Jackson Bird has started his Test career with a bang.
Photo: Getty Images
HEROES & GOATS: Paceman named man of the match in his second Test, Tomic gives Aussie tennis fans cause for optimism and Samaraweera has a brain explosion...
Jackson Bird (Australia)
Bird was the star of Australia's third Test victory over Sri Lanka at the SCG. He removed openers Karunaratne and Dilshan in the early part of day one when the other members of the Aussie attack weren't making any inroads, and then he cleaned up the tail with the last two wickets of the Sri Lankan innings at the end of the first day, helping skipper Michael Clarke save face following a questionable decision to bowl first. After taking four wickets in the first innings, he came to the party again in the second with another three, including the scalp of Karunaratne again. The 26-year-old, whose consistent line and length bears a striking resemblance to that of Glenn McGrath, was awarded man of the match honours in only his second Test.
Muttiah Muralitharan (Melbourne Renegades)
He may be over 40 and nearly two years into his retirement from international cricket, but Muralitharan has proven to be a handy signing for the Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League this season, and he won man of the match honours for his performance against the Adelaide Strikers on Wednesday night at Etihad Stadium. Murali claimed the scalps of Nathan Reardon, Kieron Pollard and Theo Doropoulos to finish with 3 for 18 from his four overs as the Renegades won by 48 runs. His spell was crucial in the context of the match, given the Strikers were chasing a gettable 156 to win.
Tomic stunned the tennis world with a 6-4 6-4 victory over world No.1 Novak Djokovic at the Hopman Cup on Wednesday night. The Aussie enigma effortlessly placed the ball to perfection throughout the match, and Djokovic remarkably had no answers. Granted, the Serbian star may have been keeping some petrol in the tank with one eye on the Australian Open which starts later this month, but nonetheless, the win is a huge one for the Gold Coast-based 20-year-old. Tomic will need to have success at Melbourne Park with points to defend from his fourth-round showing last year, but if his Hopman Cup performances are any indicator, he'll do just that - provided his draw is favourable. Tomic backed up the win over Djokovic with a victory over Italy's Andreas Seppi, finishing the tournament with a 3-0 singles record after winning his first match against Germany's Tommy Haas.
Australia's Millman gave Andy Murray one of the frights of his tennis life on Thursday night in the second round of the Brisbane International. Expected to make light work of world No.199 Millman, US Open champion Murray found himself in a genuine contest against the Brisbane 23-year-old, eventually prevailing 6-1 5-7 6-3 in a tough three-setter. Millman stunned those watching with his ability to match Murray from the back of the court, despite the Scot being ranked 196 places higher. There is every chance Millman will do some damage at the Australian Open, given that Tennis Australia have rightly granted him a main draw wildcard.
Brendon McCullum (New Zealand)
McCullum would have been right to regret his decision to bat first in the first Test against South Africa at Newlands. The Black Caps were bundled out for just 45 (the eighth-lowest total in Test history) in their first innings, spending only 19.2 overs and 100 minutes at the crease. Kane Williamson was the lone Kiwi to reach double figures with 13. The match didn't get any better for New Zealand from there, with South Africa making 8/347 declared – a mammoth 302-run lead on the first innings. The Black Caps then scored 275 in their second dig, falling 27 runs short of forcing the Proteas to bat again.
Chris Gayle (Sydney Thunder)
Prior to BBL02 we predicted that Thunder recruit Chris Gayle would struggle to keep his mind off the Australian summer, and sure enough the West Indian is playing like he's on holiday. Gayle made a paltry two runs in Perth on Friday night, failing with the bat again as the Thunder plunged to their 12th straight loss. His batting stats (72 runs from six innings; 12.00 average) might make your eyeballs bleed, but this is the real hair-raiser: if reports of a $250,000 windfall are true, Gayle is banking $35,714 per match. That's $2,976 per run from his first six matches, the kind of lunacy usually reserved for English football. We'd like to believe Gayle's value as a Twenty20 hired gun is plummeting as a result, but we're sure he'll still make bank in the IPL, because logic is rarely applied in these circumstances anyway.
Mario Balotelli and Roberto Mancini (Man City)
The enigmatic striker and his manager put on a show on training this week, scuffling like some two-man Italian circus comedy in which both performers play the fool. The argument started after Balotelli put a bad challenge on teammate Scott Sinclair, prompting Mancini to confront his striker in a bib-grabbing rage. Assistant coaches had to pull the pair apart and Balotelli wisely opted against dropping his manager, instead stomping off to his camouflaged Bentley and wagging the rest of the session. Mancini, who apparently was the aggressor of the pair, later admitted he lost his temper for "one or two seconds" but qualified that Balotelli's tackle was worthy of "two red cards". The always quote-worthy Balotelli has, unfortunately, has so far remained mum on the scuffle.
Thilan Samaraweera (Sri Lanka)
It's a pretty tough ask to top Ed Cowan running himself out for worst dismissal of the third Test, but veteran batsman Samaraweera somehow accomplished the feat in Sri Lanka's second innings. The 36-year-old came to the crease with the visitors at 3/155 and his skipper Mahela Jayawardene at the other end, with the opportunity there to build a big partnership and give the Aussies a sizeable lead to chase. No doubt Jayawardene said as much to Samaraweera, which is why his head dropped when the right-hander slogged Nathan Lyon straight up into the air with his third ball. Given the context of the match, the shot was easily as bad as Ian Bell's brainfade against India in November. Sri Lanka's second-most senior batsman returned 7, 49, 10, 1, 12 and 0 for the tour; it's less surprising the visitors went 0-3 now, isn't it?
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