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Saturday, December 20, 2014

India batting meltdown opens door for Australia to win: T2 D4

Australia 505 & 6/130 (23.1ov, Rogers 55/57b/10x4, Smith 28, I Sharma 3/38, Yadav 2/48)  beat India 408 & 224 (64.3 ov, Dhawan 81/145b/8x4, Pujara 43/93b/7x4, Yadav 30, Vijay 27, Johnson 17.3-4-61-4, Starc 2/27, Lyon 2/33, Hazlewood 2/74) by 4 wkts; T2/4 D4/5 at Brisbane. Australia lead series 2-0. Player of the match: Steven Smith.

The scorecard suggests a close result. in truth, after India's unexpected batting meltdown from 1/71 to 7/143, followed by a mild recovery which set Australia 128 ( and made a mockery of my prediction of a draw) only a superhuman bowling performance by the visitors could have brought victory. 

Despite Ishant Sharma's two early wickets, which raised memories of previous Australian fourth innings collapses, this didn't happen. Chris Rogers and Steve Smith added 63  for the 3rd wicket as MS Dhoni put all his bowling eggs in the one basket: pace.  3/85 was relative safety. A dropped catch didn't help, but the next three wickets which fell did so too close to the target to make a miracle possible. A few more runs to chase and a closer finish may have been possible

Why did India falter? First, Mitchell Johnson returned to something like his last season's form, firing out 
Virat Kohli (1),  Ajinkya Rahane (10) and Rohit Sharma (0) in short order.  Second, despite fight backs from Shikhar Dhawan, who'd retired hurt after being injured in the nets shortly  before play began [more support for the "beware the injured batter" maxim?] and Cheteshwar Pujara, the other Australia bowlers chipped away and limited India's lead. 

So Australia go 2-0 up in the series, deservedly so, yet they have problems with some of their batting, eg Shane Watson (notwithstanding his handy bowling) and Brad Haddin (ditto his very good keeping). 

India have been competitive for parts of each Test, but their top order batting doesn't have a full hand of in form players, and their pace bowlers have been too inconsistent over the course of a long innings. 
Whether they have a top quality spinner is a moot point: R Ashwin is handy with the bat and a good fielder, but didn't look likely to run through Australia. He is however likely to contribute more across all departments than Karn Sharma.

India will rue their missed opportunities in both Tests, but will be grateful for an extra day's rest before the contest is resumed on Boxing Day. 


Happy Christmas to all!

Smith, Johnson & tail take Australia to unexpected lead as India lose focus: T2D3

India  408 & 1/71 (23ov, Vijay 27, Dhawan 26*) trail Australia 505 (109.4ov, Smith 133/191b/2x6 13x4, Rogers 55, Starc 52/59b/6x4, Hazlewood 32*, S Marsh 32, Warner 29, Watson 25, Lyon 23, Yadav 3/101, I Sharma 3/117)  by 26 runs with 9 2nd inns wkts in hand: T2/4 D3/5 at Brisbane.

At 6/247, after losing two early wickets, Australia were in danger of a substantial first innings deficit. Not surprisingly, given his recent form, Steve Smith continued to rise to the occasion. More surprisingly perhaps Mitchell Johnson took the Indian attack apart in a 148 7th wicket partnership with Smith and brought Australia within comfortable reach of a first innings lead. Smith proceeded positively and methodically to his century (except for a little uncertainty as he neared it) and when he fell his team were only 10 runs shy of India's first innings total.

A first innings lead, any first innings lead, especially one obtained from such an unfavourable position, has a lot of psychological value. When Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon took Australia past 408 some salt was rubbed into India's wounds. Starc passed 50 and the lead extended to 97, with Josh Hazlewood showing that he knew a thing or two about batting. India looked increasingly forlorn.

They eventually took the 9th and 10th wickets and, batting again, made inroads into the deficit while only losing one wicket and regaining some composure.

The commentators who know the Gabba and Brisbane expect the wicket to begin breaking up on D4 and become worse on D5. Whether or not this happens after another unsatisfactorily slow day's play - only 80.4 overs were bowled - there may not be time for either side to force a result. In the absence of an India batting meltdown it is hard to see when, if at all, MS Dhoni might contemplate a declaration. With time slipping by any declaration would most likely have to offer a big carrot to induce Australia, with a new skipper obviously keen to start his tenure with a series victory, to chase a target of any size on a wearing pitch. But I have been wrong before about such matters....


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Australia fight back well with ball, less so with bat:T2D2

Australia 4/221 (52ov, Smith 65*/88b/2x6 6x4, Rogers 55/79b/10x4, S Marsh 32, Warner 29, Watson 25, Yadav 3/48) trail India 408 (109.4 ov, Vijay 144/213b/22x4, Rahane 81/132b/8x4, Ashwin 35, Dhoni 33, R Sharma 32, Hazlewood 23.2-6-68-5, Lyon 3/109) by 187 with 6 1st inns wkts in hand. T2/4 D2/5 at Brisbane.
Australia's attack  regrouped and, led by Josh Hazlewood (who had to regroup less than his bowling teammates), collectively took 6/97 to limit India to a respectable 408. Steve Smith 65* and Chris Rogers 55 took Australia's reply to 4/221 before bad light stopped play. 

Neither team would have been entirely happy with its day's work, but India still have the upper hand. After Rajinkya Rahane added only 6 to his overnight score before snicking Hazlewood to Brad Haddin, the middle order, strengthened by the return of MS Dhoni and selection of Ravi Ashwin, performed serviceably,with them and Rohit Sharma each notching 30s. A 50 or 70 would have been handy, but Australia's bowling and fielding pegged the total to less than the 444 they'd managed a week ago in the First Test.

The top five Australians also got a start. each reaching 20, but only two went beyond  as Umesh Yadav used the overcast conditions well ( and made many wonder why he wasn't selected at Adelaide). Chris Rogers was freer with his strokes than usual, which did something to compensate for David Warner's early departure, albeit without cementing his place for next year's Ashes tour, but it was Steve Smith who has kept Australia in the game.

Smith, who promoted himself to no4, batted with increasing assurance. he was especially severe on Ashwin, who'd dismissed Shane Watson early in his first spell, making him look more part timer than frontliner. If Australia are to remain competitive, which they still are...just, Smith will obviously have to continue to lead. After his 6 catches behind the stumps it would be great to see Haddin rediscover his batting form, with more than a little help from his lower order friends.

Another intriguing day, weather permitting, is in prospect.

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Vijay leads India to ascendancy: T2 D1

India 4/311 (83ov, Vijay 144/213b/22x4, Rahane 75*/122b/7x4, Hazlewood 2/44) v Australia: T2/4 D1/5 at Brisbane.

Steve Smith, who I think is the best person to captain Australia in the  current circumstances, didn't have a great first day in charge. He lost the toss and, at different times, several of his bowlers. Mitchell Marsh took his first Test wicket but was sidelined with an apparent hamstring injury. Josh Hazlewood,on debut, took his first and second Test wickets yet both he and Mitchell Starc spent time off the field trying to deal with injuries and the Brisbane heat. 

Australia rested Ryan Harris ("soreness" was the official explanation) and omitted Peter Siddle from the winning T1 team. Siddle ended up spending a lot of time sub fielding for Mitchell Marsh, Hazlewood and Starc, but I doubt whether, even if he was in the eleven,  he would have made much difference on a Gabba wicket which perplexed even Mitchell Johnson and, until late in the day, Nathan Lyon. The heat also took its toll - the Channel 9 cameras captured some great images of sweat pouring out of bowlers running in.

For the first half of the day the match was, allowing for the fluctuation which always follows the fall of a wicket, evenly poised, or maybe slightly in Australia's favour, as India declined to 3/137. The third wicket was that of the star of the Adelaide Test - Virat  Kohli - caught behind from a modest stroke for a modest, but efficiently compiled 19, which may have encouraged the Australians to think that it was downhill all the way from there.

It wasn't, as Murali Vijay showed. He accumulated assiduously until he passed 90 when, casting out the demons of his Adelaide befuddlement which led to his dismissal for 99, he hit out, moving to his century, and beyond, in the twinkling of an eye. 

Ajinkya Rahane supported him well in a fourth wicket partnership of 124, which was broken by the persistent Nathan Lyon who, after going as he'd done at Adelaide for many, induced Vijay to jump wildly down the pitch and be adjudged caught behind (he was also stumped). Then Rahane and Rohit Sharma continued to take advantage of a depleted home attack, Hobson's choice Shane Watson sharing the second new ball when Hazlewood limped off injured. 

Even with the extra half hour - ie six and a half hours play-  Australia could only bowl 83 overs. Injuries and heat notwithstanding this is unacceptable. India took advantage of the longer last session and the Australian injuries to bat themselves into a strong position which, unless wickets fall quickly on D2, become increasingly impregnable.

<a href="">Scorecard</a>

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lyon bowls Australia to win after Kohli & Vijay threaten to pull off upset: T1D5

Australia 7/517d & 5/290d beat India 444 & 315 (87.1ov, Kohli 141/175b/1x6 16x4, Vijay 99/234b/2x6 10x4, Lyon 34.1- 5-152-7)  by 48 runs: T1/4 D5/5 at Adelaide Oval. Australia lead series 1-0. Player of the Match: Nathan Lyon.

Michael Clarke's overnight declaration seemed to set the scene for either an Australian victory
or a draw. An Indian win seemed unlikely, yet as the day and the pitch wore on it seemed increasingly possible and then, in the final session at 2/242 with overs in hand, probable. Then Nathan Lyon, who'd hitherto bowled steadily albeit  conceding 116 runs for a single wicket, had Murali Vijay lbw for 99. 

From that point Lyon moved to regain the momentum and, after Virat Kohli was well caught in the outfield for his second century of the match, the ascendancy. The tail, from whom I expected more resolution as holding on for a draw was not out of the question, folded as Lyon took his seventh wicket of the innings and twelfth of the match. 

This was a considerable and well merited victory for Australia, who bowled India out twice while only losing 12 wickets themselves. Clarke's declaration provided just enough inducement for India to keep the possibility of victory in their sights and hence to play positively ( though an early shutting up of the shop may have been counterproductive). When Kohli and Vijay were still together at tea many of the 24k+ crowd (most of whom stayed to the end) would have been thinking that Clarke, who had left the field with more hamstring trouble, had been too generous. 

Fortunately the bowlers, deputy captain Brad Haddin and the fielders, kept the pressure on India, who succumbed to it. Wriddhiman Saha for example came in to join Kohli, struck a couple of  well judged blows and defended watchfully before snapping and being bowled swiping at Lyon.

When Kohli was out soon after this he stayed at the wicket, not because he challenged the dismissal (an outfield catch) but because he knew that he was India's last hope of victory. The generosity of the standing ovation he received as he did walk off was part appreciation of his talented innings and part relief that it had ended then. 

I should say something about the umpiring, which was again below par, The obvious way to reduce 
the risk of howlers is to make the DRS mandatory: after this Test is it too much to hope that the BCCI will shift its ground? A less publicised issue is that of umpire fatigue over the course of a five day Test. The temperature reached 35C and the two onfield officials were, not surprisingly given the match situation, subject to a succession of sfrong appeals. Why can't the three officials rotate, with each standing for two sessions a day?

Finally, a word  Michael Clarke. His gutsy first innings ton helped give Australia  the upper hand  and his second inning declaration set up the finish, and the ultimate victory. Earlier this week after retiring hurt  his future looked at least uncertain. Now, after his latest hamstring trouble even he has wondered whether he might ever play cricket again.

I hope this doesn't happen. 

<a href="">Scorecard <a>

Friday, December 12, 2014

Lyon bowls, Warner bats Australia to dominant position v India though umpiring below par: T1D4

Australia 7/517d & 5/290 (69ov, 102/166b/1x6 11x4, Smith 52/64b/5x4) lead India 444 (116.4ov, Kohli 115, Pujara 73, Rahane 62, Vijay 53, R Sharma 43, Lyon 36-4-134-5, Siddle 2/88, Johnson 2/102) by 363 runs with 5 2nd inns wkts in hand: T1/4 D4/5 at Adelaide Oval.

In the extended ( to make up for time lost to rain earlier in the match- the sun shone throughout today's play) Nathan Lyon worked through India's tail, giving Australia a relatively modest first innings lead of 73. The  David Warner led a more modest than in the first iinnings but nevertheless effective charge against a  (for the most part) more disciplined India attack. 

By the end of the day, during the latter part of which a wheel or two had fallen off India's carriage thanks to some late slogging and flabby responses, Australia are well placed to declare overnight and press for victory tomorrow, when 98 overs (not the usual 90) are to be bowled.

Lyon deserved his five wickets. He took some punishment at times but when it really mattered, like yesterday afternoon and early today, bowled an off stump to right handers line which took advantage of the increasing turn and bounce provided by the fourth day drop in pitch (which we'd been promised would happen though I was inclined until today to disbelieve). To left handers he was even better: he befuddled Karn Sharma and softened him up for Peter Siddle, who claimed his wicket.

When Australia batted even Warner was, at least for a time, circumspect in the face of an Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami opening attack. Virat Kohli switched bowlers frequently, leaving Varun Aaron until some of the lesser and slower lights had had a bowl. 

Warner looked assured enough until he reached 66, when Aaron bowled him neck and crop. He was well on the way to the pavilion before the third umpire advised that the delivery was a palpable no-ball. The TV replay which I've subsequently seen not only confirms this but also raises the question why umpire Gould didn't see it in the first place. His failure, and the way it played out on the Oval, with a temporarily crestfallen Warner restored to batting life by technology, sandpapered some of the India team. It 's all very well to tut tut about spirit of the game etc but to me watching it seemed that Gould, and maybe the system which seems designed to support him and other umpires rather than getting to the truth asap, had failed. And failed badly. 

That said, Australia have the upper hand, and therefore a good chance of victory tomorrow. The sun is forecast to shine (est max 34C) , as it did today (32C), so play should proceed without interruption from the elements. Whether it does so without umpire ineptitude interfering remains to be seen.

I'll be going tomorrow to see if Australia can bowl out India, not watch Ian Gould and Marais Erasmus umpire.

<a href="">Scorecard<a/>