Tag Archives: Australia

Gilchrist, a sentimental Ponting, and a sobering realisation

If you didn’t already know, Adam Gilchrist has retired from international cricket. As an England fan, I should feel glad that someone who fired the second fastest century in Adelaide in the 2006 Ashes that led to the embarrassment of a 5-0 whitewash, and delivered an Ashes debut to savour with the bat at Edgbaston in 2002, has now decided to spend more time with his family.

However, I’m quite the opposite. Cricket has lost a player that brought equal amounts of dread and exhilaration for the opposing fan, as well as something that’s arguably even rarer — a modest Australian cricketer.

What first struck me when Gilchrist announced his retirement was the lack of discussion over his wicket-keeping, both pre and on the announcement of his retirement. Apparently the dropped catch off VVS Laxman convinced Gilchrist that it was now time to leave the game, believing that he now lacked the speed and concentration he once had.

But this lack of discussion is perhaps because as a keeper, he was consistent to the point where discussion only ever occurred when he broke a keeping record. Many will argue that he missed too many stumpings and catches, but this lack of discussion is arguably as loud as any round of applause. Only when keepers drop catches or consistently under perform are they often talked about; as Matt Prior, Geraint Jones and MS Dhoni can testify. He wasn’t as prolific or as acrobatic as Rodney Marsh, but he was just as good.

Yet while Marsh was instrumental in changing the ideas of keeping, from giving himself more space to throw himself about to changing the positions of his slips, Gilchrist was the Rodney Marsh of batting. The first and still only batsman to hit 100 sixes in Test cricket, he could turn a match in the space of an over; his 24 off a single Matthew Hoggard over in the ’06 Ashes coming to mind.

In his post-match presentation speech at the end of what turned out to be a tame fourth Test draw in Adelaide, Ricky Ponting, considered to be incessantly driven by the need to win and nothing else, was probably as emotional and as sentimental as you’ll ever see him when he commented on Gilchrist’s retirement and the gradual succession of new guys over the old — I even managed a little “awww.” It was incredibly sobering to hear.

But he’s right; before he knows it, he’ll probably be joining Warne and McGrath in the Indian Cricket League. After the departures of Langer, Warne and McGrath, Gilchrist’s retirement has finally brought the realisation that Australian cricket really is entering an uncertain, yet fresh and deeply intriguing phase.

David.

 

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Filed under Adam Gilchrist, Australia, Comment, Cricket, ICC, Indian Cricket League, Ricky Ponting, Sport

Legends Show Their Fallibility Down Under

On another momentous day of sport in Australia, a couple of sporting institutions, who we could have been forgiven for thinking were no longer operating on the level of ordinary mortals, were given a reminder of just how precarious their lofty perches really are. One just about hung on for safety, but another was brought crashing down to earth.

The Australian cricket team, an all-conquering group of national heroes, set off in pursuit of history at the third test in Perth. Having come through the controversy-laden second rubber in Sydney with a record-equalling 16th consecutive victory, a new breed of Aussies were out to raise again the standard set by their predecessors.

If anyone was going to stop the Australians in their tracks it would have to be India; the one team which has consistently given the world champions a headache in an era of dominance stretching back almost twenty years.

The Indians went into this game with even more motivation than usual to try and turn the formbook over of course, with a strong feeling of resentment in their camp after the ‘race-row’ fall out of Sydney, and with a healthy amount of national pride to recover for their army of followers back home.

Despite the sideshow though, surely a team of world-class competitors like the Indians needed nothing more than the opportunity to upset the odds and bring a halt to a sporting juggernaut to get them fired-up. I think this is why we saw no return to playground antics as India stormed to a 72 run victory in Perth; this wasn’t about exacting a childish revenge, this was just a team knuckling down to serious sporting business.

The Australians are already looking back on this game regretting that they were caught committing the sin that threatens to bring every era of sporting superiority to its end – complacency. The most consistent feature found in any individual or team that reigns supreme in their arena is that they never forget the basics; they never come into a contest without the raw materials that have sustained their power.

The WACA ground in Perth has always been known for a pitch that fast bowlers would like to dig up and carry around with them, and yet you would have to look a long way back through the records to find the last time Australia selected a team to play there that didn’t contain a specialist spinner.

Granted, this could be down to the fact that Shane Warne has been no ordinary spin bowler, and certainly not someone who would ever be dropped because a pitch didn’t suit him, but the more knowledgable observers are aware that the presence of any test-standard slow bowler offers a bowling attack the crucial element of variety, as well as a ‘plan B’ to fall back on should the original pitch analysis prove inaccurate. Australia ignored this piece of received wisdom and paid for it, as their old nemeses Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman once more tormented their seamers.

The Australians were forced to admit their error when turning to the inadequate spin of Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke during both Indian innings’. In a deliciously ironic twist, both these batsmen, when charged with saving their team’s proud record in the second innings, were dismissed by Anil Kumble, the only specialist spinner playing in the match.

Meanwhile over in Melbourne, another apparently unbeatable sporting luminary was made to appear human. The last time Roger Federer lost in a Grand Slam before the semi-final stage was in the 2005 French Open, on the clay surface that he is yet to conquer. The last time Federer lost any match in one of the three majors in which he is undisputed master was in the semi-final of the 2005 Australian Open. To find the last instance of Federer being defeated before the semi-final stage of one of his favourite slams, you have to go back to the US Open of 2003.

In short, to say that the talented young Serbian Janko Tipsarevic was an outsider for his third round match against the world no.1 would be putting it mildly. Tipsarevic, despite being ranked only 49th in the world, is already highly regarded in the game and seen as a sure-fire future top ten player, but any expert would have considered him some way out of his depth against the genius of Federer.

So, when Tipsarevic took the first set on a tie-break, he was showing the potential that everyone knows he has, but it was surely just a brief blip for Federer. When the second set also went to a tie-break, the champion was a game away from going two sets down, yet there was no real concern, and he came through to level it.

Federer would undoubtedly run away with it now, went the considered view; and an early break for Roger in the third seemed to confirm this as true. When Tipsarevic then took the third set after coming back to break the champ twice, the question had to be asked again: “Are we worried about Federer?” Not really, he’d been in such positions before, he was still a strong favourite. And so it proved as the fourth set quickly went to Federer 6-1. Tipsarevic had given us a great game, but the final set was surely to prove a formality for the champion with all that grand slam experience behind him.

As the final set reached five-all, six-all, seven-all and eight-all, and the match moved beyond the four-and-a-half hour mark, the penny finally began to drop for the disbelieving audience that Tipsarevic had not read the script. By the end of the match, Federer was no longer the indestructable force striking cold fear into his opponent as he prowled the baseline; instead he was merely one of two prizefighters, bruised and exhausted by the battle, slugging it out to the bitter end.

When that end finally arrived, it was Roger Federer that was still standing. Just. At 10-8 in the final set, Janko Tipsarevic, who must have matured the equivalent of several years during these few hours, finally conceded defeat to probably the greatest player his sport has ever seen. On this occasion however, when his talent and genius for once wasn’t enough to see him through, Federer prevailed with the will of a champion. Not something that he usually has to rely on in the third round of a grand slam.

Tipsarevic walked off a loser, but having given everyone, most of all Federer, a glimpse of what we can expect from him in championships to come. After all, only Rafael Nadal has even looked like he was meant to share a court with Federer in a grand slam in the last 3 years. It is also worth recalling that Federer reduced the 2007 Australian Open to a procession, winning the trophy without dropping a set. That is an indication of Tipsarevic’s achievement in taking the great man to the brink.

We are lucky to live in the era of the great Australian cricketers and the legendary Roger Federer; to be able to enjoy their skills is our privelege, and we should grasp every opportunity to do so. To see these champions challenged, or even beaten, however, is a rare treat indeed. It serves to remind us all that no one is infallible, and it is that knowledge that keeps every sport healthy in times of domination.

Jamie.

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Filed under Andrew Symonds, Anil Kumble, Australia, Australia v India Cricket Row, Australian Open, Comment, Cricket, India, Opinion, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Sport, Tennis

Harbhajan race row: Could it split cricket apart?

The furore over India’s Harbhajan Singh supposedly calling Andrew Symonds a “monkey” during the second test in Sydney is escalating in confusion and intensity.

On the one side is the ICC, the body that protects the wider game from its tax-haven in Dubai; the other is India, the obsessive cricketing nation that frequently airs intention, albeit not from the BCCI, of breaking away from the establishment with its Indian Cricket League and of continued desire for more control in the game.

It may seem like exaggeration, but if this not resolved soon, it could have the potential to not just damage reputations, but to be ‘the straw that broke the camels back’, and with it splitting the cricketing world apart.

The issue now seems to transcend the role of Australia in the row, and is now concentrating more on umpires Steve Bucknor and Mark Benson, and match referee Mike Procter.

For now, India have lodged an appeal and Harbhajan is free to play until it is is heard, but politics is once again threatening the game.

India are once again playing the ‘unjustly treated card’ by saying that the umpiring and refereeing was totally unacceptable, as well as stating that Australia played the game in a manner that was contrary to the ‘spirit of the game’.

Meanwhile, Australia are baffled by the whole thing, with Symonds saying that he is “surprised” about the supposed incident because there had been “no bad blood” during the series so far.

As for the tour continuing is uncertain; however, India’s assistance manager MV Sridhar believes that the tour will continue, but said that “we will await instructions from the BCCI.”

James Sutherland, chief executive of Cricket Australia, also believes that the tour will go ahead after discussing the matter with BCCI President Sharad Pawar:

“Sharad Pawar, who is the president of cricket in India, has overnight made such commitments, so that’s good enough for me. We’re looking forward to Perth now.”

This situation does bear some resemblance to the South Africa v India series in 2001, where five Indian players (including Harbhajan and Sachin Tendulkar) were suspended for ball tampering.

In this incident, which lead to the infamous Unofficial Test at Centurion, the match referee Mike Denness was lambasted by the BCCI and incurred, according to then Wisden editor Graeme Wright, “the wrath of a nation.”

Except now that is, the nation that believed was being racially discriminated, is now the believed discriminator.

In the 1982 edition of Wisden, former New Zealand captain Walter Hadlee wrote:

“The International Cricket Conference [as it was then known] represents the cricketers of the world. Its future can only be threatened if members allow themselves to be involved in politics rather than cricket.”

This is what is in danger of happening. Effergies of Bucknor, that most unlikely of hate figures, Benson and now Ricky Ponting, are being burnt on the streets of India. A political row is brewing, and the BCCI are trying to remain composed by awaiting the official ICC ruling on Harbhajan. But for now at least, the Indians are adamant and once again feel discriminated.

Time will tell whether this could be that proverbial piece of straw.

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Filed under Andrew Symonds, Australia, Australia v India Cricket Row, Comment, Cricket, ICC, India, Indian Cricket League