Thursday 18 December 2008

NSC Sports Blog: December 19, 2008

In today’s issue laden Blog:
> Ben Cousins is back and the game is better for it. > Dale Steyn wants to dominate in Australia, history suggests otherwise. > Mitchell Johnson is finally deserving of his place in the team. Ben Cousins is back in the AFL after spending a year suspended for off-field substance abuse and the Richmond Football Club should be congratulated for making the right call and giving the former West Coast star a chance to show he’s still got it at the top level. A case can be made that the Tigers are on a hiding to nothing if Cousins can’t stay clean but seriously even if the 30 year old goes back to his old ways – the Tigers really don’t lose anything by taking a flier on Cousins. Cousins the footballer makes the Tigers an instant playoff contender because of the drive and skills he’ll bring to the midfield and he’s hardly past it physically. A big pre-season will get rid of any rust he’s built up while on suspension and Richmond Coach Terry Wallace will make sure the Tigers game plan uses Cousins as much as possible.
The move will annoy the other fifteen teams in the AFL because all logic from a PR standpoint said they couldn’t be the team that gave Cousins an opportunity to re-offend. Richmond’s failure to meet their fan’s expectations has been epidemic for years and despite making a late push at the Finals in 2008 they have made themselves potentially that much better with Cousins in the lineup. If any team (well other than West Coast) were serious about Cousins from a football perspective then that should have overridden the negative reasons for adding Cousins because we play the game to win and cutting Cousins loose if he faltered would’ve been easy and acceptable. As for Cousins he’s got his 387th chance and he has a life altering twelve months ahead of him. Believing in his ability to dominate the game again won’t be an issue, but the pressure of measuring up to the opportunity Richmond have given him is the dangerous aspect of this new chapter of his life. He’s announced that he’s clean but he must realise that his performance on the field can no longer cover for his off-field lifestyle and if he has turned this corner in his personal choices – then good luck to him and good luck to the Richmond Football Club. Dale Steyn is in Australia to help South African win the Test Series but history is against either Steyn dominating or South Africa since no touring side has won a series since 1992/1993 when the great West Indian fast bowler Curtly Ambrose destroyed the hosts in Frank Worrell Trophy that summer. Ambrose took 33 wickets in 5 Tests winning the Man of the Series award including two Man of the Match awards in the West Indies two victories in the final two tests taking 19 wickets. But since that time no bowler has managed to come to Australia as his country's strike weapon and be a difference maker in the win column. In a three game series Steyn won’t take 33 wickets but as the strike bowler in the South African lineup he must realistically take at least 15 wickets (but needs 20 to have dominated) and win at least one game by himself. He’s started the First Test at the WACA with 1st Innings figures of 23 overs, 4 maidens, 81 runs conceded and 2 wickets taken. He dismissed Australia’s most reliable batsman Michael Hussey for a 7 ball duck and then removed Brett Lee for 29. His new ball partner Makhaya Ntini made the early strikes dismissing Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting cheaply on his way to 4/72 off 19.5 overs. The 2nd Innings needs Steyn to step up and make a statement because given South Africa’s collapse late on Day Two, the tourists need something special to be any chance of winning the all important First Test. Speaking of the First Test a left arm fast bowler by the name of Mitchell Johnson might actually be living up to the hype… FINALLY! Johnson was brilliant on Day Two taking 7/42 from 18 overs and finished the day with a 21 ball spell that netted the wickets of AB de Villiers (63), Jacques Kallis (63), JP Duminy (1), Morne Morkel (1) and Paul Harris (0) at the cost of just two runs. Those five wickets to go with his removal of the South African openers (Graeme Smith 48 & Neil McKenzie 2) has Johnson and Australia flying high after the first two days of the First Test.
The deliveries that removed set bastmen de Villiers and Kallis were superb and the final half an hour of cricket from the WACA was exhilarating television. The way he sent Harris on his way sent tingles up your spine as the plan was executed perfectly – and he only had three balls to make it happen. Johnson took wickets in India but did not bowl particularly well and had hardly made a case that he deserved his test spot but his form since touching down in Australia against New Zealand and now South Africa has a lot of sceptics (this writer included) GLADLY eating humble pie.