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The Liebke Report Card: 'Shamar Joseph might be the best thing that ever happened to Cameron Bancroft'

19th January, 2024
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19th January, 2024
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With David Warner retired from both Test cricket and the attendance of his siblings’ weddings, Australian cricket had spent the intervening period abuzz with chatter about how his absence would impact the side.

Now, at the Adelaide Oval, it was time to find out.

Here’s the report card for the first Test between Australia and the West Indies.

Stretchy Puppies

Grade: B

When Pat Cummins won the toss, he called upon all his marketing nous and gave the salivating fans a chance to immediately witness Warner’s replacement in action.

Yes, it was time to once again see Cameron Green, history’s greatest gully fielder, back at work, covering everywhere from fourth slip to point with his absurd, outsized reach and goofy, joyous grin. 

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It didn’t take long for Green to do his ‘I’m also the frontrunner to play Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four MCU reboot’ thing, stretching to improbably pluck a Tagenarine Chanderpaul chance from the very edge of the sky.

So excited was Green that I’m almost certain he technically threw away the ball in delight before he regained his full balance.

A pedantic third umpire – i.e., virtually all of them – might even have ruled the catch invalid on this basis.

After all, if Green had been close to the boundary’s edge and thrown the ball away while off-balance, a case could surely have been made that he did so because he was afeared he might otherwise have toppled over the rope.

And, in a way, isn’t Cameron Green always just a couple of paces away from the boundary edge?

(Explanation of joke: Because he’s so tall.)

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Scorecard Graffiti

Grade: D+

Nevertheless, the third umpire didn’t overturn the catch. Perhaps he was dozing off, or stuck in an elevator. Or perhaps he just saw the writing on the wall regarding the West Indies innings.

That scorecard graffiti was all about Josh Hazlewood and Cummins tearing through the visitors’ inexperienced lineup.

‘Please Hammins, don’t hurt ’em,’ it read (no, this metaphorical graffiti did not refer to the duo as ‘Cumwood’), as the pair took the first seven wickets to fall, with combined figures of 7/54, as the West Indies staggered their way to 7/132.

Hazlewood, in particular, was described by Brad Haddin on the Fox Cricket commentary as the kind of bowler who ‘asks questions all day’.

I now desperately hope Haddin’s claim is a literal truth, and Josh is continually wandering around, bugging teammates by asking ‘why is the sky blue?’, ‘how do magnets work?’, ‘can animals talk to each other?’, etc.

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Tenth Wicket Counter-attacks

Grade: A-

One question Hazlewood wasn’t asking teammates was how to get a number eleven out. To be fair, few of his teammates seemed interested in asking that question either. 

Because, just as in the Pakistan series, the fall of the penultimate wicket triggered a brazen counterattack from the visiting side. This time around, it was newcomer Shamar Joseph who did the damage, smacking 36 (41) in a tenth wicket partnership of 55 that eventually saw the West Indies reach 188 all out shortly after a belated tea.

Should teams touring Australia contrive to bat every player at eleven, somehow? Look, it’s worth trying.

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Learning Nothing From Nathan Lyon

Grade: F

In a display of Joseph pluck not seen since the dude who was cuckolded by God, the West Indies quick was given the ball first change, and dismissed Steve Smith first up.

Stupidly, however, Joseph didn’t immediately retire, thereby blowing an opportunity to leave Test cricket with an unbeatable average and strike rate.

A shame for the kid. Learned nothing from Nathan Lyon.

Joseph also sent Green packing, in the process dismantling the entire Warner replacement shuffle. Shamar Joseph may well be the best thing that ever happened to Cameron Bancroft.

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Joseph and the rest of the attack continued plugging away at the Australian batters. At one stage, when they were 5/129, in reply to the West Indies’ 188, it appeared that Australia might not even get ahead. Then, of course, they realised they already had a Head.

Travis Head, to be precise. He scored 119 (134), and helped Australia eventually take a first innings lead of 95.

Listening To Marnus

Grade: F

This lead would prove more than enough, as the West Indies fell to 3/7 in the sixth over, with Josh Hazlewood bowling three consecutive wicket maidens before shamefully failing to take a wicket in the fourth and conceding two runs (and yes, yes, taking another wicket) in his fifth.

Good tactics from the West Indies to race as quickly as possible to Australia’s main weakness – bowling to the last wicket partnership.

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They couldn’t quite get there before the end of the second day, though, ending instead six wickets down and still 22 runs shy of making Australia bat again.

The last wicket of the day to Nathan Lyon was won on review after a half-enthusiastic shout for LBW was turned down, only for Cummins to be foolishly tempted into sending it upstairs by the shrill voice of Marnus Labuschagne piping in, claiming ‘I reckon it pitched in line’. 

As it turned out, Marnus was correct in this instance, and Justin Greaves was out.

But that’s not the point, is it?

This Australian side, like so many modern sporting teams, talk a lot about ‘processes’ and the importance of not focusing on the outcome, but on instead executing the skills within your control.

And you know what’s in your control, Pat? Ignoring Marnus, that’s what. Something you very much failed to do.

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In fact, rather than celebrate Lyon’s wicket, the entire team should have hung their head in shame that they’d gone so far astray from their methods.

Why should Head bear the brunt of this disappointing breakdown in the team’s mindset, I hear some of you ask. To which I can only say, touché!

Forget Jonny Bairstow in the Ashes. If Cummins was ever going to call an opposition batter back to the crease, this was the time to do it.

Yes, on the third morning, Australia went on to dismiss the West Indies for 120 and comfortably chase down the target of 26, with Steve Smith unluckily stranded a mere 389 runs short of Michael Clarke’s very normal prediction that he (Smith that is, not Clarke himself) would break Brian Lara’s individual Test innings record of 400. 

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Victory by ten wickets and the retention of the Frank Worrell Trophy. But at what cost, Patrick? At what cost?

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