Friday, March 9, 2012

Summer Lovin'

If Australia had lost the recently completed Commonwealth Bank One-Day series, this summer may have been labelled a failure. After all, Australia drew a Test series with New Zealand. That just doesn’t happen. Rugby yes, cricket- on our own soil, is not.

It was a curious season; an amalgam of brilliance and blunders, of the erratic and the exquisite.
The whitewash of India during the Test series was all quality, although India’s much hyped elder statesman were less than impressive.

Sehwag fired blanks all series, Tendulkar wasn’t himself on and off the field, VVS Laxman looked well past his best, Rahul Dravid kept finding ways to get out, and Zaheer Khan looked pedestrian at times, although did well to carry that bowling line-up on his shoulders.

Then came the CB series. Revived to the popular 90’s and early 2000’s format, the Triangular series was a beauty, and really was the saving grace of a dour-ish summer. It produced some magnificent cricket. India and Sri Lanka’s pulsating draw in Adelaide, MS Dhoni’s heroics with bat in hand one game later against Australia at the same ground, was something to treasure, as was David Warner twin hundreds in the first and second finals. And who could forget Virat Kohli, ever the thorn in Australia and Sri Lanka’s side, taking 24 off one Lasith Malinga over, on his way to an unbeaten century, and leading his side to a bonus point victory to keep them in the finals race.

An honourable mention must also go to Mahela Jaywardene and his Sri Lankan team as a whole, for bringing some wonderful one-day cricket down under. As captain, Mahela was phenomenal. Often using initiative and cricket nous- Jaywardene always seemed one step ahead of the batsman. The Lankans win in Melbourne against Australia drew amazing scenes. Many wondered if the match was at the SSC in Colombo, not the MCG in Melbourne; such was the
support the Sri Lankans travelled with.

For the Australians, captain Michael Clarke came of age, winning the AB Medal, richly deserved after his monumental 329* in the Sydney test, not to mention his 626 runs in the Indian series, as well as a ton against New Zealand, and another century in the CB series against Sri Lanka, oozed class and confidence with bat and captaincy duties all summer. He was simply awesome. Ricky Ponting showed he has still something to offer in the test arena, after 544 runs at 108 against MS Dhoni’s men, after the calls for him to retire grew until his 134 in that Sydney test, Ponting’s first test ton in two years.

The decision to drop both Ponting and keeper Brad Haddin, two men who have enormous leadership integrity, and experience in the dressing room, for the ODI series- showed that John Inverarity’s men are finally getting it right.

Sticking with off-spinner Nathan Lyon throughout all the Tests against New Zealand and India, even if at times he only troubled tailenders, was another good decision. The wispy haired spinner repaid the faith, with four quality wickets in the 2nd innings in Adelaide, including Sehwag and Tendulkar.

Some young players to shine were Victorian seamer James Pattinson, who has the eyes of a raging bull when celebrating a wicket, and bowled with pace and swing in both the Test series’, picking up 25 wickets at 18 throughout the summer. David Warner’s 180 at the WACA test, the 5th fifth fastest ton of all time won’t be forgotten, and has growing leadership qualities. Peter Forrest, Dan Christian and Matthew Wade all showed they are ones for the future in all forms.

For the two visitors, the three the stood out most were Indian pair Virat Kohli and Umesh Yadav, and Sri Lankan batsman Dinesh Chandimal. Kohli was all class, his batting mirrors his personality. It’s brash, unforgiving but you can’t get your eyes to look anywhere else. His fielding stands out like a beacon compared to the test war horses he calls team-mates. Fast bowler Yadav surprised all with his genuine pace, and was good at the WACA test- getting a maiden test 5-fer, and impressed throughout. But the young Sri Lankan tyro Chandimal was the real plus for me. He racked up 414 runs in the CB series, and not once looked overawed. His footwork to both spin and pace was brilliant, and looks an assured player, earmarked as a future gun.

Off the field there were some strange moments. The WACA ground staff sitting on the prepared wicket the day before the game, drinking a few quiet ones- was odd. The Indian team being left outside the Prime Minister’s house for an extended period of time in searing heat, and of course the new Big Bash league.

While it was no doubt a both cricketing and marketing success, it hampered the Sheffield Shield season and Test hopefuls. When two talented New South Welshman batsmen, Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja- two guys who have big technical problems, were dropped for the Indian series, there was no Shield games from late December for seven weeks, because of the BBL, to try and rectify things and get back in the Baggy Green. Playing some Twenty-20 games was not ideal at all for those two. Shaun Marsh was in the same boat to a degree.

The same problem is being faced by England’s Eoin Morgan as we speak. The Irish born left hander is a short format player by trade, and after being thrust into the Test team to face Pakistan, his One-day pyrotechnics were not up to the longest format, and his glaring technical problems were there for all to see. Instead of plying his trade in the nets, he is going to the IPL. Go figure.

Thank goodness for the CB series, one of the best ever, because the Indian test series wasn’t exactly exciting. India’s preparation was poor, and it showed. By the Adelaide test, and even into the final CB games, it looked as if India wanted to go home. Maybe the hype surrounding Tendulkar one hundredth 100 was a weight too big to handle, or the will to win had simply diminished. Either way, it’s eight tests in a row lost abroad, and something in Indian cricket needs to change.

All in all, it’s a good summer for Mickey Arthur’s men, more positives than negatives no doubt, and maybe, just maybe- that tilt at the 2013 Ashes is looking more and more realistic by the day.

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