It’s Sydney Test time!

(Post-production note: This is a concatenation of a series of live blogs originally posted separately on the pre-lunch session on January 2 2005, day 1 of the Sydney Test against Pakistan.

RE – 2017-07-20) Continue reading “It’s Sydney Test time!”

Steve Waugh’s last day at the office

Kumble bowls. Waugh sweeps. He lofts it high in the air. Tendulkar waits just inside the square leg rope and takes the catch. And it’s all over. Continue reading “Steve Waugh’s last day at the office”

A Test on steroids

With one day remaining in the Sydney Test, Australia needs 433 runs to win with ten wickets in hand. It shouldn’t be possible. Shouldn’t.

But this Test – and indeed many Test matches lately – have been so unusual that it can’t be absolutely ruled out.

We’ve seen an exhilirating four days of batting at the SCG. Australia made 474 in their first innings, yet it wasn’t enough to avoid giving Indian captain Ganguly the option of enforcing the follow-on (which, as it happened, he elected not to do).

Alongside a dazzling innings by VVS Laxman, we’ve seen Sachin Tendulkar produce the highest score of his adult career, before going on to surpass 300 runs for the match. Quickfire centuries by Justin Langer and Simon Katich have been dwarfed by comparison, and lost in the media hype alongside the departing Steve Waugh’s tradesmanlike 40.

And in the midst of all this batting hyperactivity, we have had Anil Kumble taking 8/141 in the Australian first innings – the first eight-fer at the Sydney Cricket Ground since the 19th century! (Tom Richardson took 8/94 for England in March 1898 in the last Test of his career.)

A target of 433 in 90 overs on a fifth day wicket should be ludicrous, but we have seen so many powerful performances by this Australian battery over the past couple of years. The sentimentalists would have Steve Waugh playing a rearguard knock to win the game, or slightly more realistically, to draw it. It would be a shame, however, if Australia turned the match into a tame finish rather than go down in a kaleidoscopic heap.

If we’re looking for history on day five of this Sydney Test, we should keep an eye on Anil Kumble. No one else in this Indian side looks quite the match-winner in this situation, although nineteen year-old Irfan Pathan is clearly a player of the future. No one has taken thirteen wickets in a Test at the SCG. So far.

One passing point as we await the start of the final day of this quite breathtaking Test series. Has Sachin Tendulkar played his last Test innings on Australian soil? Amidst all the wildly excessive hysteria over Steve Waugh, is there another farewell that Sydney cricket fans are overlooking?

The curse of the retiring captains

It was nineteen years ago – January 1985 – when Clive Lloyd played his 110th and last Test, his 74th as captain, leading the West Indies against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. A world-beating team at the peak of its form, the West Indies was expected to trounce Australia as they had done throughout that series, sending Lloyd out on a high. Instead, the Aussies won by an innings and 55 runs.

It’s now January 2004, the venue is again the Sydney Cricket Ground, and Steve Waugh is playing his 168th Test, already announced a couple of months ago as his last. It is his 57th as captain, of which he was won a staggering forty-one. The hype around Sydney has been incredible, with the first three days of the Test sold out in advance in anticipation of giving Waugh a rousing farewell.

However, like Lloyd, it seems that Waugh will walk off the SCG as a last-time loser. With two days’ play remaining in the 2004 Test against India, Australia are 164 runs short of avoiding the follow-on, with four wickets in hand. They have already become, in this game, the first Australian side to give up 700 runs in an innings on home soil.

This is, to be sure, a rustier Australian team than we have seen in recent times. The bowling is weak, Brett Lee is below (and possibly past) his best, and Stuart MacGill is not consistent enough. (And, yes, MacGill does now have more career Test wickets than Bill O’Reilly. What a travesty.) The fielding looks below par at times, and neither Damien Martyn nor Adam Gilchrist have fired with the bat in this series. Nor, really, has Waugh himself, and one has to wonder how badly the whole farewell thing has interfered with the performance of the Australian team.

India, however, deserve to be on top at this stage. They have now surely retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy as it would take some rank recklessness for them to hand Australia a victory in this game. While their bowling in this series is probably little better, if at all, than Australia’s, the difference has been in the ability of their top batsmen to fire at one time or another. Now that Tendulkar has exploded back into form with his career best 241 not out, all of the Indian top six with the exception of Akash Chopra have contributed at least one big hundred to the team cause during the series. In Laxman’s case, he has done so twice.

Only Hayden, Langer and Ponting can be said to have fired for Australia. Even the tail-enders, one or more of whom can often be expected to pitch in with the odd 60 or 70, have not delivered any extra runs for the Aussies this time.

Despite an extraordinary record as Australian captain, Waugh won’t be going out on top. But that sure didn’t do the reputation of Clive Lloyd any harm.

Australia 2 West Indies 0: A dynasty disintegrates

Tuesday December 3, 1996: I visited the Sydney Cricket Ground and witnessed a great day’s cricket, but I have also witnessed the demise of a cricketing power that I have known and loved for over two decades.

After an enthralling if tight first four days of the Sydney Test between Australia and the West Indies, the visiting side needed 313 runs to win with ten wickets in hand – a huge task seeing that runs had been hard to come by, also hard for the bowlers as wickets too had been hard to take. But Australia did have one S.K.Warne in its side, so anything was possible. At one stage or another of the pre-lunch session, everything became possible.

Sherwin Campbell fell to Glenn “Millard” McGrath in the third over of the morning, leg before wicket. The following over, and Robert Samuels was out, bowled by a ripsnorter from Warne which pitched way outside the left-hander’s off stump and came back miles! When have I seen a video replay of a wicket attract such an ovation from the crowd? More about that later in the day.

Next over, and McGrath bowled a bouncer to Lara, who started a hook shot, and then pulled out… almost. The faintest of bottom edges, and into Healy’s gloves. Was it a clean catch or did it touch the ground first? David Shepherd said yes – eventually. Lara was gone, having gone only halfway to matching his 1st innings effort of two. I get the impression that Lara is not enjoying his cricket these days. 35 for 3 – some of the wags around me in the Bradman Stand are getting ready to go home before lunch!

This brought Hooper and Chanderpaul together. Chanders has the reputation of being a grafting batsman, but if this was the time to start playing for a draw, he was going for the win. After McGrath dropped a firm c&b chance, Chanders started blazing, he took to Warne’s bowling and, with solid support from Hooper, knocked up a quick century partnership, and achieved his own 50 in thirty-eight balls. Close to lunch, the Windies had seven wickets in hand and needed less than three runs an over for the rest of the day. If Hooper and Chanderpaul could keep up their blistering pace the match could be theirs.

Then… Ripsnorter Revisited. Warne gave Chanderpaul the same fierce-spinning delivery that removed Samuels earlier in the day, and with the same devastating effect. Chanderpaul bowled for 71 from 67 deliveries, and that was lunch. 152 for 4, 125 runs in the session. Could Jimmy Adams carry on after lunch where Chanders left off?

No.

Adams came and went, having totally monopolised his five-run partnership with Hooper. Carl knew that now it was time to play for a draw, and it took him around half an hour to advance from his lunchtime 48 to 50. At 57 he edged Michael Bevan to Taylor at slip. Taylor finger-tipped the ball, and as he fell backwards kicked the ball into the air and caught it. Hooper was on his way. Time to call off the “Classic Catches” competition now. The replays on the giant screen brought gales of applause as every conceivable angle was shown. This piece of video footage is going to be replayed ad infinitum for years to come.

Six down, Ian Bishop, the late-order hero of the first innings, came in to partner Courtney Browne. Courtney must be sooo popular in the West Indies camp these days. His latest contribution to team morale was to turn back Bishop’s call for a quick single and leave him stranded, run out without scoring, second ball. Ambrose came, saw, got conquered. No addition to the score, Bevan scoring his second success of the afternoon with his slow chinamen. And to think the Australian selectors were looking to Brad Hogg as their next spin sensation.

The game is slipping away. Benjamin goes, and then Walsh provides some brief excitement, including the only six off the day, before he holes out to Millard McGrath, and the match is over, fifteen minutes before tea. Australia have won by 124 runs following on their 123 run victory in Brisbane. The series stands at West Indies 0, Australia 2, with three to play. (I could predict a 125 run victory in Melbourne but, well…) Including Sabina Park 1995, that represents three Test wins in a row over the Windies.

Where does this leave the once-mighty West Indians? They were flogged 5-1 by Australia in 1975-76 but at least that was a great side (Lloyd, Richards, Kallicharran, Roberts, Holding, Boyce, Derryck Murray, Gibbs…) These guys today seem to be in the right place at all the wrong times. Ambrose is past his best. Lara doesn’t seem to care. Adams – was he really Coopers & Lybrand’s no.1 player in the world two years ago? Courtney Browne – rhymes with clown! If I were the WI management I would be packing his bags for Barbados right now. And the fielding is a pale, even embarrassing, shadow of the Lloyd/Richards days.

Where are the spinners? Where is Dhanraj, who took 16 wickets in a Red Stripe game last season and a hat-trick in the Shells and Sandals one-day final in October? Where is Robert Haynes? Where is Nagamootoo? (Spin bowler S.Chanderpaul even.) Can Roger Harper not be trusted with more than ten overs an innings? It is time the selectors took a reality check – the twenty-year fast-bowling dynasty has disintegrated.

The plusses are in evidence: Sherwin Campbell is performing well, and may have scored another ton in this game if it weren’t for Greg “Waqar Younis” Blewett. Hooper is batting with more maturity than he is generally credited for. Maybe it’s time he gave up his bowling. If Lara has blown his chances of being the next WI captain (as I believe he has), then would Hooper rise to the responsibility? And Chanderpaul is remaining incredibly consistent, today’s cameo being his eleventh half-century of his Test career. If and when he can convert the 70’s and 80’s to hundreds and two-hundreds, then he will become one of the great West Indian batsmen. He is only 22 years of age, and can potentially take over Brian Lara’s huge mantle. As long as he doesn’t take over Lara’s huge head.

Finally, this day was a real pleasure for me, a too-rare visit to the SCG. I was privileged to see Chanderpaul at his best, and to see, before lunch, one of the great sessions of Test cricket.

Note: Posted to rec.sport.cricket and published on CricInfo Interactive.