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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

India wallop Australia: Second Test

As I'm overseas I've not been able to watch any more than a few brief snippets of the action on TV but the scorecard speaks for itself: India were clearly the better side.

The huge victory should do wonders for their confidence. Can Australia regroup and make the rest of the series more competitive? I'm reluctant to write off any Australian team but the gap between the current underachieving one and India is very wide.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Draw: First Test day 5

Australia 430 and 6/228 dec (S Watson 41, I Sharma 3/40) drew with India 360 and 4/177 (S Tendulkar 49) at Bangalore.

Slow play and bad light combined to make the match a draw.

419.5 overs were bowled today. If the weather and the players' determination had permitted (and perhaps the umpires and the match referee had insisted that) the scheduled 450 overs - a modest target by the standards of anyone who'd followed cricket in the 20th century - be bowled there might have been a result. Australia made most of the running (walking is a more apt term) but its bowling lacked sufficient penetration to dismiss India in the second innings on a pitch which looked brittle but which somehow did not deconstruct like the global financial markets have done recently.

Perhaps the declaration might have come sooner, though the spectre of a blinder from Virender Sehwag or Sachin Tendulkar (or another) may have hovered over the Australian team management and clouded its thinking. And so, the match which had in the first days demonstrated some of the best qualities of Test cricket, ended with a whimper.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Is there enough time left for either side to win? First Test day 4

Australia 430 and 5/193 lead India 360 ( Zaheer Khan 57 no, Harbhajan Singh 54, R Dravid 51, M Johnson 4/70, S Watson 3/45) by 263 runs with 5 second innings wickets remaining; First Test day 4 at Bangalore.

250 runs from 86 overs in the day (which could have been 90 had a half-decent over rate been maintained) is not express Test cricket by today's standards. It suggests that both Australia and India will be content to settle for a draw. Australia has the upper hand and can decide whether to bat tomorrow morning and, if so, for how long.

India's last two wickets added 43 more runs which, just, kept them in the game. Australia lost Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting cheaply leaving Simon Katich (34/140b) to hang in and lead the team towards a respectable score. Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan bowled well while Harbhajan Singh had his moments and took two wickets. (Anil Kumble could not bowl until later because of an injury).

In the last overs Brad Haddin and Shane Watson took their team from a shaky 5/128 to 5/193 and a more substantial lead. Whether it is enough is in the hands of the Australian management. I suspect that they will bat on for a while.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

India wobble, then regroup: First Test day 3

India 8/313 (Harbhajan Singh 54,R Dravid 51, S Ganguly 4,7 M Johnson 4/62) trail Australia 430 by 117 runs with two wickets remaining in the first innings; at Bangalore

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir's spirited response to Australia's first innings continued for just seven more balls this morning. Brett Lee's second delivery trapped Gambir lbw for 21. 1/70 became 4/106 as Mitchell Johnson cut through the high profile Indian top order having Sehwag well caught by Matthew Hayden at slip, Sachin Tedulkar not picking a slower ball and being caught at cover and VVS Laxman caught behind for a duck.

Dravid and Sourav Ganguly added 49 before the Wall was adjudged lbw to Shane Watson for a timely and mostly composed 51/104b (7x4). MS Dhoni did not get a start before falling to a ball from Michael Clarke which turned just enough to beat the bat and hit off stump. Then Ganguly, immediately after taking a lengthy onfield break to deal with a bleeeding nose, fell to lbw to Johnson. 7/232.

Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, surprisingly coming in ahead of Anil Kumble, stopped the slide with a positive 80 run partnership which understandably frustrated the Australians. It ended when Harbhajan swished at Shane Watson and was well caught behind by a leaping Brad Haddin. The day's play, which had been extended because of a rain break, was called off shortly after this as the light faded.

The Australian attack bowled better than yesterday. Mitchell Johnson lifted considerably, and he was well supported by Brett Lee and Shane Watson. Only Stuart Clark seemed a little, though not much, below his personal par. Part time spinners Michael Clarke and Cameron White did not disgrace themselves either.

Australia, despite the Indian revival, are clearly in the better position, though with two days to go, and some uncertain weather in prospect, they may not be in a position to force a win. The wicket seemed to improve over the course of today but may not deteriorate enough to make a victory for either side easy to achieve.

If one team is to win on present indications it would be Australia even though there are precedents such as this and especially this for major changes within the course of matches between the countries. This of course is one of the chief reasons why Test cricket can be so enthralling despite the slow pace a which matches develop.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Australia build good total but India come out fighting: First Test day 2

India 0/68 trail Australia 430 (M Hussey 146, R Ponting 123, Zaheer Khan 5/91, I Sharma 4/77) by 362 runs with all first innings wickets intact: First Test day 2 at Bangalore

Another well contested day of Test cricket in which Australia, by virtue of its first innings 430, gained a measure of ascendancy over India. Had the Indian openers not started so assuredly and made the Australian pace attack look less fearsome than its collective reputation I'd have said that Australia were well on top.

The centrepiece of the day was Mike Hussey's 146/276b, a masterly display of batting against some pretty good bowling on a wicket with a little variable bounce. Today he played many good strokes, especially several classical left-hander's drives on the off. I can recall only one false stroke: the french cut to the boundary which brought up his century. While the scoring rate didn't approach limited overs levels Hussey, in partnerships of 91 with Brad Haddin (33/110b) and 59 with Brett Lee (27/61b), kept rotating the strike, as his 62 singles indicate. (He also scored 6x2, 2x3,15x4, 1x6).

Neither Shane Watson nor Cameron White lasted long against Ishant Sharma (4/77 from 30overs) who, because of his consistent hostility and varied pace (two wickets with slower balls), was IMO the best of the Indian bowlers, though Zaheer Khan (5/91 from one ball less) had the better figures. Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble bowled steadily yet neither looked likely to reap a harvest of wickets. Kumble varied his pace from the mid 80 to the low 100 kphs but conceded yet another century, this time without a wicket. Sehwag, despite being biffed for two 4s by Brett Lee in a single over spell, should have bowled more.

India's assertive batting response, from Virender Sehwag (43/55b, 7x4) and Gautam Gambhir (20/55b, 3x4), made the Australian pace attack, Brett Lee excepted, look below par and the wicket more benign than earlier in the day. A draw is starting to look the likeliest result, but a little less likely than at the end of the Australian innings.


Also noted: the drinks cart which comes onto the ground is festooned with Foster's signage. What refreshments does it dispense, I wonder?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Australia on top for most of day but India claw back

Australia 4/254 (R Ponting 123, S Katich 66) v India: First Test Day 1 at Bangalore

A day of quintessential Test cricket . The highlight was a determined century from Ricky Ponting, his first in a Test in India, which, while not without a little good fortune, took Australia to a comfortable position only for the Indian bowlers, who had started to look tired, to claw back two late wickets to leave honours more or less even.

Australia, who IMO wisely preferred Cameron White to Jason Krezja, won the toss and, also wisely, chose to bat.

India won the first round when Zaheer Khan had Matthew Hayden adjudged caught behind for a duck in the first over. Replays suggested that he may not have hit the ball but it was a tough call for the umpire. Enter Ponting to join Simon Katich. Zaheer and Ishant Sharma were hostile for a while but couldn't break through, India had no third pace bowler so the spinners were on before lunch when Australia were 1/75 and both Ponting and Katich looking more comfortable.

They continued in similar vein in the middle session, occasionally miscueing (as when Ponting almost edged Sharma onto the stumps) but gradually asserting themselves. Ponting played some of his trademark pulls, including two lofted ones (a 4 and what looked to me like a 6, though the scorecard says otherwise) to mid wicket from Harbhajan Singh. Just before tea, when Indian shoulders were beginning to droop, Katich edged Sharma to the keeper for a 66 (149b, 7x4) which justified his selection ahead of Phil Jacques (who was nonetheless unlucky not to keep his place).

After tea Ponting proceeded to what for some time had seemed an inevitable century. Once past that milestone he put his head down again, defending determinedly, hitting the bad and occasional not so bad ball, and sometimes playing a false shot, as when he was fortunate to be reprieved from what looked on the replay like a return catch to his opposite number Anil Kumble. Mike Hussey also took his time to come to terms with the the conditions but he hung on and became increasingly assured.

Harbhajan was steady but not menacing for most of the day and Ponting seemed to have his measure until he was lbw to an injudicious shot: 3/226. His 123 (243b, 13x4) had provided a solid platform for the innings as well as answering those who had pointed to his poor record in India.

Had Hussey and Michael Clarke stayed together until stumps Australia would clearly have had the better of the day, but the vice-captain was lbw to Zaheer to complete a day bookended by India's (and Zaheer's) successes at its beginning and end.

The Indian attack generally persevered and, apart from a period in the last session when it looked like wilting (Kumble probably did wilt), made the Australians concentrate hard. Even so the team looked a front line bowler short: only Virender Sehwag's four tidy enough overs relieved the front line men. Perhaps he needs to bowl more in the series.

Australia will be wanting - and need - to make many more runs to give their bowlers a good chance of working through the strong Indian top batting order. India will first of all need to confine the Australians to a total of less than 400 and then to pile on the runs themselves before the wicket, which has already showed some uneven bounce, deteriorates further.

I shall be watching closely from my couch tomorrow.


Cricinfo coverage

Let the series begin

In a few hours the first Test of a four match series between the two best Test teams in the world will begin.

IMO India will, despite losing recently to Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and some concerns about the age and, in some instances, form of many of their long-serving players, start favourites

One of Sri Lanka's strengths - spin bowling - is Australia's major weakness. The final place in the Australian XI will go to either Jason Krejza or Cameron White. I didn't see any video of Krejza's 0/199 from 31 overs in the last match but the figures speak for themselves. I know (thanks to The Match Referee for reminding me ) that Shane Warne didn't always dictate terms in India but Krejza's record in domestic cricket is, to say the least, modest. White's bowling has been damned with faint praise by many critics but I watched him on TV bowling in his last first class match, the 2008-2009 Sheffield Shield/ Pura Cup final , and thought that he did a reasonable job in the circumstances, spinning the ball more than I expected and taking 1/49 from 15 overs in the second innings.

Of course everyone hopes for a good, hard fought match, but without the rancour which tarnished the series here last season, but despite Australia's record at Bangalore and reports that the pitch may not be as spin-friendly as expected, India have a better balanced lineup with a body of experience even greater than Australia's.

Things I'll be watching: the batting of all the top notch players on both sides (I hope and expect that Ricky Ponting will demonstrate his underlying class) and, of course, the spin bowling.

Monday, October 06, 2008

One player's priorities right...but in future?

Steve Harmison has stated that winning the Ashes in 2009 is the highest priority for him.

"This is going to be an exciting and intense 12 months of cricket and I cannot wait. People will go on about the Stanford series and the money that is on offer, but every single Englishman knows the Ashes series against Australia is the one to really win," Harmison told the Journal. "The money on offer for the Stanford tournament is a lot, but you've got to win it first. We are going out there to represent our country, just as we will do in India and the West Indies this winter. "

Good to see a current player saying this, yet I wonder what effects the explosion of T20 cricket might have in the next few years. Already the international calendar is straining to accommodate all the competitions.

Test cricket, the purist's (ie my) preferred form of the game, is becoming, if not endangered, then vulnerable to the huge financial honeypots of the IPL and its clones. Players like Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist are able to extend their careers while some like Andrew Symonds who are (more or less) in their prime are able to keep themselves in the public eye without playing for their country.

The current Australian tour of India is unusual in that there are no ODI or T20 matches in the program. It would not surprise me if it turned out to be the last four Test series between the two countries, at least in India. The England tour which follows hard on the heels of the Australian one comprises seven ODIs and two tests. Substitute T20s for some (or all the?) ODIs and do we have the template for many future tours?