Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sydney 2012: Into Day Two...

I was late switching on the TV yesterday, and when I did they were right into the Tony Greig tributes, so I didn't get a chance to pick up on the forensic details about the pitch, so I've got no way of knowing whether there was anything in the track to justify Michael Clarke's decision to insert Sri Lanka after he won the toss.

On paper, with the eleven we chose to take into the game, you'd reckon there'd have to be plenty of soup in there for the quicks, and on the evidence of the first session you'd be forced to conclude that anything that was seen in there was, largely, an illusion.

There were plenty of comments early about the four quicks being used as a means to avoid rotating someone out to bring Starc back in, but I'm more inclined to look at it as a means of evaluating the stocks we've got on hand, the same way that playing Maxwell at Seven or a traditional Sydney turner would have given us a good look at the off-spinning options.

The same way winning the toss and batting might have done a bit to sort out where we are with the top three, and would have delivered those two offies into the position where they'd be bowling last on a wicket that usually turns before the end of Day Five.

But no, for whatever reason, we went in with the four quicks and the chance to sort out a pecking order among them, and the simultaneous rating of Mitchell Johnson as a de facto all-rounder batting Seven. The alternative to that, one assumes, would have been to rest Lyon and go with Maxwell in the spinning department, batting him at Seven.

So, what have we established in the bowling department?

Well, for a start, it's obvious Bird now comes into contention for a regular spot in an attack that's approaching the best we can put on the park. It's early days yet, but in a situation where you're looking at First Choices and Fill Ins Bird looks to be heading towards the former rather than the latter.

The First Choices are the group you'd be looking at a (close to) automatic selections when they're fit, the Fill Ins are the blokes you use to cover when someone isn't.

And second, if Mitch can't cut it with the bat when the time comes yesterday's bowling performance suggests a Fill In rating rather than a First Choice. On yesterday's evidence, if we're looking at a left arm quick, Starc is the first choice and Mitch fills the vacancy if he's not fit and available under the rotation policy.

Mitch looked a lot sharper with the new ball in Melbourne than he did bowling second change yesterday, and, in any case, I think you want him getting a run with the new ball and a licence to menace with the thing while it's still hard and bouncy.

In any case, on what appears to be a reasonable batting track at the moment, he gets his chance with the bat at some point over the next two days and again, possibly, on Day Five, when the track should be taking turn. That should give some indication as far as all-round Mitch is concerned.

The big question, and the one that remains largely unanswered, is how we get three ninety-over days out of the way without bowling anyone past that fifty over mark that supposedly brings an increased likelihood of injury. Your chances of doing that are far better with five front line bowlers, which is where all-round Mitch or bowling Watto become key factors.

That fifty over mark, of course, is probably able to be bent. Siddle, I think, would go closer to sixty or sixty-five, while an up and coming tyro tearaway (Cummins) might be flat out getting to forty.

I think it's sage to assume that our best three quicks (with associated tags) at the moment are Siddle as leader of the attack, go to man and workhorse, Starc as the lefty and Bird as the nagging economy man. He doesn't like the McGrath comparisons, but that's the role he'll probably be asked to fill. Pattinson, when fit, I think is the strike man, and you can probably cast your eye around the first class scene and spot contenders who could cover for each of those four, with Johnson/Starc being one obvious match.

So now, I guess, it comes down to how we do with the bat, with plenty of questions to be sorted out on what should be a fairly decent batting track against an attack that shouldn't threaten. With these two innings as the last of the long form until we head to India in February there are several boxes that can be ticked or replaced with question marks.

The inquisitive reader may be wondering, amid all this, about Hughesy's assessment of the opposition, who showed a bit more stickability than expected on a track that didn't have the demons you might have expected from the four quicks and send them in side of things. Assessing the opposition, however, isn't really my thing, particularly when the opposition are ranked at Number Six, and are apparently unlikely to be playing any more Test cricket in the immediate future.

The two Sri Lankan commentators on the radio yesterday were doing a rather detailed forensic job on their Test prospects, with Russell Arnold, in particular, impressing me with his attention to detail, consideration of possibilities and analysis of the factors involved. Much of it went by to the keeper since I don't have anything resembling a detailed knowledge of the Sri Lankan cricket sign except that they're apparently close to broke, that Mahela has problems with the board at home and they're probably going to be depending on the money they can pull in from the short forms to keep things viable.

That said, yesterday's display with the bat suggests there's talent there, and they're going to be competitive when circumstances aren't too obviously weighed against them. Now it's a matter of seeing how they bowl.

The logical assumption is, of course, that we'll match their three hundred odd today, and hopefully bat on well into tomorrow establishing a lead that will need to be run down. That'll be difficult with just the five specialist bats plus 'keeper Wade and all-round Mitch, so you'd be inclined to suspect a possible lead around 150, a Sri Lankan response through Day Four and the prospect of a potentially nasty chase on the last day.

At least that's the way it looks now. Let's see what happens in an hour's time (he wrote as the computer clock ticks past 8:23 Queensland non-Daylight Saving Time)…

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