Adelaide aches present Perth pace puzzler

Most assumed that at the start of day five in the Adelaide test that Australia’s next step in the journey back to cricketing numero uno was a fait accompli. Grab the six wickets on a fifth day wicket, don’t rip any soft tissue and jet to Perth 1-0 up backed with a ton of propulsion.

Some of the confident and thirsty were even saying that it could’ve been wrapped up in time for Coronas and Khe Sanh in the sheds at lunchtime. Too easy!

However, thanks to an old school display of Protea concrete lead by the superhuman one-test wall Faf du Plessis, with similar scaffolding from co-stars Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers, the home side’s charge to get their paws an inch closer to the throne was thwarted in a nail-biter finale which is sure to be a piece of Channel Nine memorabilia within hours.

Peter Siddle being propped up by one of the friendly staff at the Adelaide aged care facility.

Thanks to the events of the last day, affairs for Australia have now swung from possible pre-tea esky action and a cherished series advantage to unlikely grid locked parity and selection sticklers coming out of the ying yang.

With a myriad of factors and circumstances arising from day five combined with John Inverarity throwing a wide selection net like a gluttonous whale trawler and returning with a school of slingers spilling over the side of the tinny, a Tony Barber-load of questions have been tossed up with the pick of the bowling board loaded to the back molars.

The list for Perth contains series mainstays Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon with reinforcements John Hastings, Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Johnson added, not to mention the return of Shane Watson, making it a trundler’s showcase that needs whittling at great haste.

What shape will the team balance take, and how is a bunch of buggered blokes going to be able to present selectors with enough to come to an educated decision on the back of limited net sessions and rehab data inside three day’s time?

Let’s get the fundamentals out of the way first. We all know that Perth is a romantic getaway for the quicks, with its bounce and grill-twisting potency presenting heavy pheromones to selectors to go with a four-pronged flame-thrower. Australia has won handsomely in it’s last two visits to the village of velocity, both times opting to turf the twirl and go for pure perfume-ball pace which left both India and England in a state of quivering gravy.

However, with Watson sure to return to the side and with confirmation that he will be able to bowl his valuable insurance seam, does this open up the possibility of taking Lyon in as a luxury option under the shade that the banged-up all-rounder’s inclusion brings?

Once we work that out, then it’s down to the job of building a pace attack that will bring Australia 20 wickets, which is yet to be achieved against this heavy duty South African batting unit so far in the series.

Hilfenhaus: valiant, but needs to lift.

Peter Siddle was simply outstanding as he heroically threw himself into the role of under-fed draughthorse on the last day, going within a whisker of pulling the match out of the fire for Michael Clarke on the volition of memory and a slight zephyr. If he didn’t look like he belonged in an old folk’s home being spooned pureed spinach at game’s end, he would be first in for the decider.

Considering that he had to be helped from the field like a wheezing smoker at the close of play does not augur well for backing up in three day’s time. How much oxygen and nod time is required to restore a vegan’s power within 72 hours?

If Siddle is picked, never will he have sweated on the result of a toss as much as he will in Perth, and he will have the top three on notice that if they bat first and collectively flop again, he has full rights to launch hailstones in their direction as he burns off the lactic acid of Adelaide in the WACA ice bath.

Then there is Ben Hilfenhaus, who was also crisply toasted after nearly five sessions of doing the work of 1.5 burly seamers in James Pattinson’s absence, and with his borderline returns so far in the series, he will also be far from a padlock job.

Support crew wise, the puzzle thickens into a jumbo Sudoku.

If society’s laws are considered kosher in cricket, then Mitchell Starc should get an opportunity for a crack after patiently waiting in line for two tests. In saying that, disdain for loyalty and erratic relocation of the goal posts has been a trait of Australian cricket overlords in the past, not to mention the fact that he’s no longer the only left-armer in the party.

Mitchell Starc should be able to get a trade-in on his training gear for the creams. SHOULD.

That brings us to the hearty debate topic of Mitchell Johnson. Some say he’s the perfect horse for the course of the WACA, whereas others say that just because this is the only ground he doesn’t get hammered at, it shouldn’t mean it’s the domain of which he is master. However, you can’t deny that he’s ripped a few new ones for rivals at the place over the years.

John Hastings and Josh Hazelwood seem to be the most likely pair to be sent back to Shield cricket with a free tracksuit, however there are strong whispers that Hazelwood is closer to a gig than most expect after some glowing report cards from various top order batting opponents on the domestic circuit so far this summer.

In what shapes as a surprise gift of a test match grand final with an abbreviated build-up, surely at least one of the two old boys in Siddle and Hilfenhaus must be retained under the guideline of experience for epics. To carry a greenhorn attack without the steadying influence of at least one of these two would be a booming risk.

And speaking of risk and experience, there’s Johnson. He is showing consistent signs of his old plasma-coated highlights, but in the words of the tweeny youth, do we dare go there?

Perhaps it is the dice-roller that Australia needs to break this super-glued stalemate.

Whichever way it goes, the selectors have limited time on this finely balanced brain-bender of major importance.

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Are we witnessing the resurrection of Mitch?

Over the years, I’ve spent much breath, foolscap paper and keyboard time on bagging the mercurial Rubik’s cube that is Mitchell Johnson.

The triumphs and tribulations of his professional existence have fuelled the quill and filled pub air with much problem-solving chatter since his test debut in 2007.

The bloke has been a two-legged topic from the day he hit the scene with his Russian roulette output moving his reputation wildly between match-winning bazooka and amateurish peashooter.

Fist karaoke.

From splitting the unflappable melon of Jacques Kallis to filling many a chorus in a loaded catalogue of pisstake chants, pinning a form line on Johnson has been like trying to spear a slippery blowfly with a toothpick. It’s done my head in on many occasions.

Such tendencies to suddenly plummet combined with his off-field affairs involving rank tatts, junk-hugging jock deals and claw-trading between feuding female family factions eventually made him the regular butt of many jokes and a guaranteed recipient of my pitiless booing whenever he bowled another no-ball.

It was therapeutic to lash his inconsistency, and I’ve got to say that I’ve definitely filled my boots at his expense.

However, after all of these years of criticism, I’ve decided that it’s time to pay the bloke some respect after his recent efforts to rebuild himself as a force.

On a personal level, I’m sure he will be mighty pleased that he has me in his corner.

After sustaining a long-term injury to his big piggie on tour in South Africa last year, I gleefully made the assumption that it was time to carve a tombstone for Johnson’s international career. I high-fived my dog and celebrated the fact there would be no more summers wasted searching for a miniature collectible car inside a 7 kg box of cereal.

However, in super-impressive fashion, the left-armer has quietly gone back to state cricket for Western Australia and rediscovered his old frightening self. Amid the blisters, elbow grease and empty stands of Shield cricket, he’s slowly returning to the mould of the young helmet-cracking tearaway that once had us excited at the prospect of regular laughs at the expense of opposition batsmen in pain.

Under the tutelage of Dennis Lillee in the Wild West, Johnson is unleashing heavy deliveries that are regularly thwacking into the keeper’s gloves on the back of a revamped rhythmic run-up that has replaced the eyesore that was his former bulky and robotic plonking from before. His custom one-an-over Harmison ball seems to have faded and he is building pressure in testing sections of the wicket.

Against South Australia at the weekend, he combined a testing line with the leathery examination of midriffs, fingers and thigh pads at good pace in the mid-140 km/h range. Just ask a purple Michael Klinger and brown-trousered Kane Richardson, who both came in for some specials from the Johnson menu board on the back of good steam.

He also produced some hostility on the benign MCG wicket in the week before against the Bushrangers, terrorising the Victorian top order with back-bending bounce and that late in-duck to the right-handers that can separate him from other bowlers. He is looking relaxed, untroubled and most importantly, once again interested.

Most will probably say that he’s got a way to go before returning to Baggy Green calculations, and that this is just the beginning of a resurrection that is flowering in the sometimes under whelming surrounds of the domestic circuit.

Ponder this however; with Johnson’s resume showing plenty of highlights of South African decimation over the years combined with the unconditional paternal-type love the selection panel have for him, we could be looking at a return to the national squad sooner rather than later.

Did I hear someone say ‘smokie’ for the third test in Perth?

Save the Dingo: Why I still believe in Robbie Deans

Currently, the pro-Robbie Deans alliance is nowhere to be seen. Its affiliates have either gone very quiet or membership numbers have shrunk to record lows.

A seismic sea wave of gloomy vibes is draped around the Australian game at this point in time, and the collective spittle of blame is being propelled towards the adopted Kiwi boss.

Everyone who cares about the green and gold running game, from your regular line-marker for the local subbies to the always even-tempered David Campese, have all become extremely forthcoming with their useful criticism for the coach, with the majority of the friendly consultancy containing various adaptations of advice such as ‘sack the bastard’, ‘send him home’ and/or ‘give me a crack at this mug’s job.’

Dingo. Don’t go.

Such counsel is constructive, handy and totally warranted in this wonderful country where free speech and the right to rudely bake a coach are coveted. However, I’m here to remind Deans and his fruit-covered staffies that some of his backers are still about and supportive of his plans.

Some of us may be cowering inside a forest, hiding in a rum barrel or bravely taking a stand for the man from behind a keyboard. Nonetheless, we breathe and we be.

Now excuse me while I calmly place my head inside the fang-filled mouth of an un-fed jungle cat. I’m about to go into bat for Dingo Deans and it may get my fellow natives bashing the keyboard like a classical pianist who’s had a fifth coffee.

Here goes.

Mr Deans, our contracted Aussie, Tasman rugby kingship and the victim of much north shore caterwauling, tabloid cussing and burned effigies of your likeness cloaked in tweed jackets. I want you to know that I feel your pain.

One hopes this will assist you to a good night’s sleep, safe in the knowledge that there is a tiny smidgeon of the population that don’t want to place a flaming bag of dog poo on your front porch.

Here are some reasons why I think you are still the right man to lead the Wallabies into the future and beyond.

Firstly, you are not the first bloke who can’t coach a team to beat New Zealand in rugby union. I understand that they tend to win. A lot.

Unfortunately, the measuring stick for success here in Australia is whether or not we can repeatedly beat the buggers, and right now you can’t, much like most blokes before you barring that magnificent Rod McQueen and his lethal bunch of Wallaby demigods from the noughties.

And what about the rotten hand you’ve been dealt with regarding the mystical force of injuries and foot-in-mouth?

One cannot be expected to push a billy-kart to its optimum performance without its first choice tyres and reliable controlling rope, and recently you’ve been given working parts straight from a back alley Taiwanese toy factory.

I challenge any other coach to build their international soap car without valuable machinery such as David Pocock, Will Genia, James O’Connor, Steven Moore et al. And there’s also the dodgy steering fulcrum that is Quade Cooper that you’ve had to mollycoddle.

Finally, if there was one cultural aspect of a rugby organisation that could quell such a rugby brain swollen with nous like yours, it’s the factional warring of the local scene involving the catty bitching and two-faced antics of our franchises and the thirsting for blood of the press.

Would it kill the lot of them to put their own agendas to one side and pull together for the greater good, allowing you to play the role of a coach and not a mediator, thus helping you to concentrate on backline moves, scrum technique and sourcing sufficient Panadol for Berrick Barnes?

It would appear that yes, it would kill them to do so. And it’s unfair.

As our national coach, and a bona fide master of rah-rah philosophy, you deserve better.

Sure, a couple of performances that the team has produced on your watch have been downright horrendous. Intestine-evacuating. Minnow standard. The consistency of sink-pipe hair and trough lollies combined.

But that’s because you haven’t been given a chance to succeed.

Let it be known that I for one am behind you as the man to haul Australian rugby on to your back and valiantly carry it forth in to the future as the global colossus of world rugby it must be.

I will be handing out pamphlets, cold calling and doorknocking, campaigning and driving a Tarago with a loudspeaker on top, all in the name of turning the public around and getting the lot of them behind the Robbie Deans cause.

(I will probably leave Campo alone though, as he seems deluxe cheesed.)

So to those dismayed in green and gold, it starts this Sunday morning against the Poms.

C’mon Australia. Help save the Dingo!

Lock in Eddie

Take a bow, Ed Cowan. You’ve answered beautifully and bought yourself extra time in the hot seat.

The stubbled Tassie Tiger’s breakout 136 against the South Africans was an uncharacteristic belter that stifled the pre-match questioning of those career-killing scribes with proclivities for bustling cricketers closer to the Aussie dole queue.

In the days approaching the first test, the unfashionable 30 year old was touted as the prime duck in an oft-rotated gallery on the verge of facing some scary African pistol action. As one-third of an inexperienced top 3 with a stodgy and frigid method, Cowan was the ugly sister in comparison to the face-melting David Warner, and the one you’ve already dated next to the fresh and untried Rob Quiney.

Ugly sister in unlikely encounter with royalty.

Cowan responded with the confidence of an oversexed prom king and unfurled the carefree YOLO approach towards building his innings which paid dividends from the get-go.

In the face of a star-studded opposition and a knife’s edge scoreboard, he blended his usual method of passively bunting the shine off the ball with an assertive bashing back to its undercoat, proving he wasn’t talking out of his proverbial when he quipped pre-match about his intentions to balance his watchful blocking with carefully-picked brutishness.

He calmly sorted through the basket and jumped on anything ripe, producing an opener’s innings of stylish toughness from the Justin Langer mould by showing superb levels of concentration over a yonks-length knock against the unrelenting force of a diamond-studded attack. His back-foot punching of swing king Dale Steyn early in his dig when the compression of a thin scoreboard was at it’s heaviest being a particular highlight.

It was a respect-earning display of big plums from the 8-test colt against a red ball serpent in tricky times.

In an odd way, it’s a shame that Cowan’s longed-for maiden century under the Australian coat of arms was somewhat unfairly overshadowed by the further rising to royalty of bullet-proof captain Michael Clarke and the frantic triple figures of the now grey-flecked Iron Mike Hussey.

But as a pre-match unkissable sister who may have been without a date for the whole summer, I’m sure he won’t mind.

Look up ‘breakthrough performance’ in your sporting guidebook and you will see this 257-ball beauty from the Paddington-born bookworm. Surely this will buy him some time away from the red pens of the selectors and that obligatory axe that seems to be suspended over at least one bloke in this Australian team every match.

The way the shackles were blown off would tell you that Cowan has found his mode and is ready to flourish. He’s made it to the next round and will now be part of the furniture for the upcoming Sri Lankan series, giving him a platform to build a case for making an opener’s spot his permanently.

Barring an absolutely stonking catastrophe, you can nearly lock Eddie in for the Ashes showdown next year in the Old Dart.

Will Lyon survive Proteas punishment or end up as cool as Bryce?

Australia and South Africa. Two cricketing nations that thoroughly enjoy flattening each other whenever the opportunity arises.

Over the years, arranged beefs between the pair have resembled warring packs of hard-nosed mules in creams, mainly due to an identical stubborn approach to the game by both and a mild undercurrent of mutual hatred that naturally spawned with the early involvement of grating types like Shane Warne and Pat Symcox.

Separation of the teams is usually by a struck match at best, which has ensured there’s been plenty of collector’s items down memory lane for both sets of supporters over the years of skirmish.

Some cherished etchings that spring to mind are South Africa’s wonderful defence of 116 to win in Sydney in 1993/94, Australia’s wonderful defence in scoring 47 all out in Cape Town last year and Warne’s wonderful defence of reputation against allegations of misguided texting whilst on tour in the Republic.

Truly special cricket folklore.

The umpire calls for gloves as he decides he wants a crack at Bryce too.

One such chapter in this book of feuds remains rightly hidden amongst convenient amnesia here in Australia, and that is Bryce McGain’s test debut against the Proteas in 2009, again at Newlands in Cape Town.

McGain was bum rushed by the South African batsman as if a picture of his bespectacled face was on their hotel dartboard for days leading in to the match. The nerdy leg-spinner was shown nil decorum at every opportunity, and with no answer to the ambush, he was given a one-way ticket to international cricket oblivion and trivia stardom with the head-spinning figures of 0-149 from 18 overs.

It was the last time the poor bloke rolled the arm over on the international stage, making it a lowlight that should only be resurfaced provided there is Alka-Seltzer at hand. My deepest apologies to McGain and his fans, and most notably his proud family who did request a refund on flights and accommodation that day.

The reason I exhume such tragic nostalgia is because my waters feel the potential for something unfortunately similar playing out for Nathan Lyon in this match, and I place the blame squarely at the feet of the crocked and unavailable Shane Watson.

(Or the blame could be on the Sydney Sixers, Pat Howard, the stacked international calendar or just bad Dencorub, but that’s another story.)

Without the blonde balance-bestowing all-rounder in the team to provide valuable bowling cover thanks to a pesky calf complaint, immense pressure is on the four chosen specialists to not put a foot wrong in the absence of an insurance policy.

With the South African Massive sure to employ the shrewd tactic of trying to proactively bash the value out of this uninsured vessel in an attempt to stuff its rhythm and lower its horsepower, Lyon appears to be the loosely-fitted side mirror sitting at the perfect height for a swinging piece of thug timber.

Lyon: can the green offie have an impact?

With just six modest wickets in four shield games so far this summer, combined with the Proteas prejudice against lesser-known Aussie tweakers, it makes him the obvious basic kill.

A merciless Lyon-bashing could relegate him to specialist fieldsman status, meaning laborious overtime for the quicks. And with Ben Hilfenhaus coming off a strict diet of 24 balls a sitting and emasculating dancing classes (can anyone explain his drab attempt at acting on the Vodafone ads?), it’s extra workload that could snowball into fatigued fruit flinging, part-time pies and eventually big totals for Australia to chase.

In Lyon’s defence, he has shown that he can hold his own with world-class batting opposition in the past. However, with Graeme Smith’s top 7 boasting a combined total of 36043 test runs over 474 matches, this could be the ultimate test of his trick bag and his temperament.

Are we going to see our young spinner stand up to the stern examination of an attempted mugging, or could we be looking at another murder scene with McGain-like figures?

Be brave, young Lyon. Your country needs your best.

Or for the selectors to opt for four seamers instead.

Now that Israel has returned, God help Ian Schubert

Ian Schubert, the NRL’s salary cap chaperone, has had some devilishly intricate contracts to review over the years.

However, there is one from a different kettle of fish and loaves that stretches his abilities more than most, and with Israel Folau’s return to the land of league imminent, he’s about to tussle with its particulars once again.

With the devout church-goer set to join his fellow spiritual brothers Jarryd Hayne and Tim Mannah at Parramatta, and with Will Hopoate on board in 2014 after two years with the good book, there’s going to be a high dose of divinity in the ranks at the Eels in coming seasons.

So with all of this extra assistance from upstairs sitting on Ricky Stuart’s playing list, it’s only natural to ask the question: how does Schubert assess the Son of God’s value on an NRL club payroll?

“Lord, I have a confession to make. I stink at Aussie Rules.”

I don’t envy the man’s position as the circumstances of the deals seem highly unorthodox.

Jesus is an ever-present force on the football field, yet impossible to quantify on the stats sheet. In short, he’s a real nightmare for the Khoder Nassers and David Riolos of Heaven to put a ballpark price on, and even worse for the Cap Cop to police.

His employment by players from all teams means defining his role and cost is hardly your usual straightforward pact between employer and employee. The complex structure of his portfolio- a genuine saintly spider-web encompassing numerous clubs housing his various devotees- ensures all parties at the negotiation table are usually more flummoxed than forceful.

The super-popular Nazareth product is on strength and conditioning with one club on Mondays, video review on Wednesdays and as for game days?

Only God knows.

It’s a blanket approach to providing services that inspired the Andrew Johns coaching services model. Don’t tie yourself to any one team and get yourself a wardrobe full of different training singlets.

To those writing his bible verses on their wrist tape, his services are so widespread, interminable and bankable that I wouldn’t be surprised if Cronulla are still apportioning some of their cap space to his bank account to cover for the mountains of work he did in the Shire when Jason Stevens was playing.

As for supervising these proceedings, it just seems like too much to deal with for one mere mortal like the humble Schubert.

How must he feel when another version of one of the Messiah’s agreements- loaded like Noah’s ark with celestial intangibles and immeasurable riders- lands on the desk again? What is considered assessable?

Schubert. No idea what’s doing.

Is a club’s cap hit for every player who crosses themselves? Are tattoos of the crucifix on a prop’s bicep waived or considered a bona fide third party arrangement?

And to think this all has to be decoded by a former first-grader who has inadvertently allowed his fair share of detailed agreements through to the keeper in the past. He must be using the man’s name in vain repeatedly.

He better have his best abacus and pencil ready, as Parramatta’s sacred squad- and the bearded chap wearing Skins and holding the tackle bags- is probably going to drive him to the holy water.

Let us pray. For Ian.

Warming the Pine

Sport for those with comfortable couches.