Tuesday 11 January 2011

Tough Love: Australia Player-by-Player

Twas the summer when Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson competed with one another for who could use the adjective 'disappointing' the most. However, Watson said it best when he said nothing at all: the most illuminating interview of the series came halfway through the Melbourne Test when he was asked if Australia could still win. His thin smile spoke volumes. Those of a sensitive disposition might want to look away now. That means you too, Mitch...

Shane Watson
435 runs at 48.33, 4x50; 3 wickets at 74.33
Watson's technique is pinned by the phrase 'a bowling machine batsman'. There is something inhuman about it - it brings to mind George Plimpton's wonderful description of his golf swing: 'my body changes its corporeal status completely and becomes a mechanical entity, built of tubes and conduits, and boiler rooms here and there, with big dials and gauges to check, a Brobdingnagian structure put together by a team of brilliant engineers'. Perhaps his lack of fluidity and instinct is the reason that he gets stuck in the 50s. He arrives there often enough though, which reveals a doggedness that deserves a place in the middle order where he can breath a little. His bowling figures came as a shock - he appeared to have been more effective than he was.

Phil Hughes
97 runs at 16.16
In contrast to his opening partner, Hughes's technique is ineffably human, full of the kind of quirkiness of someone who might have had the game described to him but never actually seen it played. However, I'm in the camp - along with Justin Langer and Steve Waugh [and how chuffed they'll be to hear that] - that sees genius in his madness as this new age of batsmanship dawns. Viv Richards said that when he first came to England no-one thought he could bat either, because he hit across the line. Richards created the new orthodoxy, and while Hughes is more maverick and less brilliant, there is some logic behind the way he plays. His problem in this series is that he removed the wrong part of his game. He was at his best when he made room and threw his arms at the wide, short ball, as he did against Morkel and Steyn in South Africa. As the demons filled his head, he stifled himself for fear of the critics and it got him nowhere. He will find a way though, if he trusts his inner voice.

Simon Katich
97 runs at 24.45, 1x50
You can't kill the Krab. His leg has regenerated but he might not get the chance, at 36, to scuttle across the crease in green and gold any more. His greatest service to Australian cricket now might be to mentor Phil Hughes in the methods of making an unlikely style work against the world's best bowlers.

Ricky Ponting
113 runs at 16.14, 1x50
'Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it', as someone once said. Never has a man wanted something more, and in wanting it pushed it further away. Perhaps he has learned that, for all of his efforts - and they were mighty - no amount of captaincy can overcome such a gulf in performance. England's bowlers had a head start with the Punter's brain scrambled before he reached the crease, and the infinitesimal dulling of his eye and hands did for him. Can and should come again in the middle order, a rheumy-eyed legend clearing a path towards a better future.

Usman Khawaja
58 runs at 29.00
Greeted with a revealing hysteria - Australians getting excited about 30-odd...? - Khawaja nonetheless has that priceless quality of time. He could have waved to his mum and dad, so early was he in position to pull Tremmers for four second ball up. However, the stats say that very few young batsmen come into the side at three and survive for long unless they are specialists or openers, and Khawaja is neither.

Michael Clarke
193 runs at 21.44, 1x50
Most culpable of all of Australia's top order, Clarke appeared handicapped by his back at Adelaide, and all of his frailties remained on display. The best bat by some distance in England in 2009, he was arguably the worst of all here on the experience-responsibility index. He probably needs to come to terms with the ambivalent attitude that his countrymen have towards him in order to progress. At least they discovered at Sydney that Australia's failings had nothing to do with who was captaining the team.

Mike Hussey
570 runs at 63.33, 2x100, 3x50
A triumph for whole-heartedness. If there was any Australian the English wished well it was Mr Cricket, a man unembarrassed by his overwhelming love for the game. His selfless, immediate attack on Swann in Brisbane spoke of a team player to the core [imagine if he'd edged that first pull up in the air], and Hussey stood with distinction upon the burning deck through all five matches. Courageous and skilled, he can take huge pride in the way England celebrated his wicket. He was the man.

Steve Smith
159 runs at 31.80, 1x50; 0 wickets
A batsman who bowls seemed to be the selectors verdict, and as they've said, they had a great summer, so we must take their word for it. There will be no shelter as Australia rebuild their team and Smith might benefit from a year in Div 1 county cricket, tightening everything up. He's probably on a level with Adil Rashid, and Rashid is nowhere near the England side right now.

Marcus North
49 runs at 16.33; 1 wicket at 110.00
No-one else called North has ever played Test cricket. That is Marcus's claim to fame. At least he holds one record.

Brad Haddin
360 runs at 43.00, 1x100, 3x50; 8 ct, 1st
As redoubtable as he is vulnerable outside the off peg early on, Haddin fought his nuts off with no little skill and the kind of grit that made Healy a legend. Naturally the selectors have axed him without explanation from the T20 side. But then, they've had a great summer etc etc.

Mitchell Johnson
15 wickets at 36.93; 122 runs at 17.22, 2x50
Deep breath then... The Barmy Army enjoyed Mitch perhaps more than men should: badges, songs, t-shirts, masks, he occupied their thoughts above all others. It was love, albeit forever unrequited. But then Mitch gave them so much to love: deliveries that swung past Brad Haddin like they'd been served by Pete Sampras, that armful of tattoos that speaks mutely of a tortured and uncertain soul, the mad rug and the buck teeth, the existential despair in those dark, dark eyes... It was a relationship born of experience, because Mitchell is another Steve Harmison, physically capable of immediate and thrilling devastation but mentally prone to introspection and self-pity. It is in the nature of sports followers to cling to the former once it has shown itself. Harmison was a chimeric presence in the England side, kept there by the ghostly vision of what he once was. Johnson is the same, a man doomed to humiliation by his occasional brilliance.

Peter Siddle
14 wickets at 34.57; 154 runs at 19.25
The Sizzler is emblematic of the player that Australia must confront and accept over the next couple of years. He's strong, willing, eager, hard to deter. He is also unpolished, gauche, a Merv Hughes rather than a Glenn McGrath. In short, he's not the kind of player who would get into a great side, but he can be the engine room of an improving one. England's success as a bowling unit has sprung in part from a core group knowledge of technique, and Siddle can't develop that alone. The appointment of the next bowling coach is key.

Ryan Harris
11 wickets at 25.54; 14 runs at 3.50
If Mitch is a new Harmi, the Harris is Simon Jones, a bowler of quality whose action imposes impossible strain on his body. Hopefully he'll have more luck than Jonah.

Ben Hilfenhaus
7 wickets at 59.28; 55 runs at 11.00
The Australian press settled on calling him 'Gentle Ben', not really the nickname you want as an opening bowler. Gentle he was, though. One commentator was practically apopleptic as he described the inswinger, yorker and bouncer that the Gentle one apparently bowls in State cricket.

Doug Bollinger
1 wicket at 130.00; 7 runs [no ave]
Picked when unfit by selectors who had a great etc etc. As he said, 'You're not going to turn down a Test match', but shouldn't have been put in the position to accept. Nonetheless, when fit, Douggie can bowl. So get him fit, then...

Xavier Doherty, Michael Beer
3 wickets at 102.00/1 wicket at 112.00; 27 runs at 9.00/4 runs at 4.00
Their most likely future is as quiz questions: 'which two spinners did Australia play in the Ashes of 2010-11?' Answer: these two. Possibly, if brought into a winning side against a very average one [Australia v England in about 1994 for example] they might have passed unnoticed.

NB: This post goes up as Brisbane, a city where I lived for three years, faces devastating flooding. Cricket's only a game. You'll see the real Australian spirit over the next few days.


Rusty said...

This is the best summing up/analysis I've seen yet, far better than those wankers at Grandstand. You've looked into their souls, not just their stats.

"He will find a way though, if he trusts his inner voice."

Cute. Is that the metro-sexual equivalent of "playing his natural game"? If so, i think Twatto, Mitch and Puppy would find it a more useful mantra than Little Phil.

Uzzie Koala ( yes, I have heard him called that) does actually open the batting for the Blues, so perhaps he has a chance, after all. It will probably depend on Punter.

Hussey should be made a national treasure. he has the heart of a Melbourne Cup winner.

Good luck with the rising waters up there. I was wondering if the Gabba will go under, but, as you say, there are more important things, like people, to worry about.

The Old Batsman said...

Cheers Rusty - am not in Brissie any more but feel for them at the moment there. Can't believe how bad it is.

Brit said...

Johnson...a man doomed to humiliation by his occasional brilliance.

As ever, you find the nub, and the bon mot.

Brilliant as usual but I can't help thinking that your admirable sympathy for Punter has blurred your vision there.

5/10 suggests he was average but it's hard to imagine how he could have been worse. No score of value (when relied upon), got injured, came up with a new strategy in every press conference, cocked up the team from the start with his animosity to Hauritz who could only have been better than the woeful spin replacements (and did well in the last Ashes). As for the Pietersen review incident, the big crime there was that he embarrassed his teammates - watch it back and, Siddle apart, they're willing him to shut up. If there was a viable replacement he'd be gone now. 1/10. (Great player of course though etc etc.).

Ben said...

Steve Smith
' He's probably on a level with Adil Rashid, and Rashid is nowhere near the England side right now.
That's gotta hurt Rashid... He's of a far higher calibre of bowler, and a proven number 7...

The Old Batsman said...

Brit, you're right - probably got a bit misty eyed there, but i'm swayed by the effort he put in. It's a hard game at the best of times, but to keep fronting up when it's all going against you is prob worth more than 1/10 too?

Ben, on Rashid, maybe that was a bit harsh too, although I'd contend if you'd put him in that Oz team playing this england side, he'd have about the same level of success. He and smith's batting is comparable but take your point on the bowling.

Sid Smith said...

Brilliant again, YOB. Your fans left with nothing to add, as usual.

Yes, loved the Mitch line, and also {on Ponting} "Never has a man wanted something more, and in wanting it pushed it further away"


Sid Smith said...

"Brilliant again, YOB."

Er, "TOB", I mean...

The Old Batsman said...

Cheers Sid. Quite like YOB though. Ye Old Batsman, obviously.

Anonymous said...

For all Mitch's supreme flakiness with bat and ball, at least he did top score and take wickets a couple of times and he only deserved at 5 at best.

Punter did absolutely toot so how can he deserve 5?