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Monday, December 31, 2007

Are India capable of matching Australia? First Test reviewed

Australia 343 and 7 for 351 (dec) defeated India 196 and 161 by 337 runs with a day to spare.

Perhaps nobody, not even the Indians themselves, believed that they could chase down 499 on a fourth and fifth day MCG pitch, but many would have expected, and most, if only for the sake of the series, would have hoped that they would have made a better fist of things in theit second innings.

But it wasn't to be, and they couldn't even match their feeble first innings score. Once again the Australian bowling squashed any flickers of resistance. Nobody made 50; only VVS Laxman 42/112b and Saurav Ganguly 40/78b passed 20, and their 41 partnership for the 4th wicket was the highest for the innings. All five Australian bowlers (Andrew Symonds being the fifth) combined in a most efficient demolition job, one which must have left the Indians wondering how they can present credible opposition to Australia for the remainder of the series.


What can India do?

First, the batting needs to re-energised (to put it as tactfully as possible). This can be done by, among other things, bringing Virender Sehwag into the team as an opener, and allowing Rahul Dravid (a fish out of water in this game) to drop to his customary no3 position. Either Wasim Jaffer or (more likely) Yuvraj Singh should be dropped.

Second, the fielding, particularly the ground fielding, needs to improve several notches. Anyone who had seen much of either Australian innings in person or on TV would know what I'm talking about.

Third, some thought should be given to the balance and composition of the attack. Anil Kumble was the only Indian bowler who was worth his place for the whole game. Whether Harbajan Singh, who lifted his game somewhat in the second innings, should stay in the XI for Sydney is one moot point, and whether the best available pair of quick bowlers played at the MCG is another.

On paper the team India fielded for the First Test was very strong, especially in batting, so should we suggest that its failure to make 200 in either innings was an aberration? Perhaps so, but then was Ricky Ponting's failure to reach double figures in either innings also an aberration?

Much as I respect the abilities of Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, I'm more inclined to think the latter.

Link to
Cricinfo coverage.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Australia set India predictably huge challenge: First Test Day 3

Australia 343 and 7/351 (dec) v India 196 and 0/6.

Apart from surprise at Ricky Ponting being dismissed cheaply for the second time in the match (watch out India for the rest of the series!), there was little deviation from the course plotted on the second day.

Ponting was the only failure: the next lowest scores were 11 no (Brett Lee), 35 (Adam Gilchrist) and Brad Hogg (35 no) , though Andrew Symonds was bowled by Zaheer Khan off a no ball when he was 8.

Harbhajan Singh bowled much better this time around, but couldn't build upon his figures at one stage of 1/23 from 10 overs as the middle and lower order Australians found him more to their liking. The others kept plugging away but could only achieve intermittent successes.

Left to face 8 overs after the Australian declaration, Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid occupied the crease without being parted.This was a minor accomplishment, but one which may give the Indians a little more heart and stomach for the rest of their fight.

Scorecard and Cricinfo Bulletin .

Friday, December 28, 2007

Australian quick bowlers squeeze life out of 10 brittle Indians: First Test Day 2

Australia 343 and 0/32 v India 196 (Tendulkar 62, Lee 4/46, Clark 4/28)

Those like me who looked forward to another closely contested day's play were disappointed. Yet we were compensated by the brilliance of the Australian quick bowling and an innings from Sachin Tendulkar of high quality.

After India wrapped up the Australian innings quickly when Zaheer Khan took his fourth wicket, their openers Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid were all at sea against Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Clark. The opening partnership lastted 38 minutes and produced 4 runs, all to Jaffer who faced 27 balls before being caught behind off Lee. Dravid confirmed that he is much better at no 3 than opening and it was a merciful release when Clark had him lbw at 31 for 5 laboriously compiled runs made off 66 (repeat 66) balls in 103 minutes.

VVS Laxman, Saurav Ganguly and above all Tendulkar improved upon this dismal performance but never prised their team free of the grip of the Auustralian pace attack. Brad Hogg was punished by Tendulkar, but he came back with two wickets (of which his dismissal of Ganguly - bowled - showed him at his best).

And Tendulkar? 62/77b/113 minutes (8x4, 1x6) was something more than a cameo yet, for all his brilliant strokeplay, it was considerably less than the situation needed.

But it was not his fault that India's response was so feeble, the Australian bowling so dominant and allowed to be thus. As the weather forecast for the next few days predicts no rain, in the absence of second innings turnaround such as India have achieved a couple of times before (but not with Dravid opening), the game will run its course towards a comfortable and, now, inevitable Australian victory.
Scorecard and Cricinfo Bulletin

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Seniors to the fore as Australia start well then falter against Indian attack: First Test day1

Australia 9/337 (90 ov) v India

Australia won the toss and managed to batted through the first day after looking at one point as if they might bat through the first two days. That point came to an end at 135, when Phil Jacques was stumped by no longer hirsute wicketkeeper M S Dhoni off Anil Kumble for 66/108b (8x4)

Thereafter it was a struggle for all the other batters except for Matthew Hayden. Yet again he showed his class in making 124/183b ((9x4), while the next highest scorers were Andrew Symonds 35/42b, Adam Gilchrist 23/42b(which says something about the bowling when he was in) and No 11 Stuart Clark who swatted 21/17b at the end. Australia finished the day with a respectable, but far from dominating, 9/337.

The Indian bowlers varied in quality: the openers started well yet seemed to lose their collective way until captain Kumble (24-5-84-5) dismissed Jaques and thereafter, apart from a couple of overs which were punished, checked held the Australians. Zaheer Khan (22-1-93-3) was the best of the others.

After a day of good quality Test cricket I'm not willing, and I expect I won't be alone in this, to make any predictions about its future course. But I'm looking forward to the struggle continuing.

Scorecard and Cricinfo Bulletin

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Santa watches over Redbacks as they deliver Christmas cheer to supporters

SA 3/171 (32.1 0v) def Queensland 170 (45 ov) by 7 wickets with 17.7 overs to spare: interstate one day match at Adelaide Oval

Many years ago South Australia used to play a Sheffield Shield match against Queensland in Adelaide over Christmas (they often played on Christmas Day).

Today, on the threshold of Christmas, those with memories as long as mine were reminded fleetingly of the old times as the red and black garbed South Australians took on the rhubarb and custard clad Queenslanders in a one day match. (To the initiated, the Redbacks played the Bulls)

The Redbacks continued where they'd left off with their crushing defeat of WA (to the initiated, the Warriors) five days ago.

The Bulls struggled to come to terms with the home team's bowling and fielding as well as the overcast, wintry conditions (the max temp was 18.5 degrees which may seem mild, but if you could feel the sou' wester in your face you'd have thought otherwise).

The Bulls began with a partnership of 58, but catastrophe (viz 2/61/, 3/61, 4/63, 5/67) ensued before this season's domestic cricket Mr Reliable (aka Ashley Noffke) with support from recalled veteran Lee Carseldine saw the total to 144. Then another collapse saw an early conclusion to their innings. 170 from 45 overs was not a competitive score.

The lights were switched on as Matthew Elliott and Daniel Harris opened the batting and at once went after the bowling. Elliott was aggressively fluent, as we've come to expect from him in one day games ( why don't we see more of this in the four day comp?). The Bulls attack was at less than full strength but wasn't handled well: stand- in captain James Hopes had less faith in his own bowling than did Ricky Ponting in the higher level Chappell-Hadlee series a few days ago . The part time off spinner Aaron Nye was the best of a modest bunch, and was rewarded with Elliott's wicket, caught on the boundary going for the six that would have brought him a century and his team victory. Still 94/91 b was nothing to be ashamed of.

The Redbacks are now second to Tasmania in the one day (FR Cup) comp. Is it too much to hope for a long-overdue appearance in a final?


PS: In the interval between innings SACA held a simple presentation ceremony for the U-17 Redbacks and Scorpions (SA women's) teams. It was good to see them acknowledged in this way.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Age covers cricket's broad spectrum

Today's Age has some very good (or better) articles about what it describes as "the game's broad spectrum".

These range from the future of Test cricket (Greg Baum"'s "Put to the Test") , several pieces about the Australia - India series (including Alex Brown on Australia's apparent fast bowling riches, Peter Roebuck on Sourav Ganguly and Lyall Johnson's analysis of Mr Cricket's way with words) , Twenty20 IPL cricket (Mr Brown and Chloe Saltau's analysis of the player contracts) , and club cricket (the first of a promised series by John Hanlon).

There's also an historical item "Weighing up Bradman's MCG legacy", once again by Mr Baum.

The Age looks like being the print and online media outlet of choice for serious Australian cricket followers over the next few weeks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ponting shines once again as Australia dispose of NZ

Australia 6/282 (50 ov) d New Zealand 168 by 114 runs with 16 overs to spare.

In Hobart today Ricky Ponting led his team from the front to a second conclusive victory over the Black Caps in less than a week and thereby regained the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.

Batting first, Australia weren't really in trouble at 3/87 from 19.1 ov, but Ponting's 134 no /133 b supported by Andrew Symonds 52/63b , Brad Haddin 26/28b and James Hopes 20/17b, saw the team to what looked like a safe 6/282.

Jacob Oram was the best NZ bowler but he, along with most of his team mates, succumbed to the pressure applied by the Australian attack. Only Scott Styris, with a hard hit 75/79b, enabled the Black Caps to climb out of the pit of 7/88 and reach a modest but very disappointing 168.

I'd thought that NZ were a better one day side than this. Last season in the tri-series they showed much more fight, but in all three games of this one (even the 6 over one on Sunday) they showed that they were no match for a strong and clearly focused Australian team led by one of the greatest players of our time.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mr Cricket turns Mr Sledger

An amusing piece by Jenny Thompson, who is IMO one of the best writers on the game at present, on Cricinfo.

Sydney washout reprieves NZ

NZ 3/30 (6 ov) v Australia

Six overs may not a cricket match make but Australia were well on top when rain ended play at the SCG today. There's not much more to say, except that for the Black Caps it must have been a merciful release.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Ponting and Gilchrist at their best. Does it get any better than this?

Australia 3/255 (42.3 overs) defeated New Zealand 7/254 (50 overs) by 7 wickets with 45 balls to spare.

Tonight at the Adelaide Oval two great Australian batsmen led their team to victory, and in doing so gave a masterclass in the art of batting. Adam Gilchrist's 51/29b (2x6, 6x 4) was all that a one day cricket follower could hope for, whereas Ricky Ponting's 107 no/108b (13x4) was one of the best innings any cricket connoisseur could expect to see in a lifetime of watching the game.

The photo above shows Ponting's characteristic pull shot, but he played shots all round the wicket as his wagon wheel shows.

And the rest of the match? NZ started promisingly. Brendon McCullum took early runs off Shaun Tait and others, but no3 Jamie How took 22 balls to get off the mark (he finished with 20/59b) and helped the bowlers to regain control. McCullum raced to 60 but slowed down thereafter. His 96/103b (1x6, 12x4) was a worthy innings which in most other situations would have been memorable . Ross Taylor was given one to get off the mark
(a full toss which he hit for for six) and several other gifts by Brad Hogg during his 50/52b. Surprisingly, Jacob Oram by his standards scratched around during the final overs, but he wasn't wholly responsible for a disappointing final score of 7/254.

This was never going to be enough. When Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden got stuck into the NZ opening attack who were like or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, were made to look like net bowlers, it seemed as if 35 overs would be enough for Australia to overhaul their target.

Then both openers were out, as was Michael Clarke after an impressive 48/76b. Ponting reached his 50, then it rained, bringing relief after the match had begun in 30+ plus degree heat, but also raising the prospect of a Duckworth - Lewis result. Fortunately the rain stopped, the mathematicians were put back into their box, and Ponting continued his innings (I took the photo above then by which time most of the crowd had left). He eventually took his team to an easy victory as he demonstrated the arts of batting. The Chappell- Hadlee Trophy, it seems, is destined to return to Australia.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ill matched by moon (or artificial) light?

Cricket Australia has floated the idea of day-night Test cricket matches being played in Australia.

I've an open mind on the topic, but would like to see it trialled in the domestic four day comp (Pura Cup) first. In fact it was tried there a few seasons ago and didn't bring the crowds into the grounds, so I wonder whether things are likely to improve.

Throughout out the world, except for England ( where the grounds are small and admission prices high) and Australia (when it plays England), Test cricket is not a popular spectator sport. It remains an acquired taste and, as most leading players would surely admit, the highest form of the game.

It does deserve to be preserved though, and playing it at night may provide more opportunities for spectators and, depending on time zones etc, for the TV networks who provide by far the largest audience for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

One sided contest shows that not all T20 games are close

The margin in tonight's Australia - New Zealand game was "only" 54 runs, but in Twenty20 cricket that's a yawning chasm. Not that the large crowd at the WACA had much time to yawn as the Black Caps collapsed in response to Australia's 6/186 (20 ov). They scratched, edged and snicked their way to 5/31 (7.5 ov) including three ducks, then 6/49 (9.6 ov), and 7/59 (11.4 ov) before Jacob Oram 66 /31 b (5x4, 6x6) entertained the crowd in a lost cause which ended after 18.3 overs when the last wicket fell at 132.

The fireworks were provided by the Australian batting, especially "Roy" (the soubriquet on his costume) Symonds 85/64b (7x4, 3x6), the five man Australian pace attack, some good fielding by both sides, and by the ground authorities after close of play.

A pre-match incident/ accident to Brad Hodge meant that Luke Pomersbach, the WA left hander, who'd recently been suspended by his state for drinking too much, was summoned from the WACA car park as a last minute replacement.


75 years on

It is 75 years since the beginning of the 1932-32 Ashes series in Australia.

The Times has published an excellent comprehensive review of the topic, including links to some of the newpaper's reports of each of the five tests and articles by Murray Hedgcock (IMO a particularly good one), John Woodcock, David Frith , Christopher Martin-Jenkins , Ben McIntyre (a discussion of some less well known aspects of the controversy), Patrick Kidd and, in his florid characteristic style, Simon Barnes.

There's also a podcast and, in less serious vein, the five part Douglas Jardine Video Diaries (presented by Andy Zaltzman).

Several of the articles ( but not the pod/video casts) were republished locally in the latest Weekend Australian, together with a piece in Simon Barnes style by Mike Coward . Most of them are on the paper's website (where there's also a photo with the erroneous caption: "Batsman Bill Woodfull ducks a Harold Larwood bouncer during 1920s [sic] Australia v England Bodyline Test in Brisbane").

Highly recommended, especially The Times version.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pause, break, hiatus, lull, siesta...

These are a few words which have been, or could be used to describe the weeks since the mini-series with Sri Lanka finished.

Years ago (like when Richie Benaud was captain) Australian cricket seasons were divided into those with touring teams and those without. In the former the touring side (note singular) progressed around the country playing matches (which were never called "warm up" matches) against state teams before the test series began, usually in late November/early December. If no overseas team toured the first class season comprised the home and away Sheffield Shield four day series between five states, with an occasional game involving Tasmania. This may explain why interstate cricket had a stronger following then. (How many contemporary South Australians could name more two or three Redbacks?)

Nowadays the emphasis is on international cricket in its three forms by which I mean test, 50 overs and Twenty20, not matches between the top tier of nations and those involving Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Although two tests are currently under way in the sub-continent the only Australian involvement on the field is via the umpires, whose job should be, and generally is to maintain a low media profile (though umpire Harper has incurred the displeasure of The Times cricket correspondent ).

It's hard to believe that at this time last year the Ashes series was well under way. That of course was shoehorned into a short period, and for the Australians at least, unlike this season with its crop of crocks was relatively injury free.

Anyway a kind of normality will soon be restored with the Australia- NZ Twenty20 game in Perth, followed by the Chappell-Hadlee series, which begins in Adelaide on Friday (where a hot high 30s day is forecast). So Australian reporters and bloggers will have something tangible to write about instead of having to speculate about whether Muttiah Muraliduran deserves to hold his record (I think he does, but may return to this another time) or if Australia should choose a spinner for the Boxing Day test (I think it's a good idea, but am not sure if there's anyone who can fit the bill).

PS Trivia task for the underoccupied: select a team from those who've missed a game or more this season due to injury.