Kohli and Rahane find admirers after MCG knock

Funnily enough, Australia have never paid much attention to the virtues of captains and they have won their matches by skill with bat and ball, supreme self-confidence and athleticism rather than tactical nous. By Ted Corbett.

Thank you for asking; yes I had a lovely time at Christmas and the New Year. Too much food and drink as usual, appreciative guests and a number of gifts of the “just what I have always wanted” variety but by the fourth day I wanted no more than to lie back on that massive settee in my living room and watch an old movie.

In other words Zulu with Michael Caine, looking as bedraggled as anyone might who had just been attacked by an impi — that is a regiment of brave, daring warriors — who came at the Redcoats in great waves and just as suddenly retreated. The next scene showed the Zulu lining the hill top and saluting a brave foe. Just like sport I thought. Sport at its best, I mean not the professional stuff with its formal handshakes, children led out to hear the national anthems and defiance of the referee.

A few hours later I heard another amazing sound — praise from the Australian commentators for the batting of Kohli and Rahane as they raced to a century apiece in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. I don’t know if you saw it but I promise you that in a lifetime of watching great batsmen from Len Hutton to Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Brian Lara and Gordon Greenidge, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke I have never seen better stroke play.

Of course the pitch was perfect, some of the bowlers raw; the ground although vast was trim as only the MCG can be; Australia in miniature so neat and tidy you have to wonder who carved that out of wilderness. If you want to see how nature can be controlled, go to Tasmania and visit Hobart, the epitome of honed, toned garden land.

Mention of Clarke makes me wonder if we will see him again in Australian colours. I suspect he has had one injury too many. He swears he will be back but the Aussie selectors can be ruthless and once they have made up their minds about a man’s ratio of usefulness multiplied by age and injury they let him go as both Allan Border and Ian Healy found to their sorrow.

I caught up with an old friend later and he just said: “Did you see those two play their shots. Bats straight as ramrods,” a compliment which would have pleased the British soldiers as they tried to sort out the Veld.

Certainly they found admirers in Ian Chappell, Bill Lawry and company. (No sound of Richie Benaud as the old order changes.) In the past those same veteran task masters have damned India as wastrels in the field, laggards between the wickets and led by the brainless. Now they feel India’s players act more like Australians; upright, bustling and full of vim and vigour.

Funnily enough, Australia have never paid much attention to the virtues of captains and they have won their matches by skill with bat and ball, supreme self-confidence and athleticism rather than tactical nous. Shane Warne is an exception to that rule but then he was an exception to everything.

I have sometimes wondered how they might improve under a captain of the brain power of Mike Brearley and never come up with a sensible answer.

They tend to hide their light under a bushel. Chappell had a fine cricket brain and a moral sense. I heard somewhere that when a slip fielder tried to claim a catch on the half volley he could not give Chappell a decent reason for his appeal. “Next time, think whether you would like someone to get you out that way,” Chappell growled.

Brendon McCullum went to 195 against Sri Lanka by simply hitting though the line as he always has and had apparently won the match by the end of the first day. (How Christchurch has changed. Once their games were played in a stadium; you can see fresh green fields on every side.) Odd place New Zealand. Sunshine everywhere except Dunedin, the coldest and southern-most international cricket venue on earth.

Do I miss the adventures — cheetahs in Kenya, lizards at Ayers Rock, huge spiders in Queensland, a snake crawling round my feet in Sri Lanka — now that the travelling is eight years into the past? Yes, sometimes, even the seal that tried to drive me out of New Zealand with a sudden charge.

Do I miss the cricketers? Long chats with every captain of my era from Bob Willis (sometimes terse, but sometimes helpful to Mike Atherton, a more convivial bloke now that he is a pressman, of course), to Chris Cowdrey (eternally polished like his father), Mike Gatting (now a high official which no-one thought when he was captain) and David Gower (as youthful as ever, if a whiter shade of pale.) Who would not miss that?

You cannot buy the sort of knowledge that those quiet conversations reveal. Where to place a mid-wicket to keep Richards quiet, or how Johnny Wardle, one of the great slow left arm bowlers, answered an apology for a dropped catch.

“No need to be sorry,” he said to the worst fielder in the side. “My fault. I put you there.”

Everyone is a better cricketer now after years of listening to Chappell explaining the failings of Australia’s visitors, Ray Illingworth debating the finer points of bowling changes, and Tony Cozier’s gentle West Indies words lighting the way towards a greater understanding.

Listen to what these guys have to say. They will make your cricket more enjoyable and might teach you how to play.