The former England captain's take on the fortnight in cricket

'You can't allow the big names to pick and choose'

The freelancer issue to the fore again. Plus, challenges for Pakistan and Pietersen (08:00)

December 28, 2009


The Tony Greig Show

'You can't allow the big names to pick and choose'

December 28, 2009

Shane Watson is dropped at first slip by Misbah-ul-Haq, Australia v Pakistan, 1st Test, Melbourne, December 26, 2009
"Pakistan does have one major problem - taking catches" © Getty Images

Pakistan's tour of Australia
There is certainly a view in Australia that the Pakistan pace attack will cause the Australian batsmen more problems than West Indies did. Having seen Mohammad Aamer and Umar Gul recently in Dubai, and bearing in mind that Mohammad Asif is back in the team, I am prepared to go along with this. Mind you, Gul has a few niggles and is not playing in the first Test.

However, Pakistan does have one major problem - taking catches. They dropped six in an innings against New Zealand recently, and have started badly in Melbourne, putting two down before lunch.

There is an added problem for Australia and it comes in the form of spinners Saeed Ajmal and Danish Kaneria. They both have bowled beautifully against New Zealand recently and both possess plenty of variety. Ajmal has a well-disguised doosra and topspinner, and also tosses in the odd arm-ball. On his day he can be a serious handful. Kaneria has proved his versatility over the years, but unfortunately he too did not pass his fitness test in Melbourne.

The batting is a different matter but should not be underestimated. On their day Pakistan are capable of absolutely anything, but they don't seem to have got over their tendency to self-destruct.

One way or the other, Mohammad Yousuf and his team will take heart from the way West Indies performed against Australia. They certainly won't be dwelling on their track record in Australia. They are yet to win a Test series in Australia, and have lost the last six in a row. What's more, Australia has beaten Pakistan 3-0 in their last two series in Australia. Ricky Ponting will be aware that he doesn't have much firepower in his pace attack. Based on Australian standards and current form Australia are an average attack - Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Doug Bollinger and Shane Watson -and are not going to cause many sleepless nights for batsmen. And unless the wicket turns square, I can't see Nathan Hauritz troubling anyone. In any event, Pakistan play spinners very well. At the time of recording Australia are off to a good start in Melbourne.

England's tour of South Africa
Caution seems to be the order of the day in the series between South Africa and England, with both teams opting for the extra batsman in the first Test. As it turned out, a slightly more aggressive approach by South Africa could have resulted in a victory for them.

England survived a dramatic collapse to salvage a draw in a thrilling finish. Debutant Friedel de Wet struck three times as five fell for 13, but Graham Onions survived the final over.

Andrew Strauss will be feeling the pressure because he is not getting much support from his opening partner, Alistair Cook; and England depend a lot on him getting them off to a solid start.

This series is wide open but Graeme Smith probably thinks his team have the edge, especially in Durban, where his fast bowlers should extract plenty of help. It could all get down to how Kevin Pietersen handles playing in his hometown. Much has been made of the pressure the South African crowds have been trying to impose on England's South Africans, but seasoned cricketers don't often allow sledging to distract them.

Makhaya Ntini's century
I have a special place in my heart for South Africa's effervescent fast bowler Makhaya Ntini because we come from the same part of South Africa, and I have known him since he first arrived on the scene. There haven't been many bowlers who have graduated from shepherd to frontline fast bowler, nor have there been many who have bowled with such determination over a career. Ntini made history by becoming the first black South African Test cricketer, and only the third South African, to take 300 Test wickets, after Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald. He was the first of the black South Africans to have fully justified his place in the team based on talent, and he played with distinction through a period South Africa should be very proud of. Serious changes had to be made after the fall of apartheid, which justifiably meant the previously disadvantaged had to be promoted and Ntini would have played an important role in nursing those who, like him, had been ignored for years.

Sri Lanka's tour of India
There is no doubt that India under Mahendra Singh Dhoni has improved as an ODI outfit. The talent has always been there, but for some strange reason they have underperformed. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar are all in the top 10 in the batting rankings at the moment, and that consistency along with the firepower of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir will ensure plenty of runs.

India's bowlers don't have anyone in the top 10, which is an indication of weakness. The huge scores Sri Lanka have managed recently against them is an indication of this.

Sri Lanka will be dreadfully disappointed with their tour of India, and the time is now right to persuade Sanath Jayasuriya to give the international game away. Jayasuriya has had a great run and he should be happy to spend the rest of his playing days touring the world playing Twenty20 cricket.

Both teams must improve their performances away from home if they are to maintain their positions at the top of the rakings.

Mitchell Johnson pushes away Sulieman Benn, Australia v West Indies, 2nd Test, Perth, 17 December, 2009
"West Indies were justifiably upset by the inequity of the punishment dealt out by match referee Chris Broad" © Getty Images

The Benn-Haddin-Johnson spat
The debate about the nasty spat between Sulieman Benn, Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson in the Perth Test continues to rage in Australia. What seems to have been forgotten is that it takes at least two to tango, and in this particular case it was three.

West Indies were justifiably upset by the inequity of the punishment dealt out by match referee Chris Broad. My view is that a blanket should have been thrown over all three of the protagonists and they should all have received a severe fine - something like 75% to 100% of their match fee. It's also fair to suggest that the Aussies, as usual, love to dish it out but have never been that good at taking it.

Shane Watson also found himself in trouble after he mocked Chris Gayle in a performance that at best was childish. He too should have lost 75% of his fee, not a miserly 10%. It's also interesting to note that the vast majority found Watson's behaviour unsavoury and out of character with what the Aussies perceive as the Aussie way.

Ponting, normally very protective of his players, has found it necessary to have a talk to his team about their behaviour - let's hope it has the desired effect.

India's former captain Anil Kumble was quick to jump into the fray, drawing a parallel with the problems the Indians had with the Aussies on their last tour Down Under. He made a point of suggesting that umpires and match referees tended to be soft on Australia, and I think he has a good point.

Australian Cricketers' Association survey
I find player surveys interesting because it allows current players to voice their opinions without having their names associated with their feelings. The recent survey conducted by the Australian players' association exposed one very interesting point.

The players are of the view that as a result of the Indian Premier League and other domestic-based Twenty20 competitions, the cricket landscape has changed forever. Players in some countries can now earn as much money, or more, from playing in these leagues as they can from representing their country - and earn that money in a much shorter time.

An overwhelming majority of Australian cricketers believe players will turn down central contracts in order to position themselves as Twenty20 "freelancers" in the coming seasons, prompting the Australian Cricketers' Association to describe the issue as one of the most serious the game has faced. There is absolutely no doubt that cricket is going to have to deal with the temptations associated with doing an Andrew Flintoff. The game simply can't allow its big names to pick and choose when they will represent their national teams.

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