A Test of faith for cricket fans

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NOT JUST disappointing, a disaster – but now, bring on the cricket contest that matters most, says Chief Writer RON REED:

IT’S hard to decide what was the most disappointing part of the Australian cricket team’s meek departure from the World Cup, thrashed by England in the semi-final.

Maybe it’s that bit – that it was the Poms who inflicted this massive defeat, more like a humiliation, really. Because it’s not going to go away in a hurry. Before you know it, the Ashes Test matches will be underway, the first one starting in Birmingham on August 1, two and a half weeks away.

Yes, Birmingham, the scene of the slaughter.

My hugely expensive pre-paid tickets to that one, and to the Lord’s blockbuster that follows hot on its heels, are sitting here in front of me as I ponder this dispiriting turn of events, so I suppose it’s too late to cancel the flight now. It will be a new day, a new battle, a new format, new personnel so this is no time to abandon ship, to lose faith.

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What’s more important – the one-day showpiece or the traditionally sacrosanct tussle for the little wooden urn? Perhaps that depends on your vintage, which is one reason why I would opt for the latter – and why I have watched the last month or so from the couch at home but will invest heavily on being there for at least some of what’s to come.

That said, it was painful to watch what unfolded almost from the moment Aaron Finch won the toss – unusually for him – and gleefully elected to bat first, only for himself to become the first captain in World Cup history to fall for a golden duck.

For only one relatively brief period did things improve much from that disastrous start, and that was the gallant century partnership between Steve Smith and Alex Carey, the latter looking like a latter-day Rick McCosker – for those who remember the Centenary Test at the MCG in 1977 – as blood oozed from bandages around his head after he copped a fearsome blow to the helmet grille from the speedy Joffra Archer.

It scarcely needs spelling out what might have happened to Carey if he had not been equipped with the head-gear. That he was able to bat on resolutely and then keep wickets as usual suggested his fortitude is a match for his talent, which is becoming more obvious every time he wears the national colours.

If Tim Paine wasn’t established as the Test captain, Carey would almost certainly be playing in the Ashes. Steve Waugh, for one, has suggested he should anyway, as a specialist batsman.

Of the 11 Australians who took the field, only Smith and Carey could hold their heads high, with the rest of the batting so feeble that they were bowled out inside the 50 overs for 224 – about two-thirds of what might have been a proper challenge for the powerful opposition batting line-up, who then proceeded to dominate the bowling to the extent that they won with 18 overs to spare, having lost only two wickets, one of which, Jason Roy, shouldn’t have been given out.

In such a comprehensive collective failure, playing a blame game is probably a futile exercise.

But there are a few pertinent observations that can be made.

One of the first is why was the so-called all-rounder Marcus Stoinis considered so indispensable that he was apparently un-droppable, despite averaging 11 with the bat, never making 25, with two ducks including one when it mattered most, and taking only seven wickets in eight games and never being trusted to bowl his full 10 overs?

If it is true that in any form of team endeavour you are only as strong as your weakest link, then the West Australian’s non-form has been a metaphor for the ultimate outcome — not good enough.

You have to hope the faith shown in him was not merely misguided, blind loyalty by his coach, and fellow Westerner, Justin Langer, who often comes across as a having a strong streak of – how shall we put it? – home-town patriotism, perhaps.

The in-form Matthew Wade would have been a far better bet with the bat and it is highly doubtful it Stoinis’s ineffective bowling would have been much missed. In the event, he bowled only two overs.

The captain will be bitterly disappointed with his own non-contribution, especially as it followed scores of three and eight in the two previous matches, meaning five of his 10 innings were failures, along with one hundred and three other half-centuries. It’s a mixed bag, to say the least, and it’s probably appropriate to cut him some slack for the first-baller given the quality of the delivery that pinned him in front of his stumps. However, that’s a mode of dismissal that came as no surprise to anybody and probably not even to him, by now.

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Even though he captained the side impressively on the way through, he was missing when it mattered most – but then, so was a much better player than him, India’s captain Virat Kohli, the previous day, so it can happen to anyone.

Glenn Maxwell has had a shocker from start to finish, shredding whatever faint hope he might have harboured about playing a role in the Ashes and perhaps putting himself under scrutiny for future one-day assignments, his specialty.

Mitchell Starc and David Warner, and to some extent Finch and Usman Khawaja, have been shining lights alongside Carey and Smith but in the end this team proved to be precisely what most had predicted – potential semi-finalists on a good day, but a rung below India, who beat them comfortably, and England, who did so at the death.

 Disappointing, yes – but not particularly surprising.

 Now, bring on the big one.


Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.



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