Unlike bowlers, batsmen are like camels, they can survive for years on next to nothing

2011-09-03 00:00

DOUBTLESS South African cricketing folk are keeping a close eye on events in Galle.

Australia arrives in a few weeks and the Proteas will face them in all three forms of the game. Ridiculously, the teams play the same amount of T20s as Test matches, two apiece, a state of affairs that says a lot about those running the show.

Anyone studying the Aussie line up will notice that it contains a lot of familiar names in the batting order and that the bowling contains several unknowns. That is not going to change. Batsmen are like camels, they can survive for years on next to nothing. Bowlers need to keep taking wickets or else they will be told to pack their humps.

Nothing on the opening days of the series in Sri Lanka has been calculated to scare opponents but the feeling grows that Australia’s worst days are behind them.

Australia’s batting is a curious mixture of veterans and greenhorns. If the first innings was anything to go by the old hands are still worth their places.

Ricky Ponting looked full of beans as he stroked his way to 44 on an awkward deck. He has always been fit and now looked relaxed as he unfurled crisp drives or tapped the balls into gaps. Maybe he was too relaxed because he lost his wicket badly in both innings, caught lofting a spinner and then pulling a speedster. Its high time he accepted that he is too old to hook early in his innings. Folly is youth’s privilege.

Mike Hussey was full of guile and grit. It’s always tricky to know when a sportsman’s time has come. It’s easier with vegetables and fruit because they go rotten. Cricketers just slow down a bit. Moreover all sportsmen endure bad patches, just that ageing players cannot survive them.

Despite the fuss Australia was right to keep Hussey and Ponting and to ditch Simon Katich. Certainly the seasoned opener could have scored a few more runs, but a struggling team cannot keep playing three old batsmen. India has retained its veterans too long and soon will lose them all in one fell swoop.

Whether or not the younger blokes are up to the task is another matter. Technique has deteriorated. Owing to the demands of T20, their games are based on all out attack. Most have more shots than a whiskey bottle.

On the other hand they are poorly placed to counter the moving ball or bat for long periods.

Batting instruction has been turned upside down.By the look of things, though, Phil Hughes has tightened his game. South Africans might be surprised to discover that the lefty has become a compact back foot player. Usman Khawaja remains an intelligent, alert batsman likely to outscore more gifted but less astute peers. Michael Clarke looks fit and fresh and will bring new energy to a team whose culture was heavily criticised in the recent independent review.

If the batting is settled, for now, the bowling is a work in progress. Locals might not know much about Trent Copeland or Nathan Lyon. Most Australians are in the same boat. Both came from outside the system. Neither attended camps or were selected for elite squads. Instead they worked their way through the ranks.

Copeland and Lyon are old fashioned cricketers. People keep saying the game has changed, but mostly it stays the same. The former sends down medium pacers and the latter delivers off-breaks. Both methods are scorned by a generation that confuses style and substance.

Anyone watching these newcomers wheeling away in Galle would have been impressed not so much with each delivery as the way they put together overs and spells. Copeland is tall, keeps his arm high, hits the spot and makes the ball wobble about. Often the keeper comes up to the timbers to take him. Lyon spins his offies, lands them on a length and curls them teasingly. Neither has a special ball, both rely on accuracy and other neglected customs.

Both debutants took wickets in their opening overs. Copeland produced a clever second delivery that lured Dilshan into an expansive drive whereupon Ponting took a stunning catch. Lyon struck first ball, also the first delivery after drinks, forcing Sangakkara to edge to slip.

The last Aussie to take a wicket with his opening salvo never played again, subsequently lit a fire on the outfield to keep warm, rescued a boy from a river and sued the Catholic Church after a cardinals’ secretary had an affair with his wife, consummated mostly in the cathedral. He became a bookie and ended up in what in those less delicate times was called the loony bin. Hopefully Lyon will have a longer and less eventful career.

Otherwise the bowling is much the same. That could change. Australia has several fine pace prospects waiting in the wings. Mitchell Johnson and company need to watch out.

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