Dropped catches, second chances, and words aplenty
Every Sunday, we take a different look at the week that was...
On the opening morning of the Boxing Day Test, Andre Nel grasses a straightforward chance at midwicket. By the time he makes amends late in the day, Ricky Ponting has added exactly 100 more to his tally. The following morning, Michael Hussey slashes one to second slip where Jacques Kallis fumbles a chest-high opportunity. On 27 at that stage, Hussey goes on to play an innings for the ages, last man out with Australia having taken their score to a competitive 355. The cost of the butter-fingeredness is 195 runs. The eventual margin of victory? 184.
Regular at Last Chance Saloon
His selection for the World Cup squad ahead of a certain Stephen Waugh raised heckles among the sentimental everywhere. And in truth, Andrew Symonds had done little in his career to justify such a leap of faith. But with poison pens at the ready in the Johannesburg press box and Australia in disarray against a fired-up Wasim Akram, Symonds came out to play one of the all-time great one-day innings. Subsequent pyrotechnics cemented his slot in the ODI, but his unease on the Test stage had been palpable in half a dozen appearances dating back to his debut in Colombo last year.
Failure in front of a vociferous crowd at the MCG might have been the end, but emboldened by a sterling spell of medium-pace bowling, he came out and batted as we know he can - South Africans might have been reminded of Adrian Kuiper and Garth le Roux - smashing his way to 72 from 54 balls, half the runs in sixes. Jim Morrison once wrote: "Out here on the edge, there are no boundaries." For Symonds, with his Test career overlooking the precipice, there were only boundaries.
A legend passes on
Most in my generation didn't have the good fortune to watch Eddie Barlow, except on highlights packages. But we did know that he played in a very special team that walloped the Australians 4-0, and the tributes that poured in after he passed on revealed just how special his blue-collar work ethic had been to a team of stars like Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards and Mike Proctor. The squat Barlow, like the less than svelte Inzamam-ul-Haq and the corpulent Colin Milburn, was also a gentle reminder to the fitness freaks that you don't need to be shaped like an Olympic gymnast to bat like a dream. We can only hope that the South African team honours him by going out and playing the Sydney Test as he would have - flint hard and scrupulously fair.
From now until the umpires call play at Lahore on January 13, we're destined to be subjected to the rent-a-quote phenomenon, former stars from both sides of the border topping up bank balances with inane chatter about the India-Pakistan series. Imran Khan fancies Pakistan, other feel that Ganguly will weaken the Indian dressing room, Wasim Akram wants bouncy pitches, Mr X feels Shoaib will be key. Yawn. Snore. Former players often complain of not getting the respect they're due from the young 'uns. Ending the rent-a-quote phenomenon would go a long way to earning that esteem. It's no coincidence that Richie Benaud, who uses words so sparingly, is so well respected.
Shane Warne's appeals at the MCG made a mockery of the ICC's much-waved-about Code of Conduct. A more experienced umpire than Asad Rauf, who did a commendable job under the circumstances, might just have taken Warne to one side and asked him to shut his cakehole. As it was, astonishingly, Chris Broad, the match referee, let him off without so much as a fine. Having watched Lakshmipathy Balaji and Inzamam get stitched up for far less in the last India-Pakistan series, you just wonder what parameters the ICC use to define misconduct. Or does having taken 650 wickets allow you to behave like a prat?
And last but not least...Boy done good...again
Just how good is Michael Hussey? If his performances in last summer's NatWest Series and this Australian summer are any indicator, he's on course for greatness at the ripe old age of 30. More than the thrilling array of strokes, it's his composure that marks him out as truly special. The shepherding of Stuart MacGill at Adelaide in November, and Glenn McGrath at Melbourne was so adroit that you almost forgot that nine wickets were down.
Quote-hanger: "I don't think we are over-appealing at all. To me it's just a part of the game." - Justin Langer and team Australia appear determined to nail that Strepsils sponsorship.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo