Australia v South Africa – Hobart Test, Day 1: Oops We did it again

This was a day I actually was looking forward to, the opening day of a pivotal match against a quality opponent at a venue I was experiencing for the first time. Instead it felt like Boxing Day 2010 revisited, the only difference being that at least the home side had won in Perth! Maybe the players switched off expecting Day 2 like rain, perhaps the class factor is lacking, possibly this quality opponent is far superior to what we have. I’m not going to try to answer what happened or give the cliched we have to try harder and knuckle down response. Instead I’m going to have a crack at what can be done, and I don’t care if administrators ignore this because they are more ignorant than Donald Trump could ever aspire to be (and they won’t get fired).

 

Much has been written about the start, particularly David Warner’s rash shot that started the rot. I’d love to say I actually saw the start, but like about 70 others we were still waiting for a shuttle bus to arrive to get us to the ground. Said buses are generally plentiful in Brisbane, although they get to experience and implement strategies to get fans to a day at a test match every year. Perhaps Hobart can learn that they may be better off trying to get several smaller buses rather than getting just one big bus and then relying on an unused Airport shuttle to ferry the excess. In fact it was on said Airport bus that wicket number 2 fell, so by the time we arrived at Bellerive the home side had barely got off a mini Benaud score (tchoo for tchoo as opposed to tchoo for twenty-tchoo).

 

By the time experienced debutante Callum Ferguson needlessly ran himself out much like Ramnaresh Sarwan did in the opening day of the 2000/2001 Frank Worrell Trophy series (similar score too, although conditions were a little firmer under foot) the frustration was almost beyond belief. It was at the stage where you started to wonder if it was worth staying? Was it worth actually going home early by choice from a test day for the first time ever? Would it be against the interests of the nation you love and you were born in to actually pretend the entire team was Adam Goodes? Restraint may have won the day this time but the poor effort from this batting display could only be matched by the Shane Watson like use of DRS by Protea skipper Faf du Plessis (who unlike Watson went zip from three on the day).

 

The carnage was only briefly halted in the last session after someone probably told Mitchell Starc that they would rather sack the sport science people than batsmen meaning he could steam in to try to cause some pain. An obvious LBW, a faint nick to the keeper and a regulation edge to second slip later and maybe the belief was coming back. Perhaps this pitch which was always going to be tricky to bat on had more to it than we realised. Sadly despite a couple of wickets there were enough South African batsmen who batted sensibly enough combined with Australian bowling that just couldn’t find the sweet spot too often to snuff out even prospects of a 100 run deficit which may have been manageable with a little application. It would have been even worse had Hashim Amla not tried to repeat David Warner’s shot late in the day, the application he was showing combined with his ability to bat for long periods even if it meant stagnation on the scoreboard (if you don’t believe me you didn’t see that test in India where he and AB De Villiers tried to block their way to a draw on a Day 5 Indian turner and fell an hour or so short of succeeding) would have meant a substantial score before his rash demise.

 

So attention rapidly turned into what happened and what can be done to solve the problems faced. Many have concentrated on the selection side of things, saying guys like Adam Voges is one innings away from being dumped or that Joe Burns had worse form than Hilary Clinton and shouldn’t have been picked in the first place. Personally I think any solution has to come from the ground up. If many are suggesting, correctly in my opinion, that the inability to bat time and absorb pressure is a problem then the problem doesn’t stem from the top. The problem lies in the grass roots and the building blocks right up to first class cricket.

 

Take for example reforms that Cricket Australia want to implement for junior programs. While the theory is that they are looking to retain players (an unhealthy obsession shared by almost all sporting governing bodies) the following questions now have to be asked,

  • is reducing the size of the pitch (anywhere between 14-20 metres depending on age group), boundaries (30-60m) and bat sizes really going to help the development of players at the top end, which to me is a big reason why kids play at an organised level?
  • How is a 20 metre pitch in late teenage years going to help players combat difficult conditions when technically they need as much time as possible to play an effective shot such as Steve Smith was doing yesterday without support?
  • Is a reduction in multiple facets of a playing arena, which no other sport at a semi professional level let alone elite in this country does, necessary if a talented player won’t get exposed to a senior playing arena until voting age, assuming these reforms also cover the national Under 17 titles? (For example Australian Rules games up here in Queensland play on the full field from Under 13’s and upward with little to no modification of rules)
  • How is an obsession with 20 over cricket going to help players effectively build an innings when it’s accepted that in the 20 over game that players ideally need to be scoring at a rate of 6 runs every 5 balls, thus taking ridiculous risks in order to justify playing in a team playing a match of that length?

 

I’m not expecting a satisfactory answer to those questions, for the chiefs of the game will only give corporatised meaningless answers. But the same problem will affect the Sheffield Shield ranks, in particular with their current bonus point system. Implemented 2 years ago, they give 0.01 points for ever run scored above 300 prior to the 100th over of the first innings, therefore giving precedence to fast limited overs style scoring as opposed to building innings and batting time as you need to do in test cricket. If they described the competition upon the demotion from the Victorian team of Glenn Maxwell as a development competition for test cricket, then why even give bonus points at all? All this has done is discourage the types of players needed to play test cricket from getting an extended look in at this form of the game.

 

Mind you it is a development competition of sorts. In the last shield round Tasmania in their 2nd innings were 4/18 in 7 overs having being rolled for 98 in their first, following up a 4/21 from 9 overs in the corresponding innings a week before in a pink ball game against Victoria. Queensland in their first innings were 4/11 after 49 balls and also got rolled by an innings. Even New South Wales lost 5/19 chasing 95 to claim an outright. I guess the Shield does develop top order batting collapses if nothing else!

 

One last thing on the ground itself and my impressions of it being a first time visitor. Size wise it isn’t too bad considering the future test grounds will be probably played at smaller more intimate venues. Was a little surprised at how small the Ponting Stand was, and couldn’t grasp at the tiny little stand in the forward pocket which has been there forever (I suppose there’s nothing else that could really be done with that space. Little draft rather than the blustery winds in the Boon stand, although finding a way to get roof support that doesn’t have pylons in the ground may be an option when a refresh of the stand comes in the future. It’s not a steep hill and I would have spend more time on it if it wasn’t so cold, probably the spot to be when the sun’s out and conditions are good. Not sure why they have 3 replay screens, of which 2 were operational in opposite corners, perhaps the other was a wind breaker of some description. Food was OK, pizza in the Ponting Stand looked as though it was home made rather than commercially inspired even if it lacked a little mozzarella. Don’t think there’s another ground in the country that sells cornjacks (help on that one required). Not a great look to have a smokers area in the corner next to the ground level Boon stand concourse, especially as the ground is described as a smoke free venue like every other. It’s not a bad ground certainly compared to what we saw on TV in the 1990s when a test was only played there if more than 1 team arrived for tests but to me the new development of the Ponting stand could have been so much better than what it was.

About Mick Jeffrey

32 Year Old, Bulldogs Member and tragic. Reserve Grade coach after over 225 combined senior/reserves appearances for Brothers AFC in AFL Capricornia. 11 time Marathon finisher, one time Ultra Marathon finisher and Comrades Marathon competitor 2017.

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