The Reverse Sweep – An Incredible Week in Cricket

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This week we try not to laugh when looking at Australia’s all too frequent batting collapses. We also look at the contrasting retirements of Murali and Shahid Afridi from test cricket, wallow in Shane Warne’s likely misery at the unexpected success of Shane Watson and Marcus North with the ball and make the case for Adil Rashid to be elevated to the England squad. Finally, there is an exclusive story connected to a new book about Sachin Tendulkar that you may have heard about.

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 read our regular column on CricDude, or follow us on Twitter @TheReverseSweep.

Australia collapse again

We touched last week on Australia’s increasingly frequent habit of the batting collapse. This reached its nadir yesterday when they were hustled out for a paltry 88 against Pakistan at Headingley.

This nasty habit cost Australia the Ashes last summer when first innings batting collapses at Lord’s and The Oval handed England the little urn. And despite winning eight of their nine tests since that memorable final day at The Oval, Australia have continued to collapse more often than an aging drink and drug addled rock star.

Pakistan failed to capitalise at Lord’s last week as they did at Sydney (but surely this time they will finally make Ricky Ponting’s men pay). West Indies at Perth and New Zealand at Hamilton also failed when presented with openings by the brittle Australian batting line-up. However, these three teams were either dysfunctional (Pakistan), limited (New Zealand) or chaotic (West Indies), which meant that Australia were able to recover through the ineptitude of their opposition and some typical Australian grit.

England though have the quality to make Ricky Ponting’s men pay should this habit persist through the upcoming Ashes series. As such, Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss will be studying the eight Australian batting collapses since the start of the Lord’s test last summer with interest. Here are the other seven to help them on their way:

1. Lord’s 2009, 2nd Test vs England (Aus lost by 115 runs): After England had scored 425, Australia appeared to be coasting at 103 for two before the England seamers sparked a collapse that saw their opponents slip to 152 for eight and eventually 215 all out. Despite a brilliant hundred from Michael Clarke and sterling support from Brad Haddin in their second innings, the die was cast and Australia slipped to their first defeat at HQ since 1934.

2. Edgbaston 2009, 3rd Test vs England (Match drawn): In the next test, Australia suffered another first innings batting collapse after closing a rain interrupted first day on 126 for one. Graham Onions took wickets with the first two balls of the second morning and Australia eventually made only 263. More rain and another second innings century from Michael Clarke, with able support from Marcus North, saved Australia’s bacon this time.

3. The Oval 2009, 5th Test vs England (Aus lost by 197 runs): Needing only a draw to retain the Ashes, Australia looked in pole position when they reached 73 for none in response to England’s 332. But an inspirational spell from Stuart Broad saw Australia lose seven wickets for 38 as they slumped to 111 for seven. Another brave second innings fightback with Michael Hussey and Ponting leading the charge couldn’t stop the inevitable as England regained the Ashes.

4. Perth 2009, 3rd Test vs West Indies (Aus won by 35 runs): After securing a 208 run first innings lead, Australia appeared to be cruising to a 2-0 series win when they reached 66 for one in their second innings. But the wicket of Shane Watson sparked another collapse as Australia lost their last nine wickets for 84. A better side than West Indies may have done better than falling 35 runs short of the 359 run victory target on a flat Perth wicket.

5. Sydney 2010, 2nd Test vs Pakistan (Aus won by 36 runs): Ponting’s brave decision to bat first under grey skies looked to be a call equivalent to that of Nasser Hussain at Brisbane in 2003 when his side slipped to 62 for seven before folding for 127. But Pakistan conspired in their own downfall by first allowing Hussey and Peter Siddle to add 123 for the ninth wicket in Australia’s second innings with butter fingered keeping from Kamran Akmal and dreadfully negative captaincy from Mohammad Yousuf the main culprits. Then despite only requiring 176 for victory, Pakistan panicked and folded like a house of cards in a strong breeze.

6. Hamilton 2010, 2nd Test vs New Zealand (Aus won by 176 runs): After winning the toss and batting, Australia eased to 172 for three before losing its last seven wickets for 59 in what was now becoming an all too familiar story. New Zealand though lacked the resources to take advantage and Australia hit 500 in their second innings to set-up an easy victory.

7. Lord’s 2010, 1st Test vs Pakistan (Aus won by 150 runs): Batting in difficult conditions, Australia had done really well to reach 171 for two in their first innings, before the wicket of Clarke sparked another batting collapse that saw seven wickets fall for 51 runs. Then a last wicket partnership between Hussey and Doug Bollinger saw them reach 253. As they had at Sydney, Pakistan threw away the initiative to collapse themselves to 148 all out and Australia in the end won easily.

With only two tests against India to go before the Ashes, Ponting and coach Tim Neilsen must be increasingly worried about Australia’s brittle achilles heel. Unlike in the near past, there is no Steve Waugh or Adam Gilchrist to come in at 50 for four or 75 for five to turn things around. Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss still have issues of their own to address such as who will bat at three and the poor form of James Anderson, but they will be increasingly confident about following in the footsteps of Mike Gatting in 1987 and beating the Aussies in their own backyard.

800 and out for Murali

18 years, 133 tests, 67 five fors (next best Shane Warne with 37), ten wickets in a match 22 times (next best Warne again with 10) and now a nice round 800 wickets (next best, yes you guessed it Warne with 708) to finish with. Those are impressive and probably never to be beaten numbers. As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, Muttiah Muralitharan’s skill as a bowler is matched by his decency as a human being. This was shown in the starkest terms by the way in which Murali tirelessly strove to help rebuild his shattered country after the devastating tsunami of 2004. It is entirely fitting that Murali should bow out from tests at his favourite hunting ground of Galle and by taking the last Indian wicket available reach that magical figure of 800. No Bradman like anti-climax for this all-time great then.

…and now for an entirely different retirement

Whilst Murali bowed out with that record and a red carpet, Shahid Afridi’s retirement from test cricket couldn’t have been more different. Playing his first test for four years and his first as captain of Pakistan, Afridi’s eccentric batting convinced him that he was not cut out for test cricket. So, Salman Butt becomes Pakistan’s fifth test captain in their last 18 tests following the four captains of the apocalypse. Despite this dreadful inheritance, he seems to have started pretty well. All he has to do now is avoid a Sydney style disaster and he may have the job for life.

The Lord’s (dis)honours board

The test at HQ between Pakistan and Australia was notable for the fact that 14 of the Pakistan wickets to fall in the match went to the unlikely trio of Steve Smith (on debut), Shane Watson and most unlikely of all, Marcus North. Pakistan should hang their heads in shame at this, but Shane Warne won’t be happy either. To see the names of Watson and North on the Lord’s honours board where his name is a notable absentee will no doubt stick in the throat a bit.

It’s time for Rashid

As is often the case we found ourselves agreeing with a discussion on Test Match Sofa. This one related to Adil Rashid and whether he should be elevated to the England test and/or one day squad. So far this season, Rashid has taken 47 championship wickets at 27.44 and scored 504 runs at 50.40. These are stats that the likes of Tim Bresnan, Luke Wright and James Tredwell could only dream of. In our view, Rashid should go to Australia as the second spinner where we could expect to play at Adelaide and/or Sydney. He should certainly go to the World Cup, where three spinners will be required. But will the England selectors go where their Australian counterparts have by picking (the inferior to Rashid) Steve Smith?

…and finally

News that ten ultra limited editions of a forthcoming biography of Sachin Tendulkar will contain a signature page that has drops of the Little Master’s blood has prompted a media frenzy this week. What hasn’t been reported though is that interest in acquiring one of the ten copies has reached fever pitch in the unlikely cricketing outpost of, yes you’ve guessed it. Transylvania.

That’s all for this week folks.

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