Friday, January 13, 2012

Apprehending Application

In the days of T20 cricket, where reverse sweeps and scoop shots are the norm, the batsman who values their wicket stands out like beacons. Some of my (impatient) cricket mates, think Test cricket is boring. I don’t agree. It’s the ultimate Test of a players technique; mental strength and stamina, with both bat and ball in hand. It’s called ‘Test’ cricket for a reason. 90 overs in a day, most times under a blazing sun, and it’s a true test of how good you are. There are some batsmen in particular that I admire in the Test arena, not so much for their skills, but for their application at the wicket.

Today David Warner hit the equal fourth fastest hundred in Test history against a hapless Indian bowling attack. 69 balls is all it took. Utter domination. This from a guy who hadn’t played a Shield game for NSW before his T20 debut for Australia. Fast forward three years, and Warner is Australia’s first choice opener, with two hundreds in eight innings. Very much a player born and bred on Twenty 20. At the other end was Ed Cowan, also a New South Welshman turned Tasmanian. He is very much from the other side of the tracks to Warner. A private school boy, Cowan has lived next to the Hobart cricket ground, probably the toughest batting track in Australia, since 2009. It has held him in good sted. More often than not, a green pitch has come up, and it has forced Cowan to play within himself, but still peels off hundreds. He leaves a lot of balls go, even his Tassie captain George Bailey declaring, “people say Mike Hussey was the best leaver in Shield cricket to make it to Test cricket, they have ever seen. When they see Eddie (Cowan) they will change their mind.” Cowan plays smart drives and pulls. He judges singles very well. He plays with soft hands. He is a cricketer’s cricketer.

To put things into perspective, Warner’s overall first class strike rate (runs per hundred balls) is 70. Cowan’s is 46. Both work. That’s not always the case. Just because you are a good short form player doesn’t make you a good Test match cricketer.

Virat Kohli has all the talent in the world. He seems like he could pull hundreds out with ease. But his Test average is only 27. He is an incredible ODI player though. The two ends don’t seem to meet. Does he have the concentration? Do most Test batsman? Do they value their wicket enough? The fact that we see Australia being bundled out for three below 100 scores in a year and a bit tells the tale. The days of T20 are hurting. Like my cricket mates, some batsmen seem impatient, unable to survive a good spell of seam bowling, or a bouncy pacey wicket. They need to borrow Ed Cowan’s guidebook. Play under the nose; watch the ball, soft hands & play straight. Sometimes that gets lost in all this Twenty 20 revolution. Yes, T20 iS great for the game, no doubt. But a strength can become a weakness.

Application in the Test arena can come in different forms. As mentioned, Ed Cowan punches, pulls and leaves with a few obdurate straight drives. If it takes him all day, Eddie wouldn’t batter an eye lid. Neither would fellow ‘steadies’ Alistair Cook, Jonathon Trott, Mike Hussey and Sri Lankan Thilan Samaraweera. Not colourful batsman, but they get the job done. On the other hand, ‘go-ers’ David Warner and Virender Sehwag just don’t blink at all. See ball hit ball is their way. They are two of only a few who make good Test cricketers, while still upholding their short format stroke play. I just wish there were more of those 6 guys, not batsman in between who get to 40 easily, then tamely poke to second slip.

Just one last bone to pick. Here in Australia during the Tea breaks, broadcaster Channel 9 have been running a segment called ‘Top Gun’, where they go to each Test venue and measure how fast five promising club cricketers can bowl. The winner gets some money and a phone. Since our bowling stocks are strong, with Pattinson, Cummins, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Copeland, Harris, Cutting, Starc, Coulter-Nile and co, why don’t Nine do a segment to see which club cricketers value their wicket? Ones who are willing to hang in, and play the ball late, and leave a cricket ball with poise and purpose. If Ed Cowan was in that segment, all he’d win would be my adulation.

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