Tuesday, November 30, 2010

3rd Grade Academy vs Albion Park

Another steamy day made itself available to the Kiama Gold Academy 3rd Grade side as they looked to add yet another victory to their season over the Albion Park side.
From all reports, Albion Park won the toss and decided to bat, and quickly had their most experienced and dangerous batsman Trevor Horton back in the pavilion bowled by Frei Ulfsson. This was all news to me as I arrived at the ground at 12.42pm following various traffic incidents and the necessity to drop off my daughter at her grandparents before entering the fray (no pun intended).

Once back on the field, I admired the salvos of both Frei and the revitalised Gavin Hartley, who pounded in off his five steps, swung the ball both ways and generally caused mayhem amongst the ill-equipped Albion Park batsmen.
Frei's six over spell produced another great return of 1/10 and again it was his impeccable line and length that was the standout. Replacing him was Max Fitzsimmons. When I was asked by three separate players beforehand "Have you seen Maxy's run up?" I was expecting something long and extravagant. No... the two foot shuffle-and-sling caught me right off-guard. However - it was effective for most of his spell. As with all sling actions, they can go a little astray, but overall he bowled well, and caught the edge of one batsman to snare a wicket to another good catch from keeper Reece Conley.
Meanwhile, Albert had finished his ten over stint for a miserly 4/16, and was replaced by the looping off spin of Jake Lee from the southern end. It seemed that he had everyone in a spin. Following a ball that passed down legside and about three metres past Reece, the batsmen took off for a single. Quick as a flash, skipper Joe Murphy was around from first slip and had the ball in hand, and threw down the stumps at the strikers end almost before the batsmen had crossed. The question of "who called that?" was met by Joe's reply "No run there... not on my arm!" which did not receive the gales of laughter it deserved (though there was some question as to whether he was aiming for the stumps at the other end when he threw the ball...). This was met by Jake picking up a leading edge next ball, and Jan's catch completing the wicket.
Brought on with the wind to ensure his deliveries reached the other end, the team's ageing leg-spinner managed to grab a couple of late wickets whilst terrorising his wicket-keeper, who resorted to his helmet after four deliveries. Albion Park was dismissed for 69.

Ryan Gunning then met the opening bowlers salvo with one of his own, dispatching deliveries to all parts of the field in compiling 27 before edging to the keeper. His opening partner Liam Case looked assured and confident, before losing his head and trying to slog a ball on his middle stump, with the expected result. Jan Haubruck started confidently, and while finishing on 23 not out played a couple of inexperienced shots that could have cost him his wicket to a better side. With better concentration he will score more runs in the coming weeks. Joe Murphy played a blinder for his 7 not out, an innings that he will no doubt be very proud of. The game concluded just before 3.00pm, with the elder participants able to move on to watch 1st Grade complete a fine victory.

Once again the Gold side played well without being thoroughly tested. It still augers well for continuing good performances in the weeks leading up to the break.

Monday, November 15, 2010

3rd Grade Academy vs Warilla 13-11-10

My second game for the season in the Academy Gold colours was to be against Warilla at beautiful Bonaira Street Oval. This game also saw the somewhat questionable withdrawal of the captain when the word 'wicket-keeper' was mentioned to him, and thus the reigns fell to be shared between Koks and Peters on the day.

The first duty was done with aplomb, by winning the toss and batting. Winning the toss is something that I have had a great deal of success with as a captain in the past - winning games is another story altogether.
 The boys did well, moving along to a comfortable 2 for 100 after 25 overs when the drinks break was taken. Stand-in keeper/opening bat Reece Conley had made a good 10 before pre-empting his next shot and losing his off stump out of the ground. Carlin Simon had again looked great before he too decided to push too hard ad was also bowled for 11. In the final couple of overs before drinks, the Warilla side did what all Warilla sides before them seemed to do - argue with each other, and a fiery tirade full of colourful language during the drinks break spoke volumes. If the Academy boys could consolidate in the early overs then a big score looked in the offing.

This of course immediately broke down with the dismissal of Koks, Grant Case and Peters within four overs, and at 5/113 the innings was in the balance. Jake Lee followed soon after for an entertaining 5, and at 6/130 with some 17 overs of the innings remaining the Warilla side were all mates again and looking to close in for the kill.

12 year old Matt Price had come to the crease at the fall of Grant's wicket, and had then been bowled by a full ball that was well over waist height, and had been correctly called a no ball. The fact that Matt is about 120cm tall made it a tough call, but a correct one. However, from this point, in his first game of Grade cricket, Warilla could not budge him. He played straight and true, and his defensive shots were coming right out of the middle of the bat. When they strayed on his pads, he flicked them around the corner for ones and two's. If they were short and wide of off stump, he cut correctly. For the 21 overs he was at the crease, he didn't look like being dismissed - except when he replayed his shots after the ball had been delivered. He then often moved out of his crease, only for an instant, but it was enough for him to be almost run out four or five times. I can tell you that he was giving the square leg umpire at one end a heart attack on a number of occasions. Supporting him on this venture was Frei Ulfsson, who may well have ridden his luck a number of times (he was dropped off sitters at least three times), but continued to bat well, and then became aggressive at the end of the innings. Matt's 24 not out, and Frei's 31 not out mean that they put on an unbeaten partnership of 60 runs for the seventh wicket, and enabled the Academy boys to reach 6/190 from their allotted 50 overs. Frei pushed his batting average for the season to 60.00, as he has only been dismissed once so far, and Matt was congratulated by most of the Warilla players as he came off the ground. Warilla dropped over ten catches, which added to their misery.

The message to the guys was pretty clear on our way out to the field - be keen, be aware, no negativity, and take all our catches. Who was to know that everything would be achieved so well?
Frei and Grant opened up proceedings, and both were immediately on a perfect line and length, both beating the bat consistently. After three overs the batsmen were obviously over being ties down, and the Warilla opener Kellow launched two big sixes straight down the ground off Grant. Co-captains Koks and Peters conferred at 1st and 2nd slip, and pondered putting a man on the boundary. We then agreed that "let's see how Grant comes back". The next ball sliced the off stump out of the ground, relieving all of us of any further decision making on the subject.

With the bowling quite superb in line, length and pace, the Warilla batsmen just crumbled, and some terrific catches helped lift everyone. Matt Panecasio took a scorcher at square leg, Gary Koks a screamer at first slip, and Reece Conley a one-handed gem as keeper. These three catches in particular would have dampened the mood of the Warilla side, given the number of chances they grassed. Frei was relieved after his mandatory six overs produced the figures of 2/9. Without doubt it is the best I've seen him bowl, and his improvement is gladdening. At the other end, toiling into the wind, Grant had claimed yet another five wicket haul, moving the ball both ways in the air and troubling all of the batsmen.

More humour was to come, with Teixiera coming to the crease. before he was even halfway there, Reece is demonstrating "we need a guy at cow corner and one straight on the boundary!!" With Grant in control, I said "OK, well, let's see how he goes first". Before you know it, Grant has been hoisted over long on for six. I turned to Reece and said "OK skipper, where do you want 'em?". It could well have been an interesting exercise in getting him out cheaply, but that problem was solved by young Matt Panecasio, who came on from the Kendall's end to replace Frei, and quickly ripped through the three remaining wickets to finish with 3/3 from 11 deliveries, and smashing a bail with his final delivery. Warilla had been demolished for 55 in just 14.5 overs, and the Academy boys had won by 135 runs.

It was great to be a part of, and everyone played their part, even poor old Liam Case who got short shrift again by being next man in to bat and missing out on a bowl, and Peter Laughton who umpired for 28 overs, and missed out on a bowl by one delivery. There is a great feeling in the team, and I have thoroughly enjoyed both my matches (winning by such large margins in both also helps... :) ). Hopefully everyone remains keen and we do well with this side this season.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Final Warning?

Scorecard: Australia v Sri Lanka, 1st ODI, Melbourne

The deafening silence in the aftermath of Australia's capitulation to Sri Lanka in the ODI on Wednesday night is symptomatic of the problems that currently face both the players and the selectors of our national team. The very fact that there has been nothing more but a shrug of the shoulders over the result, and a 'spoken determination' to turn it around in the next game on Friday proves that there is simply no plan except to keep picking the same players in the belief (hope... desperate hope) that they will turn it around themselves. In a bygone age, this was a simple and sensible policy, given that for a decade the Australian side was made up of eleven players ALL the time who could be rated as 'greats'. Only one of them remains, and he didn't play on Wednesday night.

The fact that Australia's tactical thoughts were questioned by the parochial commentary panel on Wednesday - and most vehemently by the doyen himself Richie Benaud - should convince anyone who wasn't already convinced of the fact that there are problems that need to be addressed. The commentary panel NEVER criticise the home team.

For some years I have been denigrating and sledging what I dubbed "The Brett Lee Theory on Bowling to Tailenders". For some reason, he had gotten into his head that the best way to dismiss the tail was to bounce them, consistently and often. More often than not, it not only didn't work, it cost a plethora of runs from authentic shots and edges. Yet, not matter how often this tactic did not work, he continued to use it at the end of ODI innings. For years I have never understood it. After Wednesday night, however, I'm beginning to think perhaps I was wrong, that perhaps it wasn't just a Brett Lee tactic. Maybe it has been an Australian tactic, one that has been devised by the bowling group, the coach, and the captain. I don't know for sure. The only thing I know for certain is that cricket watchers all around the country were yelling at their TV's on Wednesday night, pleading for our bowlers to pitch the ball up in the blockhole.

It was obvious to all that, to the faster men Johnson and Siddle, Malinga was moving very slightly away to the leg side when parrying away their deliveries. A fuller ball on off stump would have uprooted it on any number of occasions. However, our guys decided short of a length was the go, and as a result never looked like dismissing him.

So in the long run, what should be the result of this ineptitude? The bowlers length was terrible, and Johnson again was erratic and undisciplined. The problem here is that it has not been a one-off. It has been an on-going problem. If it was indeed the bowlers who planned this attack, then they should be dropped from the side immediately, and get some bowlers into the team who have a better handle on how to bowl at the end of a one day innings. If the tactics themselves have come from the captain, then he must held accountable. If the coach was also involved, then his position must also be put under review.

As stated - this is not a reaction based on one game. In July in England, Australia capitulated to a Pakistan side that to that point hadn't looked like winning a game. They then lost a Test match to India when they could not budge the final two wickets when 91 runs were required for victory, before also surrendering the 2nd Test with little more than a bark. In the only ODI possible following this in India, they could not defend a total of 290. There are problems that need to be solved, and yet the selectors have taken a "softly, softly" approach. Injuries have not helped. Doug Bollinger and Ryan Harris would have to be considered near certainties in the ODI side at least if they were fit. The batting is still not producing enough runs on a consistent basis, and there has been constant speculation over a number of players for far too long now.

The selectors have been quite obvious and blunt in their attempt to keep a stable team together to retain harmony in the ranks. In the Test team they have gone to extremes in order to keep players such as Marcus North, Mike Hussey and Nathan Hauritz through low production times, and then pointing to their success when the century or five wicket haul has arrived. Unfortunately, that has then been again followed by a period of low success again. In the one day arena, poor bowling at the death of innings has rarely been used as a catalyst to take the bowler(s) out of the team. Scratchy form, and using up a lot of deliveries for little result by middle order batsmen has rarely been used as a catalyst to look for fresh new faces in those positions. All of this is OK if the overall results show that the team is winning a majority of their games, and that it isn't affecting the overall performance or unity of the team.

Unfortunately, the recent results - in ALL forms of the game - now show that this is not being reversed, and action must be taken by the selectors to halt the slide, before it becomes critical. The Ashes has become the focal point, but if the selectors wait any longer to make the tough decisions, then we may already have surrendered the urn before they pull their fingers out, and all the calls from Australian supporters saying "WE F*#KING TOLD YOU SO!!!" will not bring it back.

Wednesday's match was (what should be) the final warning for our team and our selectors - start making the tough decisions, or forfeit the Ashes, the World Cup, and everything else we still have a shaky grip on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Disappointing Evening

Channel 9 must have thought they were on a great thing - first an Australia Vs England Test in the rugby league, and the first international cricket match of the season, a Twenty20 match against Sri Lanka. The games did not unfortunately live up to the promise.

The league match started off great - competitive, tough and close. Australia had all the ball in the first ten minutes to lead 6-0, but the Poms hit back to take an 8-6 lead. However, some inept defense from England and a glut of possession for Australia meant that by half time the lead have swelled to 26-8, and with the rain sweeping in, it meant that as a contest the match was for all intents and purposes over. I in fact took the opportunity to go upstairs and put the kids to bed while the second half commenced. Despite the win, I can't believe there won't be changes to the Kangaroos side before the next game against the Kiwi's. last night's team won't beat New Zealand on current form.

Worse was to follow in the cricket. Australia won the toss and batted, and were met face first with a team that bowled excellently and fielded superbly. Australia's batting visibly panicked as they were tied down early, and their wickets were then extinguished as they tried to escape the cocoon they had been wrapped in. Only Haddin and Smith were able to flourish, and both had their fair share of luck in the process. In reply, Sri Lanka cruised in chasing down the target.

If Australia are going to be serious about international Twenty20 cricket, then Michael Clarke is a liability with the bat, and isn't bowling enough to offset that. Clarke bats at his best when he is keeping the ball along the ground, and Twenty20 cricket does not sustain that type of cricket. Ricky Ponting never succeeded with the bat in T20, and eventually did the right thing and made himself unavailable. The selectors probably need to have a talk with Clarke in regards to this also. Cameron White would appear the logical man to step in as captain, and his place in the team is certainly not under scrutiny every time he walks to the crease. There seems little chance that the selectors will make this move however, which will continue to place unnecessary pressure on Clarke in all facets of the game.