Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Questions Facing Australia In South Africa

A series win for the new look Australian Team in Sri Lanka was viewed as its first step back to regaining credibility in the Test arena.

The truth of the result was that Australia prevailed in a joust between two flawed and mediocre Teams, and left Sri Lanka with as many questions left unanswered about its line up

Questions that will only be answered in the upcoming series against a formidable South African unit.

The Future of Ricky Ponting?

The man that has been referred to as the best since Don Bradman, and on a par with Sachin Tendulkar throughout his career has been on a massive slide of late.

To the point that many are questioning whether it is time for Ponting to walk away from the game, and allow a younger player his position in the batting line up.

Opponents of this point to the mentoring role that Ponting can play for the young batsmen in the Team, but it is hardly needed when you have Mike Hussey there to play this role expertly. Then with Ponting still in the Team, a thread of the old legacy remains. When Australian Cricket since the Ashes shame has done everything in its power to put this legacy in its past. Highlighted by Michael Clarke and Shane Watson being charged with responsibility of the Team

Aside from this, Ponting's figures for the last three years hardly support him being in the Team on merit

27 Tests, 50 innings, 1790 runs, average 35.80, 2 centuries and 13 50's

Which is well down on his career average that currently is at 53.13, but in times in his career has been in the high 50's

A tour here facing the best fast bowler in the World in Dale Steyn and his able offsider Morne Morkel will judge whether these figures are just a phase of bad form or a pointer that Ponting should retire.

The Man Management Of Ryan Harris

Amongst the recent gloom that has transcended on Australian Cricket due to a string of loses culminating in getting flogged in the Ashes.

One true gem was found.

In terms of the fast bowler Ryan Harris, who has it all from pace, seam and real bowling smarts, but unfortunately with a catch

A degenerative knee condition, and with it a body that is fragile as bone crystal

Smartly in this age where fast bowlers bodies are grinded into the dust by being expected to play in the glut of meaningless ODI's as well as other forms of the game with India's Irfan Pathan being a classic example of this

Australia has made Harris solely a Test bowler, due to his overwhelming value and meaning to the Team. This despite in his 17 ODI's having an average of 16.12

You can see similar management of Harris in this Tour by the length of spells he bowls, and even if needs be missing a Test if there is the slightest doubt about his body. Like in Sri Lanka, where he missed the Third Test

This is crucial for Australia's performances in the future, for in Harris, you have a bowler that could devastate opposition batting line ups

The Future Of Mitchell Johnson

In the subsequent tour of South Africa by Australia in 2008, this is the Mitchell Johnson that we were in true awe of.
Truly breath taking in his menace and threat to all the batsmen with his pace and aggression. Then his ability to swing the ball back in at 145 kms made him lethal.

Then in the same series, this was Johnson's batting record

3 Tests, 5 innings, 255 runs, average 85, 1 century and 1 50 at a strike rate of 84.71

Making us old timers swear we were watching the sequel of the Great Alan Davidson

3 years on, we have been left with egg on our faces, and wondering what has happened to Johnson

For gone is the swing, gone is the menace with both bat and ball, and the only real comparisons are being made between Johnson and Steve Harmison. On the premise of being erratic, inconsistent and more by the day held up to ridicule. Since that series, his downward spiral has been profound

2009- to present: 28 Tests, 113 wickets, average 31.64

Last 15 Tests- average 36. 96. 

2011 an average of 48.10 from his 4 Tests

The diminished nature of all his play has seen him be more and more talked about being replaced in the Team. A bad tour here, could mean him spending the Australian Summer donning a Western Australian Cap in State Cricket. Rather than the Baggy Green in Tests against New Zealand and India

A Return Of Michael Clarke to Batting Mastery?

Michael Clarke got 'BINGLED"
Between 2006 till the end of 2009, Michael Clarke was viewed as being one of the best batsmen in the World, and certainly one of its most complete. In regards to being a great player of pace, and also having the dancing feet and mastery of spin.

Then in early 2010 Clarke got 'Bingled'

Or translated in the Kings English, his wife to be in Lara Bingle walked out on him....

In the aftermath, Clarke was a shadow of his former self with him struggling mightily with the bat. As seen in his 2010 figures, of an average of 36.71 from his 21 innings.

The Ashes struggle saw many call for his head by the end of the series, but instead he was given the Captaincy.

Which seems to have reinvigorated him since with his enthusiastic and charismatic leadership in Sri Lanka great aiding in the victory. Then his batting showing signs of its past glories.

Fans of his with point to his free flowing delectable century in the third Test as a sign of his batting renaissance, but more discerning eyes will point to his innings of 60 in the 1st Test at Galle. That was made on a challenging pitch, but where he showed signs of all his abundance of batting skill

Whether he is back to his best will be found out against Steyn and his cohorts in this Tour

Will This Tour Give Australia Truth Over Shane Watson And Phil Hughes As Openers

The Aussie openers in Sri Lanka consisted of Phil Hughes and Shane Watson. Both having question marks over them as we enter this tour for different reasons.

Firstly on Hughes, he arguably saved his career by a century in the 2nd innings of the 3rd Test against Sri Lanka. Though putting this in context was it was scored on a true road of pitches and against a very threadbare attack. Previous to this innings, he had score 78 runs from his 5 innings 

His fans will view the innings as a return to form for a batsman that rose to prominence and labels like 'The Next Bradman' in his dominance in South Africa in 2008. When in his 3 Tests he scored 415 runs at an average of 69.16 with 2 big centuries.

Though the truth of that performance was seen by the fact that he was a new comer on the International scene, and as such his game was unknown to an extent. Since, he has been found to be very loose in his stroke play, and always defends with a crooked bat with a huge gap between bat an pad. 

Which makes him very susceptible to the swinging ball

So with a brilliant exponent of swing in one Dale Steyn, Hughes might not enjoy this South African tour as nearly as much.

Secondly, Shane Watson with every performance shows he is of more value to the Team for his bowling. As well as showing less and less suitability in the openers role

In the openers role, he also can't be utilised for his penetrative bowling as would be desired because of the toll on his mind and fragile body. As he indicated in this comment

 "I have additional bowling demands and I do have to consider whether my body will be able to handle it. I need to think about what will be the best for the team, and how to get the best out of myself, moving ahead.

Depending on how the inconsistent and under performing bowling unit goes in South Africa. Then with it, how this impacts on Shane Watson from a bowling demand sense. This series could be the last one we see these two as Australia's openers

Can Australia Find Balance In Its Bowling?

This question will largely be addressed by whether the off spin of Nathan Lyon is found out to be fact or fiction on this Tour.

There are doubts over this, for he got 8 wickets in his 3 Tests in Sri Lanka, for which 6 came in the 1st Test in Galle. Where the pitch greatly helped him with it major turn and uneven bounce.

In the next two Tests played on more typical Test pitches of this age, his return was 2/188 with an economy rate more often than not at 4 runs an over

So, he not only dried up from a wicket sense, but started leaking runs too.

Here in South Africa, the Aussies will need him to be that defensive part of the bowling, and occasionally get a wicket here or there.

For if he can't be a bowler to maintain the pressure through his economy rate, it throws the rest of the balance of the bowling into a mess.

This by the demands that will be exerted on Ryan Harris's body and Shane Watson having to be used in a defensive stock bowling role. Rather than an attacking shock role, where he can be inserted when it is best to exploit his mastery of reverse swing.

So lets hope for all Aussie fans that Nathan Lyon can show Test calibre in this South African Tour

Future Talk- The Australian Team For The 1st Test versus India

I think this South African tour will send a few into retirement and others back to State Cricket. Firstly Ricky Ponting, I can't see him surviving against the might of Dale Steyn and threat of Morne Morkel. So I think he will either retire after this Tour or use the New Zealand series as a farewell Tour.

Where the 2nd Test is in his home State of Tasmania, a fitting stage for his last Test.

Whatever way I cut it, Mitchell Johnson has just lost it, and as such can see him being dropped after this series. For without the subtle swing that allowed him to devastate in South Africa in 2008. He is just money for old rope as an International bowler. For batsmen just know they can let him go by the fact he never swings it, and just wait for the juicy buffet ball, that he bowls all too regularly

Phil Hughes will be exposed here for his shoddy technique, and have his place in the Team under serious question.

On the positive note, I can see Michael Clarke reasserting his standing in the game, and Shaun Marsh showing that he truly belongs in Test cricket. As well as Nathan Lyon showing that he might be a bit green now, but is the answer to Australia's spin question.

The threat of Shane Watsons much improved bowling will again be seen in his results, and duly a move to the lower middle order will happen

Then Ryan Harris will show that he is one of the most dangerous bowlers in the World today in conditions that are tailor made for him. As well as Peter Siddle proving himself as a very able new ball partner

So with this in mind this would be my 1st Test Team against India at the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground

Dave Warner

Shaun Marsh

Michael Clarke

George Bailey

Mike Hussey

Shane Watson

Luke Butterworth

Brad Haddin

Peter Siddle

Ryan Harris

Nathan Lyon

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