Second Test, Day 2: Aussies’ effort all well and good, but did you hear about Mumbai?

West Indies 451; Australia 0/174

I awoke before dawn on Saturday to pore over the many elements of the impending contest, and then spent much of the morning attending to the nuts and bolts of getting to the big event – next year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa, that is.

By breakfast, I had established that the first three of the seven colours which Australia has to focus on for World Cup glory in the Rainbow Nation are Gold (Ghana), Black (Serbia) and Blackest of All (‘Hi know nutzink!’).

By lunchtime, I had settled (I think) arrangements for two airline tickets to Johannesburg, three nights in Cape Town, four nights in Durban, and shitloads of travel insurance. Now all I need is tickets to three (hopefully four) soccer matches, a trip pass to see my beloved Lions in their natural habitat at Kruger, and something (anything!) resembling accommodation in some of the up-country fleapit towns that are the pre-ordained fate of non-seeded teams competing at World Cups. (Pro forma apologies to anyone connected to Rustenburg and Nelspruit.)

Despite the pre-set Murdoch frothing, Australia didn’t draw the World Cup’s Group of Death; in cricketing terms, more like the challenge of facing a South African bowling attack of Steyn, Ntini and Morkel (no evident Harris figure, unfortunately). But if you want Wasim Akram’s Attack of All the Talents or the Fearsome Foursome, try Group G (Brazil, Portugal, Ivory Coast, North Korea). While this may overrate the footballing talent of the DPRK, the Nuclear Loonies do share temperamental characteristics with Colin Croft and Aaqib Javed.

Handy Thierry Bloody Henri and megaphone In-ger-land, of course, have both drawn the World Cup equivalents of facing a modern, toothless West Indian attack on an Adelaide Oval belter. Since Jerome Taylor went home (Fidel Edwards never came), check out the current lot. Suleiman Benn: another great Barbadian name, but as West Indies spinners usually go, no Lance Gibbs – taller even than Joel and Curtly, but no more co-coordinated or menacing than the Toy Story kids’ doll. Two bow-legged clones of Vanburn Holder: one slightly quicker (Kemar Roach); the other far too much slower (Darren Sammy); neither with an ounce of Vanburn’s steadiness. And Ravi Rampaul: can bat …

So who got lucky with that lot, then? Simon Katich, a man who has long since earnt his luck, paired with one who hasn’t, Synthetic Shane Watson. Barring a well-pitched early straightener, we will soon endure the bathos of Watson’s first Test century celebration, no doubt rehearsed and refined before a thousand gym mirrors since he first became the apple in the eye of Australia’s selectors eight long, injury-filled years ago.

I suppose as a Queensland follower, I should be proud – after all, didn’t he once make a double century in the 2005-06 Shield final? Well, yes, but then he did come in at 2/454 (en route to 6/900 declared), after innings of equal magnitude and greater significance by Jimmy Maher and Martin Love – two superior Queensland batsmen who never got one-tenth of the Australian selectors’ indulgence afforded to Watson. And, of course, Maher and Love were mainstays of the Queensland team throughout all 15 years and six Shield titles of their simultaneous careers.

You could never be quite sure to which state or what role Watson would attach himself in any given season. Would career opportunity lure him away to Tasmania, to avoid competing for a spot in Queensland’s strongest-ever team? Or, having come back “home”, trialling as an opener when vacancies loomed at the top of Australia’s batting order? (What was it: 30 runs in five innings? Pity about those greasy tracks at the steamy Gabba.) Or perhaps a new glamour girlfriend might draw cricket’s Patrick Swayze further afield to Sydney, where her position at Fox Sports would allow him to issue unsolicited televisual advice on the cricketing future of Brett Lee?

Watson, you see, is qualified to pronounce upon Lee, as he too is a Test bowler. His bowling action is a laboured re-enactment of Graham McKenzie, such as might be manufactured by a beep-tester or video analyst at the AIS. I doubt that the production process has gifted Watson with the self-awareness to understand that, or to realise that as a bowler, he’s not worth one of Garth’s pectorals. Now, while Brett Lee will never be another Lillee – and he would freely admit this … who will be, anyway? – Lee is Lee, with his own flowing action generating all-time terror speed and harvesting roughly … oh, let’s say, 300 … more Test wickets than Synthetic Shane.

According to rumours I have heard, Watson did add two wickets to his own modesty tally during the first day of the Adelaide Test on Friday, one of them quite legitimately. Having only arrived home to watch Saturday’s play after lunch, I was permitted but one over to view Coolangatta Gold’s development as Test bowler these last five years. He’s come a long way – off the bat of Rampaul, that is: past cover; way, way over long on; and then out through backward point. I don’t ever remember Garth coughing up a straight six at the Adelaide Oval to a number 11. Back to the video, Watto.

Another one-time Queenslander, Nathan Hauritz (described enigmatically on radio by Fazeer Mohammed as a ‘sweet-bread’ bowler), was also taken deep by Rampaul. His unbeaten 40 contributed to a West Indies 10th wicket record partnership against Australia of 68, which ended when Mitchell Johnson bowled Brendan Nash just eight short of a deserved century. (Honestly, this match features more exiled Queenslanders than a left-wing political demo in Melbourne!)

So, Australia looked at the islanders’ ‘Bradman and Ponsford’ (451), and without giving up a single card of their own, have already answered with a ‘Derek Randall’ 174. Expect a big raise by lunchtime Monday, and then wonder whether Gayle’s soufflé can rise twice.

To be fair to Watson, yes, he can drive and pull strongly and is learning to – mostly – cut with authority as well. He may now be a worthy No.6 for Australia (not that Marcus North does much wrong). But as an opener – a player caught leg-before in an astounding 50 per cent of his Test innings? On Foxtel this weekend, I’ve seen the returning Mohammad Asif and the rest of a distinctly more varied and threatening Pakistan attack knock over the Kiwis for 99 at the Basin Reserve. If any grease or steam materialises in Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart during the month from Boxing Day, look for Phillip Hughes, Phil Jaques or Chris Rogers to come back to Test cricket (the first two, of course, being geographically blessed).

Oh, and on the subject of openers leading a response on Day 2 of a Test: 0/174 against 451 is pretty good, but try this on for size. Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai (hosting a Test at long, overdue, last), this Thursday just gone. Sri Lanka, all out 393, 45 minutes into Day 2. Good score; rapid rate. Stumps Day 2: India 1/443, with consecutive double-century partnerships; one player 284 not out. You know who. (No, not Sachin!)

That folks, that is Test cricket to pump your blood. This here in Adelaide isn’t.

About Tony Roberts

Favourites list:
Food: whatever I cook;
Drink: whatever my doctor allows;
Music: refer ‘Soul Time’ (pres. Vince ‘The Prince’ Peach 3PBS-FM, plus Soul Au Go Go at The Laundry, first Saturday each month);
Movie: love that Cinema Nova discount card!;
TV show: call me Don Draper, if you like (or David Brent, if not);
Footy teams: Melbourne Victory (summer), Coolangatta, AFLQ (hols), Brisbane Lions (forever), Western Bulldogs (for now);
Player: refer 2009 Footy Almanac Round 18 (WB V Freo);
Pet: Ferdy (JRT – as per previous reference)

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Some great calls there Tony.

    Love the demo line.

    The only thing I’d take issue with is Roach; I reckon he’s impressive for a rookie.

    There seems to be a consensus about Watson (in Test cricket)everywhere except the selectors box and Michael Slater’s head- and yet, he’s made 96 and taken 2fer. If they drop him now they compound previous inconsistencies.

  2. John Butler says:

    I need to add to the previous list.

    Having read the Sunday Age, love for Watto in the Australian dressing room apparently knows no bounds.

    Tim Nielsen’s only regret seems to be he can’t adopt him.

  3. Peter Flynn says:

    Tony,

    Love your biting comments and frequency of references to cricketers of the past.
    Thanks for a great Day 2 wrap.

    Didn’t see much of it today.

    On face value, it looked a pretty disappointing effort by the Aussies.
    Maybe credit to the Windies who have now acclimatized and got themselves into the contest.
    They could easily collapse though.

    One of the major reasons why I am struggling to get into this summer of cricket is a lack of a stand-out favourite Aussie cricketer. None of the current lot really grab me like faves of the past.

    For example, how could you like Watson? He lost me when he was spooked by a ghost in England.

  4. Tim Ivins says:

    Yes but Tim Nielsen coached me as a child and I’m rubbish. I don’t hold him in high esteem.

    Great call about Watson and the well pitched straightener.

  5. Tony Roberts says:

    Re Peter’s comments on Watson and the castle ghost: didn’t his deceased twin Patrick Swayze star in a movie named ‘Ghost’?

    In response to John’s comments about selection inconsistencies: despite my general distaste for fast-tracked Test players from Australian cricket’s Middle Kingdom, I believe that Philip Hughes’ twin centuries on the Green Mamba at Durban (when Johnson physically wrecked Smith and Kallis) marked the arrival of a great batsman, who should be given more time to ride out failures than he was.

  6. John Butler says:

    Tony

    As an old opener of extremely modest stature, I believe they’re generally born, seldom manufactured.

    You’re right about Hughes. S Africa have as good a pace attack as there is at present. Runs against them count for a lot more than those scored against pop-gun attacks.

    My comment on inconsistencies related more to the selectors apparent lack of a clear plan. By basing selection around assumptions on favoured individuals- rather than team balance or need- they will end up backed into a corner.

    They seem convinced that they need an all-rounder and Watson is the anointed one. If he doesn’t cut it as an opener, are they going to muck up the middle order to accommodate him there?

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