Saturday, 24 August 2013

This Damn Cap Means Something

Starc removes Trott
It was proper Test cricket at The Oval on the third last day of a series in England which revealed some interesting things about the character of the two sides competing.

It was proper and it was dull but not because Australia made it so. Michael Clarke swing shifted his bowlers from different ends and in the five over and less spells his captaincy is famous for. He attacked when he could, bottled the English batsmen and probed with both his spinners. All this on a perfect batting strip which is only just starting to spin and occasionally jump. The fieldsmen were sharp, men like Warner chasing to the very edge of the boundary and diving to scoop and save boundaries, like young boys diving for coins for gobsmacked tourists in one of the Pacific nations.

The tactics were right, the execution was good.

No, all responsibility for a hundred overs yielding little more than two each lay with the negativity of the English batsmen. It's the same approach they have adopted all series, rarely exceeding two and a half an over and playing with safety. The same thinking killed cricket in the 1950's until Richie Benaud and Frank Worrel put entertainment back into the game. England, of course, would have none of it and tried right through the 1960's and into the seventies with our Geoffrey flag bearer of the somnambulant crew. It wasn't until Tony Greig that England dared venture into three an over territory.

Alastair Cook's desire to kill all hope for the Australians is understandable but harder to justify when you have potent attacking weapons such as Pietersen and Bell. Yet they batted like men in chains, nudging singles to the leg side and leaving half volleys unmolested outside off stump. Pietersen's half century included 80% of his runs scored on the leg side. Every batsman, even allowing for good bowling, refused to engage in the task of taking the attack on. With an eye to tomorrow's promised foul weather, England batted as if the realm was being defended.

Proper Test cricket yes but out of place when you already have the series won. They won't be able to get away with it in Australia, come November.

Day of frustration for Harris
Ryan Harris and Nathan Lyon were excellent. Lyon, starting his work strangely later in the first session than might have been the case, immediately extracted lift. His line was probing and his flight as good as its been in Test cricket, even though spin was barely in evidence. Harris just looked like a threat every time Clarke unmuzzled him. On such a placid pitch for quicks, he still found bounce and again unsettled the composed Ian Bell. Brisbane, Perth and Sydney loom as places where the Englishman might struggle for the same form as his 500 plus runs have shown here. The rest were tight - even Mitchell Starc, who picked up the obdurate Trott and a frustrated Pietersen, who could contain himself no longer. Even Steve Smith bowled well, although his figures were flattered when long hops and full tosses dodged bullets because England kept their guns holstered.

Although follow-ons are out of favour in the modern game, with the 4th day likely to suffer watery incision, in is the only hope Australia have. With 45 runs to play with, something dramatic will be required.

As for those who cry crocodile tears for the health of Australian cricket, the evidence for your distress grows thin. Perhaps if you watched the game, rather than read jaundiced opinions written solely to attract media attention, you might see the metal of this team. You might also notice the grunt and pride much maligned men such as David Warner have bought to the XI. Men who have fought for their spot such as the oath bearer, Nathan Lyon. Hussey was no fool in choosing him to stand Under The Southern Cross. It has long been accepted than if you poke Siddle or Harris, they will at least growl at you but when you see babies such as Steve Smith wearing that damn green cap with with the pride of a nation still to attach itself, you have to notice that something is happening here.

Couldn't get it off quick enough
That stands in contrast to the gaggle of geese that is Shane Warne. We'll realise one day, that greatness is not about higher, stronger, faster. There is something more to it than that. Greatness also has grace. In describing the Baggy Green as no more than a symbol that gave him a headache and was quickly returned to his kitbag and then lampooning Steve Waugh's diligence in making players adhere to practices which have made the cap resonate for the modern player, Warne yet again shows his whole hearted dedication to self. Connection to the past is irrelevant to Warne. Belonging to something bigger than himself is meaningless, because in Warney World, there is nothing bigger than himself.

Except maybe his mouth ...