This week as Australia’s cricket lurches from one catastrophic defeat to another, we look at the consequences for the upcoming Ashes series. We also report on the potential mismatch that is the India-New Zealand test series, Hashim Amla’s magnificent form, a hundred more violent than Scarface by Abdur Razzaq and meet up with our old friend Glenn McGrath.
The Reverse Sweep is an irreverent and acerbic round-up of the week that was in cricket. For similar musings on the sport that God would play, please visit our blog also entitled The Reverse Sweep – selected as one of the 50 best cricket web sites in the world by The Times. Alternatively, you can follow us on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.
Wounded Australia on the ropes
These are dark days for the Australian cricket team. Since comprehensively beating Pakistan at Lord’s in July, Australia have lost their last six international matches – the Headingley test to Pakistan, two tests and one ODI in India and now a Twenty 20 and ODI to Sri Lanka on home turf.
If the amazing turnaround at Melbourne is anything to go by, the malaise is in danger of becoming a cancer. Australia has lost its ruthless streak. That can be the only conclusion following the record ninth wicket partnership of 132 in 18 overs between Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga, which saw Sri Lanka recover from 107 for eight to win.
Coming so soon after a similarly spectacular ninth wicket partnership between VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma enabled India to beat Australia in the Mohali test, it is clear that Australia has lost the art of winning. Michael Clarke, whose captaincy yesterday did not auger well for when he finally takes over from Ricky Ponting as the official captain, summed it up perfectly when he reflected “I don’t know how we lost that game. We can’t seem to turn the corner at the moment. It’s very disappointing.”
Australia now only have two further ODIs with a buoyant Sri Lanka to come before the Ashes starts on 25th November. Even when you take into account all the things in Australia’s favour – home pitches and crowds, the kookaburra and the inexperience of England’s bowlers of Australian conditions – England are starting to look like strong favourites.
Andrew Strauss’ men kick off their tour in earnest with a three day game against Western Australia, which starts on Saturday. Strauss and coach Andy Flower will know that an impressive performance would give them vital early momentum and further undermine the fragile confidence of the Australians. Whilst England are settled, confident and resilient, Australia have a batting line-up out of form and prone to collapse, have no spinner to speak of – despite Xavier Doherty’s impressive debut at Melbourne he has a first-class bowling average of 50 – and question marks over the fitness of a number of its seamers.
So, whisper it quietly, but this is England’s best opportunity of winning an Ashes series down under for an eon. Indeed, one probably has to go back to 1978/79 when England were such hot favourites and that eventual 5-1 win was secured against an Australian side heavily weakened by the defection of its best players to World Series Cricket.
However, unlike an ebullient Michael Vaughan who this week hilariously described the Ashes as a warm-up to England hosting India next summer, we believe that a word of caution is necessary. In 1958-59, Peter May’s England side were also heavily backed to beat an Australian side that they had beaten in the three previous series stretching back to 1953. But, amidst claims of throwing against some of the home bowlers, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson came of age and England were outplayed and routed 4-0.
As Kevin Pietersen ineloquently put it earlier this week “They (Australia) are a wounded animal at the moment and, when animals are wounded, they can turn into fearsome predators.” Australia won’t go down without a fight, but England has their best opportunity for a generation.
Lambs to the slaughter
Talking of potential mismatches, New Zealand’s test series with India started today and by the time we boarded our plane to London this morning, Virender Sehwag had failed by just 13 runs from joining an exclusive club of only four batsmen – Victor Trumper, Charlie Macartney, Don Bradman and Majid Khan – who have hit a hundred before lunch on the first day of a test match. New Zealanders are commonly and rudely referred to as sheep-shaggers on account of the ratio of sheep to people in the land of the long white cloud. Well, they are certainly lambs to the slaughter in this series and given their recent abject 4-0 ODI series defeat in Bangladesh, expect to see some carnage inflicted by India’s stellar batsmen throughout what could be one of the most one-sided test series in a long time.
Awesome Amla looks a decent bet
Back in May we asked if Hashim Amla was the best batsman in the world. Since then Sachin Tendulkar has put that one to bed at least where Test cricket is concerned (see Sachin Tendulkar’s Annus Mirabilis) with his annus mirabilis proving even more impressive than Amla’s. But the South African continued his extraordinary performances in ODI in 2010 with another stellar performance in South Africa’s narrow 2-1 series win over Pakistan this week. After belatedly cementing a place in the ODI side in the home series last autumn with England, Amla hasn’t looked back and in 2010 his record is staggering. In 13 matches he has scored 986 runs at 82 with five hundreds and three fifties at a strike rate of 103. His overall ODI record is hugely impressive too with 1834 runs in 35 matches at 61 and six hundreds and nine fifties at still superlative strike rate of 92.5. Amla saved his best for last against Pakistan in the series decider by batting through the innings for 119 off 126 in a low scoring encounter which his side sneaked by two runs. Given Amla’s love of playing on the sub-continent – in the two test series in India at the start of this year Amla batted for 23 hours and 22 minutes, scored 494 runs and was only out once -.he is a good bet to be the leading run scorer in next year’s World Cup.
There have been some devastatingly brutal ODI innings over the years, but Abdur Razzaq’s 109 off 72 balls against South Africa the other day must be right up there with the best of them. In a display of violence that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a remake of Scarface, Razzaq scored 63 of the last 65 runs and hit six of his ten sixes in the last four overs to see Pakistan to victory by one wicket after they had needed an unlikely 53 from the last 24 balls. It makes one wonder why Razzaq has been so under-utilised by Pakistan over the last few years, particularly within the test arena. Yet another black mark against the PCB.
Relive this great performance:
A ridiculous appeal
Whilst Razzaq was brutalising Charl Langeveldt, Salman Butt and Mohammad Aamer had their appeals against their suspensions for alleged spot-fixing denied in an ICC hearing in Dubai. We’ve seen some ridiculous appeals over the years, but this one surely takes the biscuit. The evidence is pretty compelling and the allegations so serious that until they and the third accused Mohammad Asif can prove their innocence, the suspensions should clearly be enforced.
…and finally, the quote of the week
It wouldn’t be the Ashes without the usual prediction from Glenn McGrath and sure enough the former tormentor of Michael Atherton did not disappoint when despite Australia’s current woes he confidently said this week:
“I couldn’t have more faith in the boys. The matches will be close but I’m tipping a 5-0 whitewash” -McGrath
Now there’s a surprise.
That’s all for this week folks.
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