Ball One – With big money in the game these days, old cricketers tend to play as long as they are selected (and then go and play in Twenty20 cricket) – and why not? But at the start of 2012, there are a few veterans for whom time may be up long before 2013 hoves into view. One is Mark Boucher, who is not the eldest of the old guard at 35, but seems to have been around forever (actually nearly 15 years, so not far off!). Far from the youngest candidate for the gloves is Dane Vilas, Boucher’s fellow Cape Cobra, but he’s coming good at the right time. 187* and ten catches in a match in which only two other batsmen crossed fifty, is a handy way of barging to the front of the queue.
Ball Two – Martin van Jaarsveld has been around even longer than Mark Boucher, but experience is no defence against the slings and arrows of cricket’s outrageous fortune. His last eight innings have brought him scores of 0, 0, 5, 167*, 80, 38, 0 and 0 (including a pair that occupied four balls in his most recent match). van Jaarsveld’s savvy enough not to worry about the ducks and to enjoy the 80 and the 167* – but no batsman likes making scores between 20 and 60. Once the hard work is done, the best cash-in and van Jaarsveld (not to mention a few big name Indians) won’t want too many scores like 38 on his record at this stage of his career.
Ball Three – Finding ways to make knockout cricket work over four days is no easy matter, as the Ranji Trophy quarter-final between Rajasthan and Hyderabad illustrates. Having spent nearly half the match crawling to 421, once Rajasthan removed Hyderabad’s top five for 135, the game was effectively over just past its half-way point (since it was extremely unlikely that Hyderabad could get ahead on first innings or force the win). That a side can make 431-2d in 98 overs (as Hyderabad did second time round) and never be in with a sniff of advancing to the semi-finals seems unfair.
Ball Four – While India’s Test bowlers were being flayed by Ponting, Clarke and Hussey, India’s domestic bowlers were taking a bit of a pounding in the Ranji Trophy Elite quarter-finals too. That’s okay – bowling’s always been tough in India, but a format that allows three of the semi-finalists to have taken 12, 13 and 14 wickets (with only Haryana dismissing their opponents twice) is not the way to develop bowlers who can win Test matches. Next week’s semi-finals need to be won by taking twenty wickets on pitches that give the bowlers the chance to do so.
Ball Five – The England Lions (absurd name for a second string) are an exciting set of cricketers with talent to burn – which is exactly what they did in their first tour match going down like Keith Moon’s lead zeppelin against Bangladesh A. That can happen playing in alien conditions for the first time, but James Taylor’s team will want to redeem themselves in the four remaining “ODIs” and two T20s.
Ball Six – England’s batting has collapsed in a tour warm-up match vs an ICC Combined Associate XI. I’m not sure that matters much to England as the real business begins on nine days time, but it’s a feather in the cap of the opposition. If there were 466 days in a leap year, it would be great to see an Associate XI play regular Test series – they wouldn’t win many series, but they’d win a match or two and it would allow some dedicated and talented cricketers the chance to express themselves in the greatest format of the greatest game.