Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Australia Beats itself before a ball is bowled in India

At present, winning a Test series in India is the toughest assignment in the game.

With the conditions suiting a formidable Indian line-up to a tee along with emphasising the diminished nature of touring teams to perform adequately away from the comforts of home in this Age. Fellow Asian teams due to their familiarity and associated demands can at least hold their own as Bangladesh showed in their combative display recently but when it is a Western opposition it is akin to 'dead men walking'.

Since the beginning of 2015, India has won 10 Tests from 12 matches with no losses against non-Asian touring teams.

Conclusions made to explain their dominance smack of hysteria revolving around doctored pitches from clueless pundits embodied in emotive catch cries such as 'raging turners' or 'dustbowls.' The irony is the pitches in both the New Zealand and England series were overly kind to the touring teams, predominantly batting friendly as well as being anything but spin friendly. A few deliveries might have misbehaved on day 4&5, spitting and spinning sharply out of the rough but were characteristic of a wearing Test pitch.

Much of the success of the Indian spinners was due to clever variations coupled with real guile rather than rearing spin- take a moment to think of how lethal the 'straight one' has become recently in Asia. With batsmen obsessing over spin leading to having their pants pulled down by its consistent absence.

A delightful double bluff created by perception accentuating the Indian might.

Touring teams obsess over spin not only usurping its batting but taking it a step further by feeling the need to compromise their set ups to model India's line up deluded to thinking they can 'outfox the quintessential fox.' 

Next cab off the rank Australia, the poster child.

A Team armed with an excellent pace battery feeling compelled to compromise the main strength in their 11 by replacing quicks with spinners. It is inevitable that Australia will go into most matches with a spin duo with adding a third even a possibility.

If one of Australia's sincerest threats in Josh Hazelwood is sacrificed as touted to accommodate the third spinner it will arguably be one of the hugest selection gaffs ever

Begging the question why?

One can justify Steven O'Keefe being the primary spinner in the team with him a defence minded bowler perfectly suited to compliment the pacemen. Also shielded by always having an escape route when under siege by bowling cynical lines into the rough with fields in support.

Nathan Lyon inclusion is inevitable but fractures the line up.

His career average in Asia of 42.57 points to his lack of penetration along with an inability to act as a holding bowler in support of the rest of the attack as an economy rate of 3.67 runs per over conveys. It compels the need for a 'virtual crutch' to prop him up in the form of an all rounder at 6 to compensate for his failure to be the stock bowler able to get through 20-25 overs in a day in Asia.

The greatest downside of Lyon is his frail temperament.

Batsmen sense fear in him when they attack which is contrary to other accomplished spinners who view this as facilitating their threat. The worrying accompaniment is the lack of faith Captain Steven Smith has in him as was obvious for all to see in the series away to Sri Lanka and at home against South Africa.

Jackson Bird in support of an attack of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Stephen O'Keefe would be a wiser selection with Steven Smith as a part time option with his leg spin. A call made more valid with pacemen having the most success against the vaunted Indian batting line up in recent tours from Western teams.

The Re-Jigged Top 6


The debate over Usman Khawaja and Matt Renshaw is absurd.

With it disrupting a newly formed strength of the team in its top 3.

Granted, Khawaja has been exposed against spin previously leaving huge doubts on his ability to be valid against it.

But, after a very impressive Aussie Summer at least deserves a chance.

Any talk of dropping Renshaw is sincere madness with it having zero justification.

With the youngster offering a perfect foil for the attack minded Dave Warner along with showing great results with the bat. Away from the potential in his batting, he has proven to be exceptional at first slip which is a crucial fielding position that is not easy to replace.

Shaun Marsh's inclusion is mandatory in Asia backed by his average 78.6 with two centuries but it should not be at the expense of the aforementioned duo.

Rather, Marsh should be preferred in the top 6 with bits and pieces players like Glenn Maxwell/Mitch Marsh who for some reason are viewed as certainties to contest for the number 6 position, jettisoned.

Selecting either at 6 means the Aussie tail starts at 6, as a recent look at the batting performances of both in the Sheffield Shield with bat

Mitch Marsh- average of 6.5 with no centuries

Glenn Maxwell- average of 25.8 with one 50

With Matthew Wade averaging only 12.5 since his return to the Test team playing an 'all rounder' at 6 rather than a specialist batsman would create a very exploitable soft underbelly in Australia's batting.

It becomes defining with the combination of few in the Aussie top 6 inspiring faith against spin along with the crucial nature of lower middle order runs in Tests in Asia.

Selecting a Questionable Gloveman in Asia!

The re-inclusion of Matthew Wade after a 3-year absence from the Test team was justified due to the 'leadership' he adds to the team in support of Captain Steven Smith.

Valid reasoning with Smith's Captaincy under siege after the whitewash away to Sri Lanka followed by the home defeat to South Africa. Failures, where the naivety of his leadership stood out along with the absence of senior players in support.

Wade has provided this taking real acid off Smith

The downside is his keeping is still an accident waiting to happen that stood out despite predominantly standing back in very true home conditions.

With him expected to mostly be up at the stumps keeping to spin in conditions that might misbehave his glovework foibles will be magnified to the point of being catastrophic.

Chris Hartley-Anyone????????

The Virat Kohli Obsession 

No doubt Australia has to pay real respect to the peerless nature of the Indian Captain with him dominating with bat in recent home series.

The worry is it delving into obsession, taking the focus away from the fulcrum of the Indian batting in its formidable top 3. A trio that makes the bed to not only lie in for Kohli and the rest of the batting but facilitates them to come in and plunder.

The duo of Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara always go unnoticed.

Both are India's best batsmen against spin and are a delightful blend of fire and ice in their style. With Vijay the more attack-minded batsman that can be murderous against spinners contrasted by the more resolute Pujara.

They need to be key targets for the Aussies for if they are allowed to become factors they will destroy the Aussie spinners limiting the potential threat of the Aussie pacemen.

Series Prediction

In looking at the destiny of this series, I take a philosophical viewpoint revolving around the glasses....

Rather than viewing Australia's glass either half full compared to half empty, I see it as the glass no longer existing through the self-defeating decisions they have made and are likely to accentuate.

Which will lead to the Team suffering a 4th straight whitewash in Asia 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How will Bangladesh deal with its 'Date with Destiny'?

Bangladesh playing its first Test match on Indian soil is a watershed moment in the game. 

Indicating an overdue acceptance into the inner sanctum of the game that will compel others to follow suit.

Historically, the Tigers have been essentially thrown under the bus by the ICC and other Nations with the scant support shown to them. After becoming the 10th Test playing Nation in 2000 little aid has been given in guiding them in their infancy.

To use a building analogy, if the ICC allowed Bangladesh a house and began building it for them, it started with the roof first rather than the foundations!

Rant aside...

How will they go facing India on home soil in what is arguably the toughest assignment in Test Cricket?

Bangladesh is a clash between real talent in its 11 opposed by the lack of know how in the toughest form of the game. This stood out in the series away to New Zealand, where they had periods of ascendancy to the point of even threatening stunning wins, only to be let down by their inexperience in Test cricket as characterised by lapses that ultimately killed them.

India at home is predatory to any sign of weakness as they brutally displayed in the recent smashing of England. Putting a real emphasis on the Tigers to stay the distance and raising the question whether they can due to their inexperience as well as the pressure exerted on them by the excellence of the Indians.

In Bangladesh's favour is their comfort in the conditions. They have a very able batting line up to contend with India's spinners, in fact, they have the potential to rankle the deadly duo of Ravi Ashwin/ Ravindra Jadeja. The key will be embracing a 'divide and conquer' mentality by taking on Jadeja to limit the pressure he exerts with his ability to dry up the opposition's runs. A key part of Kohli's gameplan at home as well as being pivotal in the associated success of Ravichandran Ashwin.

Tamim Iqbal at the top of the order will be crucial with the start he gets the team off too and the pressure his cavalier style could exert on the Indian attack.

Winning the tossing, batting first and scoring big will be key.

With it allowing Bangladesh's spinners the best chance to challenge the formidable Indian batting line up. Absurd as it sounds, it would provide a perfect stage for Shakib al Hasan to gain full respect and adulation for just how good he is, highlighted by the left arm spinner being a rare case of having a better away record than at home. The young off spinner Mehedi Hasan will also figure prominently with him standing out in the recent New Zealand tour for his traditional style leaving purist drooling witnessing his beautiful natural flight and loop.

His destiny is greatness, 400+ Tests wickets

The aside to this game is the local derby aspect

With it not having the same gravity and tension, but similar to the epic India versus Pakistan matches where both rise regardless of their current plight.

One can see the Bangladesh 11 honour bound to perform well ensuring a better than expected contest that will go into the 5th day with India prevailing in the end.

It is a pity it is a one off game, with the associated irony being that Bangladesh will offer a greater threat to India than the Aussies who will tour after who have been granted a 4 Test series. Despite, the Australians being whitewashed in their last three tours to Asia 

Will Hawthorn's Midfield Rise in 2017?

Hawthorn's prospects in 2017 will live or die by its midfield

Putting a focus on 'Generation Next', commandeered by recruits Tom Mitchell and Jaeger O'Meara to fill the void left by Club Legends Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis departure from the Club. Brad Hill leaving, also cannot be understated with the huge chasm to fill with his pace and line-breaking ability.

Let us flick some magnets on the board for the new look set up:

Tom Mitchell along with the evergreen Liam Shiels will be the lynchpins inside with Isaac Smith one of the most devastating outside threats in the AFL. Jaeger O'Meara is likely to have a slow start to his Hawthorn career as he regains confidence after a cruel knee injury but will rise to be one of the best in the AFL. A rare combination of a bull on the inside and scything entity on the outside.

Shaun Burgoyne in his bursts in the guts reminds all of why he was compared favourably to Chris Judd at his peak making it very tempting to employ 'Silk' in a more permanent role. The move would add some needed experience to the new look group after losing 666 games of know how in last year's trade period.

After these, all others are speculative entities pointing to a worrying lack of depth considering most good teams have a rotating midfield corps of 6-8 trusted permanent entities. Incorporating a first and second choice in square brigade with similar on the outside  The absence of this puts the emphasis on improvement from within the incumbent group to inspire a renaissance.

A similar challenge was faced in the wake of the 2012 GF loss where the one-dimensional nature of a midfield lacking options was pivotal in the defeat. Brett Ratten, added in its wake in the role as midfield coach was defining in the threepeat of Flags that followed with the strings he added to the bows of the incumbents as well as strengthening the midfield group by the rotating of burst players.

The focus needs to be on redressing the contested ball winning malaise where the Hawks were obliterated last season finishing 16th in the AFL. It fractured the dream of a history equalling four-peat with the threat of the forward line neutered by slow and imprecise entry into the 50 along with the defence left vulnerable and often exploited due to the opposition constantly winning first use of the ball.

Jarryd Roughead potentially has a key role to play.

The irony of his absence last year was the main focus on his meaning to the forward line paying little respect to how crucial he was in his midfield role. His size smashing open space for smaller teammates to operate in allowing prominence in winning the contested ball coupled with his own natural ability to win the contested footy. With bigger midfielders dominating the AFL highlighted by the likes of Marcus Bontempelli, Patrick Cripps and Nat Fyfe a shift in his role to 70/30 in the midfield in preference to forward could see the new Hawthorn skipper be a similar force.

Exiting the Last Chance Saloon 

There is real acid on Jono O'Rourke, Will Langford and Billy Hartung with patience running out quick on the trio.

If the preseason where he has dazzled is anything to go by, O'Rourke will be a revelation.

Langford is a clash between his respected contested ability and his average foot skills, leading to turnovers in an era where this is footballing suicide. Because of this, playing him on the ball becomes too much of a risk meaning his future might be in another role. It would be interesting to see how he would go in a similar role to what Liam Picken plays at the Dogs.

Last but not least Hartung, who has a huge part to play in replacing the outside run lost by Brad Hill's defection to Fremantle. He has similar traits of Hill as a line breaker with a huge tank, but after 2016 where he came up short in a few key areas, the jury is out on him making it.

The fact the Club floated him in last year's trade period points to confidence being low in him as well as suggesting a plan b if he does come up short.

Ricky Henderson's capture from the Crows could be with an eye on him playing as a big wingman.

The Youth

Only Kieran Lovell stands out as a young mid one can pin real hopes on. A beautiful natural footballer with such natural instincts to know where to go to win the pill, great skills when in possession and real pace to break away from stoppages.

Fans will suggest Dan Howe, but, it seems apparent he is being groomed as a rebounding half back.

Smokeys could be Teia Miles and Kade Stewart.

Stewart has potential in the midfield but it is likely he will be groomed as a small forward but Miles offers up a few tantalising possibilities. Playing as a wingman where his pace would be useful or replacing Taylor Duryea in the back pocket to allow 'Doc' to be added to the inside midfield.


In Mssrs Clarko and Co, we trust!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Captain Cook sets sail on England

Alastair Cook has a unique ability to attract critics.

With Social Media going into meltdown, rejoicing him announcing standing down as England Captain on Monday.

It highlighted the perception of Cook, never fully appreciated for his dedication and large role in remarkable England successes but always dissected and heavily critiqued for any failures.

2016 was a watershed in his demise culminating in what was perceived as an embarrassing away series draw to Bangladesh and humbling 4 nil smashing at the hands of India.

The last Test collapse in Chennai, where they scored 477  batting first but still lost by an innings losing 104/9 in the third innings on a true batting pitch, a standout.

With the lack of resilience and fight in the group that was symbolic under Cook so absent.

Cook seemed to sniff this out and decided to go.

Pointing to the sense of duty that defined Cook, always putting England first and doing what he deemed was in its best interest.

The current group is full of free-spirited attacking types like Johnny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes dictating a more charismatic and imaginative leader to tap into their natural urges to bring their abilities to defining fruition.

Over to you Joe Root, the logical replacement.

Who in a brief foray leading in India while Cook was off the field commandeered one of the few phases of play where England rankled the hosts.

Cook's departure now is ideal in its timing.

With it giving Root plenty of time to mould the group in the lead into an Ashes defence in Australia starting in November. "

Home series against a very tough South African unit as well as the West Indies will allow Root to get his feet wet and mould the group.

The delicious irony is in the infancy of Root's leadership is the perfect gift given to him by his predecessor.

In the form of Cook being freed of the acidic pressure of leading England to focus solely on his batting.

It is often lost on all just how young Cook is due to him seemingly being in the game for a virtual eternity.

At 32, the opener is in the peak years of his career and a return to form will be the perfect rock for England to rebuild around.

Root moving to 4

The Indian tour might have been a debacle in its result but offered a few glimpses of hope for the future.

At the top of the order Haseeb Hameed displayed to all why he is known as 'Baby Boycott' before having to leave the tour due to a hand injury. His replacement Keaton Jenning's also showed a sense of belonging with a remarkable debut century where he displayed a range of skill set in playing spin stunning all

The legacy is the opportunity it affords England to kill two birds with one stone.

Moulding their batting line up around a top three of Cook in the opener spot and inserting either Hameed/Jennings in the three spot. It would allow Root to move to a freer role at number 4 ending the musical chairs impersonation with the role.

It might finally turn Root's obvious ability into defining stats.

A seemingly absurd thing to say when Root averages 52,8 from 53 Tests but his conversion rate of making centuries when getting to 50 defies his batting mastery.

A comparison with contemporaries highlights this:

Joe Root, 53 Tests, 27 50's, and 11 100's

Virat Kohli, 53 Tests, 14 50's and 15 100's

Steven Smith,50 Tests, 20 50's and 17 100's

Take a moment to think how defining it could be to England if Root turns more 50's into 100's?

Rounding out the top 6 would be Johnny Bairstow at 5 and Ben Stokes at 6.

Specialist Keeper

Bairstow has been remarkable in the dual role as keeper/batsman affording the opportunity for the team to play Jos Buttler as a dangerous floater in the order. With the maverick Buttler offering the team a real X-factor with his deadly dangerous batting.

The oil in the ointment is a clash between cricketing 'maybe' and 'certainty'

In the wings young Ben Foakes awaits, a brilliant young gloveman and very resolute batsman.

If England inserted Foakes at 7 in preference of Buttler, it would give the team an upgrade of Bairstow's keeping skills while affording him the opportunity to fully focus on his batting at 5.

Giving England the dual potential of the best top 6 in Test cricket rounded out by the games best gloveman.

A Spinner picked for his Batting ability or Bowling ability

Moeen Ali is the quintessential enigma in Test cricket

With him a true Jack of all trades but master in none

His batting often brilliant but not trusted enough to dictate a place in the top 6 along with his off spin bowling which occasionally surprises but never fully ascends to defining.

Should England persist with the known of Moeen or invest in a more valid spinner?

The obvious choice is leg spinner Adil Rashid, who at times in India showed that he is worthy of investing in. Rashid's downside seems to be a feeling of not having the faith of his Captain, with it obvious at times that Alastair Cook was dim in his view of him.

Root's taking over the leadership might be the fillip Rashid needs to finally put it all together with the irony aside from the potential of his bowling being the threat of his batting.

He could quite easily be the dangerous tail end type that Graeme Swann was.

Pray for Mark Wood's Health 

With the quicks ability to swing the ball naturally/reverse late at speeds approaching 95mph, Wood could be anything.

Sadly, injuries have been cruel to him raising a question mark over his ability to stand up to the rigours of the game.

If he could, England would have a true bowling spearhead.