January 16, 2009

Melbourne Mesmeriser beats Brisbane Bludgeoner

Matthew Hayden, the Brisbane Bludgeoner himself, has become the latest of the Australian old guard to succumb to the inescapable tentacles of time

Matthew Hayden, the Brisbane Bludgeoner himself, has become the latest of the Australian old guard to succumb to the inescapable tentacles of time. And when each of the modern Baggy Green legends stands in his bathroom in the morning, and asks, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most irreplaceable of us all?”, the mirror will, without a moment’s hesitation reply: “Warne. Statistically, Warne by the longest chalk you’ve ever seen. I don’t care where your blackboard is, this chalk could reach it. I mean you’re all good players, don’t get me wrong, and I know these things can’t be measured by numbers alone, but it’s Warne. Definitely Warne. You’ve got toothpaste on your chin.”

It’s stats time. The Confectionery Stall, as regular readers will know, fears not the infernal breath of statistics. Indeed, it positively revels in what others find mathematically halitotic. So strap in. If you are allergic to averages, please take an anti-histamine tablet before reading on. The loss of Hayden, like that of Langer and Martyn before him, should be overcome with little fuss by a nation still enviably strong in batting depth. Arguably, Australia should be stronger without him. Any team would miss a 50-average batsman, but it is really the post-recall Hayden of 2001-03 who was irreplaceable – averaging 71, scoring at 4 per over, with the power and grace of a rampaging rhinoceros. Since then, he has averaged a healthy but hardly indispensable 44, and since the 2006-07 Ashes only a Kim-Hughesian 37.

Since Langer took his career average of 45 off into the sunset, Katich and Jaques between them have averaged well over 50, as has Symonds from the moment he replaced the fading Martyn. Haddin is now stepping increasingly confidently into Gilchrist’s shoes – shoes which had averaged a provably human and increasingly indecisive 30 in the Perth Pummeler’s last 28 Tests over 2½ years, compared with Haddin’s 38 average since his predecessor retired to spend more time irritating people with books.

The bowling has been the greater problem by far. Australia miss McGrath like a dog would miss its snout, but even so, Mitchell Johnson, who made his debut the Test after McGrath’s retirement, has since averaged only fractionally more than the Narromine Nagger in his final 14 matches after his ankle injury at Edgbaston in 2005.

When Warne consigned himself to the history books in a blaze of England-whitewashing glory, he had taken over 700 wickets at an average of 25, and an economy rate of 2.65. Australia have played 18 Tests and selected six different front-line spinners – Hogg, MacGill, Casson, White, Krejza and Hauritz, who between them in 17 appearances have taken 48 wickets at an average of 52, whilst donating 3.66 runs per over to the opposition cause. Only Hauritz has exerted even a pretence of control, and when Krezja’s debut is removed on grounds of being barkingly bizarre, Australia’s post-Warne tweakers and twirlers have mustered 36 wickets at an average of almost 60.

As the old saying goes, ‘the mirror never lies’ – even when, in the case of this blog, that mirror is fictitious, and probably excessively influenced by statistics it has spent far too much time calculating. How Australia must be wishing that Mr and Mrs MacGill had decided to wait another ten years before starting a family. Ricky Ponting might even be wishing that Ian Salisbury had been born under the Southern Cross. Or that Warne has a bad run on the poker tables and needs a bit of extra paid work in July and August.

In the meantime, the Melbourne Mesmeriser can add to his bulging collection of accolades an official Confectionery Stall nomination for ‘Most Irreplaceable Cricketer Of All Time’, alongside Bradman, Richard Hadlee and Great West Indies Fast Bowlers 1976-2000 Collectively. Your further nominations are welcome. A winner will be adjudicated and sent a complimentary print-out of a Confectionery Stall blog of his or their choice.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer