Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Gabbatoir

517-1.  That’s a hard scoreboard to come to terms with.  It suggests two things really – the first as Alex Massie says is that the Gabba pitch really wasn’t fit for Test match cricket.  On the last two days, two wickets fell and 600 runs were scored. Cricket simply has to be a contest between bat and ball, or else it becomes stultifying, so lets hope for some slightly spicier wickets for the rest of the series.  The omens aren’t necessarily good though, the next game is at Adelaide and as Martin Crowe said, only three things in life are certain: death taxes and a century at Adelaide.
Are there any other lessons we can take from Brisbane though? I think so. Australia first.
- Mitch.  How do you solve a problem like Mitchell Johnson?  When he’s on form he’s properly quick, gets nasty bounce and can swing the ball back into the right hander.  That’s a brutal combination, and can run through sides. But when he’s not on form, his arm drops so low that the only people in danger are short leg, second slip and the umpire.  Worse – his head drops at the same rate as his arm.  Fast bowlers need a bit of nasty in them, but they also need to keep their chins up even when they’re going round the park.  If they drop him, Australia would be getting rid of their most potent bowler.  But then, they’d also be getting rid of an embarrassing liability.  Bye Mitch.
- Spin.  I don’t think that Strauss & co are losing any sleep over the X-man.  Doherty looked like a competent club spinner, bowling pretty flat left-armers without any real bite or turn.  Tidy enough, but 2 for 70 tidy, not the 5-80 that wins games on flat pitches.  The search for a new Shane continues.  Australia have now tried 9 spinners since the great man retired – perhaps they should accept that once-in-a-generation bowlers are called that for a reason?
- Batting.  Hurrah!  Some good news.  Mike Hussey pulled one out of the bag (and illustrated the role chance has in sporting lives.  If his first ball had travelled a further foot, he’d probably just have played his last Test).  He hit Swann off a length, and looked supremely comfortable.  Mr Cricket survives.  On the other hand though, Michael Clarke played with all the freedom of Michael Atherton – and that’s today’s Athers at that.  When his back plays up, he’s virtually a sitting duck for the short ball, and England have enough bowlers good at bowling them, that he’s pretty exposed. As for Marcus North, well he looked like a useful bowler.  If he works on his batting, he’d make a reasonable tail-ender.
That’s pretty much all you can usefully derive from the game.  Ponting’s captaincy was uninspired for sure, but on a pitch like that, with an attack like that, I’m not sure what else he could have done.  Anyway – what can England take out if it?  Negatives first, just to be fair.
- Swanny.  Off spinners have a hard time Down Under.  Swanny was going to be different though – he’s the second ranked bowler in the world and he makes things happen.  Well, he didn’t really.  He bowled a fraction short on a pitch where the bounce just made the ball sit up.  He didn’t get much turn, and he couldn’t keep Hussey quiet.  He’s a central part of the side – his success is what makes a four man attack possible.  If he doesn’t get better for Adelaide, England will have something of a problem.  On the other hand, he really is pretty good – given a little more assistance from the pitch I’d back him to get in among the wickets.
- Kookaburra.  We all heard heaps before the series about how the Aussie ball doesn’t swing and, after a dozen overs, has the consistency of a damp rag.  Well, Anderson, Broad and Finn all bowled pretty well with it – Anderson in particular was outstanding at times.  There’s talk of Finn making way for Shahzad in Adelaide – a beanpole making way for a skidder.  I don’t see it happening, but it would be a change from strength, not out of desperation. England will be far less worried than Australia about their pace attack.
- Batting.  If there was one lesson from the first innings, it was that when you get in you have to make it count.  40s and 60s are all very well, but it’s centuries than win games.  The second innings would seem to show that England are, to say the least aware of this…
On we roll to Adelaide all square. But the after-effects of 150 wicketless overs for Australia’s main attack will surely linger.  If England win the toss, bat first and put on a strong start, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few green and gold caps starting to droop.  The worst feeling in cricket – and it’s self-fulfilling – is ‘here we go again’.  Here’s hoping.

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