The (first) Annual Silly Mid Wicket Awards

It’s New Year’s Eve and that means it’s time for the (not so) time honoured tradition of dolling out Silly Mid Wicket Awards – or Sillies as I like to call them.

Best Test Team of 2011:

1. Alastair Cook (Eng)
Batting the way your grandad would if his eyes still worked, Cook continued his single-minded task of scoring runs in the blandest way imaginable and in doing so helped bring ‘Daddy’ and ‘Grandaddy’ hundreds back in to fashion.

2. Virender Sehwag (Ind)
Not the best year in Test’s for the Delhi Butcher but let’s face it, he’s still the most exciting batsman in world cricket.

3. Kumar Sangakkara (SL)
Impressed everyone but the big cheeses at Sri Lankan Cricket when he gave this year’s MCC Spirit of Cricket Crowdrey Lecture, proving that when he’s done shoring up the Sri Lankan middle order he’ll make a great administrator – or a terrible politician.

4. Michael Clarke * (Aus)
Like Sehwag this wasn’t Pup’s most productive year with the bat but he gets the nod over the likes of Tendulkar at number four for his calm and astute leadership and for scoring 151 in the first innings of a match where his entire team was unceremoniously rolled for 47 in the second.

5. Ian Bell (Eng)
This will forever be remembered as the year Bell finally shed the ‘Sherminator’ moniker and assumed something equally cheesy like ‘The Bell-meister’ or ‘Best-Underrated-Player-In-World-Cricket. Can also lay claim to the fact that his 2011 average (118. 75) is better than that magical numbers of Bradman’s.

6. Misbah ul-Haq (Pak)
In 2010 Pakistan had so much going on off-field it was a wonder they managed to keep a team on it. This year however they’ve managed to put the dramas behind them and have been quietly building form while no one was looking. Misbah has led the transformation from laughing stock to, well, less of a laughing stock with middle-order batting so stodgy he makes Alastair Cook look like quite the dasher.

7. Matt Prior † (Eng)
He’s no Adam Gilchrist yet, but he’s certainly no Kamran Akmal either. When England’s top order compiles big scores, Prior makes them huge. When England’s top order fails – actually I don’t remember the last time that happened, but you get the picture. Has an impressive ginger beard to boot.

8. Stuart Broad (Eng)
It seems baby-faced Broady has finally grown out of his tantruming, tempestuous, getting-hit-for-six-sixes-in-an-over stage and started playing like a big boy. Has the pace and bounce to trouble the best. In 2011 he finally did so.

9. Dale Steyn (SA)
Just another year at the office for Steyn. The world’s best bowler averaged just 19.57 in 2011. His battle with Tendulkar in Cape Town lit up cricket like no batsman-bowler contest has since the 2005 Ashes. Or even earlier if you’re not English.

10. Doug Bracewell (NZ)
Of all the debutant bowlers who took five-fors this year (think Philander, Pattinson, Cummins and de Lange), Bracewell was the only one who also helped his team to new frontiers (need I remind anyone of the Hobart win?) And also because I’m biased and needed to find room for a kiwi somewhere in this eleven. Seriously though, 6 for 40 against Australia at home is a damn good effort.

11. Saeed Ajmal (Pak)
2011’s leading wicket taker and another reason why people aren’t still breaking into hysterical laughter any time Pakistan and cricket are mentioned in the same sentence.

Silly for Best Test Player of 2011:

Ian Bell

Silly for Best ODI Player of 2011:

Shahid Afridi

Silly for Best Hired Gun of 2011:

Chris Gayle

Silly for Most Shafted Player of 2011:

Simon Katich

Silly for Best Young Player of 2011:

Pat Cummins

Silly for Most Deserving Test Cap of 2011:

Ed Cowan

Silly for Least Talented International Cricketer of 2011:

Mohammad Hafeez

Silly for Most Compelling Test Match of 2011:

Dead heat between Aus v NZ (Hobart), SA v Aus (Johannesburg) and Aus v Ind (Melbourne)

And finally, (drum roll please, dadumdadum) the (not yet) coveted Silly Award for the Supreme Cricketer of the Universe for 2011:

Shakib Al Hasan
For being the only player of any substance in an otherwise pitifully bad team.

The League of Extraordinary Middle-Aged Wrist Spinners

The organisers of the KFC Big Bash got their marketing campaign all wrong.

It was supposed to be about attracting a younger generation to cricket with its haphazard mix of big hits, brevity, city-based franchises and team strips in obscene colours (there’s no such thing as Man-genta, Binga. It’s PINK!)

So far though, the competition has been dominated by a handful of ageing twirlers with greying hair and ballooning bellies (with the exception of Shane Warne who seems to be shrinking at a rate inversely proportional to that of Stuey MacGill.)

Warne and MacGill along with left-arm chinaman bowler Brad Hogg and, to a lesser extent, Bryce McGain have lit up the first two rounds with a hefty array of wrist-spun tricks.

Big turning leg breaks, flippers, top spinners and wrong ‘uns have all been bowled with the enthusiasm of a child opening presents on Christmas day. Nevermind that these gents have all crossed the threshold into middle-aged oblivion.

The moment of the tournament so far for me: Fox Sports have Warne mic’d up while bowling. At the top of his mark, he predicts that the facing batsman Brendon McCullum may shape to sweep his next delivery and that he’ll just try and “slide one in there…fast.” Nek minnit, B-Mac is trudging off after Warne has bowled him around his legs misjudging a sweep. Middle-aged Leggies 1, Big Bash Batsmen 0.

 

Hoorah for Hobart

We won.

It wasn’t pretty but today is a day to gloss over the details and enjoy a Test match win over Australia.

New Zealand beating Australia in anything is a big deal.

In Test cricket it is nigh on unheard of.

To put things in perspective:

My wife rang when Australia were nine down to ask whether I thought New Zealand would win and to let me know she had Cricinfo open on her work computer.

#DougBracewell is trending on Twitter.

The last time we beat Australia in their own backyard I was negative two years old and my dad was playing indoor cricket for a team called Swizzlesticks.

Also, mullets and beige were in fashion.

There will be plenty of time for autopsies later.

That time may well be tomorrow. I will have my scalpel ready.

For now, crank up the Dave Dobbyn and crack open the bubbly.

 

Obituary

Farewell, summer dreams!

I’ve been putting off writing this post all week.

I’m that upset.

Last Sunday morning one over from James Pattinson left all of my flights of fancy and visions for the summer (see wishlist) slowly dying on the Gabba pitch.

Six balls.

Three wickets.

17-4.

The Test match all but lost.

I really thought this summer would be different.

(Oh, and Black Caps. Rescue efforts from Vettori are so two years ago.)

A day at the Gabba

This was my first time at any of the big Australian cricket grounds so naturally I was pretty darn excited. By the end of the day however my spirits were as damp as the shirt I was wearing as first the Black Caps and then the Brisbane weather undermined all of my best-laid plans.

The first thing that struck me about Test matches in Australia is that people really seem to get into it. Despite the perceived lowliness of the opposition and the poor forecast people flocked to Woolloongabba in numbers and there was a real sense of occasion about things. From people dressed in yellow capes, to groups in matching pyjamas, to giant Gatorade bottles on segways taking the field at every drinks break, the Gabba was showing that Test cricket can be every bit as fun as its younger, more attractive cousins.

After lining for tickets my friend and I took our seats in the topmost row. It is a long way down to the pitch from back there but it offers an almost bird’s eye view of goings on out in the middle.

New Zealand rollicked along in the first ten overs, going at more than four. Brendon McCullum was punishing, as usual, while Martin Guptill was circumspect. And that was where the fun stopped.

Guptill was out first, caught behind off Peter Siddle (Australia’s newest attack leader) and McCullum was out soon after slashing to point. From there the wickets fell at regular intervals with none of the batsmen able to get themselves in. Certainly there was a bit there for the bowlers but mostly it was down to ill-discipline. The Black Caps went to lunch at 88-4 and lost Jesse Ryder directly after.

A little surprisingly Daniel Vettori was elevated to seven on the batting card and as much as I was hoping the runs would come from someone in the top five, by this stage I was just glad to see a partnership put together.

Vettori and Dean Brownlie spent the session rebuilding in a manner which would have pleased Christchurch mayor Bob Parker. By the time the players left the field for an early tea due to bad light, they had put on a very solid looking 80.

With the light unlikely to improve and the grey-black skies looking ominous we left the ground (as did everyone else by look of things) and lucky we did as the clouds stopped threatening and started to deliver on their promise.

It bucketed down as we walked back to the station and by the time we boarded the train we were thoroughly saturated.

For me, today was the emotional equivalent of an over from Mitchell Johnson. It started with great promise and ended up horribly wayward, with all sorts of peaks and troughs in between.

Thank you Gabba for showing me how fun Test cricket can be – pity about the rest.

New Zealand v Australia Wishlist

There is the hint of an upset in the air, and no, it’s not just the Brisbane humidity. The Black Caps have not won a Test in Australia in 26 years and you’d have to say they’re unlikely to get an opportunity like this one for many more.

Australia are in every way a wounded beast. For the Gabba Test they are without five key players through injuries, including all-rounder Shane Watson and firebrand fastman Mitchell Johnson . Not to mention their once talismanic top order batsman Ricky Ponting is woefully out of form and looks to be on his last legs as an international cricketer. On top of all that they are likely to select three debutants to play the first Test on Thursday.

In a somewhat surprising juxtaposition everything inside the New Zealand camp is a box of fluffies. The top order are all in great nick having come of big scores in the warm up match v Australia A or in their last Plunket Shield outings back here in NZ. The bowling unit looks stronger than it has in some time and confidence and moral are flying high.

So on to my wishlist:

1. For Southee or Bracewell to nip out the openers early on:
Aussie’s top two look particularly suspect. David Warner (one of the likely debutants) has built a reputation as a T20 specialist and can be prone to McCullum-esque rushes of blood to the head while his partner in crime Phillip Hughes has a technique more agricultural than the entire history of Country Calendar. If the likes of Southee can find some swing in (fingers crossed) helpful conditions with the new ball these two batting bandits could be on their way quicker than Ned Kelly and his gang

2. A continuation of recent form from our top six:
All six of them have scored big tons recently and should hopefully boss and bully a bowling line up with only 30 Tests between them (25 of those belonging to Peter Siddle.)

3. HUNDREDS!!!
I will likely be saying the same thing in 50 years time, but New Zealand’s batsmen need to start consistently making hundreds. Ross Taylor especially has been guilty of falling often after a solid fifty. If the batsmen who get in can manage this, the Black Caps can build big scores on a regular basis. Once again, the pre-match form is encouraging (especially KSW’s 284.)

4. Southee 2.0:
Under the tutelage of Allan Donald last summer, Tim Southee made the Optimus Prime-like transformation from medium-pace trundler to menacing fast bowler. If he can harness that same white line fever on a Gabba pitch which is traditionally fast and bouncy he could be a real handful for an Australian batting card still reeling after being rolled for 47 by South Africa a few weeks back.

5. A Test match win:
Dare I even dream that we might beat our trans-Tasman rivals in a Test match? And on home soil? Don’t get me wrong, the Black Caps will still start this series as underdogs but there’s a hard edge to this team we haven’t seen in many a year and a win in at least one of these Tests is no longer a pipe dream. My pick is an ambush at the Gabbatoir this very weekend. And I will be there (once again, fingers crossed) revelling in a famous New Zealand victory!

Williamson the key

Over the New Zealand winter while his Blackcap’s team mates were making their fortunes in the IPL or reacquainting themselves with their families, Kane Williamson was cutting his teeth on the English County scene with Gloucestershire. His output with the bat was only moderate (averaging 36.13 in 23 innings in the four-dayers) but he has clearly benefited from the experience.

Since leaving the summer-less land of his ancestors KSW has been prolific. He notched up two not out scores in the Zimbabwe ODIs, including a brilliant attacking hundred in the series finale – an innings which will surely quell the debate over whether he scores quickly enough to be a useful limited overs player. He followed that up with a couple of solid knocks in the one-off Test match and a not out 86 in the tour game.

Then came the piece de resistance as the Blackcaps made a rare appearance for their provincial sides in the Plunket Shield. He remained unmoved after nine hours at the crease, notching up a behemoth 284 not out against a Wellington attack boasting Andy McKay, James Franklin, Mark Gillespie, Luke Woodcock and Jeetan Patel (all of whom are either current or former international bowlers.) When quizzed on it at the end of the day’s play he stated that he was just happy to have batted through an entire day for only the second time in his First Class career.

Perhaps the most pleasing thing for a long-suffering Blackcap’s supporter like myself is that all of these longer-form runs have been made at the crucial number three spot. This is a position we have struggled to fill over the last four or five years but even at the tender age of 21 KSW seems to tick all the boxes.

Both on and off the field Williamson reminds me of Australian captain Michael Clarke. Like Clarke he uses his feet well to spinners, is quick between the wickets and adept at keeping the scoreboard ticking over with ones and twos. Also like Clarke, he was earmarked for national honours at a very young age and similarly, in five years or so I expect him to take over from Ross Taylor as New Zealand’s long term captain.

I’m picking Williamson to play a significant role on what will be a very tough tour of Australia starting this week and more so, I’m picking this kid to be an absolute superstar for New Zealand over the next ten years.

Mark my words, this kid is the real deal.