Archive for November, 2012

Indian pitches just ain’t cricket

I’m not here to make normative claims about how cricket should be played.

You know what, screw that, that’s exactly what I’m here to do.

There is some grand, glorious old-style cricket happening in the world right now, and it sure ain’t being played by the poms.

No, it’s being played right here in the greatest country on God’s green earth. And I’m not talking about Norway, which each day edges closer to its white winter fate. It already snowed a fair bit, with the white stuff covering up any natural beauty this country is famed for. Then it changed its mind. “Give the tourists another chance,” Norway’s gaia told itself (I’ll need to bone up on my Norse mythology at some point). Now it’s tooing and froing between pseudo-snow, rainy drudgery or some teasing sunshine (in -5 degrees). Make up your mind!

The cricket, meanwhile, of the glorious, as-it-was-meant-to-be variety is being played in damn Straya. Best country that ever was. What’s better is that Straya also happens to be winning, which makes good cricket even better. In fact, I might argue that it’s not cricket at all if Straya aren’t winning, but that’s a battle for another day.

Why does this particular brand of cricket happen to be so hopelessly, stupendously fantastic that it will receive no complaints from this scribe? It’s because it is being played on wickets that actually allow a cricket ball to bounce above knee height, wickets that reward bowlers of fast and slow varieties if they ply their trade well, and wickets that give batsmen opportunities to play shots that aren’t drives.

Meanwhile, the inventors of cricket, those Poms with all their poor dental health and odd tasting Weet-Bix and Vegemite, are having to superglue their bat to the ground so as not to be yorked (no pun on English town intended, chortle chortle) by half trackers served up by spinners who have been tonked in and out of the Indian side whenever they leave the shores of the Asian subcontinent. Hell, even Harbhajan is cleaning up between his arthritis treatments and assisted spongebaths.

Why does this grind my loin bones so much? Because it sucks, basically. This isn’t what cricket is about.

Real cricket is about the first two days of the Test in Adelaide. On the first day the bat utterly dominated the ball, and rendered the fearsome Saffa attack as useless as mammarial features on a male bovine creature, as my father quoth oft.

They scored at over five runs per over on that first day! In Test cricket? Are you daft?

It was aggressive, interesting and exciting batting.

On the second day said toothless tigers showed some steel and dismissed the rest of the Aussie bats for about 100 runs. Contest between bat and ball? You bet.

Meanwhile, in India, a total of 269.4 overs have been rolled over by trundlers sundry and all. Guess how many of those have been completed by bowlers who attempt to bowl over 100 kmph?

Forty nine. That’s right. 220.4 overs have been bowled by spinners. India opened up with two spinners, and selected Zaheer Khan, the man who last year against Australia resembled a horribly ageing crocodile struggling to devour steaks given to him by zoo handlers, as their lone pace ace. Sometimes you just gotta put a crocodile down.

Guess how many wickets these 49 overs yielded for quickies? One. The same number of times Rob Quiney has managed to get off the mark in three Test innings.

Jimmy Anderson got that wicket, early in the first innings of the match. I’m fairly sure the only reason this happened was that Gautam Gambhir, the man he dismissed, had gone without a strong coffee that morning and was half asleep upon receiving it.

Either that or Gambhir just felt sorry for Anderson, knowing that the rest of his five days would be spent hammering balls into the wicket in the hope of it getting to the keeper, but instead seeing a puff of dust and ‘Poof!’ “Not again,” thought Anderson. The ball had once more turned into a cup of tea that the batsman could take and drink from before whacking it to the fence, or handing it benignly to Giles the butler at silly mid on if he was feeling nice.

Meanwhile, in the city of churches (Straya style) there are six quickies all with a fighting chance of getting a pole, and spinners are rightfully being dispatched over the fence at will and falling victim to brutal jeers from parochial Aussie crowds. Imran Tahir was reported to have told his chihuaua that he doesn’t think they are in Lahore anymore.

To be fair, though, it’s no worse than poor old Bryce McGain got a few years back, and any Proteas fan would have done the same had the situation been reversed.

I’m sure the Poms would be loath to play two spinners in their Test side. In Indian conditions, however, where pitches have the pace of Benn Robinson carrying an ankle injury, what choice do they have? They even had to drag Monty Panesar out of Sydney Grade cricket to fill another tweaker’s spot. It will go down as a selection masterstroke, though, with Monty picking up a bundle of wickets, including a five-fa already in India’s second innings.

Here’s the problem. Cricket was designed so that there would be an even contest between bat and ball. Some of the roads they churn out at the MCG stretch this a little, but when a quickie is forced to bowl two metres outside off stump simply to prevent being hit for boundaries every ball, there’s a serious problem.

Simon Katich was once asked about his slow scoring rate in the second session of a day’s play in India. His response was something to the effect of:

“That’s a stupid question. Were you watching the game? They were bowling a metre outside off stump every ball. How am I supposed to score off that?”

The answer, of course, is that the reporter was not, in fact, watching the game at all. They were too busy googling Sachin Tendulker and making sure his name was still the top of the ‘most searched’ list on Cricinfo.

And I don’t blame the reporter either. Watching cricket on dead tracks is dead boring.

It’s time someone gave those Indian groundsmen an elixir of something; anything that would make cricket on the subcontinent resemble something close to what it is was supposed to be.

The Pup eclipses Don Bradman (in one statistic)

Four double centuries in a calendar year is almost unheard of. It’s in Bradman territory. Wait, no, it actually is unheard of, and is beyond Bradman territory.

Bradman, the guy who holds every record that ever existed in the fine art of willow-wielding, has been eclipsed by one in the record for most doubles in a calendar year by Aussie captain Michael Clarke. Twas three, tis now four.

Excuse me while I yell expletives into my morning muesli. I am simply in awe, waking up to yet again see Pup deep, real deep, into triple figures.

On top of that, we had a day of cricket that was a throwback to the decade of Aussie dominance; 482 runs in 86 overs at 5.5 runs an over. When Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn, Gilchrist and co. were kicking around, this sort of scoring was requisite, but Aussie fans haven’t had too much time to kick back with a tinny watching Antipodeans carve people with accents different to our own to the boundary again and again lately. Some might think that would have gotten boring after a decade. Some would be wrong.

I suppose that before I lose my proverbial gushing over Clarke I should pay attention to the two goons who hung around in the back, looking tough, while Clarke beat the pulp out of the “Best attack in the world.” Warner clubbed another run-a-ball century, not terrible going for a guy who many thought was holding his bat the wrong way in the nets.

The Huss scored a ton too. He’s a pretty good player.

But Clarkey, the boy with the arabic sleeve tattoo, must have gotten a taste for all this praise that’s been directed to his mailbox lately. Either that or, as Brydon Coverdale from cricinfo said, he is playing on God mode.  I also love the fact that he managed to slip the word pwnage into a cricket article.

The sublime patch of form from Michael reminds me of a 2006 Mohammad Yousuf, where peeling off centuries was akin to peeling potatoes for the newly branded, newly bearded and newly converted wonder. Nine centuries in a year is alright by anyone’s standards. Ricky Ponting did something similar in 2003, smashing three double-tons and scoring 1500 runs at over 100 a throw.

But Clarke has only played eight tests this year. If someone told you that you were going to score a double century in every second game you play, you’d probably take it. And let’s not forget that in January, in Sydney, he scored a triple century, not just a ‘mere’ double. In fact, he hasn’t scored a ‘normal’ or ‘classic’ century, in the sense of being dismissed with a 1 numeral preceding the other two digits, in the whole year. I suppose there’s still time to rectify that.

The style of the one last night is what impresses me the most. Clarke is leading a team by playing aggressively (224 from 243 deliveries in one day), and encouraging his teammates to do the same. He looks like a wall in defense, and though his attacking shots never had the ridiculous flurry of Brian Lara or the sheer brute force of Chris Gayle, they still seem to career to the boundary rather quickly.

His straight driving is the highlight, and is reminiscent of Tendulkar’s straight drives from half a decade ago, back when he wasn’t being castled by Test debutants.

Speaking of being castled, Ricky’s dismissal today was an oddball, as was Ed Cowan’s. Ricky and his stumps both ended up on the deck after being bamboozled by what looked like a relatively innocuous outswinger from Jacques Kallis. The mail with Kallis is that, at the age of 37, he’s still slightly quicker than you think.

Cowan jammed down on an inswinging yorker from the burly all-rounder, only to have it balloon back gently to the man with the stats, like a patient daddy giving catching practice to his three year old daughter in pink. They were two of the weirdest dismissals I’ve seen in a while.

It was a shame to see Kallis pull up with a strained hammy after taking a brace of poles from 3.3 overs. It was a case of what could have been for the Proteas. Had their partnership breaker been available to send some down for the rest of the day things might have turned out differently. I’m not a big believer in turning points, but from the moment Kallis went off the field, at 3/70 odd, the Aussies scored 2/400. Coincidence?

As for Clarke, surely there must come a point when all this will stop, and people can go back to getting up him for going out with Lara Bingle. It was only two or three years ago that this was normal transmission. I’m sure the South African bowlers would like it to stop as soon as they take the paddock tomorrow, but I really don’t see that happening.

Sorry gents, but more leather chasing is on the menu.

Leading with the chin on Quade Cooper

Quade Cooper has quit rugby, according to Danny Weidler and other such reputable sources of news.

Many, many people will disagree with me on this one. I know it, and feel free to comment with your well considered thoughts/petulant rants below should you inevitably not find this opinion to be the same as your own.

I’ve always been a big fan of Quade Cooper as a rugby player. Many Australians hate him, and with a baffling degree of hostility in my view.

When it comes to Quade Cooper, everyone is a Daily Telegraph journalist. You’re either a a “Cooper supporter” or you’re not. Things that Quade does on and off the field not only become things that those who oppose the Reds fly half use against Quade, but they use them against people who are “on his side.”

If you willingly put yourself in the “Cooper Camp,” you too become an object of scrutiny. When Quade kicks the ball out on the full, so to do you kick the ball out on the full. When the Wallabies’ hopes at the World Cup live and die on Quade, the Wallabies’ hopes also rest on you, a Quade supporter, because you happened to like watching a talented though enigmatic footballer.

When Quade steals a laptop, you should be put in prison for saying he’s good at footy. When he says the Wallabies’ environment is toxic or some such daftness, you are lumped in with him and throttled for his stupidity.

Friends of mine who are smarter than I have censured, berated and at times even hated me for wanting Quade Cooper to succeed. I have never seen a more divisive rugby player. Not even Sonny Bill Williams, who is more uniformly written off as a mercenary.

It is the most senseless case of fans hating one of their own I know of.

I say all this not to whine about my mates getting up me because Quade played poorly (which still baffles me) but because the guy could actually play football. He was good, and provided exactly what the rugby public in Australia yearn for: entertaining, bold and incredibly skilful play.

And for some reason that I will never understand, the fans and the ARU hung him out to dry.

So, for perhaps the last time, I’ll lead with the chin on Quade Cooper.

Quade Cooper leaving rugby is a big loss.

He made the Reds the best team to watch in the comp. He was at the helm when they won the 2011 Super Rugby competition, and inspired the Reds of 2010 to believe, and play well above their weight all year.

Forwardplay and backplay are the yin and yang of Rugby Football, and that year James Horwill and Quade were the leaders of their respective cohort, with Will Genia bridging the gap.

Horwill inspired the big men to punch it up, make metres, and do it for eighty minutes, game after game; while Quade dared his backs to dream, and produced the best highlight reel a Super Rugby team has ever made over just one season. The atmosphere around the Reds games was immense, better than any Wallaby game in the past five years.

Then apparently Quade, and he alone, lost the Wallabies the World Cup. He subsequently broke his leg in a dead rubber, the third place playoff against Wales, something no one in their right mind wishes on any footballer.

“Serves you right,” said many resentful and petty Wallabies fans. I’ve never heard people so glad that a player got injured.

Quade screwed it all up this year by calling the Wallabies’ environment “toxic.” Said sorry, fined $40,000, no insubstantial amount of money.

The ARU then offered Quade, who had already signed with the Reds, a signal of his intent to stay in rugby, an incentives only contract for 2013. He helped the Wallabies win the Tri-Nations in 2011, and the Reds the Super Rugby trophy in the same year.

He, of anyone in Super Rugby, offers the most marketable commodity in our currently stale setup. Even if he never plays for the Wallabies again, he will make back whatever the ARU offer him twice over simply by turning out for the Reds. People buy memberships and fill stadiums to watch this guy play.

He makes rugby entertaining, something Waratah and Wallaby supporters will know is no easy task.

People may thing Campo has lost his marbles, but he’s spot on when he says people like to watch tries being scored. Looking at the Wallabies right now and you will see that no tries are being scored.

Apparently, after the match against England, the Wallabies “are back in try scoring form.”

Guess how many tries it takes to be in form? One. Nick Cummins poked his bushy head over the white strip and apparently the Wallabies are good to watch again.

They’ve scored one try in their last three games, and an average of one per game for the whole year. Tries aren’t everything, and the team’s been hammered by injuries, I know, but when you’re only averaging one try a game you ain’t in try scoring form.

It’s a sad indictment on a nation that has a reputation for adventurous back play and great ball skills.

An in-form Cooper could have helped. He, James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale and Will Genia could have been a formidable attacking foursome for the next five years at least.

Now it’s lost. And for what?

I’m not in camp Quade or in any such nonsense. I just thought he was a good footy player and I liked watching him play.

I’ll miss that. Australian Rugby might miss him too.

You stay classy, Robbie Deans

Every day I open up the Herald, or the Roar, or Fox Sports and someone else has lined up and had a crack at Robbie Deans.

Possibly for good reason, I don’t know, but inevitably after reading their rant about how this guy can’t pass and that guy shouldn’t be selected, my loins start to get a bit hot, my collar tight, and I’m tempted to yell something about New Zealanders sabotaging our rugby.

I bite, and buy into the furore over the coach’s job, something that I have a fair bit of skepticism (read: cynicism) about due to protracted hours spent trawling Fox Sports comments calling for coaches’ heads after a 50-4 victory.

“The try we let in spoke of a soft defence, which is the coach’s fault. He must go now!” a commenter would say, having clearly not watched his side run in 15 unanswered tries only to shut up shop for five minutes to allow their opposition to take one positive thing out the fixture.

But I digress into pet-hatery and cheap shots. I sincerely apologise, dear reader. And it’s not like the Wallabies are running in 15 tries.

The day after X former Aussie rugby player/overly zealous footy journo spruiks a new coach, or says Robbie is the worst thing since seeded watermelons (who thought of those?), Robbie hits the headlines again, deftly deflecting the criticism with the nonchalance Michael Clarke deflected wayward Dale Steyn deliveries to fine leg last week. And I feel bad.

Robbie, why do you have to have the consummate media ease of Anthony Mundine, the temperament of Jacques Kallis and the humble nature of Pip’s surrogate father Joseph? (I’ve decided literature shall become part of this blog now)

He makes me feel so terrible for constructing and burning those effigies of him in my bathroom, for bashing at my keyboard in patterns that decry his coaching credentials, and for yelling wildly at Norwegians in my local supermarket about how “the Wallabies are a disgrace!” When these tall, attractive Scandinavians say nothing back, clearly befuddled by what must seem like a scene in a nightmare, I only yell louder, telling them about the death of a once-proud rugby nation, the poor service from halfback and the fact that online streams don’t offer Marto, Kearnsy and the gang in commentary.

Robbie makes me hang my head in shame, trudge down to the shop of coach criticism, and hand them my middle finger and my receipt. The clerk who serves me is not angry, he’s just disappointed.

Robbie’s just so classy. I wonder if he’s actually guilt tripping emotional suckers like me?

Or maybe he’s just a really good bloke, and the rest of us are terrible blokes.

The question for me now is not whether Robbie is a poor coach, it is whether he should keep being such a professional in the face of a constant barrage of media abuse. If I were him, I would have told everyone to take a hike quite some time ago, then taken a hike myself back to the cushy Crusaders job and a blank cheque.

Instead, he continues to attempt to rebuild a team that is injury afflicted, low on confidence and stacked with players who will never go down as Wallaby greats, with a few exceptions of course.

Why does he accept criticism with such good grace? Why does Robbie invite Campo back any time after being treated with a vitriolic spray about why he is actually the worst person who ever lived? Let’s not forget hat Campo has form in this regard, having had more than a few bad words to say about Robbie on more than a few occasions.

In fact, much of Campo’s criticisms, if you read them, involve how his under 10’s team can pass and run better than the Wallabies. To be fair, I’m pretty sure most of the guys in gold can do that better than your charges Campo, and that the ‘simple’ solutions everyone is touting have probably been gone over a nauseum by a national side clearly searching for answers.

Realistically, this is a poor Wallabies side.

With James O’Connor, Quade Cooper, Steven Moore, James Horwill, Will Genia, David Pocock and possibly a few others back that may change, but at the moment the best Australian XV is poor by international standards, and I really don’t expect too much from them in the upcoming games.

If they show a bit of courage and a bit of intent in the next game against the Poms I will be a happy boy. If they at least hang in there and do the tough stuff like tackle well, run hard and dive on the ball when it’s on the deck I will give them a pass mark.

But the coach can’t teach you this stuff lads, it has to come from your own desire to win.

Wallabies fail to thrill; Cricketers pick up the scraps

In sport, there are ways to do things and ways not to do things.

In the two biggest international games this weekend, we’ve seen one Australian team play with a bit of self belief and impose themselves on a side that is fancied as the best in the world. The Wallabies also played.

By my count, the sessions won in the Test match being played at the Gabba would be five for the Saffas and the Aussies four. The three sessions played today, however, were won more emphatically than any of the three that belonged to the Proteas on day one, as well as the session before lunch on day three.

1/376 in today’s play, a throwback to scoring rates of ten years ago when the Aussies were in their pomp. Hayden and Langer would thrash boundaries at will to the delight of the crowd, and if they gave way the stands could look forward to Punter, Gilly and whoever was in form at the time.

Granted, today was a longer day, having to make up for the first entire day lost at the Gabba since 1990, but it was still good scoring.

I could only imagine my Dad watching Ed Cowan ton up earlier in the day. He would have called all and sundry to let them know what he good player he was. I know he certainly told me what’s where and who’s what about Ed Cowan on Skype yesterday, all with a wry grin on his face; a grin that comes from the success of a player one has picked for greatness. Love you Dad.

I managed to catch the final session, and saw Hussey and Clarke playing attractively and aggressively. Huss compiled his 86* swiftly, though not without its foibles. He looked to be sorted out by Morne Morkel on multiple occasions.

More intemperate batsmen would have lashed out in frustration, edging the big quick to slip or some such rashness. But the Huss forgot the delivery as soon as he missed, and often followed it up by dispatching Morkel to the boundary. Slats was more than correct to point out the difficulty of refocusing after four straight plays-and-misses, to then follow them up with an elegant cover drive for four biscuits.

Clarke played some sumptuous, breakfast delaying shots. I had to wait until 9am, cricket’s end in Norway, to begin grilling my Kneipp. By then I’d watched Clarke play one of the best cover drives I’ve seen, and possibly the best straight drive, again off Morkel. He offered the full face, didn’t play it with any big effort, saw it onto the juicy section of the bat and watched it flow to the boundary.

Kneipp: A delicious way to start the day

The side-on angle of this shot was the most telling thing about it. The frame of his body was textbook. His arms and shoulders and torso formed a perfect square that didn’t alter in shape as he raised his left elbow in the playing of the shot. His front foot was forward, more than just a forward press, which allowed him perfect balance in stroking the cherry to the fence.

A thing of beauty, people.

Which is perhaps a pertinent segue to the thing that was not of beauty: the Wallabies on Saturday night Norway time.

I’ve previously written of the proverbial merde that has been heaped in, around, and on the Wallabies in the past. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like a father of a forty-year-old uni-dropout working at Subway. I’m just disappointed, that’s all.

That is very, very unfair of course, considering the terrible amount of injuries sustained within the squad. Given a fully fit Wallabies side I think the contest would have been much closer than the abysmally one-sided 33-6 event I watched over two bottles of homebrew.

I think all of this writing off of Quade Cooper will be short lived. Sure, what he said was dumb, but I think he is a player who, when in form, can lead a side to great things, just as he did with the Reds.

The forgotten man in all of this is James Horwill, who was one of the biggest inspirations of the Reds’ win in 2011. He led a forward pack that dominated the best packs in Super Rugby. They didn’t do that because they were the best eight, but because they played like filthy animals.

Beau Robinson looked like a world beating seven, outplaying Schalk Burger in their clash with the Stormers and matching the great Richie; Scott Higginbothan had his breakout season and Ben Daley got through more work than a contractor with a blank cheque.

When Kevvy gets back one would expect him to rev up the boys in a different way to the myriad of captains we’ve had in his absence. For this reason I think Horwill, and not Genia or Pocock, is the best captain in a fully fit Wallabies side.

Whatever happens in the next few games, we must at least admit that the Wallabies are just not there yet as a team. The lack of attacking flair is a problem, whatever people say about scoring tries. We must remember that Robbie Deans saying tries aren’t everything was take dramatically out of context by the Rugby scribes, but in an Australian market who love runs, wickets, goals, tries and everything else, it was probably not the ideal thing to say at the time.

The Reds in 2011 weren’t all about scoring tries, but they were damn good to watch. It’s the best rugby I’ve seen played by an Australian side in five years. Let’s hope we can channel some of it in the games to come.

And if we can’t, flick over to the cricket, because some of the shotmaking today was quite special.

Good thing Rob Quiney did all that net bowling

The last thing Rob Quiney thought he would be doing was bowling on the first day of a Gabba Test match was bowling six overs to give his highly fancied quicks a barely earned spell.

As it turned out I woke up to see the last ten overs bowled out by the Huss and the debutant, a disappointing way to start off my watching of evening sessions in the morning. Due to logistics, you understand, I haven’t yet been able to commence my morning session viewing in the dead of night.

Had the two most obstinate of batsmen, Kallis and Amla, broken the proverbial camel’s back?

As far as I know, camels are supposed to thrive in Australian conditions, so much so that I remember a guide telling me in a tour of Alice Springs’ surroundings that we had to export camels back to where they came from, such was their success in our climate.

Hopefully cricketers take inspiration from the tales of wild.

Our pace battery is desperately in need of a recharging (hyuck hyuck hyuck), their minds in need of a refocusing. I read that they need to bowl fuller, a strategy that worked ever-so-well against India last year in the series sweep. Why stray from a successful plan?

Well, when batsmen are in horrid form and don’t want to be there, it’s much easier to take wickets. Unlike the Indian batsmen, however, I saw a glint in the eyes of Kallis and Amla as I quaffed my muesli this morning. A glint that said: ‘Sledge me, bounce me, do whatever you want, but I’m still going to be there.’ These two are in the habit of making bowlers and captains stray from their plans.

Many have criticised Kallis for this exact approach over the entirety of his career, bitching about his slow scoring and unwillingness to be Brian Lara. Maybe he just isn’t as naturally gifted in strokeplay as Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting, but the fact that his average is higher than all of them speaks to a steely, gritty, ugly resolve that leads to him not getting out. Ultimately, not getting out also means he accrues runs.

Some have even said run-getting is an incidental side effect of staying at the crease, which I do not believe to be quite fair.

Kallis’ strike rate was above 60 in his innings of 84* today, not bad considering that’s above the career average of Tendulkar and co. Amla went at a comparatively steady (read: boring) 43.47 in his 90* off 207 deliveries. Sometimes not watching every delivery of a Hashim Amla innings and only seeing the end result is just as rewarding, in the same way one doesn’t have to see every metre of the Zambezi River to appreciate Victoria Falls.

It was in this situation that Quiney found himself, practically giving centre wicket practice to two of the most affluent run-makers of the past few circumnavigations of the sun. I could imagine that when Allan Border gave Rob his cap this morning this wasn’t what he had in mind.

Sure, he has delivered 756 rocks in his first class career before this game, but most of these would have been in the second session of the second day of a shield game at the MCG with the score on 4/4-squillion and his bowlers knackered to the point of giving up the game entirely. The G’s drop-in wicket has broken many a fast bowler’s, or for the purpose of this article, camel’s, back.

The more ideal scenario for Rob would have been coming in at 1/150 with the shine having been tonked off the pill by a David Warner onslaught. Quiney’s job from there would have been to mash the par-boiled souls of the Saffa quicks with a slowly compiled debut century.

Twasn’t to be.

Is there hope for the Aussies to save this game with the score as it is now, 2/255?

Possibly. Bowl full and straight tomorrow morning and dismiss the two keystones (that’s right, TWO keystones) of the Proteas’ batting lineup and who knows what can happen.

I wouldn’t count on it though. Looks like my prediction from yesterday is already up shit creek.

The Big Winter of Cricket (and the Autumn Tour)

My first Winter of Cricket is upon us.

While I thought it would be hard to psyche up about the flinging of red leather as the snow falls around me, I’ve found the lead-up to these mouthwatering Tests has more than satiated my appetite for information and banter alike.

The obviously deliberate leaks of the Aussies ‘Dossier’ on how to get Saffas out added momentary fuel to the fire, though I must have been sleeping through the furore because I woke up this morning and there’s no counter comment, no mud slinging, not even some name calling or intrigue-accusing. I feel like I’m going to have to take it upon myself to start some rumours or something. Unless the news cycle just passed me by (I did wake up later than usual today).

As for sledging Hashim Amla and bouncing Jacques Kallis… well. They seem like sound plans, seeing as Kallis probably still has the scar from when Mitchell Johnson almost knocked his block off in 2009. That still has to be one of the best spells of fast bowling I’ve ever watched.

Too much claret at lunch, Jacques?


Amla is a run machine, sure, but maybe some well-timed comments about the lack of a Castle Lager sticker on his shirt (did I write that out loud?) will flap the unflappable. Not that that was what the dossier was suggesting with all its delicate language. It was a positively marvellous piece of literature, skirting around F and C bombs, dancingly suggesting they ‘really test’ Kallis or ‘engage him (Amla) in psychological warfare.’ The euphemistic nature of this document must be impressed upon naive readers, and surely a translation should be put out.

Something to the tune of: “Try to kill Kallis by bowling as fast as you can at exposed areas of his cranium” and “Break Amla down mentally until he is mushy pulp in your hands, bending to your will, giving you his wicket how and when you choose, but only after you have publicly humiliated him in front of thousands by making him duck and weave well-directed bouncers (though not as well-directed as the ones you shall deliver to Jacques) and have him replicating a frustrated trout fisherman in his attempts to nick your unplayable outswingers.”

Sounds like a good plan to me.

But I still think it’s all a big ploy, like the infamous Buchanan-gate of 2000.

Despite all the cricket reading, nothing can get you quite as fired up as banter between the boys (and girls) about the cricket. The girls weren’t particularly up for the cricket chat on Tuesday night, but the boys certainly propped up the team.

A night of brewing is often dominated by manly discussion. That night we bottled our german-style altbier and talked cricket. Mostly backyard cricket actually, but a bit of the upcoming Winter of Cricket was pored over and rigourously debated. Took me back to the place where the seasons make sense and Boxing day is spent horizontal watching people throw balls at each other. How I’ll miss that first morning of laziness, listening to either Jim Maxwell or Slats (depending, of course, on whether you are working or not) describing the action.

But to the bit you’ve all probably been waiting for; the cricket.

I really don’t know what to predict with this one, but I do think that one of the Tests, most likely Adelaide, is going to be a run fest. I think that will be a draw and the quality quick bowling will yield results in the other two tests. I think the Aussies, even sans Shane Watson, our best player by a bit, have the quality to take a game of these guys if they play out of their skin.

So I’ll predict a 1-1 drawn series. I was tempted to go 2-0 to the Saffas because of the quality of their batting and the fact that we have two unproven bowlers no matter which line-up we choose, but I have faith in Pattinson to crack some skulls and get the job done, possibly even outshining two of his three more fancied South African rivals.

I am backing Dale Steyn to knock over plenty of Aussies early, unfortunately. I think Dave Warner may be the the Daryll Cullinan to Steyn’s Shane Warne, though that might be taking it a few steps to far.

Should the Aussies play four quicks at the Gabba? Definitely. And at Perth too. I think the more we can use these guys and expose them to Tests the better off we will be. Mitchell Starc belies his slightly too full length with good lines and decent movement, which should make him a weapon at the Gabba and Perth. James Pattinson is be the best fast bowler in Australia right now, and should be until he retires.

In Adelaide I would go with Lyon, but I think picking a spinner for the sake of consistency alone would be a mistake.

If our batsmen do the business we should have no problem taking 20 wickets and winning one game.

There’s also a rugby tour on.

After a brief hiatus, the festival or sport resumes.

Stand, spray and deliver.

Critiques from the arm chair