Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hobart 2012: The Lead In

The pursuit of tickets to Bruce Springsteen concerts means that Hughesy's preview of the Hobart Test probably won't be finished by the time play starts at 9:30 Queensland time, but that's fine because the matters that occupied my mind on the pre-Jimbo section of the morning walk hopefully won't be affected by the first session.

One notes a weather forecast suggesting a 50% chance of rain, with possible falls amounting to not very much (0 to 2 mm), so there's a possibility they might not get away on time. That's very much a case of wait and see, as is the composition of the batting order now that they've selected Phil Hughes at the start of the post-Ponting era.

With a top order running Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Hussey, Wade it's a matter of seeing how they go and how long Hussey remains on the scene.

The bowling attack, on the other hand, is probably never going to be resolved to the same degree of certainty, but we'll get to that point a little further down the track.

I would have been inclined to go for Khawaja ahead of Hughes, but then again I haven't seen either of them at the crease this season, and the slotting of a shot-playing opening bat in at Three makes a great deal of sense.

It's quite possible, after all that he'll find himself facing the second ball of the innings, so it makes sense o have someone who can open batting there and, on the other hand, he could find himself coming in half way through the final session at 1/240, a situation where the requirements are slightly different.

Hughes has earned the recall, and I hope he does well.

Watson at Four is aldo a good look since it, as the man himself has pointed out, will allow him to bowl more. This, mind you, is coming from a bloke who saw himself as an opener a while back and wasn't concerned about the bowling bit of the equation. Hmmm….

Clarke sits comfortably at Five, Hussey will continue to be a how much longer question mark at Six, and when he goes that slot is a perfect spot for a newcomer to find his feet.

So the batting, as far as I'm concerned, looks OK.

The bowling, on the other hand, is an entirely different kettle of fish, due to the ongoing injury issue and the question of the rotation policy.

I've got no issue with a rotation policy if it's based on statistics provided they're the right sort of statistics and they're being interpreted correctly with a slight margin for leeway.

The suggestion seems to be that bowlers who send down more than fifty overs in a Test are likely to break down in the next, which would seem to be an issue since the bloke who breaks down delivers an increased workload to the rest of the attack, which would, in turn, bring in the possibility of further breakdowns.

There's also the question of why so many bowlers break down in the first place, but let's set that aside for the moment.

From where I'm sitting a rotation policy is only an issue when you don't have the resources to cover the bloke you're rotating out, and you don't develop those resources without giving the players on the fringe the chance to prove they're good enough. We want a situation where we've got a battery of six to eight fit bowlers we can choose from, and you don't get that without some degree of rotation to bring on the new faces.

Much of the kerfuffle comes back to the decision to rest Siddle and Hilfenhaus from Perth, which came a matter of days after they'd both bowled more than fifty overs trying to win the Test after Pattinson broke down. There was no Watto to bowl there, so let's put that aside for a minute as a necessary precaution against losing Siddle or Hilfenhaus in the longer term.

It wouldn't have been an issue if Pattinson hadn't broken down, so that's one point.

The other one is how you avoid putting any of the quicks into the situation where they're likely to bowl more than fifty in a match.Do that and you're looking after your bowling stocks a lot better.

So let's look at the maths of all this for a minute.

First up, we've got a notional five days with a notional ninety overs to be bowled on each, and you'd anticipate you'd be batting for two of them.

So we're looking at around 180 to 200 overs maximum to be bowled. Four fit bowlers in the lineup would cover that quite adequately. Add Watto to the equation for around four or five spells of no more than three overs each day and you've got that side of things covered, provided the four other bowlers are all fit.

It's when they start to break down that things start to get complicated, so why do they break down?

Now, there's no point in hearkening back to the glory days of Dennis Lillee or Freddie Trueman or whoever and wondering why they don't make 'em like that any more.

There are obvious lifestyle changes that mean kids who grew up in the eighties and nineties don't run around the way they used to, which is one thing. You'd have to suspect kids, and particularly the sort of kid who's likely to grow up to take the new ball, don't have the same robust lifestyle of years gone by.

So there's arguably a base level of fitness and coordination that's not there any more.

One notes that Siddle, if I recall correctly, hails from Gippsland, and probably had a more robust childhood than a kid growing up in suburban Melbourne, particularly if it's a suburb where parents drive their kids to school.

Then there's the move into professional sport where the player doesn't have the need to find gainful employment to pay the bills. Whether Mitchell Johnson's spells in the building industry have anything to do with his cricket fitness may not be important, but it would definitely have meant he'd be out and active for a fair chunk of the day between seven in the morning and four in the afternoon.

Land a gig as a professional athlete and that doesn't apply any more.

But you'll also need to do something to fill in the hours while you're not playing, the ones you would have spent at work earning a crust. You can't play cricket, football or whatever for all those hours, and you can't just sit around and do nothing, so what do you do?

Obvious, isn't it? You go to the gym, where you set about putting on muscle in areas where you wouldn't find it naturally.

And that's muscle that can be injured…

Go to the gym and you'll find plenty of people who know about body building, maybe not to the extent that former Wallaby and Puma Topo Rodriguez did, but still.

Almost twenty-seven years ago I spent the Australia Day long weekend over at Monte's reef Resort, where Wallaby Roger Gould was visiting his girlfriend and avoiding fitness tests being conducted by Alan Jones. Gould's job, as I recall it, had something to do with refrigeration and he's been called to fix a problem, which meant he'd regretfully have to miss the fitness test.

Apparently he wasn't the only Wallaby on that particular flight to Proserpine.

He was looking after the bar on a quiet Friday night, and someone asked him about players who were tough to tackle. Roger referred to the tender spot just under your ribcage on the side, where you can usually inflict a little pain if you can get the fingers in there. Everyone has that potential weakness, but not Topo Rodriguez.

I suspect excessive gym work under the supervision of someone who's more concerned with adding muscle than making sure it's appropriate muscle is an accident waiting to happen.

You have to wonder how many of the fast bowlers' injuries are affecting muscles that normally wouldn't be there or have been developed to a point that wouldn't happen under normal circumstances.

There ate also technical issues, although we've had about thirty years of expert coaching which you'd think would be more than enough to ensure that basic issues that affect bowling actions have been sorted out.

Maybe they have, but at the same time you'd have to suspect there's a degree of over coaching, another off shoot of the professional era where ex-players can find a career path once their playing days are over. I suspect there's a degree of remodelling being applied in situations where a little bit of tweaking is required.

But you need to be doing something to justify that pay packet, don't you?

No, if that no more than fifty overs is the key point, you make sure you're not going to be asking the bloke to trundle down fifty-one, or, if you must ask them to you make sure you're asking a bloke who has shown he probably can.

That's why I'd like to see the likes of Henriques and Christian (there are others around, but let's keep this bit fairly simple) being developed to the point where they could bat in the top seven and deliver some useful overs as well.

That would also have the extra benefit of putting a bit of pressure on Watto to actually deliver rather than promise to.

At the same time, anyone who is looking to secure a batting slot should be looking to develop his bowling to a point where he could send down a handful of useful overs if asked. It might only be four or five while Lyon's wheeling away at the other end and we're waiting for the new ball, but every little bit helps…

Actually, if Watson (twelve to fifteen) and Lyon (twenty-odd) can get through close to forty overs with a bit of help from Clarke, Warner and Hussey or whoever takes his place you'd think your three quicks would be able to slide in under that fifty overs bar, wouldn't you?

And with that, m'lud, I rest my case...

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