John Benaud: Life after Shane and Glenn? Yes, but not as we know it
Those in the Test waiting room might be overkeen
Sunday 31 December 2006
How fitting that on the same day boats were sinking and snapping masts in the famous Sydney to Hobart yacht race, England's skipper Andrew Flintoff should allow his listing ship to drift aimlessly on to cricket's equivalent of the rocks.
When Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds incredibly took Australia from rags to riches in two sessions on the second day of the Fourth Test, Flintoff's scattered fields at the MCG more resembled arrangements fashioned by schoolkids in a local park. All the pre-Test bravado about playing for pride subsided in a tsunami of numbskull negativity. How disappointing.
Luckily the Shane and Glenn Roadshow rolls on and its irresistible last tango still guarantees quality in an Ashes contest which is now no more than a line in the itinerary. The duo continue to stir up theories about the sure-to-change face of the game once Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are history. The evidence was on the scoreboard.
C Read not out 26. Gutsy, but at the start of his innings against Warne he might have been swinging a white cane, not a bat. His discomfort confirmed the weight of the millstone that will be lifted from batsmen's shoulders.
Other outcomes are camouflaged in gripping moments, under pressure: K Pietersen c Symonds b Warne 21. To appreciate this scoreline go back to the last day in Perth, where Pietersen used his dancing feet to advance to Warne's best, the flighted ball drifting to leg, and then with a forward thrust of his wrists, powered through the shot when seemingly beaten by late drop and sent the ball scooting to the midwicket rope.
Warne's counter-attack was a more off-stump line, three balls in a row, each one subtly wider and differently flighted. Twice Warne had Pietersen playing dangerously away from his pad, bat face riskily open. The third was the sucker ball, the one Warne hoped Pietersen would run at in frustration and try to hit over cover. Pietersen, playing smart, let it go.
Wily Warne did not let the memory go. At the MCG he persisted, shackling Pietersen, who clearly wanted to dominate the man with 700 wickets. The offstump line frustrated Pietersen so much he forgot the lesson of Perth, survived a stumping when stranded yards down the pitch to a wide one, then later succumbed, miscuing a "dropper" to long-off.
Sad to say, Warne-Pietersen cameos will be history, unless you toddle down to Hampshire, where they could promote a "special event net".
A Strauss b Warne 50. England's theory that the premeditated sweep is a useful tactic should be history, too. It muddles a batsman's mind, and it did for Andrew Strauss, who after missing a ball pitched very wide of off stump, tried an angled flick to a ball more fit for sweeping, and offered Warne his 700th reference. The great man's CV includes a comment that he is the Bradman of bowlers. So, when Muttiah Muralitharan cracks Warne's record, will the Sri Lankan be regarded as the greatest, or just the Babe Ruth of bowlers?
A Flintoff c Warne b Clark 13. When Flintoff, seeking batting salvation in the Perth Test, went on the front foot and belted Brett Lee, his opposite number Ricky Ponting, even with a few hundred runs in the bank, instantly rewound to the movie set of Ghostbusters - when you want to lay to rest the ghosts of Kevin Pietersen's Oval slogathon in 2005, "Who you gonna call?"
Who indeed? McGrath was immediately on and almost sliced Pietersen in half with an off-cutter and snuffed the momentum England were building. Ponting will need a new game-breaking theory. He can throw the ball to Stuart Clark, but who else? Oppositions will no longer be so easily strangled.
A Symonds - 21 balls to get off the mark. A fringe player fidgets because his spot in the team is wonky. New players will do that, too. Theory: Australia, with new opening batsmen, will not score as quickly, so more draws are in prospect.
Australia four, England nil. It should cost Flintoff the captaincy. If coach Duncan Fletcher is under pressure, what about the new Australian coach who will take over from John Buchanan after the World Cup?
Australia's Cricket Academy will hasten restoration, but former coach Bob Simpson worries: "History has shown that once a great team lose their key players and the rest get older there are few, if any, ready replacements in the domestic competition." Those in the Test waiting room might be over-keen to impress, scrambling form when consistency is needed.
Thought provoking if you're an Aussie, but... Australia's Parliament recently voted for embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning which, the scientific lobby assure us, means there will be cure-alls for anything. Imagine Lord's in 2009, Warne and McGrath running in, bodies rebuilt, and all by Prime Ministerial decree!
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