Five things we learned at the MCG

Written by  //  December 29, 2011  //  Sport  //  3 Comments

1. James Pattinson – best young fast bowler in many years

There is something raw and beautiful in seeing a young fast bowler showcasing his talents at the highest of stages. James Pattinson was irrepressible, and irresistible even, during the first test match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Reputations didn’t seem to matter to the 21-year-old. He was there to win a test match, and he didn’t care if he had to bounce Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid – the two highest run makers in the history of the game – or have a word with Virender Sehwag, inarguably the most fearsome of modern-day batsmen. Pattinson charged in ball after ball, remorseless and venomous, and bowled with severe pace and menace. Not that there wasn’t any guile to his bowling, for he is as thoughtful a young bowler that we’ve seen in many years (Mohammad Amir is the only other that comes readily to mind), but it was his raw aggression and pace that was most compelling. He was warned for dangerous bowling when he bowled three consecutive bouncers to Zaheer Khan late on day four – there was a day and age when opposing fast bowlers had pacts against such actions, but Pattinson was impenitent. He said after the match: “I like to go out there and do my own stuff. It’s just the way I play.”

2. Rahul Dravid must be moved out of first slip

Slip fielders, I believe, are to be judged on the number of catches that they drop as opposed to the number that they catch. Rahul Dravid has more than 200 catches in test cricket, many of them while fielding at first slip, but this year he has, perhaps, dropped more than he has held on to. Consider day three: Ravichandran Ashwin lures Michael Hussey, then on 69, forward with a beautifully flighted delivery that finds the outside edge before lobbing to first slip – Dravid, though, grasses the regulation chance. These are moments on which test matches can turn, moments that can cost a game. It’s time Dravid is moved out of first slip; V.V.S. Laxman would be the obvious choice to replace him at the position in the short term, but India may want to consider blooding Rohit Sharma or Virat Kohli as permanent replacements.

3. India’s many batting conundrums

Gautam Gambhir hasn’t made a test match century since India’s defeat of Bangladesh at Chittagong in January 2010. Since then, he’s averaged a meagre 28, with a highest score of 93 against South Africa on a placid pitch at Cape Town in January 2011. In both innings at the MCG, Gambhir fell poking balls that were best left alone – in the first innings on line, and in the second on length. Admittedly, knowledge of where his off-stump lies has never been Gambhir’s strength, but even when seemingly struggling against the moving ball, he would somehow display the chutzpah to make runs. It’s taken India many years to find a stable opening pair, and the selectors’ reluctance to break the Sehwag-Gambhir axis is understandable, but given Gambhir’s drought that has stretched for nearly two years, it’s time for a reconsideration. One of the options is, as always, to promote Dravid to the opener’s slot and play both Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli in the middle order. But given Kohli’s own struggles against the moving ball, this would hardly be a safe choice. If anything, there is a good case to be made for Sharma, the form player, to replace Kohli at No. 6 – a position which India have struggled to fill since Ganguly’s retirement in 2008 – for the second test at the SCG. This leaves India then with Ajinkya Rahane, a player who failed in both the tour games and is yet to make his test debut.

4. Australia’s batting problems are far from solved

Ricky Ponting scored a fifty in each innings, Michael Hussey produced a timely reminder of his grit and talent – although these reminders often tend to be produced when he is on the verge of being dropped – and in Ed Cowan, Australia seem to have found a steady, old-fashioned opening batsman, but the victory was achieved almost purely through the strength of the team’s lower order batting and fine fast bowling prowess. Were it not for James Pattinson – who shored up the batting in both innings – and Peter Siddle, who batted with a resilience that typifies his game in the first innings, Australia would have quite conceivably faced defeat. With Shane Watson unlikely to be fit for the second test, and with David Warner, in spite of his tremendous effort at Hobart against New Zealand, yet to establish himself at the highest level, Australia’s batting continues to wear a thin look. The silver lining at the MCG, as far as the batting is concerned, however, was Ponting’s form. Admittedly, as has been the case with him in recent times, he failed to convert excellent half-centuries in both innings into a big one, but there were times in the second innings, when he looked like the Ponting of old, particularly when he unveiled those majestic back foot square drives.

5. Zaheer Khan is still the best exponent of the old ball in the world

Twice in the match, Zaheer Khan produced spells of magnetic brilliance with the old ball. Just after tea on the first day, the moment he sensed a hint of reverse swing in the air, he dissected Michael Clarke into shreds, not through pace or any outwardly aggression, but through the most cunning use of the old ball that one is likely to see from a bowler today. In the second innings, he broke the Ponting-Hussey partnership, having the former snapped at gully with a full ball that moved away with the angle, and in the very next over, he used the crease ever so beautifully, while bowling from around the wicket, to snare Brad Haddin. It was all guile and nous and it was wonderful to watch.

* I wanted to add something on the DRS here, but I’m not sure we learned anything new about it at the MCG.

3 Comments on "Five things we learned at the MCG"

  1. Arghya December 30, 2011 at 11:42 am ·

    The problem I think is that the “we” in your title does not include the Indian cricket team itself.

  2. Suhrith December 30, 2011 at 4:37 pm ·

    I am hoping they do learn something out of this debacle.

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