30 December 2012

Michael Hussey: Another giant of the game bids farewell

Ricky Ponting has retired, Michael Hussey is soon to retire and Tony Greig sadly passed away.
All three have had a major role to play within the world of cricket and each one has left behind their own legacy.

Greig was not only a decent cricketer himself but is better known as a well accomplished commentator who was an easily recognised media personality. He was directly involved in Kerry Packer's World Series cricket revolution and the role he played there resulted in the start of a legacy within the media spotlight of the game.

Admittedly, in his older years I was not an avid fan of his commentary but always had a good laugh at some of his one liners and if a player impressed him he'd make his appreciation and enjoyment more than apparent which was a big up for the cricketer concerned. Sometimes it was shown for the ladies in the crowd the television camera captured!

I have embedded a video below which is good for a laugh. It's a Tony Greig classic moment.

Anthony William Greig. October 6, 1946 to December 29, 2012.

Ricky Ponting's departure was one that was somewhat expected, but is still so sad as he is a modern legend of the game and a personal favourite for so many reasons well beyond his attributes as a cricketer.

The shock that has come though is the retirement of Michael Hussey from international cricket, another man who put the team first and was a solid team player. At the best of times he was the teams saviour.

It's sad and a huge loss to Australian cricket, so much so I haven't entirely grasped the news.
To be honest no one will until we no longer see Huss charging out onto the field to execute a rescue mission or get set into building one of his stealth-like innings with the bat in hand in any form of the game.

Michael Clarke said it many times, Huss is a "freak" in the game.
Ideally Clarke was saying Huss is a unique cricketer but what a well grounded, down to earth bloke he has been at the same time.

His ability to keep charged, adapt his game between formats and maintain the highest, professional standard with his approach to the game whilst maintain a healthy family life off the field makes him the best of the best. He is an elite performer and has qualities rarely seen in the modern world of sport.

I bought his book five or six years ago and to this day I find inspiration when I read it.
The basic principles he followed in that book were done so with consistency and determination that is hard enough to maintain over a limited period of time, so to cast back my mind to when I first read a book that took a glimpse into the mind and life of Michael Hussey, it really makes me appreciate the energy levels and height of ambition he kept finding ways to channel into his game to this day.

However, it seems to have run out and although Huss was on a high, the value and challenges of life outside of cricket became greater ones than the value he'd invested in building a career that places him in an elite field as a cricketer with a story to be told and shared.

With a tour to India and back to back Ashes series many would think, "why now?"

The reason is simple. It may not be the right time for the team but it is the right time for him.

Huss will bow out of the game with a standing ovation and the right amount of respect he deserves for what he has given to cricket followers around the globe and most importantly what he has done for Australian cricket in all forms of the game.

He leaves in good form and far from any form slump to talk of.

The time he leaves is before two intense tours away from home and the demands will be heavy.
The players involved face a challenge that involves high pressure and intensity on and off the field in unfamiliar conditions, which will be a first for many of them.

Huss could have offered incredible support and advice but it's a demanding year ahead and time away. He has a young family and as a family man he needs to be there at a crucial time in his their lives which is greater than the game.
He has given a lot to Australian cricket and if it is time to focus his energy, determination and focus within his life away from cricket then it is the right thing to do. The game will pull him back at some stage.

The void left is massive. It is not his concern and although Huss confidently stated at his media conference that he has no concerns about the future of Australian cricket, the role he played will likely be one we may not see filled for many years to come, as it has been for the spinners role since Shane Warne retired.

Fortunately our bowling stocks have finally come right where we have 10 bowlers plus to choose from, some with experience, some with age and others with youthful ambition.
It has taken six years to develop this level of depth and to get our bowling into a place where we head into a Test match with a well loaded attack, which is open to adjustment.

The batting however has just headed into the danger zone.

I don't think the development will take as long as it has for our bowling attack but we will likely be looking at a two to three year development period.

It would need to be one within a year though given the stakes of what lies ahead but realistically it will take time and we need to support the boys as we've had to since 2006/07.
It will take time and patience is crucial.

There's good batsmen in our system and the departure of Punter and Huss will allow for the water to be tested. It's exciting times.

Phillip Hughes has been placed into the number three position and now the middle order will need a new call to order, but not one to fulfil the Hussey role. That is not possible. Instead what is needed is a capable batsman who can become a stable Test cricket and/or by the same token a limited overs batsman.

Usman Khawaja is likely to come into the side now as a recognised Test match contender but he is no Hussey and should never be compared. That is not fair and no player should be given labels unfairly.
Each of our cricketers need to build their own identity as Huss has and as Punter did so extraordinarily well.

There's players fresh at Test and limited overs level who are ready and some identified players. This is the time to blood them.
The departure of two great players has left an opening for two fresh players to start a legacy of their own. It may take time, the result will be varied but the opportunity is there and someone needs to grab it and mould it. This is the time!

Hussey also came into the Australian side with massive experience at First Class level after grafting like a dog to finally get his chance to play Test cricket for Australia.

Hussey, an Australian champion!
He waited a ridiculously long time to get his Baggy Green cap and many of us wondered if he'd ever get his chance. When it finally arrived against the West Indies it was fair to say that I honestly feel that was a debutant I had zero worries about. He'd earned it in all possible regards.

However, guys coming in now have credibility that is nowhere near to that of Huss.
Once again, no comparisons can be made as this is a different era and a different team but it does give a matter of perspective. The level of competition has changed and it's an environment that is going to grow again.

Huss debuted during a golden era for Australian cricket and he lived every second with utter appreciation with that knowledge. Players come in now with less appreciation, perhaps, but the future is bigger for them as there is not only a personal legacy to build but a team legacy as well. That is pressure and a different type to that which Huss debuted under.

I do believe the future is a positive one for us despite these losses.
It will take time but if Michael Hussey says he is not concerned, neither should we. We simply need to understand the changes and challenges ahead, which a man of his knowledge and understanding would have already processed.

We will miss him and it's going to be so unbelievably painful to see him leave the field to hang his Baggy Green cap up. It's the way it goes though and while Huss is close to 40, it was not the expected date of retirement we all had in mind.

The memories of Huss will remain strong in my mind and without doubt my best Hussey memories stand as follows:

Amazing Adelaide, which was the 2nd Test of the 2006/07 Ashes series.

Nevermind the fact our win was a massively unexpected result heading into play on the final day but the way Huss switched to limited overs mode to score a half-century and hit the winning runs was sensational. His roar and sheer delight is brought to memory in split seconds!

The innings against Pakistan in the semi-final of the ICC 2010 World T20 was a ripper.

The way he brutally smashed Saeed Ajmal around St Lucia was, well, unforgettable. 60 runs off 24 deliveries, doesn't get much better in T20 cricket. I remember we were doing a live chat here for that game at the Baggy Green blog and I had to leave the chat in order to run around the garden cheering like a mad man.

His ability to bat with the tail was first shown in international cricket with Glenn McGrath against South Africa. He did it many more times in ODI and T20 cricket as well.
Memorably everyone will easily recall his batting with Peter Siddle against Pakistan at the SCG. He just knew how to adapt to any situation and the faith he showed in his batting partners was special. Qualities of on field leadership and that ability is unforgettable.

Each century was honestly special to watch but the pain of his century in the final innings of the final Test of the 2009 Ashes series grips me to this day.

He had a terrible season by his standards and despite the hurt I felt seeing him go through the struggles and not truly knowing the pressure he was under, to lose the Ashes was far worse.

Yet, he regained his self-belief and when he reached his century I had to bite my lip. The pain and emotions behind that innings was a strong testament that even in bleak situations Huss never, ever doubted himself and kept fighting for his place and Australian cricket.

That is how I will remember Michael Hussey the cricketer and I can only wish him the best for the future with his family and life away from the game. He gave us enough entertainment and inspiration.
Bring on the SCG Test!

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24 December 2012

Boxing Day Test announcement

As per the Baggy Green Blog Facebook page:

Jackson Bird will become Baggy Green #431 as he is set to debut at the MCG for the Boxing Day Test match. 

Very excited to see him receive his cap and make an impact for us. 

Mitchell Starc will be rested as a result of the rotation policy.

See the Voting Poll up top right to express your view on the rotation policy.

The rotation policy, do you agree with this policy of player rotation to "prevent injury"?
1: Yes: Avoids excessive workload, reduces injury, creates opportunity
2: No: Unnecessary, not beneficial, injuries still unavoidable
3: Undecided: See the benefits but not a big solution to injury avoidance

Michael Clarke will be cleared on the morning of the match to see if he is ready to go out there and lead us in the Boxing Day Test.

According to Dean Jones, who has been mentoring the batsmen at the MCG nets, Clarkey
is looking good at the moment and chances seem to be good that he will play.
The probable squad for the 2nd Test:

David Warner,
Ed Cowan,
Phillip Hughes,
Shane Watson,
Michael Clarke,
Michael Hussey,
Matthew Wade, 
Mitchell Johnson,
Peter Siddle,
Nathan Lyon,
Jackson Bird (debutant).

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22 December 2012

Innovations and rule changes in limited overs cricket

This article isn't going to be one ranting on like an old dog about the way the game is not like it used to be. I actually found myself watching some old limited overs footage and was simply recalling some of the changes that have occured within my time.

I started watching cricket in 1992 and given this was during World Cup time, when colour clothing was introduced for the international sides, I decided to take a look at a World Cup History book I had nestled on the book shelf and pick up the different format changes that have taken place.

Now, Test cricket as we know it has seen minor changes in comparison to that of limited overs cricket. I guess this would simply be to protect tradition and that the game has simply found a way to survive even with the world itself becoming a system for a more complex, fast paced environment.

Limited overs cricket has however had to adapt and is desperate to survive.
Although this has now been a topic of concern the last 5 years and brought up during the last two World Cups that have fallen within this time frame, it is a realistic debate.

Twenty20 cricket - the ODI challenger - brought about obvious changes to help speed up the game and, in some regards, enforced stricter rules for bowlers, making it that extra bit harder for them in a format which usually sees dominance from the men with the willow blade.

Some of these rules have been brought into the 50 overs form of the game.

So, here's a basic run down with the notable changes that have occurred since the first World Cup in 1975.

Now this may seem like more of a history of each World Cup but it has actually been the grounds for changes to be implemented and tested with all teams in one contest.

In 1975 the game was still developing for the limited overs concept, not just the format itself but for the teams as well! Sunil Gavaskar batted for 60 overs to score 37* runs in the first World Cup match. India were under the impression they could play for a draw.

To be fair by this time there were only 18 international limited overs games recorded.
As you may have picked up, it was 60 overs a side and East Africa was a featured side.

In 1979 it was still 60 overs a side with 12 overs per bowler and East Africa no longer featured, while Canada played their first World Cup.

It appears that the format was still seen as exciting and fresh and the only change by 1983 was regarding the Umpires. They were asked to be stricter with judgement of wides and no balls, something we see nowadays as a law that gives little room for error with bowlers, along with greater penalties!

An innovation in the 1983 World Cup also saw the inner ring, or "fielding circle", brought into the game, which was an oval shape 30 yards away from the stumps. Four fielders were to be inside during the duration of innings.

1987 saw the 50 overs format come to life and a bowler could only have a maximum of 10 overs in an innings, no longer 12.

The reason for this change was actually due to the daylight hours in the sub-continent not being as generous for 60 overs of play per side as it was during the English summer.
It would seem that fans were still finding it entertaining enough but by 1992 it would change!

The 1992 World Cup in Australia saw the direct influence of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket.
Colour clothing was brought into the game with a colour identity given to each team which is still fairly relevant to this day.

White cricket balls were used with one at each end and fielding restrictions were implemented where only two men could be outside the inner fielding ring for the first 15 overs.

1992 also saw the third umpire make his debut in front of TV audiences for run outs (done so in Test cricket) but became a massive player in ODI cricket, while in 1996 the third umpire could be seen by his TV monitor when a decision was pending.

The complications of ties became a talking point in 1999 and as a result the 'net run-rate' became the determinant factor for a result. This is the law that ensured Australia went into the finals after a dramatic, cricketing classic, semi final clash against South Africa saw a tied result.

Due to Australia's net run rate being better, South Africa lucked out and made the Donald/ Kluesner run out even more dramatic and disastrous.

After 2003 saw the exit of South Africa in a rain affected match where Shaun Pollock and his support staff confused the teams calculations, better understanding and execution was seen to with the Duckworth-Lewis method to provide adjusted targets, taking into accounts all the various factors for rain delayed games.

As of 2007, Power Plays came into the mix and these were two mandatory 5 overs Power Plays.
This rule, further explained, is divided into 3 parts of 10, 5 and 5 overs, while batting and bowling Power Plays must be completed between the 16th and 40th overs of an innings.

The big one which added to entertainment value by 2011 was the front foot no-ball resulting in a free hit, which was taken straight out of Twenty20 cricket.
The bowlers still incur a one run penalty but also have to pick up the courage to bowl a "freebie" at the batsman who can only be dimissed via a run out.

On the topic of run outs, "runners" were no longer allowed in all forms of the games.
The runner would be used when a batsman was injured and was struggling to run between the wickets. A team mate would then come out, fully kitted, and act as his runner to communicate with the batting partner for any attempted running between the wickets.

This rule was implemented in 2011.

It is also deemed fair that a bowler can run out a non-striker who is unfairly backing up, also known as 'Mankading', which occured recently in the ICC u19 World Cup.

The innovative change has been the DRS (Decision Review System) and this was used in the 2011 World Cup where each team could challenge a decision.

I guess we will now wait on Super Overs to be brought into ODI cricket and perhaps further subtle changes will see survival of 50 overs cricket?

Split-innings was trialled and tested at State level in Australia but has since been pulled.

So I guess the conclusion we can draw is that like most things, change in inevitable but its essentially how that change is managed and making sure it still stays relevant to the game with respect to tradition and supporter/ player appeal.

Do you think these changes have improved the game?

I most certainly feel that the fornat is fine and the biggest killer is when too many ODIs get played, basically overkill cricket. If the format is moderated within scheduling (especially World Cups) then it has a greater chance of survival and I guess marketing appeal as well.

The changes have resulted in tougher tactical execution and has improved the pace of the game in many regards, especially with slow over rate fines against the captains.

Many of the changes have been positive and hopefully the format will continue to exist and find ways to survive, as some young Australian is going to have to try find the time to chase down the following batting stats...

463 ODIs, 18,426 runs, 49 centuries, HS 200*.

Well done on a splendid ODI career Sachin Tendulkar aka The Little Master
What changes he saw during his playing time in the format!

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18 December 2012

The Baggy Greens go 1-0 up against Sri Lanka

At last victory has been claimed by the boys after a rained out result in Brisbane, a psychological drawn result in Adelaide where we were a bowler down and then followed by a collapse in form to lose the series in Perth to the Proteas.

Once again Michael Clarke saw the boys in a similar position as it was in Adelaide.
Ben Hilfenhaus has been ruled out of the Boxing Day Test with a side strain and with the injury flared in the Sri Lankan first innings it meant come the second dig we were set to be a bowler down.

Hilfy will remain stranded on 99 Test wickets.

Fortunately the never ending determination and ambition of Peter Siddle, along with the opportunist attitude of Mitchell Starc, we were able to grab the remaining 8 wickets which stood between a drawn result and a badly needed victory.

It was tough going out there for the boys and the one concern from a bowling perspective will be the ineffectiveness of Nathan Lyon, which was the same case at the Adelaide Oval.

It is evident that Nathan Lyon has improved and it's good that the selectors have stuck with him. It was a major pitfall of the last selection panel where we saw an embarassing number of spin bowlers debut for the side following the retirements of Shane Warne and Stewie MacGill.

However, as the commentary team pointed out, Nathan has 56 wickets to his name so he is no push over but the time has come for the major step up.
It's easier said that done but it is understandable that such a comment be made.

When they talk about a "big step up" I don't think we should confuse it with a breath taking, somewhat mesmerising effort that we'd have expected from a guy like Warnie, but rather a comprehensive performance that plays a defining role to find key wickets when the team needs to pave a smooth path to victory when the track permits.

Having said that, fortunately our fast bowlers were geared up and ready to go head to head with the Sri Lankan resistance, which was admirable.

Peter Siddle, or Pedro as I call him, was remarkable and since his debut in 2008 he has not faultered with his attitude. He will break his back for this team and never ever shows signs that he is not up for the battle even when his body is evidently giving him problems with the strain.

He ended up with 9 wickets for the game, a 5fer in the first innings and then four in the second innings. On the final day he managed the only break through but he pitched it up fuller, extracted what bounce was on offer from the Bellerive deck and most importantly he was executing some brilliant outswingers.

A year ago I often commented that as good a bowler as Pedro is he needed more tricks up his sleeve to seriously break into the league of the best of the best.
It's taken time but he's starting to find ways to mix it up and does so on challenging tracks.
Excellent performance!

Mitchell Starc has his second 5fer now but did a splendid job to take the pressure of Pedro and Shane Watson.

With the possibility of Watto leading side in the Boxing Day Test due to Clarkey's hamstring worry, he wasn't exhausted for use and Pedro had already exhausted himself to fight for the final wickets.
Enter Mitchell Starc's final spell.

His first ball was a poor ball which drifted onto the pads of the right hander which was easily splashed away to mid wicket for four. The field was right in and the off side was loaded.
It didn't take Mitchell too long to adjust his line and it all came together.

The last 6 wickets fell for Sri Lanka with only 54 runs added.

When that last wicket was claimed the emotions that hit me where well received.
It's been hard work for the boys and they had the opportunities to mow the Proteas but psychologically got hammered as a result of those opportunities not being claimed. They have faced similar challenges against the Lankans but they pulled through it, many more to follow!

It was also a victory for the batsmen as this Test marks a new chapter with Ricky Ponting retired.

Phillip Hughes made a wonderful return this match.
I am proud he is now a South Australian player and the move has done his game the world of good and if you saw his first innings you would have noticed massive changes in his game.

The balance of his head, front foot positioning and follow through for off side stroke play is at a whole new level, he looks a different player. The cut shot is still as crazy and odd as ever and the heaved slog sweep he played for six immediately brought back memories of his back to back sixes to reach his maiden Test century off the bowling of Paul Harris.

Overall though his balance is is looking set for a strong return at even better is that it's at number three in the batting line up.
David Warner and Ed Cowan also had personal victories as well as a dual one.
The two have had a mixed relationship as our opening duo in Test cricket as ESPN Cricinfo's Brydon Coverdale researched a few weeks back, but this Test saw their stand in the second innings prove to be a vital one in the context of the match, especially the welcomed aggression of David Warner!

Davey's average is starting to look like an opening batsman's as well.

The experience of Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke is still shining brightly.

Michael Hussey has always highlighted the importance of luck when it comes to batting in Test cricket and he had no shortage as he was dropped on the boundary to allow him the chance to raise his bat upon the achievement of his 19th Test century.

His ability to switch momentum and channel different game tempo's is remarkable and something that I admire so much. To do it so consistently as well after so many years is spectacular. We're fortunate.

Irrespective it was all owed to him as he rarely looked troubled in his innings as he built another sensational partnership with Clarkey whose figures below give sufficient indication of his sublime form since taking on the captaincy against, none other than, Sri Lanka.

23, 60, 13, 6, 112, 151, 2, 11, 2, 139, 22, 0, 31, 1, 329*, 18, 210, 37, 73, 6, 45, 15, 24, 25, 259*, 230, 38, 5, 44, 74, 57*.

Matthew Wade is also looking far more settled and managed to put his hand up in the first innings with a half-century. His average is now settled just below 40 with the bat and was backed with 6 catches for the match (21 career catches). Not a bad medium pace bowler either, maiden over secured.

I look at the balance of this side and I am very pleased with what we have.

Our batting looks like a line up that is still ironing out some creases but the outfit as a whole looks tidy enough to take on the best.

As sad as I am that Ricky Ponting has gone this has opened up the door for the new era of batsmen to emerge.

Usman Khawaja has come into the Boxing Day Squad, rightly so, with the injury worries regarding Clarkey and there's some strong batsmen creeping into the system as well.
The State season has not been one to commend the batsmen for but it's given us enough indication as to who is in the mix.

Jackson Bird is also in the side and this is totally fair and an indication that the selectors have been giving careful consideration to strong State cricket performances, which Jackson has given.

He has 87 wickets for the Tasmanian Tigers at 19.72 in First Class cricket.
This season alone he is top of the Sheffield Shield bowling chart with 27 wickets at 20.55.

I am excited about his call up and feel it's a deserved opportunity. Well done Jackson!

In the system we still have James Pattinson (injured), Pat Cummins (injured), Ben Cutting, Josh Hazelwood, Luke Butterworth, Trent Copeland, Alister McDermott and of course some experienced campaigners like Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris (will he return?) and Doug Bollinger.

Spin stocks still appear low but the overall mix is looking good and I am excited for what's ahead.

We still have a series that is alive for both sides but we have drawn first blood and have the victory to be 1-0 up.

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08 December 2012

Ricky Ponting, not the individual but the team player

It's been difficult to sit down and write this article.
Many may find it is the thing to do when a player retires, to write an article about that specific player and the legacy they leave behind for the game. Some may do it for formality, others do it to share their memories. Either way you look at it expression comes in many ways but it isn't always easy.

I started this site close to five years ago as a way of expressing my pride in the Baggy Greens through writing. There were no clear aspirations behind it. I just wanted to write about my pride for the team, the individual players and this great game. It's given me personal motivation and helps shape a positive outlook on many things in life.

Through it I have networked with many talented writers, met some awesome, crazy cricket fans over the world but also brought some good mates into my own world. One of the people I have met, who has since become a good mate, was kind enough to arrange for me to go watch Australia at a training session with him last year and chat with some of the players.

Screen shot I took of Punter back in the
1996 Cricket World Cup final.
The early years.
Having met one player in particular on two different occassions, somewhat briefly, this time was even more meaningful as I got to see him working off the field which many haven't had the opportunity to do so.

Ricky Ponting will always be my favourite cricketer and the reasons go well beyond what he did on the cricket field.

If you have followed the site for a few years you will have read many articles about him, usually in a highly supportive manner. The reasons are clear and despite the struggles I never stopped backing the maestro.

So, standing by the nets last year at the training session looking on from the side, Punter was the first to show up and was padded up in no time, working on throw downs with Justin Langer. The process was repetitve and tedious. They went on and on, with brief pauses where Punter and JL would discuss a thing or two and carry on.

This would then expand into a more thorough net session and despite being focused on his own practice, Punter would take the time look at the batsmen in the other net with him and share a tip or two based upon what he was doing. In this case it was Phillip Hughes - now set to step in to try fulfil the possible role at number 3 in the Test side which Punter occupied for the majority of his career.

The lengthy practice session came to an end.
Many of the players had come and gone in a relatively short time frame just to have an intense bowl or a quick batting session. However, the last man to walk away was Ricky Ponting with Usman Khawaja and Justin Langer along side him. He was the first to be there and the last to leave.

You often hear the commentators mention this commitment but to see it first hand was special and it was just one of the few reasons Ricky Ponting will forever be one of the best I've seen. His work ethic was solid.
With the Urn in 2006/07. 5-0 win!

Reading many players books you find plenty mention of Punter and it's rarely in a negative light.
In fact it is always positive with heavy emphasis on Ponting - the great team mate and dedicated employee.

He was a team player and this was most evident reading Matthew Hayden's autobiography.
In other books you will read that Punter was always the first bloke up in the morning to prepare for the day ahead and was strict with the cut off time when personal time converts to team time, meaning get to bed!

The pressure he must have been under as a captain of a great side couldn't have been easy, especially during the transition phase. Yet he remained focused and dedicated to the team and his own preparations. When a player needed to vent or have a private chat, Punter would be there, and when a player stepped out of line, Punter would step in to pull him back with a defense against a media frenzy, organisational red tape and emotional strain.

You never read about Punter complaining about it.

By 2009 most of his team mates had retired, mates from a side that was the greatest since The Invincibles and close to the excellence of the West Indian greats. This transition period was hard on Australian cricket with mixed results, a massive void left by great players and a decline in Punter's own game.

Despite it all he kept on going and to have grafted for 17 years in a cut throat profession is quite amazing.

The pull shot. One of many executed.
When he took a ball to the face in the 2009 Ashes series, he merely spat out the blood, brushed it aside and got on with the job which had been a tough one to live up to.

When he was a batsman on his own mission during the Boxing Day Test in the 2008/09 series loss against The Proteas he didn't point fingers at his fellow batsman who'd struggled. He took the loss like a man and wrote off his own batting input because the side did not win, and after being knocked out of the 2011 World Cup he bit his lip, realised the result for what it was and accepted his century would be in vain as Australia would not lift a World Cup title for the fourth time in a row.

There were many low points during the final years of the Ponting era and that comes with the territory in such a lengthy career. Rarely do the greats bow out on a high and leave with five gold stars. No, this game is harsh and knocks you down to earth very quickly when having an epic time on cloud nine.

The thing is that there is no reason why the low points should be looked as things that tarnished Punter's legendary career. These "low points" defined his legacy and shaped his career to the point where he was characterised by these, for a better word, challenges.

It proved what a tough bloke Punter was, a guy who fought like a wounded dog on the field and never wanted to show any signs of weakness, not just physically but mentally as well when in the heat of the battle.
He became a gladiator of soughts walking out in front of the massive MCG crowd for Boxing Day Test matches and he was also an addict for the big stage when the side needed him most.

The match saving innings during the 2005 Ashes series, which saw the Urn painfully handed back to the English, goes down as a classic but there were many victorious ones, and how bloody spectacular where they? Unbelievable, unforgettable.

The 2003 ICC World Cup final century was right up there for me as the best I saw, but his twin centuries in his 100th Test, maiden Test century in England, 2009 Semi-final century in the ICC Champions Trophy and opening the 2006/07 Ashes with 196 also stand out as strong memories.

I believe cricketers who play for the team go down as the greatest.
You could have all the accolades but if the team never pulled through what is the purpose of it in a team sport? It is meaningless in the bigger picture.

When you think of the great Australian decade from the mid-90s to 2000s, you will remember Ricky Thomas Ponting as a batsman who is right in there, who got the runs when they mattered and was up front with his team, giving the Australian supporters entertainment and memories we will not forget.

That is just the basics behind the legacy, merely the surface level of memories but for you personally, well, you will have memories within your own mind.
We talk about sportsmen sometimes to a point where we make them out to be larger than life caricatures. Fact is they simply play a game and that is it.
In some countries they're seen as Gods, in some they're seen as products for marketing purposes. It is the nature of sport in the modern world.

"One of Australia's most exciting prospects..."
An image in a cricket journal I received as a gift.
I was 9 years old and this was my introduction to
Ricky Ponting. Here he is for Tasmania in 1994/5.
Punter is a guy who never liked the fuss, never liked the hype and rarely remembers his own personal achievements by the statistic or the year achieved. It's quite amusing but it's another sign that he loved the game for what it is and the team element is what made it contagious. If he could contribute in that way and give himself purpose within the bigger picture, it was a job well done. He just loves cricket.

It's hard to elevate an easy going man like him to such great heights or make him out to be some cricketing rock star.

This is how I will remember him on a humble level.

I was inspired by his leadership and proud of his selfless approach to the game. It emphasised the importance of the word "team" and the value of contribution.
I strongly believe this is what many of the current Australian cricketers will miss, and Michael Clarke has made this perfectly clear.

Having said all of this he was just a mighty awesome batsman and he almost patented some of the shots we were entertained by season in, season out. His job was to score runs and help win games for the Australian team, which he did. He played 168 Test matches and 375 ODIs to shred his talent and show off his trade against some insanely good bowling attacks.

He was fearless and when he came out to bat the body language expressed the simple fact that he meant business and was up for the battle, no matter what the match situation. A tough campaigner.

In the field he was a demon and to put him up there with Jonty Rhodes is fitting. In fact, Punter's versatility in the field makes him one of the best ever fielders I have seen.
He could field anywhere and still raise eyebrows as the years rolled on by, with sharp insticts, quick movements and bizarre enthusiasm. Some of the catches and run outs he executed were unreal in a real time.

He made fielding look fun and as a youngster I took to his energy in the field with a lot of interest and it helped me double my efforts as a fielder to the point where I prided myself on it.
A small way Punter inspired me when I played cricket. I wonder how many others out there had just as much, if not more, inspiration for their own game having studied his?

As a captain he stood up to the challenges and took a lot of criticism that many players wouldn't have had the guts to face and simply folded by standing down. Punter didn't do that.

Many criticised him for being a poor captain and he offered no value with captaincy when he had the greats like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.

The is null and void. Why?

Quite simple, he knew how to execute their skills and how to keep them focused on the job at hand. He still contributed incredibly to the side whilst juggling all that went into the job.
He grew up playing alongside these guys all around the world and knew their games inside out. He knew how to manage them and lead. He did perhaps lack a bit of creativity and may have appeared to be stagnant with tactical elements in the overall approach of the job but he knew how to be a strong leader.

When the greats like him retired he had to take on a new side, with players not as good as those he'd grown up around. Not easy. Once again he didn't complain. As his own game started to suffer he still put the team first and marched on. Losing two Ashes series and the World Cup title he still looked for the positives to keep going for his own sake and the teams.

The 2009 ICC Champions Trophy was a big win and of course the 2009 Test series win against The Proteas. Punter rates these as special achievements in his career and a big reason would likely be because it was a middle finger to the media criticism and a testament that the team was still competitive and good enough to win, but the transition would still take time. It is still unfolding.

Punter stood by the young players during this period and the fact that during his final interview after the 3rd Test on Monday he could recall the debutants in the 2009 Test series versus the Proteas with ease should give indication he was a fixated team player and saw the value within the Baggy Green cap, you don't forget who gets there.

He is also the last player of the golden decade.
That chapter is now offically closed and the current players have a big responsibility ahead that I think will hit them like a ton of bricks. The void left by Punter is huge and I honestly don't think we realise it yet but I am sure the boys will regroup strongly moving forward.

I do hope that Punter's hunger for the game will not subside and that he will get pulled back into the mix. In fact I hope he stays connected to Australian cricket while he still has the focus and knowledge to share with the side. It's invaluable experience on offer.

I could go on about the statistics, the milestones but you can read that elsewhere.
It's all there for public viewing and I am sure you all know it by now.

It is only fair to write though that these stats at the very end are special, the summary, numbers with stories and memories attached.
Read them and if you have played this great game and lived it under the scorching sun, you will realise that to do this for a living and achieve these stats is incredible:

168 matches, 287 innings, 13,378 runs, HS 257, 51.85 average, 41 centuries, 62 fifties, 196 catches.

375 matches, 365 innings, 13,704 runs, HS 164, 42.03 average, 30 centuries, 82 fifties, 160 catches.

It's been hard to accept he will no longer wear a Baggy Green cap and watching the highlights package of his final innings is still rather emotional, which I do find to be a bit silly but I guess we get moved in different ways by different things. Sometimes it's music, nature, movies or family and mates. In this instance it was a cricketer and what a great player he was.

In an article written last year following our exit from the World Cup I stated the following:

"He's (Ricky Ponting) made sacrifices, dealt with testing situations and has gone out there game after game to do his job and give us something to cheer about, something to admire, something to recall when we're older.

Having been a modern legend of the game we can one day say, "That Ricky Ponting bloke was a bloody incredible cricketer, as was that side!"
That attachment alone between Punter and the brilliant Australian side he was a member of, is a testament that he was a team player, with that simple association many people make, be it haters or loyal supporters

With the curtain closed I can proudly say Ricky Ponting was a bloody incredible cricketer.

My favourite cricketer has retired but the special memories and great emotions that go with it won't fade away, as it was for me when Brian Lara, Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath, Curtley Ambrose, Gary Kirsten, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer retired and walked away from international cricket.

Thank you Punter for the entertainment and I hope you can catch up on lost time now with your family and mates. Hope to see you back in the mix of Australian cricket in the not too distant future.

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28 November 2012

Mitchell Johnson - the WACA specialist

*2013/14 Ashes fixtures added!
The likelihood of changes being made to the bowling unit ahead of the WACA Test is good.
The possibility of Mitchell Johnson making a return to bowl for the Baggy Greens is very good as well.
The general opinion surrounding this move? Seems to be hit and miss so let's look at the mix.

Ahead of the third Test the National Selection Panel made some changes to the side which will inevitably see a different squad walk out onto the field as the Baggy Greens and the Proteas battle it out for the final Test, having seen the Adelaide Oval Test turn into survival on a battleground for the Proteas.

John Hastings has been given a call to the side to potentially debut.
This season Hasto (who was in our 2011 World Cup Squad) has taken 22 Sheffield Shield wickets at 19.09, along with 200 runs in 6 innings as 33.33.
His bowling has seen two 5fers and he is nicely situated fifth spot on the bowling ranks for the season thus far.

A big benefit with Hasto is having that bloke who can bowl bursts of overs that can build pressure with ease and even cause more experienced batsmen to suffer lapses in concentration. Andrew McDonald fulfilled this role very well in 2008/09 and Shane Watson has done an exceptional job with the duty as well.

The other factor not to be forgotten is Hasto can provide useful lower order runs.
This should be important with James Pattinson out of the picture.

The other call to duty was Josh Hazlewood, a young gun I have kept an eye on as he has pushed on considerably since first being detected on the radar for most supporters as a member of the Australian u/19 World Cup Squad a few years back.

I won't question his skills but do find the selection call one based purely on potential rather than performance, which is not entirely justifiable when you see Jackson Bird (27 wickets at 20.55), Luke Butterworth (25 wickets at 17.72) and Ben Cutting (18 wickets at 21.33) putting in excellent performances. All three have done so with consistency at State level too.

Hazlewood has season stats of 9 wickets in 7 innings at 46.33.

Not figures I would warrant as credible for receiving a Baggy Green cap but the youngster is a talented bowler (hence his call to the side) and it's great to see players like him coming through the bowling ranks for the future.
If selected his performance in the moment would be the factor that gets the fans talking, not his prior performances or accolades.

Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus could do with the cover.
James Pattinson is out for the season after injury and Siddle and Hilfy will likely still feel the agony both physically and mentally after their efforts to win in Adelaide - one bowler down.

The impact fast bowling has on the body is intense but having been kept at bay by some outstanding discipline from the Proteas middle order, it makes it harder to recover both on the body and determination within the mind.

However, Pedro Siddle is a bloke whose ambition I have commented on more than once here and he will see it as unfinished business. Based on this I can see him taking the ball at the WACA. I hope he does and no doubt it will be a ferocious effort.

Hilfy should not be ruled out as last summer against India he pulled out 8 wickets at an average of 12.12 for the match, which was a huge contrast after a shocker at the venue in the 2010/11 Ashes.

The injury risk with Hilfy is far greater than that of Siddle so I would be expecting a replacement be brought in for Hilfy ahead of Siddle, but his input last season should not be forgotten, despite the Proteas being a stronger side than that of present India.

Shane Watson has been making good progress in the nets and is moving in the right direction to return to the side.

His bowling is the going to be the key ingredient as that slight magic he tends to bring was missing in the first two Tests of this series. It greatly aids Michael Clarke having a bowler of Watto's variation and adaptability up his sleeve - not to forget experience.

Clarke has also been open in preferring Watto for selection only on the basis that he can both bat and bowl. The last media report, from the skipper himself, strongly suggested Watto is ready to return as the leading all-rounder for the side. Very good news but we also need plenty of runs from him and starts being converted into something he knows all to well about.

Mitchell Starc is a bowler I am excited to see play against a top side at the venue.

He has been in sensational form within the limited overs versions and has done so at both State and International level giving good indication that he is in a good place.

Test cricket is a different animal and Starc's input cannot be underestimated and the importance as a tall, left arm seamer ought to be something he should be aware of.

Due to injury has had limited appearance this summer which should raise caution for selection in a format he has only represented Australia in four times, but the two games played for New South Wales brought him 7 wickets at 22.00.

This brings me to the man who has become a WACA specialist.

He has had a dreadful fall from great heights after being named ICC Cricket of the Year in 2008/09.
However, Mitchell Johnson has used the back seat as an opportunity to focus on what is ahead and just work his way through the system with the Western Warriors and is now cruising again in control.

This season Mitchy has taken 17 wickets at 29.00.

Of the five matches played in three of these Sheffield games have been at the WACA.
Of the games at the WACA he has taken 13 wickets which would once again suggest good reason for the selectors seeing confidence in his recall to the side for an opportunity.

Mitchy's WACA stats for Australia in Test cricket stand as follows:

4 matches, 160.1 overs sent down, 30 wickets (15.78% of his career wickets) at 18.31, two five wickets hauls and a 10 wicket haul for the match.

Those statistics and memories associated shout out performances creditted as totally awesome!
The last time Mitchy bowled at the Proteas was mesmerising and if you didn't witness it all I can say is what a pity!

He was brutal and I was glad to be sitting in my living room and not standing with the bat in hand.
He was at the top of his game, unplayable, fast and deadly accurate!

Mitchy walked away from that game with 11 wickets and a best innings effort at 8/61.

The game will be remembered as a record run chase loss to the Proteas but that effort from Mitch is still strong within my memories.
Furthering that was the lonely victory in the 2010/11 Ashes series where Mitch struck back at critics to take 9 wickets for the Test with best innings figures of 6/38.

History seldom repeats itself but in the instance of Mitchy at the WACA this was certainly the case come the Ashes but we need the input again. It would also do his reputation the world of good having found himself somewhat of an outcast to the cricketing world.

There is always a gamble taken with Mitchy in a side as you never know what you will get on the day. With further use of Mitch is limited overs cricket it seemed to allow for a limitation between his best and worse, whereas the harsh nature of Test cricket does not allow for this.

Fortune and luck play a big part though in the game, as we have seen plenty evidence this series.

If Mitchell goes out onto that ground with total confidence and a new captain to utilise his abilities (Michael Clarke has never captained Mitchell Johnson in a Test) it could definitely see fortune go both our way, and his way.

A few of the Proteas players won't have forgotten that spell at the WACA and another that followed shortly after at Kingsmead, Durban. Notably Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith.

Hopefully a few more battlescars and mental wounds can be inflicted when the red ball is taken.

Australian Squad for the WACA clash:Michael Clarke (capt), David Warner, Ed Cowan, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Johnson, John Hastings, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
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18 November 2012

The Fox Sports Big Bash Fantasy League: Time for season 3

It is already that time of year where all of us cricket geeks get together and play the Fox Sports T20 Fantasy League. This is the third season we will be bashing it out and seeing as the 2nd Test is only starting again on Thursday I figured I'd get a head start on things and get our league teed up.

Fox Sports has put together a nice F.A.Q section for any of you taking part for the first time but for all you blokes from last year, get your game face on and get your team together.

So, head on over to Fox Sports' Big Bash Fantasy League (http://bigbashfantasy.foxsports.com.au/).
Register yourself (if you took part last year your log in info will still be valid) and get your team setup!

To join our League, The Baggy Green Tragics, go the "Leagues" tab (next to "Transfers").
Once you have set your team enter the code below:


For good measure I have thrown Damien Fleming and Brendon Julian as celebrity guests.
Hope to see you for the fun.
18 days to go........

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11 November 2012

Updates at the Baggy Green Blog Facebook page

I am not longer writing daily match analysis reports as I have done the last 5 years.
From now on I will only be writing feature or analysis articles at the Baggy Green blog and complete match articles.

For the usual chirps, daily summaries and State cricket updates, please "like" and follow the Baggy Green Blog on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @Ianbaggygreen

In short though, we see the major difference it can make when catches get taken and discipline is maintained!

The caught and bowled spilled by Pedro Siddle against Hashim Amla and the no-ball dismissal of Jacques Kallis may have resulted in the difference between 300/350 all out versus 450!

We have paid the price but there's still two days to go in this Test match.

Bowlers discipline was better and although it was hard grafting in early sessions, they bowled better as a unit and pitched it fuller, creating more pressure and opportunities.

Batting wise we're in a position I am not worried about but certainly frustrated in the manner with which Warner and Quiney's wickets fell. Punter was outdone by a good delivery from Morne Morkel.
We have Clarkey (34*) and Ed (49*) at the crease and they did very well to survive till stumps.

I am confident these two guys can steer us in the right direction with true Test stamina and we still have Michael Hussey and Matt Wade in the hut.

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08 November 2012

The battle is hours away

© Getty Images
The first Test is not long away now, single digit hours now with the countdown for a Test series which will determine which team walks away as the number one ranked team as it was in 2008 but much has changed since then.

However, this is not the primary focus as history will remind us that each and every session between these two teams is a battle in itself which is as mentally draining for the players as it is for the supporters - especially when waking up at 1 or 2 am in the morning!

The fact remains that the objective since Michael Clarke took over the captaincy, with a more established side and support staff, was that the team wanted to regain the spot as the number 1 ranked Test side having fallen from such great heights. The fact the boys are so close to this is admirable and a series win will snatch the title away from the Proteas, a very well established side with comfortable balance. Maintaining that rank is another ball game.

The weather doesn't look great for the Test but it looks likely that we'll see four fast bowlers take to the field with the batsmen geared up and ready to go. I am content with this mix and I do think it will be a good move. We may say that it is always good to have a spinner in the side but we shouldn't kid ourselves. The role is nowhere near as vital as it once was and at the Gabba I wouldn't be losing sleep over it. The decision is a good one.

I also know Dr. Sherylle Calder has been with the side to assist with her experience and skills as a eye-hand specialist and world renowned Sports Scientist. I had the honor of meeting and interviewing her for educational purposes with her earlier this year and was able to recommend.

It's good that since the Argus Review new and bold steps have been taken to try and strengthen the transition period.
With Justin Langer looking like a the possible new coach for Western Australia there is no doubt in my mind that he will be giving it 100% in his final summer with the side and I hope all the different attitudes, ideas and experience will mold strongly.

There is some exciting news tomorrow.

Rob "Bobby" Quiney will be making his debut as Baggy Green #429.

It is an occasion that always gives me goosebumps when a player joins the great legacy of Australian cricket and is given a chance to create their own chapter in such a great book of legendary players and sides.

Rob has no record like that of many players who broke into the Australian team at his age during the teams peak, nor does he have the perceived experience as many players had then debuting at his age. The fact is the State landscape has changed for batting.

As it was with our bowling four years ago when taking on the Proteas, this time around we see it with our batting stocks. Fortunately though Bobby had an immaculate run last season and his call up is as a result of recognition for his input during that season which was one of consistency. He performances against The Proteas for Australia A justified his position having had an average start to the season, as it's been with the majority of the batsmen.

Only one batsman since the 2008 Allan Border Medal awards who won the State Cricketer of the Year award has represented Australia in Test cricket, and that is Usman Khawaja. It is a good call that the selectors have acknowledged this award the Bobby achieved last season.

With Shane Watson out of the side this is maybe the opening that was needed for a fresh guy to come in and try claim the number three role in an environment which will be as hostile as it can be. A true test.

My concern for many batsmen is that they don't have the temperament to maintain their game at the elite level and the averages and general team totals in the Sheffield Shield reflect this.
The unquestionable element is that the conditions have begun to favour bowlers along with "result tailored" wickets.

If anything it provides a more challenging environment for batsmen where they need to develop and enhance the true skill required to succeed in Test cricket. The conditions are not ideal but it has the chance to make our emerging batsmen tougher and batsmen like Alex Doolan, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja, Phil Hughes and Callum Ferguson have shown glimpses of this season but still require consistency.

Bobby has the chance to take on a role that is still covered by the shadow of Ricky Ponting who is now finding himself as a middle order batsman in his final years of playing alongside Michael Hussey.

David Warner and Ed Cowan have come out backing themselves to play their "natural games" and "attack" but bottom line is they also need to find compatibility in their partnership which will benefit Bobby should he find himself in a positive position come the end of this series.

With a total of 724 runs at 42.58 in 2010/11 and 938 runs at 49.36 last season he should have no reason to doubt himself and as supporters we should not be doubting him either. He deserves his call up and averaging close to 50 is what we need from State batsmen. I don't think he can afford to have doubt as a player about to debut against South Africa. Not exactly a mini challenge!

In 90 First-Class innings he has only scored 7 centuries and 16 half centuries but his recent form and self discovery as a cricketer is what counts and I will be rooting for him loudly and proudly.

I am wishing Baggy Green #429 the very best with his opportunity.

Overall a lot is at stake this series which includes pride!
The series loss in 2008/09 hurt and we will not want to see the boys drop their guard and let the Proteas into the fort too easily. The lack of match preparations as a side would be my number one concern but if all aspects of our game come together and the synergy ignites then I have little doubt in our side. If anything I don't there is too much separating the sides on their day.

Bottom line is our batsmen need to step up and this will be tough against a bowling unit that gets open eyes upon their performances. Yet our bowling unit is capable of serious destruction as well and with runs on the board it will give them more to work with (too often getting us out jail) but they still have stiff competition against The Proteas, far more than that of India last summer.

With hours to go all I can say is bring it on and may the battle be bloody intense!

My prediction? What do you expect me to say? Victory to the Baggy Greens. Come on boys!

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31 October 2012

Australia vs South Africa: The changes from 2008 to 2012

A massive Test series is just around the corner and it is seriously hard to believe that any cricket fanatic would not be waiting with eager anticipation for the clash between the Baggy Greens and the Proteas.

As the Baggy Greens continue to make progress to regain the number ranking in Test cricket, the Proteas will be prepping with care and tightening every part of their game to boost their points to hold onto the number 1 rank.

What is great this time around is that it is very difficult to predict which team will walk away victorious. There's obvious differences between the sides and their perceived strengths but the cricket will just be so intense if both sides play their best cricket. It is not easy to play guessing games and that is adding to both the hype and excitement.

Last time the sides met in Australia (2008/09) it was a historical series for the Proteas.

They were the first side to beat Australia in a home Test series in 16 years.
They also succeeded in the highest Test run chase the WACA and then secured the series at the MCG where JP Duminy and Dale Steyn managed to form a match defining partnership before Steyn superbly executed his skills to claim 10 wickets for the match.
The Sydney Test was a nail biter where Graeme Smith came out with a broken hand to face an inform Mitchell Johnson but couldn't see out the remaining time as Mitch knocked back his stumps.

The Baggy Greens went on to win a memorable series in South Africa shortly after and then returning to the country last year the sides battled it out to draw the two match series 1-1.

The Baggy Greens had the upper hand in the first Test and threw it away after a freak day of batting which saw a wicket fest and included an embarrassing 47 all out.
The Proteas had the advantage in the final Test at the Wanderers and were so close to clinching the series but Patrick Cummins and Mitchell Johnson kept their cool and got the boys over the finish line.

It's always been an epic battle with high intensity cricket with no shortage of talking points between these sides.

Looking back to the 2008 series, of the current Australian squad only four players were in that series.

Ricky Ponting is looking fresh and the maestro is unquestionably up for the battle having found form for the Tasmanian Tigers prior to the series commencing. We also can't forget his last summer! It will be a serious test of his experience out there and many will look at his challenge stacked up against Jacques Kallis'.

Michael Clarke was the top run scorer in 2008 with 383 runs at 76.60 and has taken over captaincy with critical acclaim after Ricky Ponting stepped down.

Michael Hussey was going through a terrible period in his cricket journey during he 2008/09 season and he ended the series with just 85 runs at an average of 17.00. He has also found a way to recapture his form.

Lastly, Peter Siddle was building his self-belief as a young man new to the Australian cricket team in a side that was falling a few steps backwards as a bowling unit. Pedro ended the series with a hard fought effort to take 13 wickets and has since gone from strength to super strength. His ambition is a vital ingredient and he's a seasoned campaigner now and takes on the Proteas as the most experienced bowler of the group with international experience.

Other than that it's a fresh side that has emerged since the Ponting era.
Matthew Hayden, Simon Katich, Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee have all retired.

Matthew Wade has been favoured over Brad Haddin which marks a serious step forward for Australian cricket as they focus on moving forward with a young keeper who needs as much experience as possible to develop his game and skills. Even Hads has given Matt the thumbs up with his selection and that should boost his self-belief and is also the sign of a true gentleman.

Mitchell Johnson was the leading wicket taker in 2008 and won the ICC Cricket of the Year award soon after. Sadly, as such a gifted sportsman, his journey has dissolved into a case where he has become the forgotten man of Australian cricket. This was also a stage where Australia's batting was still in good hands but the bowling had started to take a serious turn for the worse.

Brett Lee was having further injury problems and was still recovering from off field distractions in his personal life. Nathan Hauritz was given a go after Jason Krejza was dropped by the Hilditch panel and the spinner axe was just getting started as the changes were about to become seriously rapid after Shane Warne retired.

Now there's a rejuvenated Australian bowling attack that will have the South African batsman concentrating from ball one and will inevitably be unable to fight back nerves. Add a vocal crowd of Baggy Green fanatics and it makes for an intimidating environment, far more so than 2008.

Peter Siddle leads the attack with Ben Hilfenhaus, who rediscovered himself last summer (37 wickets in 7 Tests), and James Pattinson ready to back him with their different offerings. Then there's Mitchell Starc who provides the left arm seamer option and he's a man who may have played very little cricket in the white clothing in recent times but he's not shy of form.

We have a splendid fast bowling unit and I am proud of the development since 2008. It's a huge contrast to a bowling attack that was flat and lacking both tenacity and "imagination".

Nathan Lyon has played against South Africa so he will be no stranger.
How Michael Clarke uses him and tactically executes a game plan will be vital against the Proteas. It will be a fragile role to be played and while this is a Test series for the seam bowlers, Nathan's role should not be underestimated. I think he will have a significant role to play and time will tell under what circumstances this will prevail.

The batting has been the concern for the Baggy Greens if we were to point out the perceived weakness.

David Warner and Ed Cowan are still finding their way forward as an opening duo and while this is taking shape, the inconsistency that does creep into our lineup has been a worry where too few batsmen deliver the goods. With an opening duo striving for compatibility these collapses and inconsistencies prove to be too costly.

Too often the batsmen are not collectively putting runs on the board. This has left one or two batsmen with a daunting task in recovering the innings and this is something that exposed our bowlers where they did not have sufficient runs on the board to defend.

Fortunately, the bowling unit has since grown and become a force to be reckoned with and if Michael Clarke continued his sublime form in Test cricket with his colleagues following in pursuit it will be a mighty strong side to witness.

It will also be interesting to see where Shane Watson is slotted into the batting line-up.
His time at number three was certainly not ideal given his struggles for conversion of the many starts he has managed. He took on the position as no one else has really lifted up their hand to take on the position to make it their own but I do think Michael Clarke should be nestled in that position.

Watto's technique is suited to the new ball but having him in that middle order will not allow the Proteas to relax. I am interested to see what the plan is for him. In the 2008 series Andrew Symonds was the all-rounder of choice until injury set in and as a result Andrew McDonald debuted at the SCG. Both played drastically different roles and in terms of the overall packaged deal Watto is a more versatile option we are fortunate to have.

By comparison of the side it would seem that The Proteas have just as much, if not a bit more, to boast about.

The do have the best fast bowling trio, based on the last season or two, but will be tested in Australia, especially if the Baggy Greens are on top of their game in home conditions. Dale Steyn may have not been at his best for a while but he is a bloke with an insane skill set and appears to execute almost effortlessly. Vernon Philander has had one of the greatest emerging seasons I have ever seen for a bowler and Morne Morkel has found better rhythm as his games developed, although he is disastrous on his off days which we should cash in if this should occur.

The batting has just as much depth as the Baggy Greens and whereas only four players of the 2008 Australian squad are in this current side, the Proteas have seven and a few additions that make their side stronger than the '08 squad.

On paper it would be fair to say the Proteas have the edge but in terms of ability to adapt in the moment of play and collective input the Baggy Greens have a far more intimidating side. These two elements coming to the boil just leaves me with a wild imagination as to what awaits us. It really is exciting.

I strongly believe the boys can take this series. I see no reason why not if they play their best cricket. If some sides play their best cricket against the Proteas there is a chance they will still come undone if the Proteas do the same on their side.

However, the Baggy Greens are not in the category and while I am not bursting with confidence I do believe this is the exact challenge our guys need as the squad has been heading in the right direction.
If there's one thing to settle your gut feeling on it's that when these sides meet, the first session often seems to give an indication as to what's ahead.

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01 September 2012

Michael Clarke in the spotlight for the ICC Awards

I will be doing a write-up of the current ODI series against Pakistan come the end of the action as to get a good overview with the overall performance from both sides. A convincing win by Pakistan last night has created a tense final encounter which will be eagerly awaited.

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The 2012 ICC Awards are upon us and we have another year with limited Australian cricketers in the mix but the good news is that a few players have been acknowledged for their performances and have been nominated. That is always something to be proud of.

Our captain Michael Clarke is in the spotlight after a sensational year for us, not only with his batting performances, but also his transition to full time captain and his overall leadership which has been outstanding and actually very inspiring.

As a result of his leadership and attacking tactical mind he has been named captain of the ICC Test Team of the Year. Congrats must be given to Dale Steyn being selected for the unofficial side 5 years in a row.

ICC Test Team of the Year 2011-12: 
Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla, Kumar Sangakkara, Jacques Kallis, Michael Clarke (capt), Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Saeed Ajmal, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers (12th man)

Clarkey has also been nominated for ICC Test and ICC Cricketer of the Year, having stacked up 1,355 runs in 14 Tests at an average of 58.91. This includes that glorious triple century against India at the SCG and a double century at the Adelaide Oval. Overall this includes 5 centuries. Remarkable performance leading his side.

Taken by Ryan Pierse/ Getty Images
He will be up against Kumar Sangakarra, Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander. It is too hard to guess the winner. I am backing Clarkey all the way but having seen all of the above players during the nomination period it is safe to say it is going to be a tough decision to make.

I don't think Philander will take it. Despite his phenomenal figures for a medium paced bowler in his short career span, the other contestants have also performed in other forms of the game with exceptional class which will boost their credibility.

Clarkey also scored 759 runs at an average of 50.60 during the nomination period with a century in 19 ODIs. Sangakarra has good stats to his name but has played 37 ODIs while Hashim Amla has only played 8 and scored 419 runs at 52.37.

We lacked nominees for ODI and T20 cricket but James Pattinson has been for ICC Emerging Cricketer of the Year. Exciting news for Jamo and I reckon he's in with a good chance but it's hard to overlook Sunil Narine, who has added a neat X factor to the West Indian side, especially in limited overs cricket.

Alyssa Healy and Lisa Sthalekar have been nominated for ICC Women's T20 Cricketer of the Year.

The Awards will take place on 15 September, just before the ICC World T20 begins in Sri Lanka.

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