November 1, 2012

A battle of allrounders, captains, coaches and quick men

The Australia-South Africa series is one to make cricket lovers everywhere sit up. One man in particular

For the first time in more than 30 years, the Australian summer of cricket will begin without Tony Greig at the microphone. His illness is well enough documented, though no less shocking for it. He hopes to work again during the summer but right now the big fella has his nose to the grindstone that is the dreaded C word.

It is especially poignant that the South Africans are in Australia. Greig will have the television on when the first ball is delivered at the Gabba, and his heart will be with the land of his birth. You can take the man out of Africa but there is no taking Africa out of the man. Immigrant Southern Africans have strongholds in Perth, Sydney, and much of Queensland, where a community of Zimbabweans has settled of late. Support from them and others has given him strength. Calls and mail from myriad Australians - Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson among them - have lifted his spirit. Battles of bat and ball leave respect as their legacy. From this can come surprising friendship.

Australians do not give easy ground. Greig has played devil's advocate in the Channel 9 commentary box for as long as anyone cares to remember, taunting his great friend Bill Lawry, in particular, to a catalogue of memorable exchanges that have built the folklore of Channel 9's coverage of the game. It is a part he relishes. But Australia is home. He neither forgets this nor is anything but grateful for it. Indeed, he would not swap the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney for the world. There may be an element of love/hate to his on-screen relationship with Australian audiences but, in truth, the suggestion of hate is more vaudeville than fact. Greigy is a much-loved part of the landscape.

Only two cricketers to have played a significant number of Tests have averaged better than 40 with the bat and 33 with the ball. It's a good trivia question, and no, neither Sir Garfield nor Sir Ian is the right answer. And not Imran Khan, Kapil Dev or Keith Miller either. Jacques Kallis is one - which, given his weight of runs, wickets and catches, rather supports the case that he is among the two or three finest cricketers to have played the game. AW Greig is the other.

Greig went to England in the late 1960s, playing first for Sussex and soon for England. The qualification came from his Scottish father and it worked well enough for both parties, to the point to which he became a charismatic and forthright captain of his first adopted country. After Kerry Packer's lightning hijack of the game, very much with Greig at his side, these attributes were brought to the commentary box and have not wavered since. It will irk him that a South African series may be missed. Particularly one featuring such a good side as this and, more particularly still, one in which he can lick his lips at the fast bowlers on view. Greigy sure likes seeing it whistling past a few ears.

Certainly South Africa come well equipped for an opening Test match in Brisbane. The Gabba is the fastest and bounciest pitch in the world, but - a but that matters - if the weather is good, it becomes a lovely, even surface for batsmen. So now may be the moment for Imran Tahir to repay the investment. Pretty much the minute he qualified, the South African selectors ticked a few boxes and welcomed him aboard. Now, after 28 wickets in ten Tests at 40 apiece, he can begin to say thank you. As everyone will tell you, Shane Warne loved to bowl at the Gabba, but few other spinners have found such peace with a ground that exposes the ordinary for what it is.

Kallis is cold, clinical, unemotional. Watson is tough enough, intelligent, but yet to finish the job in the way his talent demands

More likely, the series will be driven by the impression of the two allrounders. Kallis brings a full hand to every match he plays. His standards and performance remain as relevant to the present team as they were when he first toured Australia 15 years ago. During the recent English summer he was still the cog around which Graeme Smith turned the wheel of his team, claiming wickets when others could find nothing, holding wonderful catches, and making runs if they mattered.

Ergo Shane Watson. Similar cricketers but different characters. Kallis is cold, clinical, unemotional. Watson is tough enough, intelligent, but yet to finish the job in the way his talent demands. This may simply be about concentration or it may be insecurity. If the Australian camp can make Watson believe he is the cricketer he truly is - a mindset given to few, incidentally - and if they encourage him towards something of Greig's chutzpah, the contest between the best two all-round cricketers of the moment may define the series.

Greig's other interest will be in the captains. Fanciful as it may seem, the celebrated 9 commentary team of Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, Lawry and Greig has helped shape Australian cricket. Generous enthusiasm and a deep knowledge of the game have combined with an inherent instinct to play brightly and without fear. If this was not Lawry's way on the field, it has certainly become his mantra off it. By the drip drip of their attitude and direction over the 35 years that 9 has had the television rights, these four formidable former captains have offered Australian cricketers at all levels a way forward.

Michael Clarke would endorse this idea. His cricket is very much from the school of Channel 9. He has a close relationship with Warne and friendships with Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Ian Chappell and Greig. Attacking instincts have served him well thus far and could give him an edge over the more naturally conservative Graeme Smith. Not that Smith has stood still. In England he threw away caution more often than previously. Gary Kirsten, the coach, may be behind this.

And therein lies the final match-up that will catch Greig's attention - Kirsten v Mickey Arthur. Thoughtful fellows of comparative upbringing who let the captain take the box seat. Kirsten is working with his own people, Arthur with another's. Advantage Kirsten perhaps. They are good men and worth watching closely.

Two coaches, two captains, two allrounders, a rich bag of fast bowlers and a leggie - these are the cricket people that Tony Greig will first cast an eye over next Thursday morning. He will miss not being in situ; the commentary box is a second home. For now, though, he must attend to other business. The cricketers should, at the very least, least bring a smile to his face.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Smith on November 4, 2012, 23:34 GMT

    @Meety: I just checked the stats of Kallis bowling or batting and his stats against Zimbabwe or Bangladesh are not much different to teams like India or Australia meaning he even struggled against the likes of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh at times :P

  • Smith on November 4, 2012, 23:29 GMT

    @popcorn: "World" Championship??? - The 'World' doesn't play Test Cricket mate not even close you mean 8 team Championship cheers :D

  • Dummy4 on November 4, 2012, 19:01 GMT

    it thnk ths will a tightly contested series as the Aussies r playin in their backyard. from wht ive heard, the pitches frm down under will have pace and bounce so tht means batsmen will struggle a bit because of the pace n swing frm the likes of steyn, morkel, philander, pattison, hilfenhaus n starc

  • Rajaram on November 4, 2012, 16:12 GMT

    This is really the World Championship of Test Cricket. Wish there could be a return series immediately like there was in 2009.

  • stuart on November 3, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    South Africa will win this one.Aussie just aren't any good.

  • Dave on November 2, 2012, 12:42 GMT

    @neuen. Again I fail to understand the need to demean someone`s performances so as to support a case of x vs y. Surely Sobers` 365 - a world record set by a 21-year-old that stood for 35 years deserves some praise.

    In answer to your question, one great bowler who played for Pakistan in 58/59, and during the record-breaking innings, was Fazal Mahmood - overall 139 wickets in 34 tests at 25, including 41 in 8 tests against the Windies in 58/59.

    As for the great Indian bowlers Sobers played against - Mankad, Gupte, Bedi, Venkat, Prasanna ring any bells?

    And England - probably the best team for most of Sobers`s career, against whom he averaged 60 with the bat, and took over 100 wickets at 32 with the ball - Lock, Laker, Snow, Underwood, Trueman, Barrington, Edrich Boycott, Knott, Cowdrey?

    Apart from anything else, he`s been arguably the 2nd greatest batsmen of all-time, and walks into an all-time World XI on that alone.

  • Bryn on November 2, 2012, 9:34 GMT

    i like greigy not just because he, bill and richie have been the voices of summer for so long but because he clearly loves australia and the aussie cricket team and wishes he was australian even though he was born in sth africa and captained england. as far as the series goes it is too even to call and it will be whoever plays better throughout the days. homeground and mickey arthur are advantages to australia so by that token australia should win it i predict 2-1 to australia with the last test in perth (i hope i attend) to be the decider

  • Adrian on November 2, 2012, 5:51 GMT

    Amazing that Doug Walters only misses out by virtue of taking 49 test wickets, not 50.... Otherwise, he's your number 3!

  • Jayaprakash on November 2, 2012, 4:36 GMT

    @Taij Chand, Lyon and Warner may not be typical Test players, but I dont see you referred Pattinson here, the guy has taken 26 wickets in 5 tests at 18.96, if that is not a very good start, I dont know what is.

  • Andrew on November 2, 2012, 1:14 GMT

    @Bollo - well said. S/Rates were a lot higher in the 60s for spinners & Sobers overall S/R compares favourably with spinners of the day like the Indian quartet. @bestbuddy on (November 01 2012, 09:21 AM GMT) - Kallis is a great undoubted. Just bear in mind that it was a lot harder getting LBWs back in Sobers day & the reality is, Sobers wickets per match is superior to Kallis, which therefor would indicate more reliance on his bowling. In an ODI or T20 - I could select Kallis for his bowling alone, but I wouldn't in a Test team. @Neuen on (November 01 2012, 13:09 PM GMT)- if you can't acknowledge that there were greats in every era - then there is something wrong! Degrading Sobers because he didn't play the Saffas is like bagging Kallis because he unreal stats against Bangladesh & Zimbabwe - ridiculous. Ask any cricket expert (players or commentators), who is the greatest allrounder in Test cricket - they'll say Sobers before kallis, would they pick Kallis for great batting - yes!

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