Season’s Greetings

If somebody had asked at the beginning of the year whether the test team could remain unbeaten in 2012 and win both away series in England and Australia, the answer might well have been ‘yes’. But that doesn’t mean to say it would have been delivered with complete conviction!

In 2008 it didn’t seem possible to win in England and Australia within the space of six months, but that’s because the three previous tours to England had failed to deliver victory in ’94, ’98 and ’03 – and the 12 previous tours to Australia spanning a century had also been unproductive.

But having done it once, it was possible to believe it could be done again. Doing so unbeaten? No. Test matches at the Oval and Sydney were lost four years ago at the back of those tours and it seemed fanciful to imagine that six tests against the two best teams in the world – on their turf – could go by without a single loss.

There are many ingredients which make up a great team. Consistent top six, reliable strike bowlers, good spinner, the ability to dry up the flow of opposition runs – and the fearlessness to seize the initiative when the game is in the balance, as Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla showed on that extraordinary second evening in Perth.

But the greatest asset is the ability to avoid defeat, in whatever fashion. Runs, wickets and catches all heap the pressure on the opposition, but nothing demoralises them more than refusing to concede defeat when all others have accepted it as a foregone conclusion.

To win while losing is the greatest achievement in sport. The All Blacks could win test matches with barely 30% of possession. The Brazilian soccer team have absorbed vast swathes of pressure for over half a century before producing a couple of devastating breakaway goals to win – seemingly comfortably.

You can’t train or practise for it. It comes from within, born of a deep, confident belief. The South Africa test team is not there yet, but they’re probably closer than ever before. Just as they looked at series against Australia and England in the 1990s and 2000s and thought “how the hell did we lose?”, so England and Australia will look back at 2012 thinking exactly the same thing.

Cricket Australia’s communications department issue more press releases than almost any other sporting body on earth. The Chinese have a saying: “If it has fur, feathers or four legs, eat it.” In Australian Cricket, the equivalent may be: “If it did happen, might happen or should have happened, issue a press release.”

There was a beauty a couple of days ago when Brisbane Heat coach, Darren Lehmann, was fined for a breach of the playing Code of Conduct. He made “disparaging” comments to the media about a member of the opposition following a Big Bash T20 game. The player in question was West Indian Marlon Samuels whose bowling action has been raising eyebrows for years. Cricket Australia, as usual, stuck to the letter of the law:

“As the matter is now before the Commissioner, CA will not be making any comment on the charge. The date and time of the hearing is yet to be determined.”

And that, it seemed, was that. But someone within the organisation, perhaps, was fed-up with all the political correctness. And added a final paragraph:

“With regard to Lehmann’s accusation, CA has a Doubtful Bowling Action Procedure and according to this policy, any bowler mentioned by three different umpires in the same season is reported. Umpires also have the option to bypass the mentions process and lodge a report directly if they feel it is warranted.”

Good to see Aussie administration finally relaxing and not taking everything so seriously…

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