Australia should not, and will not, be overly discouraged by their loss to Zimbabwe the other night. Zimbabwe have been fanning about the Carribean for the past two and a half months and while still really a mongrel of a team feature some class performers including Hamilton Masakadza, the hero of the other night Elton Chigumbura, and the real pedigree among the nation's vast cohort of spinners, Ray Price. Practice matches are a laboratory for cricket to experiment and observe and should not be treated with undue seriousness. It is lamentable that they have become so greatly curtailed in the interests of squeezing more representative games into the international calender. It is my belief that, in the Australian summer at least, touring teams have become severely handicapped by their absence often not hitting their stride until well into the second Test.
Regardless of this practice match there are some real worries for the Australian side who performed miserably at the previous two tournaments. I shall air my surmises of the team.
If we apply Freytag's model to the tragic collapse of Brett Lee's career, the unfortunate bowler's muscle strain is a pathetic wrench in the falling action, a dumb miserable blow to the already gutted audience. We might mourn the wretched creature's fortune at another time but this calamity is not so pitiable for the resilient nation. Though posing a nasty threat at this point last year, it has since been proved that Australia's well of fast-bowling reserves runs as deep as the sage wisdom of Whoopi Goldberg. There will undoubtedly be grumbling over the decision to select Ryan Harris over Doug Bollinger for the tournament. The ebullient Bollinger is presently the pick of the nation's bowling and is enjoying unsurpassed form. Bollinger went to the heart of the nation over the summer with his daft humour and unflagging enthusiasm to sign autographs. The Moirae asigned cricket is a creative weaver and perhaps the good sir is yet to feature in Carribean. For now though he must be resigned to the inchoate realm of speculation. Should he maintain his form across the year the bowler will prove a real force in the next Ashes and could effect a domination over the English.
Johnson and Hauritz are class bowlers and given recent history should put in solid performances. The other bowlers are still somewhat unknown to many ears. Harris is a workman; productive and efficent. When compared with the charismatic and exhibtionist bowling artists who have endeared themselves to the public Harris is undemonstrative. Dirk Nannes with his foreign name and middle class good manners is generally mistrusted by the public. Though he has not exactly distinguished himself in the few games played for his nation, in the IPL Nannes has been instrumental for Delhi and one of the pre-eminent quicks in the last two tournaments. The denizen of the Japanese alps is also the most educated and refined member of the squad as well and probably has a beautiful snow-boarding girlfriend. Both should be decent though unlikely to effect a place within the bosom of this sporting land. Shaun Tait is a more risky prospect. The hallmark of the ungainly slinger has been inconsistency. Tait produced a supreme couple of overs in the March, Auckland twenty over game placating the tearaway McCullum only to make an offering of the game with his dog of a super over. He was alternately sublime and awful for Rajasthan as with the Bushrangers during the Big Bash. Tait has made an audacious move in restricting his appearances to the the twenty over format and if he plans to make a functional career he must become a dependable, match winning performer. Otherwise he, and his poorly back will have to disappear back to the wilds.
Bollinger aside the nation should take heart in this predatory group. Potentially alarming though is the abundance of all-rounders in the squad: Daniel Christian, David Hussey, Steven Smith, Shane Watson, and Cameron White. Add to this Michael Clarke, who boasts prodigious proficency in both pursuits as well as the legitimate claims to batting from Johnson and Harris. This leaves only David Warner and Michael Hussey along with the keeper Haddin competing with bat alone. What has been proved this IPL is that a long tail can produce complacency as with Bangalore or Mumbai. Far more effective is having a group of specialist batsmen to establish an innings and a rabid flurry from any old bloke to end it. Bowling options should not be placing these players into the squad over more promising batsmen such as Phillip Hughes or George Bailey. If Michael Hussey is to play Twenty Twenty he should be featuring near the top of the innings. Effective batting should be emphasised to the all-rounders, especially Watson, White, and David Hussey. Dearth of batting could prove the weakness in the Australian squad.
A final word on the IPL. With the suspension of Lalit Modi and the shambles that the tournament has stumbled into the chaos doubters claimed was inevitable. Whatever his immediate fate though, Modi's legacy is established. The model of a twenty over tournament with star power has been adopted in Australia, England, and South Africa. The IPL will continue and grow in size and these other tournaments will become complimentary to it. Hopefully the Big Bash will grow with time to include New Zealand as well as the Australian states.
The increasing commercialisation of this year's tournament was both startling and annoying though and made the previous two contests positively tasteful. Furthermore it was stupid. There was a great sense of fun at the first tournament, and a strong sense of India. Celebrations were gaudy but undeniably of that nation. This has gone. Temporarily adopted for the move to South Africa, the Aryan cheerleaders were retained, incongruous and unconvincingly executing sloppy moves. Bring back the Indians.
While in previous tournaments the DLF maximum and Citi Moment of Success were terms to be endured this manner of infiltrating the consciousness flourished in this years coverage. I got the shock of my life when the IPL coverage started slipping in short little advert bytes here and there, inevitably the one of Sehwag and Gambhir yelling Vira at each other. Karbonn Kamal catches is ruefully acceptable but the MRF blimp! With each new match an extra shot of the blasted blimp was brought into the game and the poor commentator, probably at gunpoint, would have to interrupt speaking about the game to make some inane dribble about the broadcasting partner. Then in the final two weeks the advert blips doubled and two clips were sneaked in between balls. Now the wider world has been introduced to Peak energy bars and the Beeping Amazing Man telephone. These adverts mean nothing to those outside India. We already have to brave the incessant appeals of Ashley and Martin, and Tim Cahill scoring a penalty for Weetabix. It is bad enough that the IPL gives such inept commentary from Pommy Mbangwa and Sunil Gavaskar. Hopefully the demise of Modi will mean a rethinking of some of these foolish decisions.