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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Indian batting exposed as paper tiger by Australian pace attack. Australia go 1-0 up.T1D4

Australia 333 & 240 ( 76.3ov, Hussey 89, Ponting 60,Pattinson 37*, Yadav 4/70, Zaheer Khan  3/53) def India 282 & 169 (47.5 ov, Tendulkar 32, Ashwin 30, Pattinson 4/53, Siddle 3/42) by 122 runs: T1/4 D4/5 at the MCG. Australia lead series 1-0 with 3 matches to play.

Today only 12 wickets fell for 230 runs compared to yesterday's 15/247. Australia, mostly through the tail after Mike Hussey added only 10 and was dismissed for 89/ 151b (9x4) added 2/61 whereas India's strong (if only on paper)  batting failed in the face of an always persistent and mostly hostile Australian pace attack: James Pattinson augmented his second innings 37*  with 4/53, Peter Siddle 3/42 kept chipping away (and at times lifted his pace) while Ben Hilfenhaus 2/39 from 18 overs never looked far away from taking a wicket. 
I didn't expect this result, or at least the margin of victory. First thoughts are that it was the bowling of both sides which kept them in with a chance...until this afternoon's Indian meltdown, when Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Pattinson together trumped, or were permitted by India's batting lineup, to  trump Umesh Yadav, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma.

In truth the result exaggerated the difference between the two teams, which means that we can hope for a more .even sided contest at Sydney inthe new year.

15/247 - Bowlers' day sets up Test for tight finish T1D3

Australia 333 & 8/179 (60 ov, Hussey 79*, Ponting 60, Yadav 4/49) lead India 282 (94.1ov, Tendulkar 73, Dravid 68, Sehwag 67, Hilfenhaus 5/75, Siddle 3/63) by 230 runs with 2 second innings wickets in hand: T1/4 D3/5 at the MCG.
Today 15 wickets fell for 247 as both India and Australia bowled well and, with some honourable exceptions, batted poorly. The unravelling began when, with the second ball of the day,  Ben Hilfenhaus bowled Rahul Dravid for 68/187b (6x4) and ended with Mike Hussey desperately trying, with mixed success,  to add a few more runs with the Australian tail to set India a challenging fourth innings target.

Hilfenhaus, restored to the Test eleven after his Ashes disappointments, bowled with his heart and head in sync, deservedly finishing the innings with his best Test figures 26-5-75-5.

Then the Indian pace attack, led by Umesh Yadav, an outstanding 15-3-49-4, wiped whatever smiles there may have been off Australian faces by scything through the top order. 4/27 looked like Cape Town redux but the two old (and written off by many - even I was wondering whether it was time for Mr Cricket to be shown the door) stagers Ricky Ponting 60/97b ( only 3x4 on the slow MCG outfield) and Hussey 79*/134 (7x4) gave the home team a modicum of respectability: a lead of 230. Whether that will be enough to squeeze out a victory will depend on the bowling, not to mention the Indian batting. 

No more predictions from me for now, though. I've made too many dud ones lately so will just be happy - well tense - to watch the struggle continue (and a result probably achieved) tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

India move towards lead despite loss of Sachin T1D2

India 214/3 (65.0 ov, Tendulkar 73, Dravid 68*, Sehwag 67) trail Australia 333 (110ov, Cowan 68, Ponting 62, Siddle 41, Zaheer Khan 4/77, Ashwin 3/81, Yadav 3/106)  by 119 runs with 7 first innings wickets in hand; T1/4 D2/5 at the MCG.

Had Sachin Tendulkar held on until stumps instead of playing on to Peter Siddle for a feisty 73/98b (1x6, 8x4) India would hold the whip, rather than the upper, hand . At 3/214 with Rahul Dravid. a solidly elegant  68*/185 (6x4) still at the crease and looking good they are on course to take a first innings lead over Australia.

Dravid took a back seat as Virender Sehwag, who doesn't seem to hang around much beyond 50 these days, raced to 67/83b (7x4) in his typical style before Tendulkar continued in similar, by his standards more short form, vein. The Australian attack persevered and was a little unlucky: a catch or two was almost taken while Siddle bowled Dravid off what the replay showed was - just - a no ball. Siddle, whose 41/99b (4x4) had in the first session led the tailend batting revival which saw Australia post a respectable (albeit at the lower end of the respectability spectrum)  333, persisted and eventually got his man. I wonder whether Sachin was, like some commentators, already looking forward to tomorrow.

Well, after 50,000 today and the great man gone, tomorrow's crowd is likely to be much smaller, even though Dravid's - and perhaps VVS Laxman's - batting should appeal to the connoisseurs. If the Australian attack can rise above steady persistence then there may be something for the connoiseurs of bowling too.
With fine weather forecast for the remaining three days of the Test, a result looks likely.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tight Boxing Day contest though Australia struggle to post big score

Australia  6/277 (89 ov, Cowan 68, Ponting 62) v India T1/4 D1/5 at MCG

An intriguing day's Test cricket: interrupted by rain but nevertheless attended by 70,000 spectators. The play wasn't always of the highest quality, yet there were some good combative passages, not least the unbroken 63 partnership between Peter Siddle 34* and Brad Haddin 21* which put a gloss of respectability on Australia's total.

 Once again the top order didn't deliver consistently. Both Shaun Marsh and Mike Hussey went for ducks: Marsh clearly caught in the gully off the quicker than we'd been led to believe (or I'd picked up watching on TV)  Umesh Yadav; Hussey adjudged caught behind when the technical aids available to everyone except the umpires suggested otherwise.

But around these low points there were some moderately high ones, notably Ed Cowan' s 68/177b (7x4) on debut and Ricky Ponting's return to (in some commentators' eyes, but not my rose tinted specs, a damned with faint praise sort of) form. Without his 62/94b (6 x4) and the 113 he added with Cowan for the third wicket Australia would hardly have been able to reach the just above subsistence level they appear to have done.

I say that bearing in mind the on paper strength of the Indian batting. Their four bowlers fluctuated in both accuracy and penetration: Yadav made the inital breakthroughs, Zaheer Khan came back with two wickets in successive balls, while Ramichandran Ashwin , who I thought should do well here with his height and spin, lacked the sharp edge of consistency (read too many looseish balls) to keep the batsmen in check. Only Ishant Sharma went wicketless  but his 20-6-40-0 were important: the hirsute tearaway of four years ago has trimmed his sails (and hair) to the current situation.

Watch tomorrow's play if you can.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Watch on TV or go to the ground?

Spectators who last week went to the Gabba to watch the home team take on the Melbourne Stars in the  Big Bash League (BBL) were denied the opportunity to hear and see this

Gideon Haigh in The Australian in his customarily incisive way has brought this, and its wider ramifications,  to our attention

But had you been present at the ground, this would have eluded you, because Warnie was confiding in those who had paid at the virtual box office, not the real one.
Does this matter? The pragmatic line now is that crowds are so twentieth century: that the TRP (television ratings point) is today's turnstile, and the couch the nation's grandstand. And in a financial sense, television audience reach is certainly a salient indicator.
Ticket sales today account for less than 10 per cent of Cricket Australia's revenues. Their diminished relevance was recognised by CA's decision in April 2005 to yield to Channel 9 on the matter of broadcasting live "against the gate", which commanded a one-off premium at unquantifiable cost to patronage of the live experience.
Grounds themselves are nowadays pervaded by a television consciousness too.
Where once cricket coverage was accented to conveying to the home viewer what it was like to be at the match, now the opposite is true: the profusion of advertisements, the liberality of replays and the incessancy of music are directed to replicating the televised experience for the live spectator.
Yet is this a contributor to the emerging dynamic of a game with a large but growingly distant public? For why would I go to a cricket ground for a kind of washed-out replica of what I could see at home?
Certainly, it never seems to have dawned on administrators that part of the pleasure in attending cricket is escaping the enforced passivity of over-advertisement-over-advertisement endured at home in favour of the freedom to look where one pleases and think what one chooses.
For many years, it was possible to admire the Australian commitment to the interests of the live spectator, compared, for example, to England. We charged relatively little for admission, maintained stable schedules, ran big, welcoming and characterful grounds.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ed Cowan

Check out 
Gideon Haigh in today's Australian:

Australia's latest Test cricketer, Tasmania's Ed Cowan, is a friend of mine. A good friend, too: I've stayed at his home; he's been a guest in mine; I use a bat he gave me when I play for my club in Melbourne; he's the author of a book I helped with the writing of. This is going to be awkward... Ed is not only an accomplished cricketer but a thoroughly good, kind and honourable man, as I became more completely aware when we collaborated on the book that was published a few months ago as In the Firing Line. Ed was an admirer of a book by another Ed, also a friend of mine, Englishman Ed Smith. On and Off the Field was a pithy and perceptive diary of English Ed's 2003 season for Kent, during which he was also chosen to play for England.

Click the link and read on ...

And have a look at  Wayne Smith's defensive (who else has said private school boys can't play top level cricket?) background piece.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dravid's Bradman Oration

There's been much comment in cricketing circles about the Bradman Oration which Rahul Dravid delivered in Canberra on Wednesday. I saw extracts on TV and have watched the video (which can also be found here )  The transcript is available here .

Well worth watching or reading, not just for the comments on cricket, though they're pretty astute, but for the broader observations about links between Indiaand Australia.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bracewell leads NZ to narrow win as Australian batting - Warner excepted -crumbles again T2D4

New Zealand 150 & 226 beat Australia 136 & 233 (63.4 ov, Warner 123*, Bracewell 6/40) by 7 runs: T2/2 D4/5 at Hobart. Series shared 1-1, Australia (as holders) retain Trans-Tasman Trophy.

This was a great Test match, and the better side won, so congratulations New Zealand (and apologies for implying that they couldn't do it).

Even when, without Australia adding to its overnight total, Chris Martin and Martin Guptill repeated their double act to dismiss Philip Hughes caught in the slips for the fourth time in as many innings, the match still seemed within the home side's reach.

But the grip loosened as the persistent  Black Cap bowlers plugged away and some Australian batters, eg Usman Khawaja and Ricky Ponting, were afflicted by the NZ disease of wasting solid starts, while others, eg Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey, succumbed cheaply  (the contemporary Australian disease?)  to Doug Bracewell's ability to make the most of the conditions. His 16.4-4-40-6 was the matchwinner but he was well supported by the other quicks, especially Tim Southee.

Amid the Australian collapse David Warner stood more than firm, as Australia disintegrated.  Ponting, Clarke and Hussey all fell to Bracewell at 159, then, after a brief rally, Brad Haddin self destructed, followed quickly by Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc. At 9/199 Australia were beaten yet Nathan Lyon showed what might have been had the other lower, not to mention top, order batters showed more resistance. Warner and he moved closer to the target but then Bracewell bowled Lyon, leaving Warner
carrying his bat 123*/170b (14x4) in a losing cause.

The Test will always be remembered first for the close margin and for Australia's last innings collapse, but  Bracewell's 9 wickets, Pattinson's 8 and above all Warner's 123* were outstanding and showed up the disparity of talent within each team. But it was New Zealand who came togtether when it most mattered.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Warner and Hughes set Australia on course for victory, but still a long way to go.

Australia 136 & 0/72 (19ov, Warner 47*) need 169 more runs with 10 2nd innings in hand to defeat New Zealand 150 & 226 (78.3 ov, Taylor 56, Lyon 3/25, Pattinson 3/54, Siddle 3/66) T2/2 D3/5 at Hobart.

Australia's bowlers, aided by some careless batting, took 7/87 in the first, and by far the longest, session of another rain interrupted day. The top six New Zealanders all reached double figures, yet captain Ross Taylor's obdurate 56/169b (6x4) was the highest individual score.

The conditions continued to offer the bowlers some assistance, so a lead of 240 was OK, though a few more runs, as always, would have been handy and, given that Ricky Ponting was called on to bowl, might have been garnered with a little more application. 

When Australia began its chase I'm sure I wasn't the only viewer expecting to see
Phil Hughes snaffled cheaply in the slips. But it hasn't happened so far.  He's batted very watchfully for 20*/64b (3x4) which, with David Warner's  much more ebullient 47*/50b (8x4), laid a solid foundation for a push towards victory, weather permitting tomorrow.

The NZ all pace attack persisted and could, had the captain asked for a review of a close call in favour of Hughes, have picked up a wicket: hotspot showed an edge. Chris Martin 6-2-11-0 was once again stinginess personified, while Trent Boult and today's birthday boy Tim Southee were lively without looking like matchwinners. So far the Black Caps have done surprisingly well without the injured Daniel Vettori, but they may well miss him tomorrow, just as Australia today were grateful today for Nathan Lyon's off spin in the latter half of the NZ innings.

The match is still too close to call so, having made some embarassingly dud predictions of late,  I'm tempted to refrain from doing so... though I've seen too many recent NZ Test teams get into a good position and then let it slide. Which may be happening now.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Australia (& I) eat humble pie as NZ stay (on top?) in T1

New Zealand 150 & 3/139 (44ov, )  lead Australia 136 (51ov, Siddle 36, Bracewell 3/20, Boult 3/29, Martin 3/46) by 153 runs with 7 second innings in hand: T2/2 D2/5 at Hobart.

OK, I didn't call it properly yesterday but I didn't put the boot into the Black Caps like
Gideon Haigh in The Australian   .did.

In NZ -like conditions (would we all be more comfortable if Tasmania became NZ's West Island?) Australia collapsed in the face of some persistently steady bowling from Chris Martin (37 yo and 3/46 today), Doug Bracewell, a commendable if surprising  for such a trundler 10-3-20-3,. Trent Boult on debut an accurately nippy 13-4-29-3 and Tim Southee, who only took one - crucial -  wicket, Ricky Ponting's accurately self assessed lbw.

When the Kiwis batted the expected (by me) collapse didn't eventuate despite a wobble or two (read 3/73), leaving the match interestingly poised (does this sound too patronising?) in NZ's favour.  I still can't believe that they can (ie have the will to) win but they've shown, much as it pains me to admit it, that they might be able to run Australia close. And leave egg on my, and Gideon Haigh's,faces.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Short day, short NZ innings T2D1

Australia 1/12 (4.2 ov) trail New Zealand 150 (45.5ov, Brownlie 56, Pattinson 5/51, Siddle 3/42) by 138 runs with 9 first innings wickets in hand: T2/2 D1/5 at Hobart.

On paper New Zealand's position doesn't look too good but it's better than looked at one point in the morning session when, after being sent in by Michael Clarke, the top order batting folded, and they were 6/60.

From there Dean Brownlie 56/85b (10x4), as he'd done in T1, led a modest recovery against Australian bowling which made the most of the conditions: a greenish pitch and overcast atmosphere.

James Pattinson had another dream day with 5/51 from 13.5 overs   it's hard to recall his Test match bowling career beginning so sloppily only last week - while Peter Siddle's 3/42 accurately reflected consistently menacing bowling.

150 is by no means a matchwinning score, yet the loss of Phil Hughes cheaply to Chris Martin when Australia batted, showed what might be. Nevertheless you'd have to expect the Australian batting, on form as well as reputation, to obtain a relatively healthy lead even if conditions don't change much over the course of the match.


Sunday, December 04, 2011

Pattinson's curse sends NZ tumbling to defeat. . T1D4

Australia 427 & 1/19/ (2.2 ov) defeated New Zealand 295 & 150 (49.4ov, Brownlie 42, Pattinsson 5/27, Lyon 3/19) by 9 wickets: T1/2, D4/5 at the 'Gabba, Brisbane. Australia lead series 1-0 with 1 Test to play. 

OK, New Zealand's batting wasn't as inept a display as Australia's  47 all out at Cape Town, but it was still pretty poor, even though James Pattinson's bowling was outstanding.  Today he carried on from where he left off on D3, taking three top order wickets in four balls (and nearly completed a hat trick) with the total at 17, still way behind Australia. He took another at 27, after which a couple of modest partnerships featuring Dean Brownlie, whose 42/80b  (4x4) again showed  a bit more skill, grit and determination than his teammates, took the game beyond lunch and the Australian first innings total. But not enough to stop the home team winning in a canter..

Pattinson was named Player of  the Match, ahead of Michael Clarke, for his 11-5-27-5. If he can keep bowling like he did today he could be a force in Australian cricket for a long time (in contrast to his brother who disappeared from the Test scene after one appearance for England).

While the Black Caps had , as they usually do, their moments, they rarely looked like winning, or even drawing, but I did expect a narrower margin than this. The batting was well below par and must pick up by the Second Test if  cricket followers (as opposed to triumphalist boosters ) are to be satisfied.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Normal relations resumed as Australia 132 ahead of NZ on 1st innings: T1D3

New Zealand 295 & 1/10 (7 ov) trail Australia 427 (129.2 ov, Clarke 139, Haddin 80, Ponting 78, Martin 3/89 ) by 122 runs with 9 second inns in hand : T1/2 D3/5 at the 'Gabba Brisbane

While Ricky Ponting, didn't go on to get the century which all his supporters had hoped for, two others whose performances have been under scrutiny , Michael Clarke and  Brad Haddin, did put Australia ahead and, in Clarke's case, to relieve the pressure on him and, in Haddin's, to turn down (if not off) the blowtorch.

New Zealand seem unable to stitch together more than a couple of winning sessions on the trot. Either their batting collapses or, like today, their attack is unable to break through often enough against good batting and they fail to take some crucial catches. While Clarke was the main beneficiary, it was embarassing (and so typical of New Zealand cricket) to see the wicketkeeper Reece Young drop him and then have to go off when another ball hit him in the mouth.  

While Chris Martin, Daniel Vettori and, less often, Tim Southee plugged away the burly Doug Bracewell exemplified the lack of depth of the Kiwi bowling. Yes, he suffered from dropped catches and bowled some Praveen Kumar style balls which swung past the bat (though on TV they didn't look anywhere near the mid 130s kph which the speed gun indicated) but he bowled too many which could be, and usually were, put away.

None of the is to diminish the significance of Clarke's 139/249b (1x6, 19x4), Haddin's 80/145b (2x6, 6x4)  and Ponting's 78/140b (12x4).

To add to their woes New Zealand had to bat out the extended day (no early finish for so called bad light today ) and lost Brendon McCullum cheaply. It will be hard for the Black Caps to win from this position, though if the usual script is replayed we should see some stout resistance from their batters but ultimately Australia will win.


Friday, December 02, 2011

NZ persistence keeps T1 alive despite Australia Ponting regroup

Ausralia 3/154 (46 ov, Ponting 67*) trail New Zealand 295 (82.5 ov, Nettori 96. Brownlie 77*, Lyon 4/69) by 141 runs with 7 first innings wkts in hand T1/2, D2/5 ar the 'Gabba, Brisbane.

Ricky Ponting's aggressively watchful (no oxymoron intended) 67*/123b  (11x4) was IMO  the best innnings of the day, but he'll need to bat on tomorrow, and get some support from his teammates, to convert it, or the team's total, into a matchwinning one.

 Daniel Vettori is no serious cricket follower's idea of a stylist - with the bat that is - but his grittily determined 96/127b (9x4), mostly made in a 158 6th wicket partnership with Dean Brownlie, brought NZ back more into the game, if not to a position of dominance at least much more competitive (and face saving than D1's 5/95. ) Brownlie built his  77*/173b (8x4) more slowly but his supoort of Vettori kept the total moving up. The lower order, a few Tim Southee biffs excepted, didn't add  many as Nathan Lyon exposed their deificencies (and took the bonus wicket of Chris Martin)   but 295 was not a bad score

Neither David Warner nor Phil Hughes lasted long, but Usman Khawaja looked good before he was run out immediately after tea for 38/77b (3x4).. 3/91 wasn't in the Australian script. Ponting and Michael Clarke needed to regroup, which they did, despite a couiple of close calls asgainst the Kiiwi trundlers- Clarke bowled off a Doug Bracewell no ball and Ponting in a close lbw appeal. Neither decision was, according to the current rules which allow for a combination of umpire's call and video replays (in the event of conflict the former taking precedence over the latter), wrong but together they probalby took some of the wind out of the NZ sails.

New Zealand are still in the game, indeed on paper in the stronger position.But if Ponting and Clarke can add another 70 or so tomorrow (which is far from improbable) Australia will be back with a chance...of a victory


Fox Sports highlights

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Advantage Australia as NZ top order collapses: T1D1

New Zealand 5/176 (51 ov, Vettori 45*) v Australia: T1/2 D1/5 at The Gabba Brisbane

Old Kiwi hand and late blooming batter Daniel Vettori in an 80* run 6th wicket partnership with newcomer Dean Brownlie has (sort of) restored New Zealand's position from a perilous 5/96 which threatened to make this Test a short one.

James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc both had success, even if they, especially  Pattinson, at times betrayed their debutants' nervousness. Not surprisingly it was the relative veteran Peter Siddle who kept things in check, taking the first wicket of the innings at 44 and thereafter keeping things fairly tight.

Thanks to Vettori's pugnacious 45*/66b (3x4)  and Brownlie's more measured 32*/89b (4x4)  NZ are still in with a chance...of keeping some interest in the match. Victory for them is, on today's showing, far away while a draw seems likeliet if there is further inference from the weather. .

Update 2 December

Apologies for omitting the link to the scorecard Click herefor it.

Gideon Haigh  is reporting the Test for The Australian . Need I say more? Worth reading. 


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Weakened Australia take on New Zealand:

There's been a lot of talk, much of it loose, about the changes, both actual and projected, which Australia will make to its Test team  in the next few weeks. The new 5 man selection panel committee has  been forced by injuries to Patrick Cummins, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson, Shaun Marsh, Shane Watson, to selecte several fresh faces for the First Test (of two) v New Zealand which begins tomorrow  in Brisbane.

Unless the committee has a brain snap, a bowler will be omitted from the selected twelve. Just who  is anybody's guess, . Neither Ben Cutting, James Pattinson nor Mitchell Starc has played a Test,, so Peter Siddle, who has experience (if not much current form) seems a certainty. Only a few (mostly wicket-taking) balls of the  high scoring drawn   Australia A v NZ match were shown on TV or, as far as I can ascertain, the internet, so I have no idea of their respective merits.

Even so, it's hard to see New Zealand pulling off a win. They have some very  good players eg  Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori with Tim Southee IMO not far behind) but others  who are eiither little known, known for the wrong reasons (eg Chris Martin for his inept batting ) or moderate performers, or a combination thereof.  Australia's weakness, which I hope hasn't been exacerbated by selectorial committee muddkle headedness (eg Trent Copeland cold shouldered despite reasonable if not particularly productive tours of Sri Lanka and South Africa) will be a test of its reserve strength and team resilience.

I'm not writing the Black Caps off, but it's hard to deny that they, in matches against half-decent opposition, have rarely been able to press home any advantage they may have gained.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another tight Test match finish as WI (just) hold India to draw

India 482 (Ashwin 103, Tendulkar 94, Dravid 82, Samuels 3/74, Rampaul 3/95) & 9/242 (Kohli 63, Sehwag 60, Rampaul 3/56) drew with West Indies 590 (Bravo 166, K Edwards 86, Powell 81, Ashwin 5/156, Aaron 3/106) & 134 (Ojha 6-47, Ashwin 4-34) : T3/3 D5/5 at Mumbai. India win series 2-0.

A high scoring match for the first four days- 22 wickets for 1153 runs (including Sachin Tendulkar again just falling short of his elusive 100th international century for 94)  - turned sharply (as did  the pitch at times) on the last day when 17 wickets fell for 295.

The West Indies with some honourable exceptions (mostly reflected on the scorecard)  eased off when if not a victory then a face-and clean sweep saving draw looked likely. First the middle and lower order crumbled against the Indian spinners, giving the home team a chance to try for a win against an attack weakened by injuries to Darren Sammy and Devendra Bishoo. Then the available WI bowlers struggled  against positive batting and were let down by poor fielding: Virender Sehwag was dropped three times in his 60, and there was too much fumbling and suboptimal throwing in the tight final overs.

Even so, as India came within 20 runs of victory with 4 wickets in hand the West Indies refocused. Bishoo had Virat Kohli caught at slip: 7/224, then, as Ishant Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin looked like getting their team over the line, the dogged Ravi Rampaul bowled Sharma with a yorker: 8/239, 4 runs or two wickets (depending on your side) to win. Yet neither side did, as the only further wicket to fall was Ashwin's, off the last ball of the last over (well bowled by Fidel Edwards) of the match.

In a limited overs game, this would have been a win to India, but in Test cricket it was a draw, only the second time a Test has ended with the scores level: the other instance was Zimbabwe v England in 1996  (when the current England coach was a thorn in the English side).

Over the series India were unquestionably the better side but the West Indies blew their chances of a win here with a feeble performance on D5. Let's hope the strong home team performances keep, as it deserves, the flame of Test cricket alive in that part of the world.

Presumably the Indian team to tour Australia will be built around this one. After the strong performances by spinners Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha in the three Tests I can't see Harbhajan Singh in the starting XI on Boxing Day let alone in the touring party, which may be a relief to some Australian players (and officials). But the two new guys look good, and seem to work well in tandem, at least on their home tracks. It will be good to see them (or whoever is chosen) on our pitches.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Australia just scrape home to level Test "series" : T2D5

Australia 296  & 8/310  (86.5 ov, Khawaja 65, Ponting 62, Haddin 55, Philander 5/70) beat South Africa 266 & 339  by 2 wickets: T2/2 D5/5 at Johannesburg. Series tied 1-1.

You couldn't ask for a much more riveting day's play in any form of cricket (or any sport). Fortunes, as they've done throughout the match, fluctuated.  South Africa broke through early before some gritty Australian defiance, punctuated by some gut wrenching wobbles, took the visitors over the victory line.

For a while it looked, despite the optimistic comments of those on the spot, as if the weather might prevent any, or sufficient, play to reach a result other than a draw (there were moments when I, like Mark Waugh who said on Fox Sports that  a 0-1 series was better than a 0-2 one, would have settled for that).

Yet play did get under way after lunch and proceeded without interruption until the finish. I was expecting umpires Bowden and Gould to, as they'd done on each of the previous days, call play off earlier than the commentators thought was justified. As the tension mounted there was still a lot of blue sky in evidence, yet when the TV caught Billy Bowden sneaking a look at his light meter I thought "uh oh, here we go again". But to his credit Billy for once decided that people wanted to watch the teams play, not him umpire.(By "people" I mean TV viewers as there were - something which would not have been so at any Test venue in Australia - hardly any spectators at the ground until the gates were thrown open) .

Initially South Africa laid some punches on the Australians but couldn't deliver a knockout blow. Vernon Philander nipped one back to clip Michael Clarke's off stump for 2  - 4/145 - and Morne Morkel had Ricky Ponting, who'd  added 8/34b to his overnight tally ,  caught in the slips for 62/138b (6x 4) attempting a cut, half the side-  on paper the better half - were out for not much more than half the runs required: 5/165.

It was hard going from there but Brad Haddin and Mike Hussey held firm, adding 50 together, until just before tea when Philander had Hussey, who'd looked the more assured of the pair, lbw (upheld on review)  for  a handy but not commanding 39/77b (3x4). 6/215. Mitchell Johnson joined Haddin and the pair stayed until tea when South Africa, having taken 4/80 from the 34 overs bowled in the session, looked comfortably on top.

Yet Australia regained the initiative in the first two overs after tea as Haddin, a determined though occasionally flashy 24*/69 at that point, took 9 from Philander's opening over.  11 (2x4,1x1, 1w, 1lb) came off the next, bowled by Steyn and suddenly it was 68 needed.

A double bowling change, Imran Tahir replacing Philander and Morne Morkel Steyn. Tahir conceded 5 (all singles), then Morkel bowled a maiden, slowing things down... for the moment. Haddin and Johnson, both aware of the impending new ball, continued to look for runs, taking 54 from the first 9 overs bowled after tea.

So the new ball taken after 80 overs was South Africa's last chance. Once again Philander struck, as Haddin edged him to the keeper for 55/106 (7x4): 7/287. Then Steyn, not as quick as I've known him to be, removed Peter Siddle - one good stroke for 4 then a wishy washy drive to mid on: 8/292 and South Africa back in the stronger position.

Johnson was going well, but Pat Cummins? Well he didn't let the side down (though I'd have said otherwise had Steyn accepted a sharp return catch which went for 4) and, fittingly  for Australia's latest sporting hero, he hit the winning runs, a boundary off Tahir, recalled at a minute to midnight for both sides (despite being under threat of a ban for repeated running on the wicket) who'd gone very close to getting him lbw two balls before.
Johnson, who didn't worry too much about shielding the younger man from the strike, contributed 4 to the 18 the pair added, finishing with 40*/47b (6x4).

Test matches don't come much better than this. It was compelling viewing throughout, even approaching 0200 in these parts (on days 4 & 5 anyway - on the others I was happy to wait for the highlights).

Fox Sports highlights


Some further thoughts

The real disappointment absurdity about the situation is that the series is was too short. Many other cricket followers have made this point, so let's hope that the authorities (the ICC and the various national controlling bodies) do something about it.

In particular, should Ricky Ponting call it a day? I'm a confirmed Ponting fan and though I thought that his position would be shaky if he didn't make runs in this Test, I now feel he's done enough to hold his place for the immediate future (read the rest of this Test summer). As they say (though my belief in its validity has been tested these last weeks) form is temporary, class is permanent.

The Age's Greg Baum, after prematurely writing off Australia   in T2 ("by the end of this match the national team will have won just two of their past 12 Tests, as bleak a sequence as any in its history...") has shifted his ground a little in this assessment of Ricky Ponting


Monday, November 21, 2011

A great day's Test cricket: South Africa subside then revive as Australia counterattack: T2D4

Australia 296 & 3/142 (37 ov, Khawaja 65, Ponting 54*) need 168 more runs with 7 wickets in hand to beat South Africa 266 & 339 (110ov, Amla 110, de Villiers 73, Steyn 41, Cummins 6/79): T2/2 D4/5 at Johannesburg.

Australia improved beyond expectations (though not supporters' dreams) for most of the day, although a late (and modest) South African batting revival and the loss of Australia's Usman Khawaja at the end of another day curtailed by poor light have kept the home team in with a good chance of winning.

But the match is far from over. Australia came back into the game as the bowlers regrouped, sending back first AB de Villiers for 73/136b (1x6, 10x4) and, after Ashwell Prince was run out cheaply, Hashim Amla for 105/ 243b (14x4). When Mark Boucher was also dismissed cheaply South Africa, having lost 4/37 in the day's play, were 7/266.
Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, with some shrewd strokeplay and a measure of good fortune then batted through to lunch, taking the total to 7/314.

Pat Cummins struck twice in successive balls immediately after the interval - 9/314 - but Steyn biffed a few more runs before he was caught behind, again off Cummins, for 41/64b (3x6, 2x4).

Cummins finished with 29-5-79-6: easily the best figures of his short first class career, and a reflection of his quality and stamina given the thin atmosphere of Johannesburg.

Australia's chase for 310 began disastrously. They slipped to 2/19  as Vernon Philander bowled Shane Watson for a duck with the second ball of the innings and not long after had Phil Hughes caught in the slips.

Ricky Ponting joined Khawaja, and the pair rebuilt the innings. Khawaja's  was a mature innings. He seemed unfazed by the atmosphere (the small crowd made a lot of noise) and chose his shots carefully until, as the light closed in, he edged Imran Tahir's googly to slip for 65/110b (1x6, 8x4).

At the other end Ponting was playing his innings of the year. He took 10 balls to get off the mark with a single, then played his signature pull shot to the boundary (and kept it down) followed by a sweet cover driven 4 off Steyn, at which point Graeme Smith went on the defensive - man back on the off boundary. I'd seen several of these false starts from him in the last year - a confident stroke or two coupled with resolute defence followed by a cheap dismissal - but today it didn't happen. He moved solidly and determinedly to 54*/104b (6x4) at close of play.

Imran Tahir showed in the first innings that he can befuddle the tailenders, so if Australia are to pull off an unlikely win Ponting will need to continue his hard work and, it goes without saying, receive support from Messrs Clarke, Hussey and, yes, Haddin.

Check out the Fox Sports highlights and reserve your seat by the TV tonight.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

D'Oliviera's death a reminder of a very different South AfricaAmla & de Villiers put South Africa on top: T2D3

South Africa 3/229 (69 ov, Amla 89*, de Villiers 70*) & 226 lead Australia 296 by 119 runs with 7 second inns wickets in hand: T2/2 D3/5 at Johannesburg

The day began with a tribute to Basil D'Oliveira  who died overnight aged 80.

When play started Australia kept South Africa in check with three wickets before lunch, but were unable to  separate Hashim Amla 89*/196b (13x4) and A B deVilliers 70*/122b (1x6, 10x4) who have added 139.

Each of the Australian quicks bowled 17 overs on the day. Once again Pat Cummins was the best with 2/46 (and perhaps unjustly deprived of a third -  Amla - by the third umpire's interpretation of Hawkeye).

Pleasing as this is it raises questions about why the others weren't able to offer more support. Mitchell Johnson bowled as, nothwithstanding the small arena,  17-1-77-0 suggests, Peter Siddle 17-6-41-0 was more parsimonious but only steady while Nathan Lyon 11-3-41-1 , despite getting Graeme Smith with a ball which bounced, was inconsistent (even so, he might have bowled more).

Despite the rapid fluctuations of fortune so far in these two Tests it's hard to imagine Australia getting back into the game, let alone winning from here, with its out of form (and puff)  batting lineup.


Fox Sports Report (with link to video).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Australia 1/174, then crumble to 30 run lead T2D2

South Africa 266 & 0/0 (0.4 ov) trail Australia 296 (76.4 ov, Watson 88, Hughes 88, Steyn 4/64, Imran Tahir 3/55) by 30 runs with 10 2nd inns wickets in hand: T2/2 D2/5 at Wanderers Johannesburg. 

Another topsy turvy day in which Australia climbed the heights in the first session only to plunge to the depths thereafter.

At lunch Shane Watson and Phil Hughes had stroked and cudgelled Australia to 169 from 33 overs. Yes, they had a little good fortune - balls hit or edged just out of fielders' reach, South Africa not referring a decision to the UDRS- but the South African attack, including Dale Steyn, bowled too often to their strengths.

Yet after the interval the tables turned. At 174 Hughes went for 88/111b (14x4), an aggressive and therefore, Hughes being Hughes, occasionally risky innings, but one which should quieten for a little longer those who, me included, have questioned his suitability for the eleven.  Watson followed at 192, for a slightly longer 88/140b (2x6, 14x4), after which the rot set in.

The real turning point was when Steyn had Ricky Ponting adjudged lbw for 0: not a good stroke, but after watching the replay I wondered why he didn't review it. But no excuses then , nor subsequently as Usman Khawaja, an obdurate 12/57b (1x4), Michaels Clarke 11/33b (2x4)  and Hussey 24/27b (4x4) and Brad Haddin 16/ 23b (3x4) followed. Mitchell Johnson 38*/49b (6x4) was the only other contribution of note, and one which at least gave Australia a very modest, and by no means matchwinning, lead of 30.

After the Ponting dismissal Steyn got his second wind, the other quick bowlers regrouped and supported him well, while Imran Tahir, with a sharp googly, helped disposed of the tail without too much difficulty.

As on D1 bad light intervened just as the South African second innings began. They're still 30 behind but after today have regained the initiative. Australia are a bowler (Watson) down and have to bat last on a pitch of unknown lasting power. Time for a significant innings from Ponting perhaps?


Friday, November 18, 2011

South Africa falter in T2 D1 last session: all out 266

South Africa 266 (71ov,de Villiers 64, Kallis 54, Prince 50, Siddle 3/69) v Australia: T2/2 D1/5 at Johannesburg.

I turned in at tea, when AB de Villiers and Ashwell Prince seemed to have South Africa, at 4/213, emerging from the danger zone of 4/129 and on target for a respectable total, if not one in the region of 500, which at one point didn't seem beyond the bounds of possibility.

Graeme Smith won the toss and chose to bat on what the TV commentators assured us was a good wicket.  It soon became apparent that  the combination of small playing area and very fast outfield pointed to a high score, yet the Australian bowlers persisted and, assisted by some poor South African shot selection, chipped away at the batting.

Mitchell Johnson struck a length early (sighs of relief from Australian supporters even though he had some wayward moments later), but IMO the most impressive bowler in the first two sessions was the 18 yo Patrick Cummins on debut. He was sharp - generally around mid 140 kms/ hr - and reasonably economical.  Johnson, Shane Watson in a brief spell cut  short by injury, and Peter Siddle each grabbed a wicket  but the young man's turn came when he induced the barnacle-like Hashim Amla to edge to the slips where Ricky Ponting, belying his age, took a sharp catch.

Thereafter deVilliers and Prince steadied the ship by seeking a course midway between the caution of Amla 19/70b (3x4) and the belligerence of Jacques Kallis 54/41b (2x6, 8x4).

At tea South Africa were 4/213, de Villiers 51*, Prince 34*, and a healthy total, if not 500ish, seemed more likely, especially as Watson was probably precluded from bowling  by a hamstring injury and Nathan Lyon had been expensive.

But it wasn't to be, as the final session turned out the game on its head. I'll refrain from commenting until I've seen the extended highlights of the day's play, which commence shortly.


Update 18 November 1400 CST

After tea there was a 15 minute delay while a sightscreen (or its accompanying advertisement) was fixed. The Foxtel highlights thankfully skipped this and picked up play showing both de Villiers and Prince continuing to look for runs, usually prudently but occasionally, especially Prince, with a dash of bravado.

It wasn't surprising to see one of them fall to a rash stroke, but both in short order - Prince hitting Lyon to mid on, then de Villiers top edging a pull from Siddle (which was very well caught by Cummins) - was a surprise which gave the bowlers fresh heart. As the light, and South African resolve, faded Michael Clarke chipped in with two cheap wickets, completing a 6/25 collapse. Small beer by the standard of T1 but from an Australian perspective as good a day as they could have hoped for after losing Ryan Harris, the toss and Shane Watson's bowling in succession.

Now for the acid test: can Australia build a solid first innings lead? We shall soon see.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Will Australia go the way of the West Indies?

Just watched the last rites of a one sided Test where India have thrashed West Indies by an innings and 15 runs: 7/631 dec (Laxman 176*, Dhoni 144, Dravid 119, Gambhir 65) v 153 (Ojha 4/64, Yadav 3/23) & 463  (Darren Bravo 136, Samuels 84, Barath 62, Yadav 4/80).
Will Australia, who like West Indies, will be forced to field a changed (weakened?) team - Khawaja for Marsh, Cummins for Harris - be able to rise from the humiliation of T1? One hopes, but... 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peter Roebuck has died . Apparently by his own hand. He could be acerbic but was almost always incisive in his assessments. A sad loss, the more so for being premature.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Smith and Amla lead South Africa to convincing win: T1D3

South Africa 96 & 2/236 Amla 112, Smith 101*)  beat Australia 284 & 47 by 8 Wickets: T1 D3 at Newlands, Cape Town. South Africa lead series 1-0 with one Test to play. 

Graeme Smith 101*/140b (15x4) and Hashim Amla 112/134b (22x4) batted South Africa to an emphatic and considerably more substantial than seemed likely on the first two days,  victory.

The Australian bowling lacked zip, while a couple of crucial, though not too difficult, chances were missed. They may not have changed the result but would have narrowed the margin and given the team a little more heart not to mention incentive to regroup before the next Test starts in a few days.

Can Australia recover by then?

I doubt it. The batting is weak. Michael Clarke's 151 was the best innings by far played in the match, albeit in  a losing cause, but it wasn't enough to keep the fresh and aggressively positive South African attack at bay,The South Africans are more like the Australian teams of a decade ago: very competent and confident with several fringe players who have impressive records  waiting to  step up a level or two  as opportunities arise               


Friday, November 11, 2011

4 innings, 23 wickets , 294 runs in (the most ever?) bizarre Test day: T1D2

South Africa 96 (24.3 ov, Watson 5/17, Harris 4/33)  & 1/81 (17ov) need 155 more runs with 9 2nd inns wickets in hand to beat Australia 284 (75 ov, Clarke 151, Steyn 4/55, Philander 3/63, Morkel 3/82) & 47 (18ov, Philander 5/15, Morkel 3/9) : T1/2 D2/5 at Newlands, Cape Town.

I was not alone among  cricket followers, including a former Australian captain , in retiring after Australia had added a further 70 runs and rolled South Africa for 96, a lead of 188.

How unwise I was. Despite Michael Clarke's magnificent (and now at least partly overshadowed by subsequent events) 151/176b (22x4), Shane Watson's quickfire 5-2-17-5 and Ryan Harris' 10.3-3-33-4, Australia crumbled in the face of some hostile South African bowling, with Vernon Philander's 7-3-15-5 matching Watson.

Judging from the highlights (three hours' worth) which I watched this morning, there were some ultra soft Australian dismissals including , but not limited to, Mike Hussey's first ball and Brad Haddin's swish. It was cold comfort that the last wicket pair of Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon more  than doubled the score, moving it from a scarcely believable 9/21 to all out 47. South Africa's first innings batting was far from above reproach, too: nos 2 to 7 contributed 15 to the total between them, the same as Australia's 1 to  6 (the injured Sean Marsh batted at 10).

There were many other quirky and extraordinary features of the day's play, several of which
Cricinfo has noted.

Just as Clarke and Siddle made batting look, if not easy then manageable early in the day, so in the later stages did the South Africans. Graeme Smith, whose unfinished double of 37 and 36* may yet win the match, looked in good touch, while Hashim Amla benefited from a last ball of the day letoff.

Not many teams  who've been bowled out in the first innings 188 behind their opponents' score could claim to have had the better of a day's play.  Yet, even allowing for the good opposition bowling in what often looked to be favourable conditions, Australia's credulity-stretching second innings meltdown has left South Africa in the stronger position.

A tense evening on the couch beckons.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Steyn leads South African charge, while Clarke prevents Australian rout: T1D1

Australia 8/214 (55ov, M Clarke 107*, D Steyn 4/31, V Philander 3/54) v South Africa: T1 D1 at Newlands (aka Sahara) Cape Town. South Africa won toss and chose to field.

Michael Clarke's 107*/ 114b (17x4) has kept Australia in the match on a first day abridged by   weather, umpiring prissiness and infrastructure failure..

The experienced Dale Steyn and newcomer Vernon Philander made good use of English-type conditions to dispose of the openers (Phil Hughes alas looking out of his depth) and Ricky Ponting, whose brief 8/25b (1x6) combined, as the stats suggest,  uncertainty with a dash of belligerence.

3/40 vindicated Graeme Smith's decision to send Australia in (Clarke said he'd have batted). The increasingly fluent and, given his ODI reputation, surprisingly aggressive Clarke with the more resolute Sean Marsh held the South African attack at bay for long enough to add some respectability (and 103 runs). Marsh, Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin left while only 20 runs were added as the South African attack, an increasingly thickset and jowly Jacques Kallis excepted, applied enough pressure and skill to take the day's honours.

Well as Steyn 14-4-31-4 bowled Clarke's masterly captain's  innings was the highlight of the day. It has kept Australia in the match...but not on top.

Reserve your seat on the couch (or at the bar) for what should be another very good day of Test cricket. If you, like me, can't last the Australian time night Foxtel is showing good highlights in the morning. If all else fails checkout the web highlights  here


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Test times

Back after a break away from cricket viewing/watching , including a UK trip where I went to two soccer matches : Sheffield Wednesday 2 v Colchester United 0 (League 1) and Chelsea 3 v Arsenal 5 (EPL).

Test cricket has been in pretty full swing around the world. I missed Ts1 & 2 of the Pakistan - Sri Lanka series in the Gulf, which were played in the shadow of the UK court case and subsequent  jailing of three Test cricketers. I watched quite a lot of T3 which was ended in a pedestrian draw as Sri Lanka seemed happy to settle for a  0-1 series loss.

India v West Indies T1 (of 3) has just begun in New Dehli. The West Indies have been surprisingly competitive but the class of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, the two highest scoring Test batters of all time (Tendulkar scored his 15,000th run overnight) should see them home when play resumes in a few hours.

If you are able to watch today's play, do so. If the two masters aren't able to continue yesterday's masterclass for long, then there may be some anxious moments, but it's hard to see West Indies getting rid of them, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni cheaply, even though the wicket is keeping low at times.

Tonight I'll be watchng the first day of the first Test of a truncated South Africa v Australia
two match series. South Africa are said to be rusty, as they've not played a Test for ages.  Australia still have a few question marks about certain players including Mitchell Johnson and Phil Hughes, each of whom has performed well in the Republic previously but who have been inconsistent elsewhere.  On paper the South Africans look to have the edge but the series, if the two matches can properly be called that, should not be too onesided (say I, sitting on fence).

Update 10 November

India beat West Indies by 5 wickets. It didn't go quite according to the scenarios I'd sketched as Dravid left early, leaving Tendulkar 76 ( the 100th international century eluding him yet again) and Laxman 58* to keep India on the road to victory. MS Dhoni's bumbling 0*/4b attempt to avoid a pair suggested that another wicket sooner might have kept such tension as there was ramped up a little longer.

For South Africa v Australia T1 D1 see separate post.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Clarke and, yet again, Hussey bat Sri Lanka out of match and series: T3D5

Australia 316 & 488 (138.5 ov, Hughes 126, Clarke 112, Hussey 93, Herath 7/157) drew with Sri Lanka 473 & 0/7 ( 2 ov): T3D5 at Colombo (SSC). Australia win series 1-0 and retain Warne-Muralitharan Trophy.

A not unexpected match result after five days and a good series win for Australia (though not one I'd expected).

When Phil Hughes was out early for 126/220b (1x6, 16x4), Sri Lanka may have sniffed an unlikely victory in the air. But Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey dispelled any such thoughts by batting to lunch and then more than an hour beyond, adding 176 from 38 overs, until at 396 and the match saved Clarke was out. His 112/178b (3x6, 14x4) was his highest score for some time, and made in a refreshingly forthright way. This and his 60 in T1 at Galle should silence those who've doubted that he's worth a place in the team (or who've sneered at him dropping himself to no5).

And Mr Cricket. Dismissed for his second ninety of the series, 93/138b (1x6, 11x4), the most consistent and most effective (cf Angelo Mathews) batsman on either side (493 runs), an excellent fielder and, by virtue of two wickets, top of the bowling averages. Unquestionably Player of the Series and deservedly Player of this Match.

Sri Lanka plugged away (or tried to plug the gaps in the field) . With only one frontline spinner they lacked the kind of firepower needed to keep the pressure on Australia. Even so Rangana Herath's herculean 52-11-157-7 shouldn't go unmentioned or unappreciated. He did well to regroup, admittedly on what was a more favourable pitch, after an ordinary performance in the first innings.

So Australia are now the fourth ranked Test nation in the world. In the coming months their opponents will include the higher ranked South Africa (in a piddling two match away series) and India (four Tests at home). Interesting, though after the Sri Lanka series more hopeful, times perhaps.


PS Interesting to hear (and see)  ABC commentator Jim Maxwell filling in for Tony Greig on the coverage from Sri Lanka. He did a good job and showed, as if it needed to be, that high level cricket experience is not an essential requirement for the job.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dilatory Sri Lankan batting + Hughes century= draw likely T3D4

Australia 316 and 3/209  (68ov, Hughes 122*) lead Sri Lanka 473 (174 ov, Mathews 105*, Dilshan 83, Sangakkara 79, M Jayawardene 51, Siddle 4/91) by 52 runs with 7 second inns wickets in hand: T3D4 at Colombo (SSC)

With a day to play Sri Lanka could still conceivably win. But to do so they'll need to show much more energy with the ball in the first session of D5 than they did with the bat in the first session of D4, when they built on a handy lead by laboriously batting for 19 overs to add 45 runs.

Angelo Mathews was both the chief culprit and the chief beneficiary: he did make his maiden Test century but, ignoring many opportunities to take runs, spent 42 balls adding 20, to end with 105*/269b (10x4). Yes, he's made a couple of Test 90s, but this was will probably turn out to be a match-saving innings when a match-winning one was needed.

A word about Peter Siddle. He bowled 35 wholehearted overs in what by all reports was sapping heat for 4/91 and must now be a serious contender for a place (Mitchell Johnson's?) in the starting lineup for the Tests (can two matches really be called a "series"?) in South Africa.

Phil Hughes, in what must have been his last chance this time around, led Australia's response. The pitch continued to play well - until Rangana Herath came on to bowl left arm over the wicket. He had Shane Watson lbw on review, Shaun Marsh adjudged caught at short leg, but bizarrely (as replays clearly showed ball missing bat) not reviewing, and Ricky Ponting caught at slip off a ball which turned, bounced and took the glove.

At stumps Hughes was 122*/202b (1x6, 16x4). After Watson went he kept the innings moving as both Marsh and Ponting played themselves in. He played some elegant drives and defended watchfully, if a tad inelegantly (as when on 99 he was tangled up, nowhere near out, but inducing  Sri Lanka to waste a review). 

Each partnership has added at least 60, enabling Australia to move to a modest, if not yet comfortable, lead. The match looks to be heading for a draw, but the first session, and perhaps beyond, should be interesting. Hughes has made his point: what better time for Michael Clarke, on 8*/37b, to make his?


Monday, September 19, 2011

Australian bowlers unable to cut through Sri Lankan batting: T3D3.

Sri Lanka 6/428 (155ov, Mathews 85*, Dilshan 83, Sangakkara 79, M Jayawardene 51) lead Australia 316 by 112 runs with 4 first innings wickets in hand. T3D3 at Colombo (SSC).

It was Sri Lanka's day alright: the first for the series where they have not been fighting to save the match.

4/262 from 90 overs suggests measured more than flamboyant progress. This was certainly the case in the morning session where two wickets, those of the top class batters Kumar Sangakkara 79/176b (10x4) and Mahela Jayawardene 51/120b (9x4), fell while 84 runs were added.

Thereafter Captain Dilshan, much more at home at no5 and ,yet again, Angelo Mathews continued to move the innings forward, the former more positively (he was the only one of the top 6 with a strike rate above 50) though not as rapidly as might have been expected given the bland state of the wicket.

While the Australian bowling's bark was worse than its bite it never let things get completely out of hand. Every so often, just as a partnership looked set, one of the quick bowlers snapped back with a wicket, eg when Dilshan looked set for a century Trent Copeland had him caught behind for 83/131b (14x4). Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene continued in similar vein, then the wicketkeeper accelerated the tempo with two 6s off consecutive balls from Nathan Lyon, before Copeland snaffled him driving on the up for 47/86b (2x6, 3x4)., leaving Mathews to bat out the day for 85*/207b (8x4), and his team comfortably ahead.

Sri Lanka will need to push along if they are to bowl Australia out again cheaply (read 300+ if the pitch continues to play well). Unlike the first two matches the weather hasn't played a large part in the proceedings, so there should be enough time for a result.

It's very hard to see Australia fashioning a victory from here, and their underperforming (and moderately performing) batsmen will have to take a leaf or two out of the Mike Hussey- Shaun Marsh playbook to prevent Sri Lanka from winning. The home team must be kicking themselves over their poor performances (and their authorities' wicket preparation) in T1 & T2.

Scorecard .

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sri Lanka well placed for at least an honourable draw after two days

Sri Lanka 2/166  (65ov, Sangakkara 61*, Paranavitana 46,) trail Australia 316 (104.3 ov, Hussey 118, Marsh 81, Ponting 48, Eranga 4/65) on first innings by 150 runs: T3D2 at Colombo (SSC).

I've been away from live TV coverage for the last couple of days so have had to rely on Cricinfo (whose comments and analysis are good yet lack the immediacy of real time TV coverage) and,TV highlights. Better than nothing (try getting Test coverage in the US media) but still below par.

Making allowances for these shortcomings I conclude that Sri Lanka have been competitive and that, while they haven't yet got all the required runs on the board, their two best bats - Kumar Sangakkara 61*/125b (9x4) and Mahela Jayawardene 31*/83b (5x4) - are still at the wicket. Which means they must have a pretty good chance of passing Australia's OK but could have been better 318.

For Australia,once again Mike Hussey came to the rescue with a quintessentially pugnacious Mr Cricketish (a tautology, eh?)  118/178b (2x6, 12x4). Shaun Marsh also justified the selectors' faith in him (a no-brainer after his debut) with 81/207b (7x4). But add their scores  together, toss in Ricky Ponting's 48 and Brad Haddin's 35, and you can see, even without looking at the scorecard, that there were several below par performances. 
 I'm now repairing to the couch to watch day 3, so will leave you to check out the Scorecard and form your own opinions.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Predictable weather, predictable result

Sri Lanka 174 & 6/317 (114.3 ov, Sangakkara 69, Paranavitana 55, M Jayawardene 51) drew with Australia 7/411 dec: T2D5 at Palekelle. Australia lead series 1-0 with one match to play.

Today, when rain permitted play, Sri Lanka added 4/95 from the 35.3 overs bowled by Australia. All the Sri Lanka top order made handy scores though the two of whom big things were expected didn't build on the platform they'd established yesterday. Kumar Sangakkara  made 69/165b (8x4), while Mahela Jayawardene notched 51/133b (5x4).

Ryan Harris again was the best of the bowlers: 22-8-54-3 are figures of a fit, as well as a very good, bowler, yet it is widely believed by those close to the team that his body cannot keep on going like this. His value to the team this series has been immense: Mitchell Johnson has bowled some sharp spells but prefers not to take the new ball, Trent Copeland has bowled a steady line and length but lacks the spearhead's sharp pace, while Nathan Lyon struggled on the relatively (compared to Galle) benign Pallekele wicket.

The final Test begins in four days.The major selection issue for Australia, assuming Harris is fit (if not Peter Siddle may come into contention), is who to omit  to make room for the returning (from parental leave) Ricky Ponting. After his century on debut Shaun Marsh cannot be omitted, which leaves a choice between Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja. Neither have scored many runs, and while they aren't bad in the field, they don't seem quite as athletic as most other young Australian cricketers. 

I'll leave that one to the selectors, who, now following Greg Chappell's departure, comprise the captain and the coach: something which would, not so many years  months ago, have raised more than a few eyebrows..  


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sri Lanka bats at last pull together and set up weather assisted draw: T2D4

Sri Lanka 174 & 2/223 (79ov, Sangakkara 69* , Paranavitana 55) trail Australia 7/441 dec by 14 runs with 8 second inns wickets in hand: T2D4 at Pallekele.

Michael Clarke declared at Australia's overnight score. Given the amount of time lost to weather and a none too promising forecast he had no choice (despite what some of the studio based Fox Sports commentators said).

For the first time in the series Sri Lanka didn't collapse. Captain Dilshan and Tharanga Paranavitana added 81 for the first wicket against a probing, if not as sharply menacing as we've seen previously in the series, Australian attack. Each of the four batsmen who came to the crease made at least a handy contribution, though, as the situation demanded, none of them scored at limited overs rates or took many limited overs type liberties with the bowling. Paranavitana's held on after Dilshan went at 81 for a measured 55/143b (6x4) until Mike Hussey (yes, that man again) had him caught behind. Then the two best batters in the side Kumar Sangakkara 69*/158 (8x4) and Mahela Jayawardene 38*/99 (3x4) stayed together, adding 95 until the umpires (or their finely calibrated light meters) adjudged that play should effectively end for the day.

2.82 runs an over from 79 overs on a wicket which, apart from a little turn, held few terrors for good batters both reflected both the defensive mindset of the Sri Lankans and the steadiness of the Australian bowling. Ryan Harris again made the initial breakthrough, and there were some close calls: eg Nathan Lyon sometimes pitched short yet at other times induced edges which fell just short of the close catchers (is Phil Hughes the best short leg in the team?).

So it seems probable that tomorrow the match will fizzle out into a draw. Even if Australia were to take early wickets it's hard to see there being enough time, given the weather and the umpires' zero tolerance attitude to low light, for a result to be achieved.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Australia build massive lead as Hussey & Marsh make hay before rain comes : T2D3

Australia 7/411 (132ov, Hussey 142, Marsh 141) lead Sri Lanka 174 by 237runs with 3 first inns wickets in hand. T2D3 at Pallekele.

Mike Hussey and Shaun Marsh eventually added 258 before Hussey fell for 142/244b (18x4). Marsh followed soon after for 142/315b (16x4), as did Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson to successive deliveries from Suraj Randiv (Ryan Harris narrowly avoided the hat trick).

Both Hussey, the old gun who'd been written off by many a year ago, and Marsh, the Test debutant, batted magnificently on a pitch which is holding up well against an attack which which lacked penetration (or was made to lack penetration).

But then the rains came. I don't know the forecast for Kandy (near the Pallekele stadium) but wouldn't be surprised if more rain was expected tomorrow and Monday, in which case Australia should declare now and hope that their bowlers can once again take advantage of what this series so far has shown to be a more brittle than expected Sri Lanka batting lineup.


Sri Lanka win first session, Aust the second, weather the third: T2D2

Australia 3/264 (91.3 ov, Marsh 87*, Hussey 76*) lead Sri Lanka 174 by 90 runs with 7 innings wkts in hand: T2D2 at Pallekele.
When bad light stopped play just after tea Shaun Marsh and, once again, Mike Hussey had taken Australia from a sub-optimal 3/116 to a much healthier 3/264 in about one and a half sessions

Marsh on debut batted in doughty mode at first (his 50 took 133 balls, inc 7x4) before becoming more fluent later. His 87*/211b (11x4) and of course Hussey's continued late(?) career bloom 76*/152b (8x4) have put Australia back on the road to a substantial first innings lead. The main contest may now between them and the weather.

Sri Lanka, especially the economical Suraj Randiv, plugged away in the field. After lunch the occasional ball caused problems but when Kumar Sangakkara came on to bowl it seemed, if not unconditional surrender, then the opening of peace negotiations. Yet like MS Dhoni, the other subcontinental wicketkeeper turned bowler (in a recent Test v England), Kumar didn't bowl too badly: he swung the ball at about 100kph. Good parkland, but a bit short of Test standard.

; Scorecard

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Sri Lanka bat first and feebly against unrelenting Australia

Australia 0/60 (17.4 ov) trail Sri Lanka 174 (64.1 ov, A Mathews 58) by 114 runs with all 1st innings wickets in hand. T2D1 at Pallekele.

I didn't expect that, having won the toss and choosing to bat, Sri Lanka would reprise their Galle meltdown, but they did come close.

After Ryan Harris and Trent Copeland took the wind out of Sri Lanka's sails things did improve (could they have got much worse than 3/14?) for a while, as the pitch ( which was never as dodgy as the Galle one) became progressively easier to bat on. But Australian bowling which was always persistent, and often brilliant, coupled with some sloppy batting kept the home team in check.

Only Kumar Sangakkara, in gritty Test match mode, 48/121b (7x4) and Angelo Mathews, choosing the right balls to biff, 58/111b (3x6, 6x4), passed 20. Sangakkara was dropped early but thereafter fought hard until he succumbed to, of all people, Mike Hussey's gentle slow medium. (Hussey also took a brilliant catch in the gully to send Mahela Jayawardene packing cheaply)

Prasanna Jayawardene was the third highest scorer, but his brief innings exemplified the inept indiscipline of the SL batting: just before lunch he took 12 off Nathan Lyon's first five balls, then hoicked the last one to square leg.

174 was hardly a facesaving total and, as Shane Watson and Phillip Hughes showed (a near run out and a couple of close lbw appeals apart), it is unlikely to prevent Australia from amassing a considerable first innings lead, especially as the Sri Lankan attack is without the injured/ill Ajanta Mendis and Rangana Herath.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Australia win (quite) comfortably though Jayawardene and Mathews fight hard

Australia 273 & 210 (59.2 ov, Clarke 60, Herath 5/79) def Sri Lanka 105 & 253 (95.5 ov, M Jayawardene 105, Mathews 95, Harris 5/62) by 125 runs with a day to spare: T1 at Galle. Australia lead 3 match series 1-0.

For a time today, when the Mahela Jayawardene-Angelo Mathews partnership blunted the persistent Australian attack, Sri Lanka looked to have an outside chance of an improbable win. They were chasing 378, a margin of safety improved by the 98 runs added for the last four wickets in the disappointing Australian second innings.

At lunch, after a rain shortened morning session, SL were 5/187, a great improvement on the previous day's 5/68, but still a long way from victory. While the wicket was no shirtfront it seemed to play better than over the previous two days when 25 wickets fell as 435 runs were scored. But much of today's revival was due to the resolution of the two Sri Lankans: the Australians generally bowled tightly yet without that sharpness which had characterised their first and half the second innings efforts.

The new ball did for the partnership, and effectively the match. Ryan Harris bowled a weary Jayawardene off an inside edge for an elegantly determined 105/231b (1x6, 15x4, 2x3, 33x1). Mathews tried to focus the lower order and move to a personal century but, after two of his partners went cheaply, fell to Watson, who once again proved his value as a fifth bowler, for 95/191b (13b).

In the end Australia won comfortably. Mike Hussey's first innings 95 turned out to be, even if it didn't appear that way at the time, the foundation upon which their victory was built: he was deservedly named Player of the Match. Yes,Hussey did bat when the pitch, which wasn't really up to Test match standard, was at its best but he was a cut above all his teammates. Jayawardene's second innings was magnificent too, but his total contribution was offset by his clumsy run out in his first.

Despite an abysmal first innings, Sri Lanka have shown that they should be no pushover for this developing Australian team. If they get a chance to bat first on a good wicket and avoid self-destructive moments such as the Jayawardene run out who knows what they might be capable of?


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Memorable day for Aussie debutants as 16 wickets fall for 221

Australia 273 & 5/116 (33.5 ov, M Clarke 60) lead Sri Lanka 105 (50ov, N Lyon 5/34) by 283 runs with 6 second inns wickets in hand. T1/3 D2/5 at Galle.

Two batting meltdowns, a major one by Sri Lanka who lost 7/18 to post an abysmal 105 all out followed by Australia's 5/116, on a bowler friendly - but not that friendly - wicket. have put Australia in control of the First Test after only two days.

My reservations about the inexperienced Australian attack were soon shown to be groundless. Trent Copeland took a wicket with his second ball and Nathan Lyon with his first, as Sri Lanka self-destructed in the face of high class bowling and fielding. Lyon's 15-3-34-5 was a superb debut. while Copeland effectively took two of the first three wickets, one with the ball, the other a run out of Mahela Jayawardene who looked more assured than most of his team mates.

A Sri Lankan revival was blocked by three quick wickets from Shane Watson which opened the way for Lyon to run throught the tail, leaving Sri Lanka embarassed with a paltry 105. The other bowlers kept things tight: Ryan Harris's 8-5-6-0 speaks for itself, even if it doesn't say how unlucky he was not to take at least one wicket.

Much of Australia's second innings has, apart from Michael Clarke's positive 60/80b (1x6, 7x4) , been more akin to parklands than Test cricket. Shane Watson was out first ball from a Sehwag-style stroke while Ricky Ponting fell in comical fashion with both bat and ball airborne.
But with a lead of almost 300, and the wicket continuing to deteriorate (eg puffs of dust, balls keeping low) Australia should be able to win comfortably from here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mike Hussey's grit keeps Australia competitive: T1D1

Australia 273 (86.4 ov, M Hussey 95) T1/3 D1 at Galle.

A fascinating day of sub continental Test cricket. That is, one where the ball turned and the visitors struggled. Each of the Australian top order reached double figures, Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting and Brad Haddin laying solid foundations, but only Mike Hussey's characteristically gritty, laced with some aggression, 95/177b (3x6, 7x4). really came to terms with the conditions.

The wicket is cracking [has cracked?] up; 300 would have been a good total but 273 will do for now. Having regard to the state of the wicket, and all things being equal, Australia has its nose in front but is its attack, which includes two debutants (Trent Copeland and Nathan Lyon) able to set up a victory? I doubt it.



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Malinga hat trick helps Sri Lanka win ODI#5, though still lose series 2-3

Sri Lanka 6/213 ( M Jayawardene 71, C Silva 63) beat Australia 211 (46.1 ov, S Watson 56, L Malinga 3-35 inc hat trick) by 4 wickets with 18 balls remaining: ODI#5 at Premadasa Stadium Columbo. Australia win series 3-2.

Four of the top six Australian batters got a start but didn't notch large scores: the other seven combined added 17.

Lasith Malinga's hat trick turned a possible score of around 250 turned into a modest 211. Sri Lanka lost 3/33, two to James Pattinson who, with John Hastings replaced Brett Lee and Doug Bollinger (both rested) before Chamara Silva 63/71b (1x6, 8x4) and (once again) Mahela Jayawardene 71/119b (6x4) , set their team back on course. Australia had no Malinga equivalent so the Sri Lankans moved comfortably to a consolation win.

Now for the Tests. Australia will be pleased that Malinga will not be in the home eleven, as they will have enough issues of their own to deal with.

Fox Sports highlights:


4-0: England eventually win T4 comfortably

England 6/591 dec (I Bell 235, K Pietersen 175) def India 300 (R Dravid 146*) & 283 (S Tendulkar 91, A Mishra 84, G Swann 6/106) by an innings and 8 runs: T4D5 at The Oval. England win series 4-0.

The result was the same as the preceding Tests, but this time Rahul Dravid 146* /266b (20x4) carried his bat through India's first innings and showed his teammates what might be done to resist the powerful England bowling attack and bolster India's self- respect.

In the follow-on Sachin Tendulkar 91/172b (11x4) and Amit Mishra 84/141b (10x4) showed more fight, batting through a session (the first time India had done so in the series) without losing a wicket. But once they were out, Tendulkar courageously but correctly adjudged lbw by umpire Tucker within sight of his 100th international century, Graeme Swann snuffed out any wild hopes of a draw by running through the rest.

Once again England outplayed India in all departments, a result which I for one didn't expect. It has nevertheless whetted my appetite for the forthcoming India tour of Australia, even though neither of the teams are now at the top of the Test rankings. It's hard to imagine the Indian batting peforming this badly again and, if their best bowlers are fit, their attack lacking so much penetration. I'll wait and see how the Tests v Sri Lanka go before venturing an opinion about Australia's chances.