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Sight Screen

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Links....

1. The English tabloids ripping into the Aussies following the Bangladesh defeat -- and this is nothing compared to what they will do after England's win today.
2. Inevitable question, I guess -- was the defeat against Bangladesh the worst moment in Aus sporting history?
3. It was not only the tabloids that tore Aus a new one, though. Vic Marks headlines his piece in the Guardian thus: Arrogant Aussies humbled.
The astonishing truth is that Australia, acknowledged as the best side in the world in all forms of the game - except perhaps Twenty20 - were clinically outplayed by the minnows of world cricket. Mashrafe Mortaza was the best bowler on view yesterday. Mohammad Ashraful, who sparkled in the evening sunshine, played the best innings, a brilliant century. Australia dropped more catches than Bangladesh, who, in contrast to their opponents, took all the right decisions - Ricky Ponting's preference to bat first was a mistake, based on the assumption that this match could not be lost.
The Australian bowlers could not bully the Bangladeshis as England's have this summer. The pitch was too slow for that and so is the Australian pace attack when Brett Lee is not playing.

4. Marks, in his preview of the Aus-Enggame, put his finger on the main chink in the Aus armor, when he pointed at the bowling:
They will score runs, probably rapidly. But so far their bowling has looked distinctly mortal and they will probably be hindered by the absence of Brett Lee today.

5. The bowling attack, again, the focus in the Scyld Berry of the Telegraph's review of the Aus-Bangla game:
Bangladesh, at the start of their reply, were as subdued as Australia but they perked up as soon as Australia's three pace bowlers had finished their opening spells. Brad Hogg has shortened his run-up a la Warne but not increased his control of length; Clarke cannot match his predecessor Darren Lehmann for wiliness, while Hussey would hit his own medium-pace a long way.
On a dried pitch against this motley change-bowling Mohammed Ashraful went to town. When McGrath came back, Ashraful smacked him over extra-cover twice, with scarcely a protest from the bowler, let alone a stomp.

6. Variations on the theme -- Michael Atherton, in his column in the Telegraph, says:
What are we to make of Australia's early wobbles? Is it mere rustiness or something more terminal? Undoubtedly they will improve, but there are areas that must be giving Ponting some concern. Their hegemony over the last decade has been largely based on better bowling and out cricket than their opponents. And it is precisely these two areas where they have looked most out-of-sorts.

And again:
As for the fielding, the two defeats last week simply reinforced the impression that this is an ageing Australian team whose best days in the field are long behind them. The number of fumbles, mis-fields and grasps at thin air brought to mind some England performances of the past that had Australian observers choking on their amber nectar.

7. I noticed, in the Telegraph, this take on Michael Kasprowicz by Steve James, the guy who roped in into the Glamorgan team in 2002. Kaspar -- as the man who took Brett Lee's place, and has to provide both support, and cover, for the two fronting bowlers, a very key component of the attack; his being taken for 68 in 9 today meant Ponting had problems with an off color Gillespie, and with the guy who should have covered for him.
8. Stephen Brenkley, in the Independent, on the Aus defeat to Bangladesh at Cardiff:
Two things stood out about Australia in the way they accepted their fate. When Ashraful was out with 23 still wanted, Adam Gilchrist shook his hand as he departed, a remarkable gesture in a tight match. When they had lost, their captain Ricky Ponting was calm but straight talking. "It was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game," he said anticipating the public reaction at home. "We have got to be made aware of that and if it doesn't make us lift our game nothing will."

Brenkley's match report on the game, incidentally, has a fun headline: Ashraful turns Aussie swagger into a stagger.
9. Same author, with a take on Michael Vaughan; the significant bit in here is this take on the England skipper's working style:
He is at once different and not so different from his immediate predecessor Nasser Hussain. No player would be advised to mess with either of them. But Vaughan's door is more obviously ajar. If he had a policy in June 2003 it was on the importance of communication - to let players have their say.
"I think communication around the team is pretty good," he said. "We're open and we've got a good spirit which has come from being together and working together, doing a lot of things together. Of course winning helps your spirit. People believe in what you're doing and gain confidence."

10. The Aus press also pretty unsparing of their champion team:
Australia's world champion cricket team now has another place in history, and its Ashes tour a place in the doghouse.

The piece also has an update on Andrew Symonds -- whose drinking cost the side a big hitter in the middle order, and a support bowler for the big boys:
Symonds is understood to have been drinking early into yesterday morning and it was only revealed during the side's warm-up that he was in no fit state to play.

11. The SMH, again, quite caustic about the team's problems, both on the field and off it. In a piece titled Australia caught with its pants down, SMH says:
Disgraceful on the field. Disgrace off it. Australia's world champion cricketers - Andrew Symonds especially - are hanging their heads in shame after a five-wicket one-day loss to Bangladesh, the worst team in international cricket.
And if that wasn't enough, Shane Warne is in trouble again

12. While the focus is on Aus, quite a few stories on the celebrations in Bangladesh. and then there is this one by Chloe Sattlau, in the SMH, where one passage caught my eye:
Bangladesh coach Dav Whatmore admitted he had been frustrated over the years by Ashraful's habit of getting out cheaply despite his precocious talent, and was hopeful his young star would learn to protect his wicket like he did on Saturday.
"God, I hope so," the Australian said. "He won't get a hundred every innings, but just to make the bowler earn his wicket is all I want."

13. Of all the stories I saw today, though, perhaps the most significant is this one on the Australian fielding standards declining, which I spotted in The Age. The paper talks to Mike Young, the baseball coach who for a while was working with the Aus team on its fielding skills:
"There's no doubt in my mind that the last few years, there has been more and more focus on batting and bowling and less on fielding," Young said. "Especially with one-day cricket, there needs to be more focus on that part of the game. It's vital to any team's chances but sometimes tends to get overlooked.
"Ground fielding needs repetition and a lot of focus on proper techniques. I do feel that lacks in cricket. There's a lot of drill work, but not a lot of instruction. I thought we made strides in that area, and it's disappointing to hear (the Australians) aren't doing so well in that department. They're great athletes . . . but you need to keep working at it.

If that passage underlines the importance of rigorous, focussed practise even for a naturally athletic bunch like the Aussies, check this one out -- did the Aussies become so gung-ho about their batting and bowling skills, they took their eyes off the ball, literally, when it came to honing their fielding skills?
"I (Mike Young) wanted to stay . . . but I was basically forced out the door. After two or three years working with them, and with my background in coaching, I was getting frustrated and, quite frankly, somewhat insulted. I would love to work with the Australians again and my door is always open."

Interesting: Aus, you thought, always places importance on its support team, honors the back room boys and works with them. But here's the guy who taught them the finer points of outfielding, and throwing, saying he was forced out, that he was frustrated, occasionally even insulted. Strange.

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