Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Of swallows and summers

Pause for a moment among the celebratory tumult and consider what may have happened had things gone differently at the toss of the coin.

With a track that was going to offer early life on Day One, flatten out on Days Two, Three and Four and offer some assistance to the spinners on Day Five you'd have to think a captain would give at least momentary consideration to winning the toss and inserting.

That, by the way, was the groundsman's assessment of the SCG pitch, presumably available to both camps, You should always, as I've mentioned elsewhere, talk to the groundsman.

Dhoni could very easily have sent us in, and, given the fact that we slumped to 3-37 later in the day when the early juice in the pitch was draining away you'd have to guess Australia's top order batting could have been in equally deep water if we'd been called on to bat in the morning.

While you ponder yesterday's batting heroics, pause for a moment and consider what may have ensued had our three quicks and a spinner attack been called on to spend Day Two bowling to some subset of Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman.

Under those circumstances one may well have been demanding what the selctors thought they were doing by going into the game with only four specialist bowlers and demanding Daniel Christian's recall to the squad to bat at Six and do his share of the bowling...

As things turned out, by stumps the Indian attack were, to use the vernacular, pretty much stuffed. Remarkably, given the amount of commentary about slow over rates, they managed to get the full ninety overs bowled without going into overtime. Maybe they just wanted to get off the paddock.

That's not to take anything away from a masterful innings by the captain and a useful century from his predecessor which presumably has a fair chunk of the cricketing commentariat suggesting there's life in the old boy yet.

Similar comments will presumably follow the Hussey century that looks about as inevitable as a score around the same level as India's seven for seven hundred plus at the same ground eight years ago.

If Hussey doesn't reach the magical three-figure score there's every possibility that Haddin, faced with a tiring attack and with significant question marks over his own career, will.

It's only a couple of years since a remarkable result in the equivalent Test against Pakistan had the Australian brains trust thinking everything was fine. That, you may recall, was just before we headed over to England to hand back The Ashes.

There'll be plenty of learned opinion along the lines that Ponting and Hussey are now safe for the foreseeable future. Well, maybe they are. Depends on what the selection panel is thinking.

One element in the case for a dual retention is the lack of talent on the horizon and the continuing question marks over the top order batting. Fair enough, and we're not going to be able to assess the possible alternatives while they're playing Big Bash either, so the only opportunities to evaluate the alternatives will be in the post-Bash Sheffield Shield and the tour to the West Indies.

With Australia's international summer running into early March and the West Indian tour kicking off with the first ODI in St Vincent on 16 March, and the Test Series running through April, there'll be a fair chance to assess Shield form between the resumption on 2 February and the Final, which coincides with that first ODI.

You'd guess the two limited overs touring parties would be named towards the end of the ODI series here, followed by the announcement of the Test party towards the end of the Shield season.

The IPL, in case you're wondering, kicks off on 4 April 2012, and runs until 27 May, so you can rule any West Indian players with IPL contracts out of the Test series. They're probably going to be missing for the T20 games wedged between the ODIs and the Tests as well, so you're probably looking at playing a weakened Windies side.

They're currently ranked considerably below Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and they're not that far ahead of New Zealand.

Under those circumstances you'd suspect that an Australian bat who wasn't able to hold his form through that series would have to be in serious doubt for the Test series against a full strength South Africa, wouldn't you?

On that basis, regardless of any other considerations you could possibly sell the idea of a winter off to the two elder statesmen because here's a chance for some of their potential rivals to rule themselves out of contention. It's also feasible that a loss of form on tour could rule either Ponting or Hussey out for the South African series.

But that's n the future. Turning the gaze back to the SCG we're looking at batting long, with the key question involving the timing of the declaration.

This one could, of course, be simplified by a rapid termination of the Australian innings but on yesterday's revealed form and today's likely conditions that would seem about as likely as a double century from former Victorian and Australian leggie Jim Higgs.

You may not remember Mr Higgs. He was the guy who made Chris Martin look like Don Bradman, was bowled by the only ball he faced on the 1975 tour of England and received a standing ovation when he hit a ball in an MCG Test against the West Indies.

No, you'd have to assume we'll still be batting at the tea break, and the key decision will be whether to have an hour at them before stumps today or bat into tomorrow and wear them down further.

There is, after all, every possibility that one of their bowlers will break down, so even if India were to escape with the draw, they'll be weakened going into Perth next Friday…

Gazing into the crystal ball, one suspects that much of that will depend on the Indian over rate. Assuming we're looking to bowl close to the scheduled hundred and eighty over the last two days, if they've been slowing things down through the first two sessions I'd be inclined to bat on, and on, and on…

But we'll see.One swallow does not make a summer. Nor do two, three or even four, even if one of them is a substantial record-breaking triple swallow.

And one should also be perpetually aware that around the next corner Fate may, even as we speak, be slipping the lead into the boxing glove.

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