Friday, November 11, 2011

A Mad Day at the Office

They say “strange things happen in cricket,” but trust me they don't happen more stranger than this.

On this day, 10th November on a pleasant, yet less threatening, afternoon in Newlands Park, Cape Town, South Africa, the world witnessed a day of cricket of unbelievable proportions. It was already shaping up into a fantastic Test match with a sublime hundred by the Australian captain, Michael Clarke, staying unbeaten last night to resume the day at 107 with a tail-ender, Peter Siddle, yet to open his account and score of 214 for the loss of 8 wickets. But little did we know that the 2nd day of this Test match itself might have so much to offer.

Michael Clarke continued from where he left yesterday to score a fantastic 151, while adding precious 70 runs with Peter Siddle for the ninth wicket. Finally, with the final wicket of the Aussies captain to fall, Australia managed 284. And with 13 overs to play till lunch, South Africa didn't exactly set the stage on fire, but scored 49 runs with the loss of Jacques Rudolph. The real story was on the other side of the lunch.

South Africa must have come out, certainly, thinking to get closer to Australia's score and look to take a sizeable lead to put pressure on the Aussies. Definitely fate and Australian bowlers had different idea. With a misfiring Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke had little choice but to give the bowl to Shane Watson, but even Clarke in his wildest dream might have not planned this. Shane Watson completed a 5-wicket haul in less than 4 overs (21 balls to be precise), while Ryan Harris made sure there was no resistance from the other end, bagging 4 wickets. In short, from 49 at the loss of one wicket, South Africa plunged to 96 all out – all in a space of a little more than 11 overs after lunch. South Africa trudged off the ground to take field with a lead hovering over their heads of 188 runs.

Shane Watson - he's the one who started it

The session between lunch and tea hadn't finished yet, and nor did the madcap play which now looks like it had demons in it.

In came the two Australian openers, with a lot of time in the Test match as well as effectively starting with 188 for no less. But Dale Steyn took care of Shane Watson in the very first over, when he had him trapped in front. It was as bizarre as it can be, because Australia was reduced by the end of the 2nd session to 13 for 3 and once they came out to resume, they were further reduced to scarcely believeable 21 for 9. This Australian side was well on its way to not only outgun their own lowest total of 36, but they were in real danger of even making their Kiwi neighbours happy by breaking their embarrassing record of the lowest ever total in Test cricket history – 26. Fortunately or unfortunately, Australia didn't break either of those records but it didn't make their day any better, because they were finally bowled out for a miserly 47 only. In the process, Vernon Philander picked up a five-fer on debut with pinpoint accuracy and remarkable seam and swing bowling, while Morne Morkel and Steyn looked to support him.

Vernon Philander - on debut,, continued the mayhem with his five-fer

With more than 270 runs to go and only 236 runs to chase, one would had thought South Africa would had looked to bide their time and play for the day. However, suddenly everything looked calm, as if nothing had happened. South Africa are now comfortably placed at 81-1 with just 155runs to win, making them slightly favourite, considering that they are now chasing the second highest total at Newlands Park.

Those of you who are reading this might say that there must have been something in the pitch to suggest such a day, but there was nothing in the pitch. To the contrary, it was a perfectly normal day, with a very good wicket which had value for good batting as well as something in for the bowlers. What can be argued is that, with a growing trend of that pyjama cricket as we call it, T-20, and batsmen losing the art of proper batting, making stalwarts like Ponting, Hussey and Kallis, look amateur, it could had been different before the advent of that “hit-out-or-get-out” version of cricket. The pitch, as Clarke pointed out at the press conference, had absolutely nothing much to make it such a day, but it was most definitely a case of some very precise bowling but also some very poor shot selections by very experienced cricketers.

Nevertheless, as a cricket lover this is exactly what one longs to witness on a cricket field. Today was a day that had runs scored at a decent tick of 3.7 runs per over, nearly 300 runs that is, but also 23 wickets to fall. The day started with the 1st innings nearing its end and the day ended with the 4th innings in progress, with the home side in pursuit of the final target. All of that happened in one day, precisely in one and half session of mad play.

With all of this, one of the heroes of the day will always remain unsung on such days, a hero that has faced criticism, being a subject of debate, point of disagreements and even a case where this hero is used in some series and in some, not at all. That hero is Decision Review System, abbreviated into and most commonly known as DRS. In fact, DRS was brought into play so many times during this day that, at least as a human, we lost count of it. It was the DRS that reversed decisions in favour of the batsmen and when the fielding team went for it, it upheld in their favour also when the on-field umpires didn't. It definitely was an unsung hero of the day, as one cricket expert has gone as far as naming this test match, “Technology Test”.

The day started with South Africa slightly holding an upper hand in the Test and now they've ended the day with them being slightly favourite to win the match by tomorrow, while No. 11 Lyon top scored in an innings and the man at the top of the order, Watson grabbed the most wickets for Australia.

They say strange things happen in cricket but not quite as strange as today. A day of epic proportions, indeed.

PhotoCourtesy: Cricinfo

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