Festive fun and games

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Sport for this festive season is dominated by cricket and soccer. 

And, despite the unholy heat – particularly in Victoria – our national soccer players, both men and women went out and did their seven to 15 kilometres of running across the green sward.

Think about that next time you lie dog-like, tongue-out upon your verandah coping as best you can with temperatures in the high thirties or worse.

Despite this, the W-league round just complete showed another goal fest, particularly in the Adelaide United vs Newcastle Jets match.

Adelaide scored 5 with Newcastle returning just a single goal. Some of those goals from this match are as good as they get — another sign of the increasingly high standard of the women’s game in Australia.

Canberra were too good for Melbourne Victory 3-0 with Michelle Heyman getting one, Ashleigh Sykes returning to top form with another and Jenna McCormick bagging the third.

Melbourne City continued their dominance of the league with a 4-0 thumping of Perth. City now lead the comp by a long way with a perfect record of 9-9.

The final game saw Brisbane comfortably home over Sydney FC 3-0.

This win for Brisbane, combined with Adelaide’s, shows things tightening up considerably in the pack chasing Melbourne City for the top four.

In the cricket, the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) is currently dominated by the Hobart Hurricanes.

Over the weekend, the Hurricanes accounted for the Melbourne Stars team led by Australian captain Meg Lanning.

Best for the Hurricanes was Barbadian import Hayley Matthews with 77 from 51 deliveries with fourteen boundaries and a strike rate of 150.

The Hurricanes total of 6/144 was more than enough to cover the Sydney count of all out 114.

The WBBL table after these matches sees the Hurricanes equal top with six wins from seven matches, with the Brisbane heat next in line with six wins, but from ten matches.

The men’s 20-20 is underway as well with the Sydney Thunder and the Adelaide Strikers currently heading the table, both with two wins from two matches.

The Strikers got home over the Perth Scorchers by a run in Perth with Sri Lankan import Mahela Jayawardene top scoring with 42 from 40. Best bowling came from Adil Rashid with 2 for 21 from four.

The Thunder also got home by a run in their most recent match against the Melbourne Stars.

The Thunder were led by a man who needed to make a statement — and did. Usman Khawaja is currently the incumbent number three bat for Australia’s test team, however was invalided out of the most recent test with a hamstring injury.

Thus, he needed to show he was fully fit in this 20-20 match as his only opportunity before the next – Boxing Day – test.

This he did with 109 not out out from 70 deliveries with a strike rate of 155. Khawaja is now a sure thing to take his place again in the test team at number three.

Best bowling for the Thunder was West Indian Andre Russell, with 2-28 from four.

I’ll also briefly mention a player who had the worst of luck with injury, Tim Paine of the Hobart Hurricanes. Paine is a razor sharp, quick-handed wicketkeeper batsman.

He was selected for the Australian test team and played four tests. However, he then broke a finger and was out of the game for a long stretch. As a wicketkeeper, of course, Paine requires strong hand bones with the ability to withstand day long impacts from the ball thudding into the gloves.

So, with Paine out, various keepers were tried before settling on the current incumbent Peter Nevill.

Wicket keepers performing well – and Nevill most certainly is – stay in the team for long periods, a decade is not uncommon, so it seems the unlucky Paine has missed his chance now.

However his most recent performance shows he is performing well and back to full strength. With the bat he scored 87 not out from 58 with a strike rate of 150. While behind the stumps he took two catches and allowed no byes.

It’s good to see the lad doing well and a shame for Paine that the chance of a long test career may have been taken from him by injury at the worst possible time.

Finally, we turn to the hopelessly underwhelming performance of the West Indies men’s team on their current test tour.

One test has been played so far and it showed just how hot this summer looks for the Caribbean outfit.

Australia batted first and lodged a mountainous total of 4 dec for 583. Adam Voges (269) and Sean Marsh (182) were the mainstays here.

The West Indies replied with 223 led by Dwayne Bravo – largely alone – with 108.

So then Australian captain Steve Smith had no hesitation in enforcing the follow on and sent to West Indies out to bat again.

The follow on can be enforced if the team batting second are more than 200 behind on the innings.

This is itself was something of a indicator of how weak Smith feels the West Indies are — and that goes back to the Kolkata test against India in 2001.

There Australia enforced the follow on but didn’t reckon upon the Indians suddenly waking up and taking things seriously.

Two great Indian batsmen, V.V.S. Laxman and Raul Dravid batted for most of the fourth day, and led India to a turnaround lead of 384.

Australia couldn’t hold it together batting now last on a crumbling fifth day deck, and were all out for 212 giving India victory in one of the great test matches of all time. (Well greatest that is, if you’re an Indian cricket supporter.)

The fallout from that for Australian cricket has been an obvious reluctance to enforce the follow on ever since, with the new fashion to bat again and score the opposition out of the game.

Thus Smith’s decision here highlights – or indeed lowlights – how weak he feels the current West Indian test team to be.

With the follow on enforced the West indies went out and produced a near carbon copy of the first innings, with a lone hand from Kraigg Brathwaite (94), the rest nothing and the team all out for 148, giving victory to Australia by an innings and 212. James Pattinson led the demolition with 5-27 from eight overs.

Almost everyone has an opinion on why the West Indies are so weak currently, but the most prominent seems to be the effect of the 20 over game (T-20) on West Indian cricket.

Best known is Chris Gayle who chooses T-20 over test cricket now. There is considerably more money to be had with T-20, particularly if playing in the Indian Premier League and any player is allowed to make this choice.

There’s more to it of course, like the attraction of other sports to young West Indians draining the athletic stocks away from test cricket; soccer and basketball are two examples relevant here.

However, the upshot is that choices like Gayle’s and the attraction of other sports leaves the West Indies test team hopelessly understaffed.

An example of that is the West Indies captain Jason Holder. Holder is only a boy himself aged 24 and only having played 11 test matches. To ask a slip of a lad to go out and lead his team against a hard bitten and professional outfit like Australia is clearly a big ask.

Anyway it’s going to be a short difficult stay this summer for the tourists and those lovers of test cricket can only hope their performance improves in rapid time.

I once saw a cartoon in the famous soccer magazine Shoot that amused me.

It showed a soccer team so bad that they did a lap of honour when they won a corner, let alone scored a goal or won a game.

Likewise, this current West Indies side would probably consider making one test this summer last five days a signal “victory”.

If they are to do so, then the next test – the Boxing Day test in Melbourne – would be a good place to do it.

Lachlan Barker blogs at You can also follow Lachlan on Twitter at @cyclonecharlie8.

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