Very little pride on show

COLUMN BY BOB SIMPSON

AUSTRALIA'S easy victory in the one-day series against the World XI was more a capitulation by a disinterested group of highly paid cricketers than a dramatic improvement by the Aussies. The so called World XI matches have never been my cup of tea and the current series has exposed the difficulties of selecting a diversified group of players and expecting them to play as one.

Basically all they had to play for was their pride and very little of it was on show in the three ODI matches. The bowling, apart from Muralitharan and Vettori, was pathetic and few of the batsmen showed a desire to put their heads down and construct a sensible one-day innings.

And what of the fielding. I doubt whether I have seen a less talented group in the field in all my years in the game. They were slow to the ball, appeared disinterested and the catching was pathetic. The real give away as to their interest in the game was obvious and painfully shown by the number of times their captain Shaun Pollock had to stop the game to catch the attention of fielders to move them into the right position.

Australia also can take little comfort in the fielding department, for by my calculation over 10 catches or run out opportunities were missed in the three matches. While Australia's coach John Buchanan will take some comfort in the victory, he hasn't really furthered his cause by recalling the former American baseball player Mike Young into his huge support team for the current series.

Young's contract wasn't renewed by Cricket Australia. He has been on contract for three years as fielding coach and during that time there has been a distressing drop in the standard of the Australian team.

In fact, it was because of the number of dropped catches and sloppy fielding that they drew criticism from the media early on in England. However, the sub-standard fielding didn't start in England but many years ago.

Fortunately for the coach the poor fielding was masked by a great bowling attack being able to produce other opportunities against generally weak opposition.

The thought of Mike Young being involved with Australian cricket worries me greatly for his baseball oriented thoughts are not what is required in cricket.

The only thing that baseball and cricket fielding have in common is long throws. The games are just so far apart in skills and technique, that it is ludicrous to have a baseball coach instructing the highest level of talent, or any talent for that matter, in cricket.

One of the great attractions for players and spectators is the great uncertainty of cricket, particularly in the field.

In cricket, for any ball, the whole circumference of the field may be in play. In baseball before every ball is pitched the fielder knows, because of the rules of the game, just what his play will be.

For instance a short stop, where one fielded, knows that if there is a runner on first base and the ball is hit to him he has to get the ball to second base to stop the runner advancing. And if he is quick enough he could give the second base fielder the opportunity to relay the ball to first base to also run the batter out there. It is called double play.

Fielders in cricket have to be more flexible because run out opportunities more often than not are caused by confusion between the batsmen and this can often come in an unexpected manner.

Underarm throws are seldom used in baseball, but are bread and butter in cricket. I can remember being appalled last year when I wandered past the practice area at the Sydney Cricket Ground and saw Mike Young working with Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden.

They were simulating run outs from the cover area. Both were about 25 yards from the stumps charging in, picking up the ball one hand (a definite no-no) and taking it over their shoulder before hurling it at the target.

What first struck me was that their strike rate was poor, a hit every eight balls, and from only about 10 to 15 yards.

What dismayed me the most was the technique. The proven, quickest and most effective way to do this exercise is to run directly at the ball, get low at least a metre from the ball, stay low, pick the ball up with two hands outside your foot on your throwing side and in one step throw the ball underarm at the target.

This method stops the time lost by taking the ball over the shoulder; a batsman can take at least one further step in this delay. In addition it is far more accurate.

It was always done this way by the greats, but now again fashion, fads and theories have decreed that it is the modern way to go.

One of Mike Young's other pet theories is that fieldsmen should walk in with the bowler even if you are in the slips or gully area.

As yet the team hasn't succumbed to this worrying theory, but I noticed that Ricky Ponting was doing it from gully. In fact, it almost caused him to miss a catch as his movement forced him to push his hands off the ball. He misjudged the pace of the ball and it cluttered into his waist area. Fortunately for Ricky, it ricochetted into his chest and his arm folded over and grasped the catch.

In baseball, with the huge baskets they call a glove, you generally take the glove to the ball and the ball easily sticks in the generous pouch.

The cardinal rule in cricket is whenever possible let the ball come to you so that your arms are relaxed and hands soft to take the catch.

The most difficult catch to take is the one where you have to dive forward to take the ball before it hits the ground. When it comes to catching and close-in fielding, baseball coaches haven't the knowledge on how and why something should be done to train the players to do it safer, speedier and with greater accuracy.

Just a sidelight from the ODI's.

Why is it that it was generally accepted that Murali's action, because he couldn't straighten his right elbow, met the requirements of the law? The question is can he or can't he?

During the three one-day matches, Murali was fielded in some unusual positions which led him to throwing more balls from longer distances.

To do this with power and distance the arm must straighten. You know with my old eyes I could have sworn that Murali's arm bent and then straightened at the point of delivery.

Of course all this is academic at this stage with the 15-degree bend rule.