26 August 2012

The Australian cricket schedule is under way

The wait is over and Australian cricket is ready to speed off for a season that will be one with high intensity and mighty challenges ahead in all forms of the game. The state season is also just around the corner with an earlier start due in order to acommodate the Big Bash League later this year (SMH - Usain Bolt for the Melbourne Stars?).

The first game against Afghanistan for the UAE tour was a victory and this was to be expected. I was only able to get a re-cap from Cricinfo.com this morning and read a few bulletins. Seems that the Afghans put up some resistance with their batting and made a game of it but looking at our score it would seem that a win was really optimistic.

This game also gave clear indication that our boys are in for a testing series against Pakistan and batting will not be easy, notably due to the sluggish tracks which Pakistan will definitely turn to spin - particularly to target our top order - and the unbelievable heat in humidity which makes batting extremely draining and the bowlers will be tested for fitness and stamina. Michael Clarke will need to be smart with his rotation for both tactical and safety reasons.

There were plenty of positives looking at the feedback.

I am proud to see Michael Clarke stamped down some authority with the number 3 role and this innings was driven by the class of our skipper, which we saw come to the forefront in 2007. Straight drives, brilliant footwork and bat speed against the spinners and cautious control within the state of the game. He managed to score 75 runs and will head into the ODI series with confidence within his own game and his leadership.

Matt Wade scored his highest ODI total but his struggles were noted. He struggled for rhythm, something we saw against England, and the conditions hammered him, but you can't blame him in this regard!
All in all, he put runs on the board and would have learnt a substantial amount in a 131 run partnership with Clarkey.

With Brad Haddin making a comeback and Tim Paine also working on his return this is an important series for Matt to show he's learning and adapting to the different conditions he's been exposed to in a short time frame.

Michael Hussey was assertive and scored 49 runs from 37 deliveries. Good signs ahead of the ICC WorldT20 and a welcomed return for our middle order maestro. Pakistan know what he's capable of!

The bowlers were made to work hard but it was the fast bowlers who got us over the finish line in the end. Mitchell Starc is continually building a strong profile in limited overs cricket for us as he took 4-47 with top order wickets.

James Pattinson has an opportunity to find a role as the dealer of new ball duties with Brett Lee now retired. I have always likened his attitude to that of Binga's when he was a young man starting out for Australia and his figures suggest that he held his own out there with 3-46. Like Starc, this is a passage of learning.

Mitchell Johnson was the man called on the break up Afghanistan's most threatening partnership and things ended well for Mitch which is really pleasing given his ODI recall in England was a bit of a nightmare. I still value him in ODI cricket and his figures were 2-34 at just 3.77 runs per over.

The victory came with a wicket to Xavier Doherty as Australia claimed victory by 66 runs. It's a first victory on the board and the first step towards winning this series and regaining some pride after the fall in the UK.

Australia u19 lose the title to India:

On a slightly low note, the Australian u19s lost to India in the ICC u19 World Cup final in Australia.
It was a high scoring encounter and another lack of a top order partnership from our batsmen left the hard work to our middle order batsmen. India passed our total of 225 with 14 deliveries to spare, so it was a comfortable victory in some regards.

Spare a thought though for skipper Will Bosisto. In my opinion I have been impressed by his conduct and leadership of the side throughout this tournament. He's worked with his team in a balanced manner and the stats would also indicate this as most of our victories came as a result of a balanced team effort, as opposed to individual's saving the day.

Bosisto also held his own with his batting as he was unbeaten - playing an assertive, patient role in rescuing the side on a few occasions - with 87* runs. He scored 276 runs from 6 innings in the tournament, at an average of 276 runs owed to the fact he was only dismissed once and this was a run out during the semi final against South Africa. Definitely put himself on the map as a player for the future.

The young Western Australian, Cameron Bancroft, showcased his skills with a century and a fifty during the tournament. He had a dismal start to his career with WA in first class cricket last season but all these guys are just young men new to the step up in intensity with professional cricket. These two performances from him the series will hopefully change his mind set as he heads into the cricket season.

I was also impressed by Travis Head who should see himself find plenty of opportunities for the Redbacks this season, especially if he performs as he did against England during the tournament.

Plenty of positives witnessed with the younger players coming through the system and even though only a handful of these blokes will find a career within the game of cricket, we've seen many outstanding cricketers come through the system having represented the Australian u19 side. It's always exciting to watch the journey of these players to see who will one day play for Australia at the elite level.

Names like Bosisto, Bancroft, Patterson, Turner and Head may very well be headliner names in the distant future. It all begins in tournaments like these.

For the series stats, you can read up on it all at ESPN Cricinfo.com, the source of all cricketing stats and facts.

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Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
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18 August 2012

The Australian World T20 Squad

The Australian World T20 squad was reasonably easy enough to pick even before the official announcement. The only inclusion that was surprising is that of Glenn Maxwell, as I did assume Steven Smith would once again be selected as a specialist fielder. Maxwell's inclusion is also surprising mostly because he is uncapped at international level and the only indication, which I must state is positive, is that he had a good season for Victoria and has played well in the Friends Life T20 tournament in England, for Hampshire, to put himself on the map.

Brad Hogg's inclusion adds some fun to the mix but it must be said that he has zero shortage in terms of energy. Performance wise he can still take wickets and having him in the side for sub-continent conditions will prove to be important. Xavier Doherty had a forgettable tour to England but on tracks that will better suit spin bowlers - even in a more aggressive form of cricket - he should have a better opportunity.

I was a bit disappointed there was no room for guys like Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh and Phillip Hughes as they could have nestled into the team as well suited players for the Twenty20 format.
Hughes is currently redeeming his form and has scored 402 runs at 100.50 in 8 matches for Worcestershire in the Friends Life T20 tournament.

An exciting inclusion that has been based on performance, as it should be, is that of Cameron White.
White has finally regained his confidence and connected with his natural instinct which seemed to get lost when the tags such as "responsibility" and "patience" came into his role during a short lived stint at number three for the Australian ODI squad.

The 2012 World Cup - where he batted in the mid to lower order - was the nail in coffin and it was clear that there was a lack of certainty in White's approach. Without confidence and self-belief comes a lack of trust in ones natural game and technique. It has taken him a while but he's finally come right and I would like to believe White is back to his best for big performances in Twenty20 cricket. He has managed 228 runs at 57.00 for Northamptonshire following an excellent IPL campaign.

The balance in the squad is alright. The key will be how the strategy is delivered in the batting line-up. The power hitting rests in Shane Watson, David Warner, Michael Hussey (see video below), Cameron White and David Hussey. There is aggression within the likes of Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell, which certainly gives enough indication on paper that we have a threatening batting line-up, but far too often the group has fired collectively, making it a dull display.

All of these names stack up for a batting line-up that could take on any bowling unit but the input of spin bowling will hassle a few players like David Hussey and Matthew Wade who have had their struggles. It's important to acknowledge though that these guys can also change a match in one over if their approach to attack pays off.

The bowling is where we'll be tested and for this reason it is essential that our batsmen stack up the runs with any given opportunity and with the depth on offer there is no reason why they shouldn't. About time our bowlers had some suppport with runs to defend.

Ben Hilfenhaus and Clint McKay are the experienced campaigners, but there is the risk that McKay may not be fit for the series due to a hamstring injury which has ruled him out of our upcoming UAE limited overs tour.

Mitchell Starc is no push over in Twenty20 cricket and if he just gets his line right I am certain he can provide valuable support to his bowling partners. His ability to swing the ball, along with that of Hilfenhaus, will be of utmost importance should he handle new ball duties.

As enthusiastic as I am about his development, Patrick Cummins may be a bowler to keep an eye on for the future but injury seems to be an apparent concern. His raw pace is an X-factor for a squad that is now without Brett Lee. We need a bowler who can deliver express pace without the likes of Shaun Tait, Doug Bollinger and Mitchell Johnson. Patrick would be an obvious inclusion if we're looking for a pace option.

The all-rounders do help to add variation to the bowling options that captain George Bailey will have on offer. Dan Christian has found his way back into the side and his hat-trick is still fresh in my mind. He's certainly not my pick as a death bowler of choice - the IPL further proved this - but he can mix it up with both the bat and ball to add a valuable dynamic to any side. Fortunately, there's also David Hussey who can send down overs of spin bowling in really quick succession, while Glenn Maxwell can also throw his arm over.

All in all, there is depth in this side and sufficient variation on offer, which helps tremedously in a form of the game where a lack of variation and too much predictability can be a nail in the coffin!

I am not overly confident about our chances in taking the title this year (we were runners-up last tournament) but it would be foolish to dismiss our chance altogether. The lack of expectation also comes from the obvious fact we have not had any type of consistency in Twenty20 cricket and our ranking isn't exactly one for the punters to gamble on.

However, a side with names like Warner, Watson, the Hussey brothers and White, any side that takes on the green and gold boys will be well aware that they will have no chance to drop the intensity, which does get the better of our boys sometimes.

Irrespective, it's a new event and a fresh squad and the rehearsal is just a week away.

Australian ICC World T20 Squad:
David Warner, Shane Watson, Matthew Wade (wk), David Hussey, Michael Hussey, George Bailey (captain), Cameron White, Daniel Christian, Glenn Maxwell, Brad Hogg, Xavier Doherty, Clint McKay, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Ben Hilfenhaus.

Need a trip down memory lane from the one of the most epic moments in Australian T20 history?

Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
To comment on this article, click on the 'Comments' tag at the end of the article.


11 August 2012

Considering the bowling coach

Before I head into this article, let me first give a big congratulations to the Australian u/19 team with regards to their victory against England in their first encounter of the ICC u/19 Cricket World Cup.

Our boys currently hold the title after winning the last event. That was a side that featured players like Nic Maddinson, Josh Hazelwood, Mitch Marsh (brother of Shaun Marsh), Alister McDermott and Kane Richardson.

While I am only informed about a handful of the players at the moment, I hope to see some of the lesser known players emerge into the state system with positive futures, especially on the batting front.

It's an exciting tournament to follow due to the raw passion these young blokes have when taking to the field for their team and you can catch some of the action live as well as most of the matches will be broadcast.

I was recently reflecting on the appointment of Allister de Winter as our new bowling coach. There has been an understandable sense of concern and doubt over his appointment. Most of this will be owed to the reason being that de Winter was not exactly a bowler who had any form of domination as a fast bowler during his playing days. Is this fair?

Troy Cooley, who was our temporary coach prior to the appointment of Mickey Arthur, was a player who had a similar background to that of de Winter.

Like de Winter, Cooley played his state cricket for Tasmania and it would be fair to say that he was also not a bowler who would have been talked about in a hyped-up manner amongst supporters back in the day. Cooley finished his state run with a First-Class average of 61.35 from 33 matches, while de Winter managed 21 matches with an average of 50.51.

These statistics suggest far from ideal credibility to take on any form of leadership or coaching roles at the elite level. Yet, we all remember the 2005 Ashes where Cooley played a massive role in grooming the English fast bowlers to wreak havoc against our rather outstanding batting line-up throughout the tournament. That Ashes series goes down as a classic due to the fact there was rarely a dull moment, especially regarding the contest between bat and ball.

There we saw Cooley, who had now become an established coach, take an elite team into a historic Ashes victory with his input and tactical planning being boasted as a key ingredient to the success.

Not long after he was let go by the ECB, he then had a stint as our bowling coach and sure enough the Ashes victory that came soon after was the brutal 5-0 victory. Despite being a plain state cricketer, Cooley knew how to key in with an international cricketer, read the opposition and work on all facets of each individual bowlers strengths.

While this outlook of comparison would not be fair, given de Winter is taking on a bowling unit in all forms of the game that has just a glimpse of experience in comparison the English and Australian bowling units Cooley coached, there is something to be said for the lack of First-Class brilliance they had.

The point is that it doesn't appear as if one had to have necessarily been a spectacular cricketer, let alone at the elite level, in order to key in with your students from a psychological and technical point of view. Clearly having a gift for coaching, the passion to learn and the understanding of the fundamentals can be more than enough. At the end of the day the bowlers are the ones who have to go out there and execute what they have been taught.

Justin Langer was with little doubt one of the boldest and best opening batsman, especially when partnered by Matthew Hayden. Yet, despite JL's credentials as a spectacular international cricketer and human being, he hasn't exactly had a glorious run by any means as a batting coach.

The Australian batsmen have continued to struggle for consistency for some time now and having witnessed JL work with the batsmen at practice sessions it would be unfair to say he doesn't try. He sure does but it proves that having international experience can certainly benefit the players to a degree, but certainly isn't a defining reason for appointment to coach a crop of international players.

de Winter had a far from ideal rehearsal with the disappointing limited overs series loss to England. The bowlers managed all of 13 wickets and the team's synergy was flat. It was definitely not the start that de Winter needed in order to gain a vote of confidence from the Australian supporters around the globe.

The pressure won't be easy to handle for the upcoming season with some high intensity cricket to keep us entertained. Craig McDermott's left a big void after unexpectedly walking away from the game, his resignation being owed to a work schedule that was too demanding. Certainly a bizarre reason coming from a man who took 291 Test wickets and knew the demands to thrive at the highest level.

Irrespective of this, McDermott knew all too well how to key in with his bowlers and we saw our Test bowlers execute their skills with consistency and genuine confidence. International experience must have played a major role but McDermott had the ability to connect with the bowlers which has been publicly acknowledged by Peter Siddle and James Pattinson - who even went as far as to state that he would prefer a bowing coach with international experience to take on the role.

However, de Winter certainly had good motives to get the job and you just need to take a look at the ascendancy of the Tasmanian Tigers bowling unit in recent times.

Ben Hilfenhaus was dropped from the Australian squad after a horrendous Ashes series, which was also partially due to discomfort after suffering from knee tendonitis. Yet Hilfenhaus went back to the Tigers and began to work with none other than de Winter.

de Winter and George Bailey, Tasmanian Tigers/ Australian Twenty20 skipper, worked with Hilfenhaus encouraging him to use the crease more to accommodate his bowling attributes, attacking with different lines and angles but most importantly de Winter reworked Hilfenhaus' bowling action which a more technical dynamic to address.

A rejuvenated Hilfenhaus has since taken 37 wickets at an average of 18.19 from just 7 Tests. Further evidence of de Winter's work in action would be looking at players like Jackson Bird and Luke Butterworth. Hilfenhaus has given de Winter plenty of public support as well which should be taken seriously given the lack of public opinion a player like Hilfenhaus presents.

If de Winter can connect with his bowlers, learn their strengths, iron out the weaknesses and work out how to make each bowler work off his teammates abilities, then de Winter will certainly be on track to carrying on where McDermott left off.

de Winter has been credited as a coach who learns quickly. This will be vital as he gets stuck into a job that will be kicking off with high expectations, starting with a limited overs series in the UAE in conditions that really test a players fitness and patience.

He may not be someone who has international experience or had the perfect first off campaign, but Cricket Australia have made their decision and I am sure this wouldn't have been done without serious consideration. Then again, what person doesn't take on a new role in life where expectations are high or somewhat unreasonable?

de Winter has a job to do and the support from every Baggy Green fanatic would help that extra bit. Everyone has the opportunity to write their own chapter who comes into the Australian cricket story and de Winter has a chance to have his own legacy. With the upcoming schedule, we'll know soon enough how successfully the de Winter method develops.

Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
To comment on this article, click on the 'Comments' tag at the end of the article.