Third Test – Preview: A Climax in Act One?

As we have been incessantly reminded, an Australian win in this forthcoming Perth test would produce a statistical change to the number one test ranking. Before we get too carried away with a number, we might best be served to reflect on the musical world for a moment. This example will surely remind us that not all number ones are equal. Some may be destined for eternal glory, but others will gratefully take whatever portion of that proverbial 15 minutes they can scrounge. For every Beatles or Stones there are a hundred Right Said Freds.

A win here would constitute a single result in an abbreviated series of three contests. What’s more, it increasingly seems likely to be a contest shaped as much as anything by scheduling which pays little heed to cricketing imperatives . A contest fought between combatant teams patched together from who’s left standing rather than a full test of merit. A contest that may, pitch allowing,  also depend disproportionately on the toss of a coin.

Nevertheless, a contest it is expected to be. Both sides have thrived in adversity thus far, so it would surprise if one were to go quietly now.

That the uncertainty factor will be greater than usual is assured merely by the presence of one M Johnson in the Australian attack. This ultimate horses-for-courses selection is gamble enough, but doubling up the bet will be the comparative inexperience of whoever supports him. This is without even factoring the multiple potential dramas lurking in the muscled frame of Watto. The decision to rest Siddle and Hilfenhaus was likely necessary, but it is a further tacit admission that the quality of test cricket is currently compromised by non-cricket agendas.

One factor who has rarely compromised is the departing Ricky Ponting. Having come to the conclusion that the Ashes would be a personal journey too far, his decision is one final, graceful contribution in a stellar career. His achievements are many, obvious and already lauded. Not the least of them is the way he has given Michael Clarke’s leadership room to breathe whilst still fighting for his own place. It is a balancing act few former captains have even attempted, let alone pulled off. Now his departure will allow time to seek a replacement before England.

How much will Australia be spurred by Punter’s last hurrah? What has the man himself got left in the tank?

Not that Australia will hold a monopoly on uncertainty. The Saffas seem likely at time of writing to include the impregnable Jacques. This is understandable, yet a sizeable gamble it will remain. He will be reduced in capacity, but may still be psychologically essential. They surely need to replace their shell-shocked leg spinner, if only out of a sense of mercy. The returning Philander could prove a valuable wild card yet if the ball finally swings.

Personally,  I suspect the greatest wildcard of all may lay in the wiry, greyhound frame of  Dale Steyn. Suiting his baleful thousand yard stares, Steyn has been an enigma this summer, not least because of the curious ways his captain has deployed him. Smith’s methodology has suggested a spearhead blunted by various physical ailments. Yet Steyn produced his quickest bowling during the latter stages of Adelaide, when fatigue was increased and there was comparatively less to gain. If mind and body find synch, Australia’s batsmen may yet have cause to relive past Perth traumas (nobody mention Curtley).

Two hard fought games have so far elevated some individual reputations and diminished others. Perhaps the biggest winner has been the reputation of the format itself. Maligned in a time when attention spans are supposedly scarce, the test game remains uniquely capable of narrative ebb and flow worthy of great novels.

But need we any reminder of how drastically the rhythms of summer as a whole have been reshaped, just consider that the contest for number one, and Ponting’s test career, will be concluding as summer has barely begun. Beyond lies a Sri Lankan tour and a domestic season of Bash. It doesn’t seem overly harsh to suspect they might merely serve as an extended epilogue to a premature climax. There’s a danger that March could soon seem very distant indeed. All the more reason to relish what the next few days may offer.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Jeff Dowsing says:

    Excellent preview JB. I also think Steyn will leave an indelible mark on the outcome of the series. The Aussies remind me of a team that should be 6 goals up at 3/4 time, but because of bad kicking is on level terms.

  2. Just got the word on Jacques. He won’t play. He is spending the next five days doing a foodie tour of Fremantle restraunts and south west wineries and won’t be able to fit cricket in.

  3. John Butler says:

    Thanks gents.

    Jeff, I fear you’re right. Maybe Clarke can come to the rescue one more.

    Phantom, it’s so difficult for the modern sportsman to balance priorities. :)

  4. Just a thought. Hasn’t mental Mitch caused the Sudafrkns a bit of grief in the past. (With both bat and ball) Micky Arthur may well have pulled a rabbit out of his hat with this one in a horses for courses move.

  5. Excellent JB. The theme for the summer should be Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is”. As the Avenging Eagle continues to remind me.
    Extended epilogue to a premature climax, indeed.

  6. Good preview, JB. You make some excellent points.

    I just cannot see Australia winning this Test Match. A raw pace attack vs the might of the Proteas bowling line-up? There can only be one winner in that contest: M Johnson is the wildest of wild-cards, M Starc has been under-bowled, Hastings is an honest toiler and Hazelwood will be nervous. Throw in an S Watson, to whom Clarke will be reluctant to throw the ball…

    I would have no hesitation in picking Kallis…Australia struggled to get him out in Adelaide when he was on one leg. And i agree with you re Steyn: he really looked to be hitting his straps in his penultimate spell. That means danger for Australia.

  7. John Butler says:

    All thoughts of a green top seem unjustified chaps. Both sides playing spinners, Hastings obviously the into-the-wind job.

    Decision review – welcome to the Perth bounce ump!

  8. John Butler says:

    With no disrespect intended to Hastings, Hazelwood and co, you do wonder what Jackson Bird has to do to get a guernsey?

  9. Not even lunch yet and Australia are gornawlreddy.

  10. John Butler says:

    Might have gone 5 minutes too soon Phantom.

    Starc 2 fa (Jacques looked uncharacteristically shaky).

  11. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great start Aussies. keep it going

  12. John Butler says:

    Bowl to hit the stumps and get a bit of swing – it’s the recipe that defeats so many modern batsmen.

    Why is du Plesis batting at 7?

  13. John Butler says:

    6/75

    SA fatally attracted to digging holes for themselves.

  14. 30 generations of Phantoms spanning seven hundred years and I am the one who stuffed up JB.

    (One lousey goat)

  15. Skip of Skipton says:

    Why is Du Plessis batting at seven? I was asking myself that same question earlier.
    Imagine Amla doesn’t get run out, and Du Plessis bats with him?

  16. Re: Day 2…..

    Australia were only ever going to once bowl out South Africa cheaply.
    Unfortunately, they were unable to cash in.

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