Australia hosted South Africa in Melbourne in December 2008. I watched the second Test, and this is what I thought of how the Australian players performed.
His record may suggest that Hayden knows better than me, but I can’t believe he should be getting out caught in the covers quite so easily and quite so early in his innings.
These dismissals might suggest that he is not picking up the length early enough, or that he is trying to hit his way out of a form slump, or even that he is just getting lazy at the crease with his feet and his hands. Whatever the case, and never mind his disappointing form, in this test match he let his team down twice with injudicious shots that were simply not on.
It seems that Hayden is quite content to die by the same sword that he has lived very well by for nine years. He has been out of form before, and he has hit his way back into it before as well. But what might be good for Hayden is not looking very good for Australia.
His side and captain would love him to hit 150 off 200 balls by teatime in Sydney, but what has gone before in this series suggests he won’t. Perhaps he might like to try scratching his way to 50 first and at least giving his middle order a crack at facing an older ball.
Katich once again proved that success in cricket need not necessarily be a pretty thing. With footwork resembling that of a crab, and as resolute as a barnacle, he has shown himself to be as effective as anyone at taking the shine off the new ball. And in 2008 he has brought his state cricket state of mind for making big ones to the test arena.
In the manner of one of his predecessors, Justin Langer, Katich has become more free-scoring over time and, though it is unlikely he’ll ever bully an attack in the way that Hayden has over the years, his is a wicket that should be valued by opposition attacks as highly as any in this still much-vaunted Australian batting line-up.
It was two attacking shots though – driving wide and on the up – that led to two edges off Steyn (first innings inside, second innings out), and he’ll probably look back and question his own shot selection in each case as twice he failed to make the most of useful starts.
Australia’s captain fell one run short of scoring two hundreds in the match and, in so doing, didn’t become the first man to do so four times in a career.
His first innings 101 was a highly entertaining, and valuable knock. After an unconvincing start, Ponting struggled to miss the middle of his bat, which looked significantly wider than regulation as he presented the full face of it time and again to send balls back at and beyond the bowlers’ ankles. His second innings 99 was less fluent but equally impressive, burdened as it was by the knowledge that his team was staring defeat in the face.
That they were staring as such was the result of one of those cricketing abnormalities that make matches and series as exciting as this one has been. Whatever the circumstances though, South Africa’s tail should not have been allowed to rally around a rookie in the way that they did to add 318 for the last four wickets.
Dropped catches (Ponting himself included), injuries and selections questioned in hindsight notwithstanding, the captain must bear some of the blame and criticism that has been directed toward him for failing to come up with whatever it would have taken to fasten the grip on the game that, at 141/6. Australia had.
For his 200 runs in the match, Ponting was unquestionably Australia’s player of the Test. But there was something about his performance in this match that suggested he was playing only as a batsman, not as a captain, and a selfish one at that. He seemed to be taking South Africa on by himself, as if sure that by himself he could win the game.
His demeanour at times suggested disappointment in his team’s inability to perform to his standards; it was their failure that was costing Australia. As captain, though, your players’ failures are your own, and Ponting, throughout the series, has not shown the strength that Waugh, Taylor and Border before him showed in difficult situations.
There has been nothing in Hussey’s four dismissals thus far to suggest that he won’t bounce right back to score a big hundred in the next Test. A good ball and a great catch, an over-ambitious attacking shot, unfortunate and harshly punished indecision, and a brute of a ball that (it turns out) was too good to get a glove to all suggest that there is no technical problem to his batting.
But if you’re averaging 2.5 for the series (including two noughts) your confidence is going to be affected. For two years Hussey has looked like he’s been playing Test cricket for twenty; a form dip would not be overdue for this remarkable performer.
Worrying signs that one is nigh include the indecisive leave that caught the edge in the first innings and the panic (regardless of where the sun was) under Dale Steyn’s skied slog off Hauritz. Hussey has shown over his career that he is too good not to bounce back from these disappointing performances, but South Africa won’t mind much if they can keep the wood over this one for one more match.
You may not have picked Michael Clark as the type to score an ugly 88 on a flat one, but the fact that he did goes to show that there is more to this Test cricketer than meets the eye. Clarke seems to genuinely enjoy cricket, and while his usual grin wasn’t much to be seen during the five and a half hours he scratched around at the crease, this innings would have given him, and his teammates, a great amount of satisfaction.
He did well to hold a willing tail together in the first innings but will be disappointed to have gotten out in the second just as he was looking like he’d scratched his way out of his rut. With ball, his golden arm seems to have lost some of its lustre, but really he shouldn’t be depended on to work miracles with his part-timers despite that he has done so more than a few times in the past.
When Andrew Symonds isn’t contributing with the ball (nor in the field really, with that limp that he’s carrying) all the focus falls on his batting and people start to remember that by Test top order standards he’s not really that good.
He’s an exciting player, no doubt, and he can change the course of a Test match in a session, but he’s hit only two hundreds in 41 innings in Tests for Australia as a batting allrounder. With the top five and Gilchrist that Australia have had in the past they could afford to carry a match-winner such as Symonds at six. But perhaps no more.
Symonds fell to a great catch by Kallis in the first, slashing at a wide one, and edged a good ball from Steyn early in the second, but just looks to be struggling too much with that knee to move and play confidently. And it’s this confidence in his instinctive play that has brought out the best in Symonds in the past; without it he hasn’t looked half the player opposition captains have feared playing against.
Haddin showed in Perth that the hole left by Gilchrist is not as gaping as some said it would be. But in both innings in Melbourne Ntini induced an edge to second slip that suggested the South Africans might have figured him out already.
His dismissal on the first evening balanced a day that until then you probably would have given to Australia., and in the second innings he just seemed to give his wicket away too easily (driving out wide and on the up) in a situation that called for some fight to, at that stage already, scrap for a draw.
His ‘keeping remains unconvincing. While he’s not yet dropped anything that should have been taken, you wouldn’t call him a very neat gloveman, and he would do well to remember that though his predecessor was renowned for his buckling of the swash, his glovework to the likes of Warne, MacGill and a few good quicks was as good as any going around.
Lee conceded 117 runs in the 23 overs that he sent down, without a single wicket for his trouble. He also managed to bowl 13 no-balls in those 23 overs, one of which cost him the consolation of McKenzie’s wicket as day four drew to a close. His absence on day three, as South Africa’s tail mounted their heroic fight back, was a major blow for the Australian team as it not only deprived the attack of its most experienced arm but also put far too much strain on those of the other three bowlers.
His efforts on day five, in obvious pain and surely not in his own best interest, speak volumes for the cricketer and the man, but unfortunately for both of them this script was not written for Brett Lee. Panic in the media has called for his head, but Lee will be back soon enough to spearhead this attack in 2009.
Johnson wrecked the South African tail in Perth in that vicious spell of bowling that saw him take five wickets for two runs in just 20 balls. In Melbourne he sent down more than 300 for only the pair of Amla and Morkel. His workload was not helped by Lee’s injury, and he could only have been a bit stiff after his efforts in Perth, but unfortunately for Johnson and his captain he was never quite the threat that he had been a week before.
That’s not to say he didn’t put everything of himself into every effort he made. His 43* in the second innings was almost enough to give Australian fans a real sense of belief, and further suggested that Johnson the bowler might just have a shot at becoming Johnson the allrounder in matches and years to come.
Hauritz was brought in to replace Krezja under what appeared to be strict instruction to tie up an end. To this one, his first innings efforts were commendable, sending down 43 mostly innocuous overs at 2.27 runs per each of them. He even managed to snare three wickets along the way as Kallis, Duminy and Boucher each managed to either mis-judge, mis-time or middle sweeps to Australian fielders.
Australia, though, is accustomed to expecting more of its spinners on days four and five, and unfortunately Hauritz wasn’t able to deliver any sudden wicket-taking heroics as South Africa chased down 183. He did account for Smith with one that slid on from around the wicket, and in claiming four of the 11 South African wickets to fall he did as well as any Australian bowler during the Test.
After putting on a frustrating 42 runs for the last wicket, a Siddle emerged in the middle of the MCG unlike any Siddle that had been seen at Test level before.
Given the new ball, and in front of his home crowd, he produced an exciting opening spell that sent a buzz around the ground in much the same way as great Australian fast bowlers before him have done. His first spell brought just the one wicket of McKenzie, but he was able to return for a second equally potent spell at Smith and de Villiers that exposed the middle and lower order of South Africa.
He suffered with the rest of his attack at the hands of the South African tail, and was not able to reproduce that first innings buzz as Smith confidently set about the potentially tricky run chase, but there was enough seen during the Test to suggest that there is more to Peter Siddle than some commentators have given credit for in these the early days of his professional career.