Saturday, December 3, 2011

When is a test match not a test match but still a test match?

The likely answer to this is with a prominent sprinkling of New Zealand batsmen in the vicinity of a test pitch more often than not embracing an effervescent flame of flamboyance from within that would be better suited to the 20/20 game as they hazily try to grasp the unique concept of positive stroke play mixed with the unnatural urges of displaying the unrecognised restraint that is required in the test match arena.

Having won the toss and thus electing to bat first, the Black Caps set about burning rubber in their haste to pile on the runs against Australia in the first test at the Gabba in Brisbane.

The first four sessions have been mightily enthralling. A battle of wills between bat and ball has been there for keen observers to witness. No sooner had bat dominated ball than the latter would retaliate in kind.

These may not be two of the greatest sides to grace the cricketing turfs of the world. Despite this though, there is still a healthy smattering of talent amongst the combatants. Take Ricky Ponting for example. The towering inferno that is his batting talent often took a scorched earth policy towards some of the best bowling attacks of recent times and he is recognised as one of the greatest batsmen of all time, but now may be not more than a mere flickering compared to his pomp early in the noughties. He still packs a pretty handy punch though. His career on the line, the Tasmanian is not one to lie down and surrender. Punter is a fighter and it showed as his form was on the money with a solid 67 not out by the end of the second day’s play.

The New Zealander’s - who had dominated Australia A earlier in the week – professed their confidence pre-game. Talk was big on their part. Was it over-confidence? Or was it secretly a lack of it? After all, skin is only a covering that conceals the veins of fear and insecurity in us all. They – like most of us – would never admit it. But surely eleven New Zealand cricketers can be no different.

That they came out with all guns blazing suggested the former to be the case. Three of the Australian eleven were part of the A-side that was left flummoxed as to what was the ideal way to dismiss the New Zealander’s in the warm-up encounter. Maybe the Kiwi’s thought it was going to be all so easy once again.

It looked like it was heading the same way early on too, as Brendon McCullum took more than just a passing fancy to the Australian quick’s. Until one flourish too many was his undoing on thirty-four. A collapse and momentum shift was to see the Black Caps floundering at 96 for 5.

This just goes to show that no one has an automatic right to partake in high levels of self-confidence without first earning it. If you wish to acquire confidence, it pays to achieve something worthy of said confidence’s recognition. And the only way to do so is through dedication and tireless hard work that brings about success. That success will then bring about true confidence.

One player that does appear to believe in his abilities is Daniel Vettori. The past three years has seen the former captain average forty-two. Certainly it cannot be said of the lefthander that he is one of the game’s more eloquent to take on a bowling attack. That the writer of the batsmen’s guide to technically correct batting would not be at all amused upon witnessing Vettori’s batting countenance goes without saying.

But the thing is it works for Vettori. Some of his teammates higher up the order would do well to ape his approach to the game. An intelligent player, Vettori has worked out what is required for him to succeed regardless of the fact that he is far from the most talented batsman. His strengths and weaknesses have met his acquaintance with his fertile mind embracing them and delivering viable options to work within his limitations.

This he displayed on his travels towards a mightily well compiled ninety-six. There were no flowing cover drives. No classical follow through – he is the master of the jab shot. Be it a pull, a drive, a hook, it is achieved with a short arm jabbing motion.

Masterful as his innings was, it wasn’t without flaw. How could it be? For, he did get out. Only four away from what would have and should have been his first test century against Australia, he threw it all away in a bizarre mode. Having accumulated ten off the previous five balls of the over, Vettori had, what is for him, a rare case of brain fade. A drive straight to the waiting hands of Mike Hussey at mid off, Vettori took off for what was a suicidal single. No good was ever going to come of it. And yep, you guessed it; nothing did as Hussey skittled the stumps with Vettori a metre short.

Seemingly, even those of normally serene disposition in the heat of battle are not immune to the effects of pressure. This most erudite of brain had momentarily suffered a total eclipse of the mind as a rush of blood to the head squandered a golden opportunity to introduce himself to his seventh century. Alas, it had all but faded away into obscurity.

With Vettori’s demise came the beginning of the end. Yes, Dean Brownlie – who had partnered Vettori in a 158 run partnership – held out for an unbeaten 77 as he soldiered on with the help of the lower order to accumulate a further forty-one runs to leave his side all out for 295.

Nevertheless, once Vettori had departed, it was the bowlers who were back on top. A quick ending it may have been, but with the exception of the always excellent Peter Siddle, the Australian attack was a mixed bag. With teenage sensation Pat Cummins and Mitchell Johnson out with injury, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson were handed test debuts. Starc was the epitome of inconsistency. Mightily good early in the innings against McCullum, he had his foe on the turf on occasions with well placed bouncers. At 6ft6in and letting rip in the 140kph’s, Starc offers potentially devilish problems for the batsmen. Pace and bounce are not an easy duo to combat, that's to be sure. On the flip side, he was unable to remove Chris Martin from the crease. Martin, who is without doubt the biggest batting bunny in world cricket, had no business holding off the attentions of Starc’s bowling armoury for two over’s. Starc, though, bowled wide failing to make Martin play, and didn’t remotely bother to pitch the ball up to Martin. That’s inexperience for you though. It invites inconsistency to compromise your form.

Ah, the vagaries of youth.

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