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.

 

 

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.

Inverarity to fall on his sword?

It’s the cliche used in sport and life in general, you live by the sword and you die by the sword. For Cricket Australia’s Chairman of Selectors, John Inverarity, it appears that he will soon fall on the sharp blade.

His endorsement of Shaun Marsh appears as his most ill-informed decision. Not only will Marsh travel to South Africa, he will more than likely fill the crucial number 3 position. Yet his Test and First Class records leave a lot to be desired. 

A key finding of the Argus report, commissioned following our capitulation against England in 2011, was that selections were to be based on a player’s record. For a batsman such as Marsh, it is his average and runs scored that should determine his Test fate. 

However, according to Inverarity, he has potential. At 30 years old I’d say that Marsh should’ve fulfilled his potential by now but his First Class average of 35.07 is proof that he has never scored the runs that he should have. 

Cameron White is a surprising omission from the squad. White not only has potential but a first class record to back it up. His claims for a long Test career were probably harmed by being able to bowl some form of leg spin and was almost purely judged on that at Test level. 

His first class average of 40.78 is quite good for a middle order batsman and he would more than likely do an admirable job at number six. But it is his recent Sheffield Shield form that sees him fulfil the criteria for selection as set by the Argus Report.

He has scored 1,066 runs at an average of 43 since the start of last summer for the Bushrangers. He is the same age as Marsh and has captained his state for a decade. He has the runs on the board and leadership qualities that are needed.

Inverarity has been known to make decisions based on short form performances, George Bailey being a case in point. Bailey never had the First Class record to support his Test selection but the selectors deemed that consistent performance in the ODI team would instantly be transferred to the Test arena.

They admitted their mistake there but have now regressed by selecting Marsh, at least in part, based on his recent ODI form, making two key half centuries in successful Australian run chases. 

Another man dumped from the Australian Test side is none other than the incredibly in-form Marcus North. He was dropped due to issues of form in 2010 but if you are dropped based on form then surely you ought to be selected based on your form. 

He has scored 593 runs at 98.83 with three centuries and two half centuries. In a 21 Test career he scored five Test centuries and three half centuries. His early form in the Australian side saw him average around 60 before his drop in form saw his average drop. 

The world number one Test ranking is at stake here. I’m all for building towards the future so I’m happy to see Alex Doolan on tour. However, why not take people with Test experience such as White and North? They are in form and would be more than able to step into the Test arena as specialist batsmen. 

I give credit where it’s due and Inverarity’s decision to select Mitchell Johnson was a risk but a calculated one at that. On more than one occasion Johnson has run through a team and it was a punt that Johnson would perform against England with a 5-0 win proving the selectors right.

This time though it appears that the blade that sliced through conventional logic when selecting Johnson will turn on Inverarity and his men. He has ignored what was once the tried and true method of picking men in form at Shield level and that is a recipe for trouble. 

South Africa the Real Litmus Test

With the Ashes wrapped up and Australia playing an attacking brand of cricket, attention has begun to be turned towards the upcoming tour of South Africa. The Australians will face the World Number 1 Test Nation and will want to continue their good run of form.

With no disrespect to England (Well OK a little bit, we are looking at a 5-0 whitewash), South Africa will provide a much sterner test. They have a mentally strong batting line-up with their opening bowlers ranked numbers one and two respectively. 

On recent form the Australians will be in with a chance. South Africa struggled in their first match against India, scoring just 244 in their first innings with India then blunting Steyn in their second innings; the paceman returned figures of 0-104, the first time he has gone wicketless in an innings.

Also working in Australia’s favour is the retirement of Jacques Kallis. For close to two decades, Kallis has been the mainstay at the number four position as well as being the extra seamer to collect useful wickets. 

However, Australia’s batting must overcome their first innings stutters. South Africa will not back-down in the same way the English have. They need to build big innings and put the onus back on the South African bowlers, importantly they have to really attack Imran Tahir.

The spinner can be easily put off his line and leak runs when attacked, forcing the seamers to carry a bigger workload. In contrast, Australia’s Nathan Lyon has managed to both tie up an end and then attack when given the opportunity. His combination with the fast bowlers has been crucial.

Australia’s bowlers will need to be incredibly disciplined and not get frustrated when they aren’t collecting wickets. South Africa’s batsmen are very mentally strong and are patient enough to wait for the bowlers to bowl to them. 

Looking at South Africa’s batting line-up, they are still powerful with out Kallis. Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen open the batting with Hashim Amla currently the best Number 3 in the world. AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis all float in the middle order with all of them capable of extended innings.

Michael Clarke will once more be the key for Australia but with the top order all beginning to reach good form, they will need to allow Clarke to press on when he reaches the crease, not trying to marshal a salvage mission with his middle order.

Quite obviously Mitchell Johnson will lead the bowling attack and has had plenty of success against South Africa. He has been involved in match-winning spells in both Australia and in South Africa, with his combination of pace and late swing making life difficult for the batsmen.

The big advantage for Australia will be the availability of James Faulkner, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird for the tour. All with Test match experience, they will be terrific replacements should any of the frontline fast bowlers pick up an injury.

If Australia want to become the best in the world then performing and beating the best is the way to do it. It’s all well and good to cash in against a demoralised and split English side in the comfort of your own backyard, it’s different being tested away from home and having to really perform under pressure

Faf du Plessis celebrates his century at Adelaide in 2012 during a mammoth innings to draw the match.

Michael Clarke celebrates his double ton against South Africa at the Gabba in 2012.

A Response to Sir Richard Hadlee

In one of today’s New Zealand papers, the great Sir Richard Hadlee blasted former Test cricketer Brett Lee who embarrassed and terrified English media personality, Piers Morgan.

For those who have lived under a rock recently, Morgan attacked the English batsmen and said he could face Mitchell Johnson. Brett Lee said he would gladly bowl to Morgan in place of Johnson, Morgan accepted.

So at the tea break on Day 2 of the boxing day Test, Morgan faced up to Brett Lee. He was wearing padding, including a helmet and was smiling and laughing before he faced up to an over from the Aussie speedster.

Morgan was struck four times before Lee bowled him. Hadlee has said it was unfair for Morgan to face up as there was no way he could possibly defend himself or play against a former Test cricketer. 

Hadlee then pointed out the bleeding obvious, saying that what happened was dangerous. Facing any fast bowler is dangerous. They bowl a 156g leather ball, in Lee’s case, at 150km/h. Of course it is going to hurt if it hits someone. But when you step in front of a fast bowler willingly you know the risks.

Hadlee even went as far as to say that the ICC should step in and hand a sanction to Lee, who is contracted to the Sydney Sixers. 

There are a number of issues that it seems Hadlee has paid no attention to. The first being that Morgan was the man who challenged Brett Lee. In fact Morgan goaded and sledged Lee before the event, inviting him to bowl as fast as he could.

Morgan was kitted out in plenty of protection. Maybe Hadlee thought they were still in his era with little protection and no helmets. But I digress. Piers today Tweeted that he had no issue with the way that Lee bowled at him.

Now on to the simple farcical suggestion of the ICC sanctioning the Aussie quick. The ICC have no power over Lee in this situation. He was not completing this exhibition as part of his contract with the Sydney Sixers. He completed this in his own time with his opposition completely aware of the risks.

For those who haven’t seen the six thunderbolts, view it here and make up your own mind.

 

Kallis: Greatest of all Time?

Barely a month after the legendary Sachin Tendulkar retired, perhaps the greatest all-rounder and South African cricketer has announced his retirement from the game. But where does Jacques Kallis stand amongst the greatest all-rounders in history?

The benchmark for all-rounders is easily the legendary Sir Garfield-Sobers. The West Indian scored 8,032 runs at an average of 57.78. He also took 235 wickets at an average of 34.03.

Jacques Kallis has scored 13,174 runs at an average of 55.12, placing him in fourth position on the all time run scoring list. He has taken 292 wickets at an average of 32.43. Kallis also has the second most catches by a non-wicketkeeper with 200.

But those two brilliant individuals aren’t the only men brought up in the discussion of the best all-rounders. There is of course the larrikin-like Keith Miller. One of the first top-line all-rounders, he had the best statistics of any all-rounders at the time of his retirement in 1956.

On batting he is not within cooee of Sobers and Kallis given he scored 2958 runs at an average of 36.97. However, he could hold his own with the ball, collecting 170 wickets at a terrific average of 22.97, even collecting 10 wickets in a match on one occasion.

Perhaps what sets Sobers and Kallis apart from Miller was their record breaking batting statistics. Sobers scored 365 at the age of 21, the youngest ever triple centurion and was the first batsman to hit six consecutive sixes in one over in first class cricket.

Kallis is ranked as one of the all-time greats purely on his batting and at the time of writing is 78 Not Out in his final innings. Were he to score a century in his last Test he will achieve a feat unable to be completed by the likes of Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Brian Lara.

Kallis, for a long time, has been a lynch-pin in the South African line-up. Batting at number four he has commonly been the man to put the opposition to the sword after a good start by his top three.

South Africa will now have to face a confident Australia without the man they have relied upon for close to 20 years.

So just who is the best? Well, it’s quite simply the same situation when Don Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar are compared. With the two men playing in completely different eras it is difficult to determine, categorically, which is the best. 

Kallis is easily the best all-rounder of his era and Sobers the same. Both men changed the dynamics of not only their team but the approach of the opposition. 

Kallis will be sorely missed, by not only the South Africans but world cricket.

Sobers blasts away in his hey-day

Kallis celebrates one of his 44 Test centuries

Keith Miller takes it to the attack in 1956.

Boxing Day Test Preview

Now that the small issue is Christmas is out of the way, it’s time to turn our attention to the showpiece of December- The Boxing Day Test. 

Australia have already wrapped up the series and the Ashes were our early Christmas present but Michael Clarke has said he wants to win the series 5-0. For England they are in disarray. Off-spinner, Graeme Swann, has retired from Test cricket and wicket-keeper, Matt Prio has had a disastrous series with both gloves and bat.

Australia will more than likely play the same 11 that won them the first three Tests, their only concern being the fitness of Ryan Harris after the bowler reported some knee soreness. 

For England, Monty Panesar will replace Graeme Swann, with Johnny Bairstow replacing Matt Prior behind the stumps.

England’s main issues this series has been an inability to score big in their first innings and their inability to bowl a consistent line and length. They had Australia dead-to-rights in Brisbane but lost their accuracy, allowing the Aussies back into the match.

If Australia were to win yet another toss then it’s obvious that they will bat first. Shane Watson has a surprisingly good record at the ground and will want to continue where he left off from at the WACA.

For England, they will need further improvements from Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry. Carberry has been consistent but needs to make a big score, for Cook, he needs to find the form of 2010/11.

Stuart Broad will reportedly play after he was cleared of any break in his foot from a Mitchell Johnson yorker. Whilst Ryan Harris should be fine to play despite some knee soreness.

So, here it is, the Boxing Day Test. Who will be victorious? The might of the Baggy Greens? Or will the English finally turn it into a five day contest?