Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What I learned this Summer

As part of a series on The Sledge, several online columnists were invited to submit what this past cricket season has taught them.  Featured contributors included cricket blogosphere stalwarts Ant Sims of Wicket Maiden, Dave Siddall of World Cricket Watch and Subash Jayaraman of The Sight Screen.  The following was Balanced Sports' contribution.

What I learned this summer:

Andrew Hilditch was really, really bad.

Let's not split hairs, I already knew this – so did everyone except Mitchell Johnson. But John Inverarity's relatively steady start at the helm of the Australian selection panel threw Hilditch's stint as Chairman of Selectors into sharp relief.

The guy wasn't bad, but comically inept.

Australian cricket has for years been regarded as a bastion against petty griping. Like any good marriage, the players and establishment held onto their grievances, only to let them pour out in flare-ups – like, say, World Series Cricket or the A-Team's Rebel Tour of South Africa. However, once there's been some resolution and a few years in which the establishment re-entrenches themselves into “best practice”, then suddenly Australia's competitive again.

With the ascent of journeymen like Ed Cowan and Dan Christian to the forefront of the national setup, Australia appears to be once more rewarding effort rather than physical gifts. This suggests the trough into which Australian cricket sunk wasn't so much the effects Warne, Langer and McGrath retiring, but of Hilditch's inconsistent selection methodology.

In his five years as head honcho, Hilditch debuted twenty-nine players, a neat half of which didn't play more than six Tests. It seems the only people he held to account were the newbies. Hilditch looked at players much like the fifteen year old who lusts at every girl who walks by. His tendencies varied from the youthful (Steven Smith) to the old bags (Bryce McGain).

Hilditch is gone, banished to the vagaries of law practice. Which is good, because we can still feel good about despising him.

The World realised they should have been giving Tendulkar runs a long time ago

Australia's bowling lineup isn't a patch on the attacks Sachin Tendulkar has flayed around the world for a generation. Siddle's pretty good, Harris is an injury looking for a body part, James Pattinson seems to have a bit about him, Hilfenhaus is good if your TV isn't Hi-Def while Nathan Hauritz Lyon failed to trouble any recognised batsmen for the entire Border-Gavaskar series. You could call the ugly stepsisters – in Siddle's case you'd be spot on, as the man has a head like a kicked-in biscuit tin.

But no matter how disheveled the Aussie attack, it's a novelty to write that Tendulkar failed with the bat. More poignantly, he couldn't complete that troublesome hundredth International hundred that's becoming an Obelix-sized bugbear for him and increasingly-frantic Indian media outlets.

Which is confusing, because he's broken nearly all the batting records there are. Records shouldn't trouble him, and especially this one, because it just doesn't mean much (it's a compilation of ODI and Test figures). However, it is a very pretty thing to have on one's resume.

Like an average Joe trying to impress a model, Sachin's got performance anxiety – something none of us would have attributed to such an accomplished player. The cricket world has now realised that bowling to Tendulkar is a lot easier when he's got 99 tons under his belt and they wish he'd just gotten there sooner.

Virat Kohli will be welcomed by Australian fans for the next decade

Aussie fans have always had someone from opposing teams to hate. We don't mind arrogance and cockiness from our own lot (unless it's Dean Jones), but when stuff is thrown at our boys, we get all Simon Katich pissy.

The ultimate example of this is Douglas Jardine. The last two decades have been rife with people who rubbed Aussie cricketers, and the populace at large, the wrong way. For the most part, these guys have been good players, which has only reinforced the average Skippy's frustration at them.

It reads almost biblically.

In the beginning, there was Douglas Jardine. Jardine begat Trevor Bailey, who batted with slowness of a one-legged (and dead) mule. Bailey begat Tony Greig, who in turn begat Richard Hadlee. Hadlee had a son, whose name was Pat Symcox, who in turn brought Sourav Ganguly into being. Ganguly bred his own nation of irritants, but none were more irritating than the spinner, Harbhajan Singh.

This was the first Border-Gavaskar series since 1999 in which Harbhajan Singh didn't play – and for the most part (and perhaps because they lost so badly), the team apparently didn't have anyone for us to actively root against: there was Tendulkar's timelessness, Dravid's stoic nature, Yadav's constant four-balls …

Except Virat Kohli. While succeeding leading the Indian batting averages, he p****d off every Australian he saw with an attitude as calming as the new tabasco-flavoured Red Bull.

And this will see him welcomed on these shores for the rest of his career – probably with the typical Aussie mix of grudging admiration and febrile swearing.

And on the eighth day, Harbhajan had a son, whose name was Virat Kohli.

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