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February 16, 2007

It's here, but what does it mean?

It was bound to come. Sooner or later it had to. For too long they have got by without it. There were glimpses of it in 2005 and yes, it had an effect but it soon righted itself. I am of course talking of an injury ravaged Australian side. Glenn McGrath suffered two separate injuries in the 2005 Ashes which caused him to miss two tests, the two that England won. But that was just one player. This is something more.

Ricky Ponting is currently out of the Chappell Hadlee Trophy in New Zealand with a sore hip and back. This is not expected to keep him out of action for very long and he should return to the side in the Caribbean with full fitness but it will no doubt hinder his preparations for the tournament.

Andrew Symonds, the big hard-hitting all rounder from Queensland, is recovering from an injury he picked up late in the Commonwealth Bank tri series. His surgery was a success but he is still likely to miss the best part of the early stages of the series.

Symonds was instrumental in Australia’s success in the 2003 World Cup. He was not a sure starter for the tournament, and many were calling for him to be dropped but he stepped up to the mark and produced an outstanding century to win his team’s first match of the tournament against Pakistan.

Australia were 4/86 at the fall of Jimmy Maher’s wicket and looked in trouble. But out walked the Andrew Symonds who, rather than bedding in and consolidating, counter attacked taking a particular liking to Shahid Afridi’s spin. From 40 balls faced against Afridi he smashed 51 runs on his way to a blistering 143* from 125 balls. This innings set the tone for his tournament as he finished with a tournament highest batting average of 163.

The fast bowling has also taken a blow, with Brett Lee injuring his ankle in training in New Zealand and admits himself that he is only 50-50 for appearing in the tournament. Lee, one of the fastest bowlers in the world, is an instrumental part of the Aussie bowling attack. With a career record of one wicket every 28.9 balls he is number three on the list of all time strike rates, the only current player above him is the Kiwi paceman Shane Bond whose career has also been dogged by injury.

Australia’s vice captain for the series in New Zealand, Michael Clarke has also missed the first match of the series with a hip problem. Again, although there are no signs that he will miss the World Cup, he is losing valuable match practice ahead of the World Cup that could have helped him to regain some form and confidence following the defeat to England just last week.

Finally, Adam Gilchrist. Gilly is a hard hitting opening batsman in limited overs cricket. He holds the Australian record for the fastest ODI century. He holds the world record for the most number of sixes in limited overs internationals. Not only that he is a world class wicket keeper, a top class motivator and a handy vice captain. The birth of this third child has meant that he will miss the first 3 weeks of the World Cup, a time when Australia will be hoping to make their mark on the tournament.

His leave of absence will bring Brad Haddin, his long term understudy into the side and the lack of Gilly’s hard hitting approach to the top of the order will be a major blow to the side.

The effects of this are already starting to show. Just today Australia were crushed by New Zealand by ten wickets in the first match of the 3 match series at Wellington after being skittled for 148. The top order burst, the safety net offered by Ricky Ponting and Clarke and the attacking talents of Symonds are not easily replaced, neither is the fire with the new ball that was obviously lacking as the Kiwi openers knocked off the runs with ease.

This does not remove from the fact that Australia have vast banks of quality players in their ranks, but much of it is inexperienced at the highest level. There is still over 3 weeks until the start of the tournament and a few of these injured players will have recovered. The sensible money will still be on Australia for the world cup: they have been world beaters for many years and have shown themselves worthy of overcoming many tough obstacles but it’s not the ideal lead up to a World Cup campaign. That much is certain.


February 13, 2007

CB Series, Aussie captaincy and World Cup

Writing about web page http://warwick.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2237660522

England beat Australia on 11th February 2007 by 34 runs under the Duckworth Lewis method to win the Commonwealth Bank series finals 2-0. After a torrid start to their campaign, England managed to claw their way back into contention with victories over Australia and New Zealand in their last two group match games thanks to gritty centuries from Ed Joyce and Paul Collingwood. PDC has been outstanding over the past 3 matches, notching up two consecutive hundreds and a fighting 70 in the last final to seal the series.

Australia now go on to New Zealand to play the three match Chappel-Hadlee Trophy. Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist are being rested for the series, Ponting because of a sore hip and Gilchrist due to his heavy workload as opening batsmen and wicket keeper.

The resting of captain and vice-captain has left a few openings in the team. It has become the obvious choice for Mike "Mr Cricket" Hussey to fill in the captaincy role, as he did in the DLF Cup tri series last year but the VC role has created some interest. Michael Clarke has been given the job, which is an indication of where the Australian management are looking for a captain after Ponting.

The 25 year old middle order batsman averages around 42 in both tests and ODIs and has currently found himself back in form after a period of drought. But despite this drought, which began after his first year in Test cricket, he has been widely tipped as a future captain of Australia. One advocate of his future captaincy is Shane Warne, who many argue had the cricketing nous to become a high class international captain himself.

The CB series loss to England will obviously cause upsets and concerns within Australian cricket with the World Cup looming less than a month away but Australia should not be underestimated. After returning home from the 2005 Ashes humiliated they have come back stronger and more determined, drawing one test and winning 15 since the Ashes with no losses just outlines their class and determination. Australia will take this defeat onboard and learn from it, no doubt to emerge a stronger team at the World Cup.

England on the other hand, have to be careful not to become complacent as they did after the 2005 Ashes win. They still have a very fragile squad, the top order certainly won't be scaring many opening bowlers just yet and the bowling can still be haphazard at times. This is of course, not to detract from a strong win against the World number one, but just to emphasise the importance of remembering that England is still the number eight ranked team and had it not been for Paul Collingwood, Andrew Flintoff and Liam Plunkett, it is very questionable as to whether it would have even been an England v Australia final.

Last year Duncan Fletcher said he knows who 10 of his World Cup XI will be, just last week the ECB asked the ICC for permission to choose their World Cup squad of 15 from players outside their pre approved list of 30. This is obviously not helped by injuries and other problems but it does beg the question of what exactly has happened since Fletcher made that comment. On paper England have a strong team and have the ability to do well in the World Cup, but they will need their top players to 'come to the party' as they say down under.

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