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Bagging the Green

March 13, 2013

So the last blog I wrote included a piece about the decline in Aussie sport which was incredibly timely considering the past two months things haven’t exactly got much better for the Australians. The swimmiroos were revealed to be boozy, the leagiroos and ruliroos (and presumably other roos) were revealed to be cheaty and the cricktiroos were revealed to be lazy and shit. I have enjoyed the whole period immensely.

Being a cricket fan with a large chip on my shoulder the wheels coming off the Aussie cricket team is a delight. Just when you think things have hit rock bottom the Aussies show that they can go just a little deeper. The home Ashes series shellacking seemed pretty bad. But then came 47. But then came an embarrassing loss to New Zealand. New. Zealand. But then came the South Africa smackdown at the WACA. But then came the first two tests in India.

And then came the Vice Captain and three other players being too lazy, stupid (I am looking at you Shane) or petulant to bother coming up with three ways the Aussie team could improve over the rest of the series. You wouldn’t think it is a hard exercise considering the number of options, it sure as hell isn’t the last question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire difficult. I can almost picture Shane Watson leaning back and thinking “What do you mean improve? Things are going great – have you seen the size of my IPL contract?”

I agree completely with the stance taken by Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke. A number of ex-players jumped to the defense of the fallen four but these ex-players are completely missing the point.

This isn’t an issue of not doing homework. It is an issue of not preparing in the manner that is expected by management and the captain. And if you think that the Australian team are the only ones using some sort of management goobledy-gook technique to make the players reflect and develop then you are an idiot. During the test in Dunedin I saw a number of English players pulled aside to work with their sports psychologist – in fact I sat a few metres away from Jonny Bairstow, straining my ears, as he had a session on the rained out first day. And that is England, almost the best team in the world. You can buy into it or not but it is all part of the preparation expected within the team and it is no different to a net or fielding session. To suggest it is just homework shows how out of touch some players are or they are just using it as a punchline which is perfectly fine with me.

When you have been thrashed in the first two games you can’t do anything about the opposition, the wicket, the lack of spinners or replace the batting line up – you just prepare as best you can for the next one. These four players didn’t  Something else was more important. Now there are consequences for not preparing as they should have been. I am on board with that.

The biggest problem with the Australian cricket team is not just that they aren’t any good it is that a number of players still don’t seem to recognise that they aren’t any good. Marginal players act like superstars because the guy that held the baggy green before him was a superstar so to replace him that must make them a superstar too. It breeds the sort of laziness and arrogance that has been put on display here and that is why Arthur and Clarke had to do something about it.

Michael Clarke is excellent and the pace bowling stocks are good but everything else about that team sucks. Of the four players involved only James Pattinson is good, but not as good as he thinks he is. Khawaja is young (though not that young, he’s 26) and at this point uninspiring. Mitchell Johnson was the most overrated player in the world but now seems to be accurately rated as a sporadic performer that is becoming more sporadic. Shane Watson is the new breed of all-rounder that is not really good enough with either discipline and now he doesn’t even bowl, I have no doubt Australia won’t die without his 25 runs. Pattinson is the only loss for the third test and the extent of that loss is muted by the wicket likely to be a turner not a seamer.

If Arthur and Clarke are going to send a message about what playing in the Baggy Green means I think now is the perfect time to do it and they have lucked into a pretty good group of guys to make an example of.

Reading James Pattinson’s comments I actually got the sense that he at least had gotten the point of this punishment – “As a team we have to take responsibility moving forward because we are young men and we haven’t made it in Test cricket.” “We are a group of young players, we are not a group of great players like we’ve had in the past that can sometimes get away with it because they have performances on the board.” Exactly Patto, exactly. A shame (for Australia) that Watto doesn’t get that but nobody is ever going to mistake Watto for a perceptive man.

Michael Clarke is the new Allan Border in that he is far superior to every other player in the team and he is constantly carrying under-achievers. Border’s methods eventually led to a turnaround that sparked a two decade period of dominance but what will Michael Clarke’s methods lead to?

Though Clarke and the fast bowling could make Australia a little more competitive against England than form might indicate but without a turnaround from somewhere else Australians are in for a long Northern and Southern summer.

Getting ahead of ourselves

Day two of the recently completed test against England was easily the best day of cricket of have witnessed live. To bowl out England for less than 200 and respond with a 100 run opening partnership was a performance that far exceeded my expectations prior to the start of play. And then for us to pile on the runs on day three and see Rutherford score a maiden test hundred made for a special couple of days.

That being said I can’t help but think most fans have set themselves up to turn on the Black Caps when they don’t live up to this performance over the course of the next two tests.

If there is one thing I can say about Black Cap fans it is that we are pretty good at over reacting when the team goes poorly and over reacting when the team goes well so we are consistent. Just once it would be nice to see the casual fan and the media react a bit more rationally to the ups and downs.

The performance of the test was certainly Hamish Rutherford’s 171 which attracted glowing reviews and fawning pieces on seven o’clock current affairs shows.

As a disclaimer I wouldn’t have even picked Rutherford for this test match – the list of openers averaging more in first class cricket than Rutherford this year: Fulton 56, Redmond 55, Flynn 47, Papps 45, Raval 44, How 41 and then Rutherford at 40 – I would have picked Redmond but these comments aren’t trying to defend that position (I acknowledge I was proven wrong) but just trying to temper the expectations that now surround Rutherford.

Here goes….his performance wasn’t that wonderful. He scored 171 on a flat deck while offering two chances (actually three but one seemed near on impossible so I haven’t counted that). A more sophisticated look might suggest instead of 171 he had three separate innings of 52, 12 and 107 at an average of 57 – still very impressive but it all hinges on moments outside of his control falling his way, if they were to have fallen the other way the story would be completely different and although we would be happy we wouldn’t be talking about our next batting superstar.

As a side note I am looking forward to seeing someone with the resources needed introduce some advanced statistics that deal with success or failure outside of a player’s control – every sport in America has these people so why the hell doesn’t cricket? Seriously why should a batsman benefit statistically from a drop catch while a bowler suffers? Someone needs to do this.

Back on topic. As always when I am being pessimistic I hope I am wrong but I have a nagging feeling that 171 might stay in Rutherford’s high score column for a long time to come and I can’t help but feel that means expectations for him are a bit higher than they really should be. Rutherford is a good player and I think he and Jeet Raval could form a very solid top order for us in a few years time but Rutherford is not 171 on debut good and people should be prepared for that.

Five wickets by spin is five more than I thought we would get but Bruce Martin’s wickets are probably even more misleading than Rutherford’s 171. Test Cricket will be a whole lot harder for Martin when batsman don’t gift wrap their wickets for him. He toiled away but five wickets for the test is extraordinarily flattering. I did enjoy his tail-end batting and hope it wasn’t a mirage created by the Dunedin wicket as we could sure use that sort of thing in the next two tests. One final item of note on Martin is that he is likely the last player that will debut for the Black Caps while being older than me so I have about four months to get my game in order or the dream will be over – I will be out in the nets this weekend.

As was widely reported the English gifted us 8 or 9 first innings wickets, depending on how you are counting. Sitting close to the English dressing room I never got the sense they were that disappointed they just seemed a bit more bewildered that everyone’s bad days all came at once. I can’t see a repeat of that English performance in the near future.

The Black Caps will be doing extremely well to draw the remaining two test matches, they could do it but it will take special efforts from a number of players, and if they fail to do it I really hope that people can manage to keep things in perspective for once.

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From → Cricket, General

2 Comments
  1. yes agree with all that but how about some intrique, some sibling rivalry, some petulance and feigned innocence something that can really be speculated about with the next installment episode title “Make-up and show a happy family”, on your screen in 2 weeks? Yes F1 strikes again, how often do you hear the Team Principal saying “that was silly” to his lead driver on air? Now its time for every so called expert commentator to air her/his opinion on how Webber and Vettel will race against each other for the rest of the year.

    • For those of you confused this comment is a response to this email I wrote to D:
      “Interesting outcome in the GP on Sunday. Red Bull are in a spot – discipline their once or twice in a generation or appease their old journeyman – what do you think they’ll do?
      To be honest I don’t fault Vettel all that much – he is racing for a championship and Webber is racing for a win. Sure he might have been better off and looking at the bigger picture but it isn’t like Webber hasn’t tried to do it to Vettel before or anything! Webber will let off some steam for a few weeks and then come running back because that is what he does – Red Bull give him the chance to win some races even if that means he is a distant second option to Vettel, he knows the deal.”
      I should write about motor sport more. I am off to opening day at Cromwell’s new circuit Highland Park on Saturday which I have high hopes for.

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