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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Series ends with neither a bang nor a whimper as India hold out for draw: T4D5

Australia 7/572d & 6/251d drew with India 475 & 7/252 (89.5ov, Vijay80/165b/2x6 7x4, Kohli 46/95b/3x4, R Sharma 39/102b/2x6 2x4, Rahane 38*/88b/5x4, Kumar 20*, Hazlewood 17-7-31-2, Starc 19-7-36-2, Lyon 30.5-5-110-2); T4/4 D5/5 at SCG.
Australia won series 2-0. 
Player of the match and Player of the series: Steve Smith.

At times an Australian victory looked possible; there were fleeting moments when, at least to their supporters, an Indian one looked feasible (eg 2/160 at tea) but the Test fizzled out into a draw.

In the last session Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood each took two wickets, thereby pricking the bubble of whatever pretensions India might have had. Nathan Lyon also took a second wicket after being hammered earlier, despite extracting considerable turn from the wicket. He troubled the lower order batters without menacing them to the degree he'd done in Adelaide.

Australia were clearly the better side in both this match and throughout the series. They had their weaknesses, eg fielding (though Steve Smith and Shane Watson took great catches today) but they always were able to regroup and at least contain India.

If India's attack had performed consistently and less like a rabble, the series may have been closer and the batters may have felt that their considerable efforts were more worthwhile.


Friday, January 09, 2015

India resist, then Australia go heater-skelter to set up chance of win: T4D4

Australia 9/572d & 6/251 (40ov, Smith 71/70b/1x6 8x4, Burns 66/39b/3x6 8x4, Rogers 56/77b/7x4, Haddin 31*/30b/ 2x6 2x4,Ashwin 19-2-105-4) lead India 475 (162ov, Kohli 147/230b/20x4, Rahul 110/262b/1x6 13x4, R Sharma 53, Ashwin 50/111b/6x4, Saha 35,Kumar 30, Starc 32-7-106-3, Watson 2/58, Harris 2/96, Lyon 2/123) by 348 runs with four 2nd inns wkts in hand; T4/4 D4/5 at SCG.

Virat Kohli's early dismissal, after adding only 7 runs to his overnight140, left India's middle and lower order to make the best of a bad job by trying to (1) get as close as possible to Australia's first innings total and (2) occupying the crease for as long as possible. A 97 run deficit and survival beyond lunch wasn't bad from their perspective, as the time they'd used up seemed to consign the match to a draw. But Australia had other ideas, and shook the Test out of its torpor with a vigorous counterattack of T20 proportions. This should - must- allow them to declare overnight.

Australia's quickfire reply was driven by the expected - Steve Smith's 71, the unexpected - Chris
Rogers's 56, and the surprising- Joe Burns's 66/39b. India's opening attack Bhuvaneshwar Kumar
and- wise choice in the circumstances of the match and pitch- Ravi Ashwin began well  but the group fell apart in the face of the unremitting attack (have there been worse figures in a Test than Umesh Yadav's 3-0-45-0?). Ashwin's bowling  did confirm that the wicket was taking spin, which should make   Nathan Lyon lick his lips in anticipation of a few wickets on the final day.

A major obstacle to a result may be the weather. Rain truncated today's last session and more is forecast for tomorrow. I thought Australia were safe from defeat once they had a lead of 300, which would have allowed them to declare and put India under the batting pump before stumps. India may be made an offer which they can refuse.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Kohli - once again - and Rahul - surprisingly - keep India's spirits up before Australia fight back in last session: T4D3

India 5/342 (115ov, Kohli 140*/214b/20x4, Rahul 110//262b/1x6 13x4, R Sharma 53/133b/2x6 5x4, Watson 2/42, Starc 2/77) trail Australia 7/572d by 230 runs with five 1st inns wkts in hand; T4/4 D3/5 at SCG.

Virat Kohli and KL Rahul's centuries have saved India's face, though perhaps not the Test after Australia chipped away and took 3/110 in the last session.

Rahul's batting was a revelation. After his double failure at the MCG I thought that he wasn't ready for Test cricket, and was very surprised to see him retain his place. But the Indian selectors's judgment was vindicated today as the young man put his head down in a manner reminiscent of his namesake Rahul Dravid and moved at first slowly, then with increasing fluency, to 110.

Well as Rahul batted Kohli was, once again, the star turn of the day. He supported his younger colleague by taking the initiative and then, when wickets fell - two in successive balls to Shane Watson- by not surrendering his. Yet it's hard to build a strong reply to a total the size of Australia's when three of your top six batters contribute only 13 between them. Only Rohit Sharma 

Australia's bowlers didn't, as India's did at times, ease off.  Some fielding lapses (including one where Steve Smith appeared to be distracted by Spidercam)  made their task more difficult. Watson showed his value as the fifth bowler with his two wickets: he may not have silenced his critics but I think he's worth his place in the team, if not at no3 in the batting order.

With two days to go and India still well in arrears an Australian victory or a draw are the likeliest results unless Kohli can continue to mine his rich lode of form and marshal the tail to reduce the first innings deficit (eliminating it looks beyond them) and the bowlers perform with a higher level of skill and consistency than they've shown so far in the series. The pitch is still playing well but some of those with local knowledge predict that it will deteriorate over the last two days. We shall see...


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

India show signs of batting potential after their trundlers let Australia amass big score: T4D2

India 1/71 (25ov, Sharma 40*/76b/ 2x6 3x4, Rahul 31*/71b/2x4) trail Australia 7/572d (152.3ov, Smith 117/208b/15x4, Warner 101, Rogers 95, Watson 81/183b/7x4, Marsh 73/116b/1x6 9x4, Burns 58/114b/10x4, Mohammed Shami 28.3-3-112-5) by 501 with 9 1st inns wkts in hand: T4/4 D2/5 at SCG.

It would be drawing the longest of bows to say that India had the better of the day's play, but they did in the first session,when their often wayward bowlers dismissed both Steve Smith - after he'd completed another magesterial century--and Shane Watson - who completed an almost magesterial 81.

Shaun Marsh and an initially tentative Joe Burns realigned the innings with the team's goals and, despite falling in the quest for quick ruins, gave Australia a big score and seemed to knock the stuffing out of india's attack . Bhuveneshwar Kumar, who I'd seen on TV perplexing some good batters, looked unfit and well below par - and pace: 34-5-122-0 sums it up (while the speed gun showed him dropping below 110km/hr as the day progressed: net bowler standard?

But as Australia moved towards a declaration KL (Lokesh) Rahul took a tentative step towards redemption by catching Burns in the outfield.

When India at last were allowed to bat, and Murali Vijay fell to Mitchell Starc for a duck, Rahul and Rohit Sharma showed more guts and determination than I expected. They hung on, then tentatively counterpunched.

Australia are still well on top but maybe- on the evidence of the Rahul- Sharma stand to date- there 's still some hard work for them to do if they are to win.

Otherwise we'll be left with another slow day replete with images of Richie Benaud lookalikes and audio of the Channel 9 commentators chuntering on about peripheral matters & spruiking memorabilia.


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Australia batters dominate toothless India attack: T4D1

Australia 2/348 (90ov, Warner 102/114b/16x4, Rogers 95/160b/13x4, Smith 82*/134b/10x4, Watson 61/132b/6x4) v India; T4/4 D1/5 at SCG. Australia
won toss and chose to bat.

This was as one sided a first day's play in a Test match as I can recall. Well as Australia batted after winning the toss India's attack was once again below par. 

Today, unlike other Tests of this series, there was no regrouping apart from when David Warner, who'd been characteristically ebullient, and Chris Rogers, more aggressive than usual, fell in the space of seven balls with the team total at 200 and 204. 

These turned out to be India's only successes of the day as Steve Smith showed that he's still in good touch while Shane Watson was allowed to play himself back into some much overdue batting form. They have already added 144.

India made four changes, not all of which I expected. None of them involved KL Rahul who'd failed twice with the bat at the MCG, and who I expected to make way for someone else. He missed a catch in today's first session, so will need to do a lot from here on if he is to continue his Test career. Australia only made the one change resting Mitchell Johnson for Mitchell Starc, giving Joe Burns another chance which, with the platform the top order has built together with a good pitch and a demoralised attack, he needs to take full advantage of to keep him in the selectors's minds.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Rain and Australia's batting combine for draw: T3 D5

Australia 530 & 9/318d (98ov, Marsh 99/215b/2x6 11x4, Rogers 69, Warner 40, Harris 21, I Sharma 2/49, Ashwin 2/75,Yadav 2/89, M Shami 2/92) drew with India 465 & 6/174 (66ov, Kohli 54/99b/7x4, Rahane 48/117b/6x4, Dhoni 24*, Pujara 21, Harris 2/30, Johnson 2/38, Watson 2/40); T3/4 D5/5 at MCG. Australia lead series 2-0. Player of the match Ryan Harris.

A draw for not an unfair result for the match, not because it gave Australia the series but because India continued the steady Iimprovement they've shown throughout the series. Without Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane's contributions in each innings they probably would have lost but at least the bowlers improved in Australia's long second innings, which was underpinned by Shaun Marsh until he was run out by - surprise, surprise - Kohli going for his 100th run.

The big news of the day came after play when MS Dhoni announced his retirement drom Test cricket effective immediately. So Kohli will get another chance in the final Test to lead India. This will give some interest to what is now a dead rubber.


Monday, December 29, 2014

India bowling improves, yet not enough to prevent Australia building 326 lead: T3D4.

Australia 530 & 7/261 (75ov, Rogers 69/123b/8x4, S Marsh 62*/131b/1x6 8x4, Warner 40/42b/6x4, I Sharma 2/49, Ashwin 2/56, Yadav 2/73) lead India 465(128.5ov, Kohli 169, Rahane 147, Vijay 68, Harris4/70, Johnson 3/133, Lyon 2/108) by 326 runs with three 2nd inns wkts in hand; T3/4 D4/5 at MCG.

After Mitchell Johnson improved his analysis (from 1/133 to 3/133) by snaffling India's last two wickets, Australia batted circumspectly against an attack which bowled consistently enough to, over a rain affected day, prevent a batting breakout which would have, barring miracles ( eg another Kohli-Rahane style partnership) blocked India's while enhancing Australia's chance of victory.

Chris Rogers secured his place, insofar as it's possible for anyone of his age to do so, with another 50 while Sean Marsh looked more like the century maker we know than the low scorer we have become too familiar with of late. Australia's hopes of quick runs as a prelude to a declaration will rest on him continuing to augment the team total tomorrow.

Tomorrow's play will be extended to compensate for today's rain, so a result other than a draw is not out of the question. Australia have the upper hand and at 2-0 up in the series need not, despite 
their  praiseworthy desire to go all out for victory, set a generous target in the hope that India will, as they did at Adelaide, perish in the chase. Could be an interesting finish.