Saturday, December 18, 2010

WACA Test: Day Three

What a day of cricket! There is absolutely no chance of England preventing Australia from squaring the series at this point, and while yesterday I felt that England could get back on top in Melbourne, I am now of the opinion that they will need to freshen up substantially in order to compete again.

We saw once again batsmen struggling to come to terms with a very good pitch. As Graham Gooch said at the end of the day, the pitch is a high quality Test wicket, the likes of which we should see more often. Something for everyone, and as Hussey, Watson and Ian Bell have demonstrated, that includes any batsman who can control his impulse to play at every ball. The occasion called for some good old-fashioned Test Cricket, with proper batsmen facing a moving, bouncing ball. Not many were up to it.

Both Hussey and Watson looked untroubled, and both deserved centuries even though only the local lad reached the milestone. Watson is almost an anachronism, with his impeccable leaving of the ball outside off combined with one of the classiest cover drives in the business. All talk of him being moved down the order for Australia should be silenced - he's certainly the best opener in the country.

They were helped by a rather listless England attack. Strauss clearly had little faith in Swann after Hussey's attack on him the previous day. Jimmy Anderson was clearly feeling the effects of travel and a lot of bowling; Steven Finn was below par and constrained by his own inexperience; and Chris Tremlett, while bowling well, was perceptibly reduced in effectiveness.

The contrast when England batted was marked. Australia were clearly enjoying being in the ascendancy, and they bowled with a purpose and fire that has not been seen previously in this series. It serves ultimately to illustrate just how much of a mental game cricket is. Once again though, the English batsmen were their own worst enemy. Cook was squarely beaten for pace by a good delivery, albeit one that kept a touch low, but the others can only blame incompetence for their dismissals as they provided catching practice for the slip cordon.

Collingwood's dismissal off the final delivery of the day would have been particularly galling to England fans, if only because he had declined an easy single off the previous delivery. I am not in favour of nightwatchmen in general, but having sent Anderson in to do that job, it was silly to see Collingwood protecting Anderson instead of vice versa.

The WACA crowd got a great day of cricket, and even the injury to Ponting couldn't put a dampener on their day. In fact, there's not a lot of love for Ponting there, and a some people in the Members section were wondering aloud whether Ponting's career could be ended by a broken pinky.

There was other entertainment on offer too - a sightscreen malfunction that would have provoked mass outrage had it happened on the Indian subcontinent, and positively the worst streaker ever seen at a cricket game. Picture an extremely pale and morbidly obese drunken 25 year old male jumping a fence, running onto the field fully clothed, and then attempting to disrobe whilst running. End result - streaker tackles himself and falls face first. It then took 5 security officers to get him back up and off the ground, but not before he provided the Members with a ghastly and disturbing view of his own member.

Anyway, back to the cricket - it's onto the MCG for both teams, and both have some big questions to answer.

For my money, England should bring in Morgan for Collingwood (but somehow get the ginger fella onto the field to take some catches in the slips); and replace Finn with either Shahzad or Bresnan - possibly the latter to play a stock bowler role and beef up a very weak lower order. I think Finn is a great long term prospect, but he took a hammering here, and I don't think England can afford any weak links going forward. As for Collingwood, quite simply, his batting isn't up to par.

Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Morgan, Prior, Bresnan, Swann, Anderson, Tremlett would be my line up for the MCG.

For Australia, although Phil Hughes does not look the part, the only possible replacement is Shaun Marsh, and I just don't see that happening. Young Nic Maddinson scored an unbeaten hundred for NSW today, but he's got a ways to go. Steven Smith shouldn't play if he's not going to bowl - either Callum Ferguson or Usman Khawaja should come into the middle order. I'd be inclined to go with:

Watson, Hughes, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Khawaja, Haddin, Johnson, Hilfenhaus, Harris and a spinner.

If they were being really bold and ruthless, and if Ponting's injury rules him out, they could go with:

Watson, Marsh, Khawaja, David Hussey, Mike Hussey, Ferguson, Haddin, Johnson, Hilfenhaus, Harris, Beer (seeing as they really do have to pick him if they pick a spinner).

It's always fun playing selector :)