun Marsh.

Just like the English had found out, the South Africans were completely unprepared for the new and improved Mitchell Johnson. His rearing deliveries had the batsmen on the back-foot simply trying to survive.

Hashim Amla felt the brute force of one of Johnson’s deliveries win it cannoned into the usually unflustered  Amla’s grill. But the damage was yet to be done, another bouncer, this time to Ryan McLaren, drew blood.

Mitchell Johnson was once again the X-factor that separated Australia and South Africa. 

The South Africans entered the series with the one and two ranked fast bowlers in the world, they looked pedestrian to the fired up Aussie. Even Morne Morkel who can extract bounce from the most benign of pitches was played with relative ease by the Australian batsmen.

Mitchell Johnson sent panic through the English camp in the recent Ashes series and South Africa have since decided to poke a bear with a sharp stick.

Graeme Smith said that it was the pitch that greatly assisted Johnson. If Smith was unsure as to how fast Johnson could bowl he’ll surely find out in Port Elizabeth. It seems the South African captain didn’t pay much attention to the Ashes given Mitch performed best on the slower Adelaide deck.

If the Centurion pitch assisted Johnson so greatly why wasn’t Smith’s “World’s greatest pace attack” able to bully the Australian batsmen?

Only AB deVilliers played with relative comfort for the South Africans but he too was dismissed by Johnson in both innings. 

The re-birth of the pace-man has shown what an effect genuine pace has on the opposition. The skidding bounce and aggression surprised the South Africans who, like the English, were unable to counteract it.

I would question the wisdom in saying that it wasn’t Johnson who beat them, it was the pitch. For any fast bowler to be dis-respected like that is asking for trouble, to do it to the most damaging bowler in the world at the moment is surely asking for another onslaught.

Of course us Australians would encourage Smith to antagonise Johnson even more, he’s the one who’ll have to back up his words on the pitch.

 

 

Anfield Giants Sleeping No More

The team that once ruled Europe are once again reminding everyone why they are considered a giant of world football. But since the heady days of 1989/90 they haven’t been spotted at the top of Premier League, the trophy they treasure most.

Sure the mighty Liverpool Reds have won the Champions League since then and plenty of silverware has entered the cabinet, but they have not won the EPL in the 21st Century. They have come close on a number of occasions, but close doesn’t win you the League.

It appears now though that Brendan Rodgers has instilled a self-belief in his side that has been missing since the departure of Rafa Benitez. Whilst they struggled for consistency in 2012-13 the team showed promise.

The signings of Coutinho and Sturridge improved the team towards the back-end of last season and have truly proved their worth during the 2013/14 season. 

The addition of Kolo Toure has improved the defence, albeit he has had to apologise for a couple of mistakes lately. Jordan Henderson has also fulfilled the potential seen in him last season, truly taking charge of the mid-field in the absence of Lucas Leiva. As always Steven Gerrard has been Captain Fantastic.

The key difference between this season and the previous several seasons has been the ability to win from tough positions as well as to hold together under pressure rather than gifting a win to the opposition.

Against Fulham the Liverpool of last season would’ve keeled over following their own goal. But not the 2014 team. They responded quickly before conceding a second. Once more they stepped up the pressure and equalized before sneaking out of Craven Cottage with the three points.

The type of feeling around Anfield Road is difficult to define. Whilst occasionally the side can gift an easy goal, they have the capability to destroy teams in 20 minutes as Arsenal found out. It’s a self belief that hasn’t been seen for a long time.

Sitting just four points from first position and facing both Chelsea and Manchester City at home later this season Liverpool is more than in the title hunt. The first thing to achieve is European qualification. 

But a Red can dream of Gerrard hoisting the Premier League trophy in May this year.

The Big Bash Final we didn’t see coming

When I ran a cursory eye over the start of the Big Bash I wouldn’t have picked the Perth Scorchers and the Hobart Hurricanes to be facing off in the final. I was backing a Sydney Sixers versus Melbourne Stars final.

The Scorchers I believed could be a dark horse, fielding the experience of Simon Katich and Bradley Hogg as well as Alfonso Thomas, Nathan Coulter-Nile and Yasir Arafat, they were bound to be thereabouts come finals time. 

Like many I’d never heard of Craig Simmons until he blasted two unbelievable centuries to now be in contention as the IPL’s next million dollar man.

The Hurricanes have always threatened to do something special but have seemed to crumble come finals time. They feature an impressive line-up but seem to lack that middle order spine which was rather impressively covered up for the majority of last season by the newly retired Ricky Ponting.

Tim Paine once again appears to be in form with Ben Dunk the best batsmen in the BBL this season. Add to that the consistency of George Bailey and their batting line-up is more than solid but not mind-blowing. A bowling cartel that features Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus, Ben Laughlin and Xavier Doherty are always bound to make in-roads.

However, neither team boasts the amount of talent that both the Melbourne Stars and Sydney Sixers have had at their disposal this season. The Stars feature a near completely international level line-up.

Cameron White, Luke Wright, Brad Hodge, David Hussey, Glenn Maxwell, Rob Quiney, John Hastings, James Faulkner, Mohammad Hafeez, Matt Wade, Clint McKay, Lasith Malinga, Jackson Bird and James Muirhead have all represented their country in at least one form of the game. Indeed, given the Stars haven’t won a competition, they have underachieved.

The Sixers contain an almost identical number of international stars: Michael Lumb, Marcus North, Ravi Bopara, Moises Henriques, Stephen O’Keefe, Steve Smith, Josh Hazlewood, Brett Lee, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.

But neither side will feature in this year’s final. 

Instead the Scorchers will host their third consecutive final and they hope to take home the glory with this one, having finished second to both the Sixers and the Brisbane Heat.

For Hobart this is their first final and they will be looking to silence the big hitting Simmons. Their own lineup can do some serious damage given the form of Birt, Dunk, Bailey and Paine.

For the Scorchers their key is actually Simon Katich. Simmons, apart from his two massive scores, hasn’t reached 20 in his other innings.

Katich on the other hand finished second to Ben Dunk in the regular season, scoring 308 runs with an average of 34.2.

For the Hurricanes it will be George Bailey. Whilst Dunk was plundering in purple, Bailey was blazing first in the Baggy Green, then the ODI and T/20 teams. His pinch hitting for Australia took a number of games away from England and he would’ve been near the top of the BBL stats had he played more than his one match against the Stars.

His International T/20 form of late has been outstanding, hammering 60 not out and 49 not out against the English.

Whilst both teams match-up against each other rather evenly I’d back the Scorchers. Playing at home and experiencing the Big Bash final twice before they will want to make it third time lucky as their official Twitter hash-tag points out.