Johannesburg test will be the most crucial test in Australia’s recent test history not only because the team has the onus to square up an animated series but also because they have a huge responsibility to start changing the way Australia plays its cricket. On the line will be team’s as well as whole nation’s respect and next 5 days will be crucial for every Australian.
Six months ago when Matthew Wade failed against Bangladesh, I was thinking to search where was Tim Paine who arrived with so much promise in 2009 only to know he had suffered injury and looked to end up as an unfulfilled talent. Further six months down the line, Paine has returned to the national team to become country’s 46th Captain by leading the team in 4th test at Wanderers.
For Paine, 33, the jump in credentials has been massive as he was almost at the end of his cricketing career but now will have a huge responsibility to unite a team which have been shattered by immense criticism by the recent ball-tampering controversy as well as by the massive criticism on their style of play. The incident has let Australia their captain and two of their best batsmen.
Tim Paine might have got the crown, but it has more thorns than flowers. He not only has the responsibility to bind and inspire his team to draw the series and save Australia’s proud record on South African soil but have to do so by keeping the spirit of the game intact and change the image the way team plays the game. Coach Lehmann who was a recent casualty in ball tampering saga and will be quitting after the test series has requested the team to play New Zealand’s brand of cricket.
The new Aussie skipper can take the leaf from Misbah-ul-Haq. The former Pakistan captain was appointed in October 2010 at the age of 36 after the spot-fixing scandal when the image of Pakistan cricket was in tatters, and the team had lost three of its most promising cricketers including two big names in bowling. Misbah was given the reins for a short time but the experiment was so successful that he went on to become the most successful captain of the country and retired at 43. He went on to change the image of Pakistan Cricket team from one of the most disorganized unit to most disciplined outfit in international cricket.
Misbah and Paine have a lot of similarities. Like Misbah, Paine also seemed to be ending his career as a promise unfulfilled. Misbah was appointed captain because there was no other option and Paine got the reins because Cricket Australia had run out of options. Like Misbah, Paine will also be starting his captaincy against South Africa.
Paine though will not be looking that far and would want to focus on next 5 days at Wanderers which will be very crucial for him as well as the team. This will be the test of Australia’s mental toughness and character, something they cannot afford to lose.
In the end, few words for the man who has been a tireless unsung hero of South African Cricket for last 11 years, Morne Morkel, he will wear the Proteas test cap for the last time. For one last time, he will again enter on the field to represent South Africa and help his team to create history by winning its first series against Australia at home in almost 5 decades.
Morkel has 306 test wickets in 85 matches at 27.73 with a menacing 9 wicket haul in the last game. Especially his 5-23 at Capetown will be remembered for a long time albeit with controversy related to the test. Morkel who has been a silent servant of South Africa never got his due until of late when he came out of the shadow of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander and started to build his own reputation. Now, the lanky pacer is sure to leave his own legacy tagged as one of the greatest to play for South Africa by another South African great Gary Kirsten.
Morkel is amongst 5 South Africans (Alan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn, Makaya Ntini) to reach to 300 Wickets. South Africa as their Skipper rightly pointed out will miss this rare kind of paceman who threatened the batsmen without having a fast bowler’s aggression.