Friday 30 January 2009

Is Warner really the top drawcard at ODIs?

The tabloid media certainly tried to convince fans last week that if new kid on the block David Warner was not opening the batting for Australia then One Day Internationals were not worth watching this summer. Mind you this push came after his sizzling debut in the first Twenty20 match against South Africa when he smashed 89 runs off 43 balls and subsequent loss in the first ODI with Warner not in the side, but as sensationalistic reporting tends to do – the real point is missed as to what the star attraction at 50 over games is these days. So if Warner’s blazing style isn’t the big draw at the cricket for remaining weeks of summer, what is? The answer is bowlers who can win matches for their side. The idea of bashing the life out of the ball from ball one has been around for a while with the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuria at the forefront over the past decade but with the global explosion of Twenty20 cricket the One Day game is fast becoming the domain where true strike bowlers shine. South Africa’s Dale Steyn was brilliant in the Test Series taking 18 wickets, practically winning the Second Test with his bowling returning match figures of 10/154 in the series clinching game at the MCG. Unfortunately for Australia his form has also continued with the shiny white ball (taking 12 wickets in 6 matches) making him the story of this Australian summer. No it is not Mitchell Johnson, no matter how much Australian selectors and fans would like to think he’s turned the corner and become the leader of the Australian attack; he’s certainly not there yet. The fact he was given time off following the Test Series suggests he’s got a long way to go before he can shoulder the load of the nation’s strike bowler. Batsmen who can smash the ball are a dime a dozen at the moment, but bowlers who can turn a match within their ten over spell are the true drawcard on the ODI schedule now. Australia won’t be featuring perennial speedster Brett Lee in the One Dayers this summer because of injury but with one game left against South Africa and five more to come against the returning New Zealanders, the cupboard is still stocked with quicks capable of exciting the crowds. With Steyn departing back to South African following the Perth clash on Friday, one of the Australian pace trio of Shaun Tait, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus have the tough ask of replacing Steyn as the value for money attraction in the series against New Zealand. The obvious choice for super-speed entertainment is Shaun Tait but he has trouble getting through four overs in Twenty20 cricket so he can’t be relied upon to play every ODI. There is no doubt that when he opens the bowling and clocks in above 150km/h every ball the crowd is completely engrossed in the action, as usually the batsmen are just trying to avoid injury during that opening spell. Tait is the biggest threat in the Australian bowling arsenal to tear a batting lineup apart but he’s look ineffective in his later spells which is a major concern for the make up of the side. Johnson has turned the corner in his development over this summer but his inability to backup for the two Twenty20s and opening games of the One Day Series against South Africa tempered the impact he might’ve had on the second half of this season. Still he is proving to be a wicket taker and even though his role in the ODI side may be as first change – he can still lift the excitement levels around the ground with his pace and bounce. Hilfenhaus is a swing bowler with pace and although he may not have Steyn’s explosiveness he is the right mix of bowler to give Australia a weapon against the Kiwis who might win a game on his own. Despite losing the Test and One Day Series against the visiting South Africans (who have played the better cricket by a fair margin), Australia will get a chance to make up for these losses with another series in South Africa starting late February. But even if one of the aforementioned Tait, Johnson or Hilfenhaus breaks out against New Zealand, Australia’s continuing struggles with the bat in the middle order suggests that our attack better improve – otherwise we’ll continue to be second best to the South African team led by the dynamic Dale Steyn. CYCLING In case you didn’t know… Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong made the first significant steps in his comeback to the sport this month in the Tour Down Under in South Australia. Armstrong never made a serious run at winning the tour finishing 29th in the field of 122 but if you also didn’t know who won the event... it was an Australian by the name of Allan Davis. I guess the question is not so much – who is Allan Davis? – but can we start thinking that we’ve got another genuine challenger for the Tour de France come July alongside Cadel Evans? Let’s hope so. TENNIS Watching the Australian Open Tennis late last week and I caught the end of the second round game between American #9 seed James Blake and a no name Frenchman... well he does have a name (Sebastien De Chaunac) but he is ranked 253 in the world and has just five career wins on tour, so if you don't know him, you are not alone. De Chaunac battled crowd distractions in the third set and with Blake serving for the match and up 40-0 in the final game, the Frenchman realised he was playing with a broken string in his racquet. Knowing the match was lost but not one to let an opportunity to entertain the crowd pass by, De Chaunac held up his racquet to the patrons pleading with them to understand he needed a new one to continue. So he went to his bag replaced the racquet, walked back on court and proceeded to not even swing at the ace Blake served to close out the game. Game, Set & Match: Mr. Blake 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Tennis late on a summer’s night – this is why you watch… oh and if Ana Ivanovic is playing.