Old fashioned SA virtues needed

Shane Warne is a very tired man. Three days before the second Test began at the MCG he made an appearance during a charity match against players from the Essendon Football Club (that’s Aussie Rules Football) and told several people he had “a sore shoulder, sore finger, sore arm and a sore back.”

He is a great champion, no one doubts that, and bowling through the pain barrier is part-and-parcel of the leg spinner’s lot. It won’t be the first time he has bowled in pain and it won’t be the first time he’s looked hot and bothered.

But at the age of 36 it is becoming increasingly hard for his body to recover and Glenn McGrath, just a year younger, finds himself in a similar position. And there is a common theme amongst all the victories achieved against Australia in the last three years – that fact that they have been kept in the field for four sessions or longer and the losing Test has been the second half of a back-to-backer.

India’s great batsmen have done it twice and England won the final Test of the last Ashes series in Australia when they batted for over 125 overs, more than four sessions, in both innings.

There is a commonly held belief amongst many Australians, although not perhaps in the national team, that there is a handsome dividend paid to the opposition team which can keep Ricky Ponting’s men in the field for a day and a half.

Like all teams they tire – but unlike other teams the number of 30+ players in the Australian side counts against them and they suffer especially badly when there is another Test match to be played within a matter of days, as there is here with the New Year’s Test at the SCG starting after a two day break on January 2nd.

So day three, as it so often does, will decide which way the Boxing Day Test will go. A couple of early wickets and the home side are likely to sieze control and, with two leg spinners bowling on the fourth and fifth days will be highly fancied to win.

But three or four hours of old-fashioned guts, discipline and bloody-mindedness, exactly the qualities Shane Warne ridiculed Graeme Smith for having before the Test, will leave the great leg spinner hotter under the collar than ever while the most successful fast bowler in the history of Test cricket will be rubbing his aching joints for days – right up until the Sydney Test, in fact.

The drop-in pitch at the MCG is petulant rather than spiteful but, as AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs showed, it can be tamed; as with stroppy children, patience will be the key. Any thought of corporal punishment (hitting over the top) is likely to fail.

And if a total of 450 can be reached, it may be the tourists who work themselves into a position to win.

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