Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Melbourne 2012: Day One

You can say what you like about the rotation policy (whether the beast actually exists or not, which is, of course, an entirely different kettle of fish) but it's hard to imagine an Australian attack doing much better than Messrs Siddle, Bird, Johnson and Watson did against Sri Lanka yesterday.

True, it was against a side batting first on a track that had a little early life (as they should if we're not going to paint a line down the middle of the thing).

Yes, it was against a side that was brought up on flat decks who don't like it bouncy in the first place, even if they have chosen to bat after winning the toss.

Agreed, it wasn't the best trio plus Watson we could put on the park, but Pattinson and Cummins are injured, and Starc, if you can believe the word that's being put out, had some niggles so it wasn't a rigid enforcement of a policy that may not exist (that's according to the same sources that're suggesting Starc wasn't quite right).

That, however, is the point.

We have an issue with fast bowlers breaking down, so it's increasingly unlikely we'll have our best trio plus Watson on the park at any time in the foreseeable future, though it's always nice to dream. What we need is a viable bowling group that's capable of taking twenty wickets between them, and this one definitely looked the part yesterday.

They might not look the part tomorrow, or next week, or at some unspecified time in the future, but they looked the part yesterday, and that's what mattered.

Bird, the controversial part of the equation (assuming the final decision was based on Bird or Starc rather than Johnson or Starc) looked the goods and did enough to suggest he'll be an ongoing part of the group. He'll probably bowl better and do worse in terms of results in the wickets taken column, and he may not go on at all, but he did enough to suggest he's going to be around for a bit.

Siddle was Siddle, which is what we expect, and the issue where he's concerned is to ensure that he's there rather than sitting on the sidelines, which means he may need to be rested some time, and you'd think Sydney may be the occasion.

And if Siddle was Siddle, Johnson was definitely Johnson, leaking a few runs when Sangakkara got onto him, but I think you want the bats fancying their chances against him.

And when Lyon came on to help with the mopping up he obliged.

Generally, I thought, it was a tidy performance. Maybe not a great one, but as good as you're entitled to expect.

It's a pity you can't say the same thing about the batting.

Another run out that results from ball watching was what actually did the damage, of course, but I definitely heard echoes of Geoffrey Boycott suggesting things wouldn't look so cheery if you added three quick wickets to the score as we went from 0/95 to 3/117.

Warner went the way he's always likely to go, perhaps a little earlier than he should have done to a trap that had obviously just been set, but that's the way he bats and he's there with a licence to give it a go.

Cowan's dismissal wasn't that bad a shot snared by a very good catch, but that's what happens at the top level, so you take the good with the bad even if you do occasionally get the rough end of the pineapple.

Which brings me to Hughes, and a second run out in a fairly short time span since his recall to the side. This is what shouldn't happen at the top level, though it's hard to see how the fault can be rectified when it does.

If you were running a squad of juniors with a couple of coaches on the ground you could address this sort of thing in a centre wicket practice session, with bowlers bowling, batsmen batting and running between wickets and the coaching staff keeping an eagle eye on proceedings, dismissing batsmen for failure to call correctly, failing to respond, turning blind or using any other pernickety excuse to pounce on bad habits before they become ingrained. One mistake and you're out, next please, and you'd be looking to run through the side in about half an hour.

You'd then send 'em off for a drink, call them back, deliver the lecture and remind them of the way things are supposed to work, and then spend an hour on a similar exercise with slightly less stringent supervision.

I'm not sure you'd be able to do that with an international side. Maybe a return to the basics as per the coaching manual would be possible by invoking an automatic $10 (or 20, or 100, the amount probably isn't important) fine for the team slush fund if someone is spotted watching the ball rather than going on the partner's call).

In a competitive environment you'd expect the entire dressing room to be on the lookout once one or two of them had been pinged for the hundred or whatever. After all, once you've been pinged there's a score to settle with the blokes who pinged you...

But it's something that needs thinking about. We hear all sorts of justifications for things that don't quite fit into the conventional thinking and the coaching manual, such as Dean Jones' suggestion that turning blind gave him extra microseconds to turn ones into twos, twos into threes. I'm sure it did, but if it also happened to cost a wicket or two the extra couple of runs probably wasn't worth it.

In any case, at 3/150 casing 156, Clarke and Watson at the crease, Hussey, Wade and the tail to come you'd be looking towards something between 400 and 450 as a par score by stumps today, and a win by an innings and a bit around the middle of the last session on Day Four, but there's many a slip between the cup and the lip…

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