From Many Wins to the Must Win

By Paddy O’Keeffe

The 2009/10 summer of cricket has finished. More than 120 days ago, Jerome Taylor trapped Watson plumb in front for nothing. Taylor would only contribute a further 8 overs to the summer, while Watson made up for lost time by scoring a mountain of runs. Much has changed in the time that has passed. As predicted, Australia made short work of the West Indies and Pakistan. The West Indies did prove to be a greater challenge than expected, buoyed by Gayle’s sublime form throughout the Test matches. On the other hand, Pakistan went from a mercurial team prone to bouts of the ordinary, to an ordinary team which occasionally threatened the mercurial, to a complete disaster.

The summer finally ended with the recent two match series in New Zealand. Retirements and long term injuries have undermined the strength of the black caps; yet they seem to muster untapped reserves of strength when confronting Australia. This is the impression that I had held, until I noticed that Daniel Vettori has never played in a winning Test match against Australia.

At times in this series, New Zealand threatened, though weren’t capable of sustaining that pressure. When Australia was dismissed for 231 in the first innings of the second Test, the black caps held the upper hand. Unfortunately the New Zealand batting, which is very weak at the moment, again faltered. Ross Taylor contributed a dynamic 138 but played a lone hand. It is difficult to recall a New Zealand opening pair of substance, while the side always appears to be short at least one quality batsman.

Australia, having regained control of the match, batted New Zealand out of the game, before steamrolling the brittle New Zealand batting line up in their second innings. Some lusty hitting saw the total past 300, however the game as a contest had finished long since. One of the features of Australian teams over the past 15 to 20 years is their capacity to counter punch with venom. Once they are back in the match, they do not give their opposition any semblance of a sniff thereafter.

Mitchell Johnson capped another sensational summer with 10 wickets for the match. He just keeps taking wickets. Bollinger has really developed and looks hostile, while the emergence of Ryan Harris is pleasing and has added a fair degree of grunt to the team. In the batting department, Marcus North solidified his place in the team, while Katich knocked up a lazy 194 for the match. Ponting himself was unlucky to be run out twice in the series, though would be keen for a big series against Pakistan in England, after a subdued summer with the bat.

Looking ahead, Australia will be playing in another installment of the Twenty20 World Cup in May, a one day series against England in June, a Test series against Pakistan in July, before starting a series of home one day matches against Sri Lanka in October ahead of the Ashes.

Australia is well placed to build upon the success of this summer. The team is a good blend of experience and youth, with a host of young players waiting in the wings. Among the players challenging for a Test berth will be Steven Smith, Phil Hughes and Callum Ferguson, who will have returned from injury. I feel that Steven Smith is likely to make his debut by the end of the next summer. His form with the bat towards the end of the domestic season was stunning. His bowling will take time; however I’m sure that the selectors would love a good reason to include him in the side. Of course, there is a plethora of recently injured quick bowlers who will be looking to force their way back into the team. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus head this list. However, there is a number of young quicks taking wickets in Shield ranks. I haven’t seen New South Wales quick Trent Copeland up close, but his numbers are great. Victoria’s Justin Hazelwood shows promise, as does the Glenn McGrath like (i.e. tall) Peter George from South Australia.

England promised to challenge in 2006/07, yet confronted an Australian team which harboured numerous champions seeking vengeance for 2005. Without the likes of you know who, Australia will not have the same level of class this time around; however will put a formidable team out on the field. Looking at the English team, it is clear that the batting is strong, with Strauss, Cook, Collingwood, Pieterson and Trott. Pieterson appears to be back in some sort of form and Collingwood has succeeded in Australia before. Although I have my doubts about Cook, who only averages 26 against Australia.

The bowling appears to be England’s concern. I’m not sure that Stuart Broad or Graeme Onions will be as effective on Australian wickets. Graham Swann is a vital member of the attack, yet finger spinners traditionally find it tough going in Australia. Even Murali has left here with diminished returns.

There is much water to go under the bridge between now and November. Australia will be smarting from the last Ashes series, and the emerging players in the team will feel as though they have something to prove. I am sure that Mitchell Johnson is counting the days down. England has recently put away Bangladesh, yet didn’t have that series all their own way. In this post Freddie, post Warnie era, the contest looms as an enthralling battle.

Comments

  1. Mitch is amazing. He bowls shit, he gets wickets; he bowls well, he gets lots of wickets. I just wish he would bowl less shit and get more wickets. But I’m greedy.

    By the way. I’ve never heard of Victoria’s Justin Hazelwood, but I have heard of New South Wales’ Josh Hazelwood, the (other?) Glenn McGrath clone.

  2. I agree that the English bowling in Australia will present less of a threat than it would in England, but if they bowl disciplined, ahem, “areas” they will be difficult.

    The Aussie batsmen cleaned up against the Kiwi pie chuckers, but they still have a talent for collapsing.

    Read about our Collapso Kings.

    What’s more, the England batting is far more solid than either the Windies, Pakis or Kiwis. And remember: we have to roll England enough times to win one more Test than they do to regain, not just retain, The Ashes. Have we the firepower to achieve that?

  3. Patrick says:

    Hi Tony,

    I agree that the middle order has been a little prone to collapse in recent times. Clarke wasn’t at his best over the summer, despite having a very good 2009 as a whole. North lost his way against Pakistan and Hussey made a few runs without ever appearing convincing. Even Ponting has been down.

    Despite this, I feel that the batting has enough class and certainly has depth. The bowling attack is still young. I agree that taking twenty wickets could be difficult against such a seasoned batting line up. Not sure if they will threaten consistently. The progress of Hilfenhaus could be important.

    I am hoping this series will be close. After promising so much, 2006/07 was a major disappointment. I wrote this article with 2006/07 in mind. I think that I want to be surprised if the series turns out to be an epic. Comparing the likely teams, you would say England looks stronger, though I think Australia is improving.

    Thanks for picking up my little error too!! I was in the car coming back from Stawell today, and realised that I was thinking of….John Hastings, NOT Josh (Justin?)Hazelwood!! A bit of an old fashioned brain explosion there.

    Pat

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