Monday, 16 April 2012

Horses For Courses or Opening The Stable Door

Ryan Harris - hero to zero
Selection of Australian Test sides was supposed to become more rational under the new management system devised by committee and approved by public acclaim but serious question must again be raised after the first day of the second Test against the West Indies.

Australia won the toss and batted after Michael Clarke handed a team sheet to Darren Sammy which didn't have the names of Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle on it. On a low, slow pitch in Trinidad which Michael Holding described in commentary as needing a headstone, the selection of Michael Beer as a second spinner to Nathan Lyon was logical. Even if a gamble, the Australians hold a 1-0 advantage with two to play so any experiment is fair enough. One experiment though, not two.

Siddle, it was announced, had been rested owing to a stiff back. Never giving the appearance of a prima donna, the Victorian is the least likely cricketer in the world to be stopped by some muscle stiffness but it gave Beer's selection more gravitas. The staggering omission was Harris. Four days ago in Barbados he was named Man of the Match in a remarkable comeback win by Australia. Admittedly it was his 68 not out at No 9 which attracted the attention but his second innings bowling was as deadly and as quick as his best work, in a chequered and injury prone short career in the Baggy Green. Baring disciplinary action, the besting of Harris by James Pattinson in the intervening four days is not only impossible to believe but also a blow to the confidence of the big journeyman of Australian cricket. He played his guts out but still got dropped.

Meanwhile, Ben Hilfenhaus is counting lucky stars.

If the dropping of Harris by Mickey Arthur, Michael Clarke and duty selector Rod Marsh is bad enough at a personal level, it gets worse when applied to the team. Harris' tight line on a dead pitch stands in contrast to Pattinson's uneven temperament and love of the bouncer, a delivery he over applies when under pressure. The first Test example of Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach trying to bounce the Australian tail and losing a match in the process is all the lesson Pattinson needs to learn. With only two quicks in the side, Australia can ill afford one of them losing the plot.

Michael Beer returns
Beer is an honest trundler and will do the job required of him on a pitch which will suit him. His is the Derek Underwood legacy which always keeps left arm Greek orthodox bowlers in demand, especially on slow, low pitches. His inclusion should mean that Dave Warner's long hops are relegated back to the nets.

The more pressing issue for Clarke should be what to do with the tail. Beer, Hilfenhaus and Lyon are all No 11's. Hilfy and and Gazza would still get the job in St Pats U/12's. Pattinson will bat above his weight at 8 but has shown the technique to manage there but an Australian tail which was already weak, now looks disabled. You can talk all you like about the miracle of Barbados but any cricket supporter who thinks more about the game than the last Test, will not expect encore performances, especially since the conductor has been left in the warm up room.

For their part, the West Indies were forced to drop Kirk Edwards (knee) for Kieron Powell. Powell is a good player but he is no competitor like Edwards. Shane Shillingford was preferred to Davendra Bishoo - an offie for a legie. For Shillingford, it was reward for a long battle to overcome a suspect action which had him removed from Tests by the ICC just as his career at the top level started.

It was a long and difficult day for the Australian batsmen on a pitch that redefined lifeless. Warner and Ed Cowan made a positive start, both unafraid of shot making. Their opening partnership of 53 could have amounted to nothing if a first over decision had been upheld. Edwards last ball swung in at Warner, struck him on the front pad in front off off stump and flew to Carlton Baugh behind the stumps. A big appeal saw Warner given out by umpire Erasmus but Sammy withdrew the appeal indicating the ball didn't carry to Baugh. Replays showed there was no bat in it and Warner was plumb! The reinstated chucker, Shane Shillingford, got Warner in his first over, Sammy shelling peas at first slip. Cowan and Shane Watson took 10 overs to add 12 runs before the opener was DRSed on one of those half ball hitting the stumps umpire's calls. If the technology still raises questions then the rules over their use certainly should.

Ponting edged, dropped, caught, out
Ricky Ponting was thoughtful over a handful of runs, ever mindful of Watson's indecisions at the other end. Perhaps the English system of the senior pro making the calls should be instituted for the pair. Luckily there were no tears today, no need for hara-kiri by media after play. Ponting, always the team man, was out in manner usual. Squaring up and moving across his crease, he made a Roach delivery appear as though it was a cobra striking at his throat and edged to Baugh, who rebounded to Sammy. Ponting stayed a while, hoping for a no ball or an umpiring failure to a dismissal which was so slow it was already the replay ... or maybe a TARDIS in which to go back five years. In an alternate reality - the one the rest of the world lives in - this was no cobra, rather a man who believes we all conspire against him. There are no cobras to be found on a pitch so placid that it should be in hippy commune, smoking dope in the 1960's.

Clarke's entrance changed the game and the day's best partnership was the 84 he added with Watson. It was hard work taking runs of this deck and as he has done since taking the captaincy, he led with his bat. There were drives early from Roach but then Edwards kept him quiet for a long time. In the second session, Australia added only 58 from 29 overs, a vast difference from the five an over days of the summer against India. After tea, Clarke put the foot down, determined to change the pace and took fine drives and cuts, again of Roach. Clarke likes to reverse the long spoken of policy of OohAhh McGath and attack the lead bowler. His footwork to the spinners was assured but just as the game was getting interesting, he flogged a long hop from Narsingh Deonarine down Shillingford's throat at deep square leg. The banged bat and dropped head spoke enough of his passion for the few doubters who doggedly want to still attack him.

Shane Shillingford
At the other end, Watson gathered a slow half century. He was always alerted to punish the quicker men and Roach paid a high price for ill direction or half lengths but the spinners worried him. Prone throughout his career to wanting to flog all spin over long on, he seemed tempered today, as if more poor judgements were not wanted. As a result, he spent most of his innings, when facing Shillingford or Deonarine, not quite forward and not quite back. In the end, he launched forward at Deonarine and got some inside wood onto his pad for Adrian Barath to take a high, sharp catch at short leg. Its not easy to keep the faith at short leg when the batsman comes down the wicket or the bat rises to pull.

Mike Hussey and Matt Wade, batting ahead of a tail that is so long its an epic, saw things through safely until stumps but 3-167 an hour earlier with Clarke on fire looked a lot better than the closing score.

Tragics Session Count: West Indies 0, Australia 3, Drawn 0