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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Kohli & Rahane bring India back into Test before Australia regroup: T3 D3

India 8/462 (126.2ov, Kohli 169/272b/18x4, Rahane 147/171b/21x4, Vijay 68/135b/7x4, Dhawan 28, Pujara 25, Harris 25-7-69-4, Lyon 2/108) trail Australia 530 by 68 runs with two 1st inns wkts in hand: T3/4 D 3/5 at MCG.

The highlight of the day was, it goes without saying, the Virat Kohli - Ajinkya Rahane 262 4th wicket partnership, which took India to within reach of Australia's considerable total. Then a middle order collapse from batters who played as if their team was already in the lead, allowed Australia to claw back a little and, almost, share the day's honours, but not its abiding memories.

Kohli reaffirmed his class, Rahane stepped up a couple of notches. Neither was overawed by the match situation: 3/147 when they came together. Both rode their luck, but given the quality of their strokeplay, few watchers would have been disappointed...until the pair defanged much of the home attack and a solid first innings lead looked well within the realm of probability rather than a distant and unlikely prospect.

Then Nathan Lyon, who'd bowled steadily without ever looking dangerous, except when he dropped the simplest of return catches, broke through. Ryan Harris, who hadn't hitherto bowled badly, roused his tired body for a final effort, inducing MS Dhoni to edge to the keeper and then, while Australian supporters held their breath, juggled and eventually caught a return catch from Ravi Ashwin. 

Kohli held out until the last over, when he swiped at Mitchell Johnson, giving the chastened (not that it was obvious from his demeanour) paceman his first wicket - for 133. 

After today's quality tomorrow may well be an anticlimax.   The weather forecast isn't promising while Australia, after today's mixed bag of experiences, may be content to play for a draw, and thus series win. The wicket played well today but the local experts expect it to deteriorate from here on. Whether or not that happens, or rain intervenes, will influence tactics for the last two days, but don't expect a quarter generous (as at Adelaide) Declaration by Australia.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Irrepressible Smith powers Australia to another big score: T3D2

India 1/108 (37ov, Vijay 55*/102b/5x4, Dhawan 28, Pujara 25*) trail Australia 530 (142.3ov, Smith 192/305b/2x6 15x4, Harris 74/88b/1x6 8x4, Rogers 57/126b/5x4, Haddin 55/84b/1x6 7x4, Watson 52/89b/4x4, S Marsh 32, Johnson 28, Mohammed Shami 29-4-138-4, Yadav 3/130, Ashwin 3/134) by 422 with 9 1st inns wkts in hand; T3/4 D2/5 at MCG.

Another masterly innings by Steve Smith has led Australia to a dominant position. While India have so far made a reasonable fist of chasing 530 they need to do a lot more work to save, let alone 
win the Test and therefore keep the series alive.

India lost it in the first session, when their bowlers delivered 25 overs and took 2/140. Smith, who'd moved from 72 to 128, wasn't one of them. So, with the four bowler India attack tiring, not only the captain - as seemed inevitable - but also Ryan Harris, who can be dangerous in a situation like this, were able to accelerate and post a total which while not improbable was at the upper end of the spectrum of expectation.

Smith didn't make a double century, yet did post his highest first class score. He is in such good form at the moment that it wouldn't surprise to see him overtake today's 192 soon. His defence is tighter than it used to be, while he doesn't like to allow bowlers to confine him ( and usually gets his way). A class act.

India don't seem to be able to put together a sustained effort with either bat or ball: one good session seems to be about their limit at present. Their selection of only four frontline bowlers, not all of whom are able to perform consistently at frontline standard, has backfired. Whether their batting can surprise us with consecutive good sessions on D3 is questionable: but if it doesn't the Test looks lost.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day: T3 D1

Australia 5/259 (90ov, Smith 72*/158b/1x6 4x4, Rogers 57/126b/5x4, Watson 52/89b/4x4, S Marsh 32, Haddin 23*, Mohammed Shami 2/55, Yadav 2/69) v Australia; T3/4 D1/5 at MCG. Australia won toss and chose to bat.

Boxing Day is usually cricket's big day out. This year, with three Tests being played around the globe and no short form substitutions (even South Africa is hosting a Test instead of a T20, albeit against a weak West Indies ), there is plenty to watch, and some things to reflect upon.

There are also other temptations, such as opportunities to catch up with family and friends and, for those of us in the Antipodes, to follow the play al fresco (on TV/ radio/ both) with a refreshing libation or two at hand. 

While the NZ v Sri Lanka Test at Christchurch has rocketed out of the blocks thanks to Brendan McCullum's 195 (a relative failure after his triple and two double Test centuries previously this year) the proceedings at the MCG, where a tad under 70,000 souls turned up, was more like traditional Test cricket as Australia and India tussled to wrest the initiative from each other ( and India bowled the day's over ration without having recourse to all the extra time available).

On paper the honours look even, but IMO yet another good innings from Steve Smith has given Australia the edge. 

There were some failures, and two pleasing, career extending if not enhancing yet fundamentally disappointing innings from Chris Rogers and Shane Watson, each of whom fell for personal 50s at 115.  

Smith, yet again, despite (or because of) a circumspect start gradually reaffirmed - reminded us of - his authority. Brad Haddin didn't look at ease but eased the pressure on himself and his team with a six off Ravi Ashwin (IMO an overrated bowler yet a handy lower order bat and a safe pair of hands in the field). He was still there at stumps.

The Indian bowlers haven't yet let the game slip out of their reach. But they will need to break the Smith- Haddin partnership early on D2 and work through the lower order to confine Australia to a total   around 400, which on the evidence of the series to date is about what their batting, for all the talented names on the list,  is capable of.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Happy Christmas to all!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Another intriguing day, weather permitting, is in prospect.

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Vijay leads India to ascendancy: T2 D1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this doesn't happen. 

<a href="">Scorecard <a>

Friday, December 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sun returns to Adelaide as Kohli leads India's reply to Australia's first innings: T1D3

India 5/369 (97 ov, Kohli 115/184b/12x4, Pujara 73/135b/ 9x4, Rahane 62/76b/10x4, Vijay 53/88b/3x4,2x6, Johnson 2/90, Lyon 2/103) trail Australia 7/517d by 148 runs with 5 1st inns wkts in hand: T1/4 D3/4 at Adelaide Oval.

After Michael Clarke declared, as expected,  at Australia's overnight score, India batted throughout the extended - to catch up some of the time lost yesterday - day's play. Unlike Australia, none of the top order batters failed, unless you consider Shikar Dhawan's swashbuckling 25/24b at the start of the innings to be a failure, yet several of them fell when better things seemed to be within their reach.

The best innings was Virat Kohli's. He seemed to show no ill effects from being struck on the helmet by a Mitchell Johnson bouncer before he'd scored, which was a relief to everyone though I thought at the time that the umpires might have asked for an expert opinion before allowing play to continue. In the event it didn't matter, as the stand in skipper stamped his authority on the match with some authoritative strokeplay, taking advantage of poor bowling and sometimes chancing his eye against quite good bowling. He moved easily to his century, then tried to show Johnson once too often who was boss, and was caught (well by a diving Ryan Harris) at deep fine leg hooking a bouncer.

Passing, or even approaching, 517 was going to require at least one big score. Kohli's 115 was, for all its flair, not what I'd call a big score:150-200 was what I had in mind. Yet each specialist batter put runs on the board, contributing to partnerships which made Clarke think hard about how to contain or break them. Even Dhawan's cameo at the start of the innings took the wind out of Johnson's sails for a while by letting him know  that he wasn't going to have the field day he had here against England last year. Cheteshwar Pujara was solid, Ajinka Rahane enterprising and Murali Vijay grew in confidence the longer he stayed.

The Australian bowlers persisted, without always or even often, looking likely to break through. Johnson and Harris may not have been at their best, but they didn't bowl as raggedly as the Indian quicks had often done during Australia's innings. The surprise packet was Nathan Lyon, who was introduced - and punished - early, but later regrouped and bowled tightly, obtaining spin and bounce from the drop in pitch. He nagged away and was justly rewarded with the wickets of  the well set Pujara and Rahane.

Michael Clarke remained on the field for most of the day, changing most of the bowlers frequently while  giving Lyon a long spell which paid dividends. There were several good contests between bat and ball, and at times India looked as if it was going to pass that 517. But Kohli's demise has made that look less likely. Rohit Sharma 33*/60b looks comfortable, but he has only to tail to support him and, as Rahane found out when a ball popped on him, the wicket is playing the occasional trick.

This has been an intriguing Test match so far. Tis a pity about the loss of so much play yesterday as this probably means that the most feasible results are a win to Australia or a draw.

Rain falls in Adelaide, but doesn't disrupt Aussie parade: T 1 D 2

Rains in Adelaide, but not on Australia's parade as Clarke recovers & Smith continues to build big total: T1/4, D2/5 at Acelaide Oval.

Australia 7/517 (120ov, Smith 162*/231b/21x4, Warner 145/163b/19x4, Clarke 128/163b/18x4) v India: T1/4 D2/5 at Adelaide Oval.

This was definitely not a quintessential Adelaide summer's day in weather terms,  but it was a superb day for Australian cricket as Michael Clarke and Steve Smith in between rain interruptions knocked the stuffing out of the Indian bowling and, to a degree, the fielding.

Clarke's appearance on the field after he'd hobbled off on D1 was, to put it mildly, unexpected. As was  the quality of his batting: he made the most of his limitations, treating the Indian bowlers with disdain (as they mostly deserved) and combining with Smith to repair the fissures which the second new ball had opened late on D1.

All this was achieved amid showers, mostly light but sufficient to send the players scurrying off the
Oval (behind the umpires) several times. Not at all Adelaide in December, but batting of the highest order.

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

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Warner powers Australia to good position despite late India fightback: T1D1

Australia 6/354 (89.2 ov, Warner 145/163b/19x4, Smith 72*/130b/9x4, Clarke 72 ret hurt 60*/84b/9x4, Marsh 41) v India T1/4 D1/5 at Adelaide Oval. Australia won toss and chose to bat.

On a quintessential Adelaide summer's day - clear blue sky, temperature in low 30s and a true Adelaide Oval first day wicket - and after a moving pre-match tribute to Philip Hughes David Warner batted magnificently....yet again. 

He attacked from the outset, making the India opening attack look toothless as 40 runs - 35 off his bat - came from the first 4 overs, before Ishant, one of three Sharmas in the Indian team, bowled a maiden to Warner, which slowed his progress temporarily,

Wickets fell and a promising partnership with Michael Clarke was truncated by injury to the skipper, leaving Australia effectively if not strictly accurately (despite what the scoreboard recorded) 3/206.

When Warner was eventually out at 258, Steven Smith and Mitchell Marsh continued to accumulate runs. India made it easier for them by using (over using?) spin in an attempt to improve a very slow over rate, 

This strategy appeared to have failed as the total approached  350, but against the run of play, three late wickets fell to the second new ball, leaving Smith to muster the lower order tomorrow.

With Clarke unlikely to bat, or perhaps even to play any further part in the match, the Test is more evenly poised than the scores might suggest. Well as Mohammed Shami and Varun Aaron bowled at the last half hour, I thought that Ishant Sharma's economy in the first half of the day's play kept India, if not in the game, at least not quite out of it.

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

Monday, December 08, 2014

Tests resume after itinerary reshuffle

Test cricket resumes tomorrow here at the now completely upgraded Adelaide Oval.

As recent Australia v India contests have been decided - usually emphatically - by the home ground advantage, so on that line of reasoning Australia will start favourites. 

But, setting aside the unknown consequences of Phillip Hughes's death the week before last, Australia's Test record has been uneven. A recent 0-2 drubbing by Pakistan in the UAE after a 2-1 win in South Africa earlier in the year ( and of course last season's trouncing of England here) suggests some wobbles in Australia's performance.

And this is where its weakness may lie: have several of the selected team passed their best, or just temporarily lost form? I'm talking about Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon, each of whom underperformed in the UAE and South Africa, and thinking about Brad Haddin, whose Ashes batting form deserted him
there. Had there not been a cloud over Michael Clarke's fitness, which has now we are told lifted, and the consequent need to have a safe pair of hands (not Shane Watson) as deputy/ understudy, he might 
Not have been named in the team.

India's main shortcomings are inexperience and their record of poor performance away from home. Three years ago the batting was packed with greats - Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Sehwag - but the team still lost 4-0. Only Virat Kohli, who will lead the team tomorrow in the absence of an injured MS Dhoni, enhanced his reputation then. 

I watched some of the two two day warm up matches played here and didn't learn much. The opposition - scratch teams of fringe first class players and promising juniors - didn't, with a couple of exceptions, extend the Indians much. Tomorrow is forecast to be fine and sunny (max 32C) but there may be rain the day after. India would be happy with a draw, whereas Australia will be going all out for victory.


Phillip Hughes

Somehow my original post about Phillip a few days ago didn't make it to publication (I know not why but I should have checked), 

Here is my backyard tribute to him.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Pink ball, white clothing

The three fixtures of the just completed penultimate round of Sheffield Shield matches were each played as day-night matches, using a pink ball though not coloured clothing.

This was not the first time such an experiment has been tried here. A decade or so ago I recall watching South Australia play Western Australia, though I believe they used a red ball. 

That experiment hasn't been repeated until now, when declining interest in and minute attendances at Sheffield Shield matches here and Tests elsewhere have encouraged another go. This time with a pink ball.

If all goes well (and it's not clear what the assessment criteria are) we may even see day-night Tests at some time in the future. 

Last night I went to the (almost complete, we're told) Adelaide Oval to watch the last session of the 
SA v NSW match. Unlike Australia at Cape Town overnight the Redbacks weren't able to take the final wicket which a would have given them an outright win and much needed points in their quest for a Shield final berth. After the Blues led by 4 on the first innings, they were unable to convert a second innings revival into victory.

This situation has echoes of last season, where a good Redbacks start was frittered away in the last couple of matches and the team, admittedly in a very tight competition slipped from Top of the table to last.

One more round remains, with an away match (not day-night) in Hobart. This year a Ricky Ponting-less Tasmania are not playing well, so an outright win is not impossible, but without Johan Botha - the best Redback bowler yesterday - suspended for a match (apparently subject to appeal/reviewe) it may be improbable.

South Australia 288 (Ferguson 97, Zampa 48, O'Keefe 5/89) & 280 (Cooper 89, Ferguson 59, Raphael 53, O'Keefe 6/70) drew with New South Wales 292 (Patterson 81, Nevill 71, Carters 65, Botha 4/70) & 9/207 (Carters 84, Botha 4/51): Sheffield Shield at Adelaide Oval. NSW 2 pts, SA 0.

<a href="">Scorecard </a>

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Australia ...just: T3 D5

Australia 7/494 dec & 5/303 dec defeated South Africa 287 & 265 (134.3ov, Philander 51/105b/1x6 6x4, duPlessis 47/109b, Duminy 43/99b, deVilliers 43/228b, Amla 41/109b, Harris 24.3-15-32-4, Johnson 34-11-92-3, Pattinson 27-10-62-2, Smith 13-3-43-1, Lyon 22-17-10-0, Watson 9-0-6-0, Clarke 5-2-7-0) by 245 runs: T3/3 D5/5 at Newlands, Cape Town. Australia win series 2-1. Player of series & Player of match: David Warner.

Ryan Harris bowled Australia to what had for much of the match looked an inevitable victory but which from mid-afternoon on D5 until over 135 of South Africa's second innings seemed to be heading for a draw (and perhaps a moral defeat for the visitors).

The Proteas once again demonstrated their defensive fighting qualities and, almost, their ability to extract draws from the jaws of defeat. But Harris, after apparently bowling himself into the ground (and taking two key top order wickets in the process) roused himself for one final effort, which in three balls secured the Test and the series for Australia (and laid the ghosts of Adelaide 2012). The delivery which accounted for Morne Morkel was everything that Morkel's bowling in this series rarely was - pitched up on the stumps. 

I dozed off when Vernon Philander and J P Duminy seemed to have the situation in hand, as the Australia bowlers were unable to coax much help from the wicket, but awoke to find Duminy out, one of four Proteas dismissed in the 40s.

I didn't go back to sleep until Harris's 145th and 147th balls of the innings settled the issue (and my stomach).

So Australia just won? In terms of the match duration, yes, but the alternative was not defeat.

Look at the scorecard and see how dominant Australia were. Sure, a few cracks in the bowling were exposed on the last day, eg Nathan Lyon's inability to trouble batters, but it's hard to bowl out a team with so many good players (and at least one great one-  AB deVilliers) with sound defensive techniques and the mindset to apply them.

David Warner, Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke performed extremely well, but for me Harris was the hero, and not only at the last. I hope he hasn't played his last Test.

So if Australia may have only "just" won, but it was a just win, which gave them the series. They were 
Indubitably the better team and the defacto #1 Test team in the world.

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

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Australia can't lose and despite recent precedent South Africa holding out for draw looks unlikelyT3 D4

South Africa 287 & 4/71 (41ov, Amla 41/109b/4x4, deVilliers 16*/100b1x4, Johnson 2/31) need another 440 runs with 6 second inns wkts in hand to defeat Australia 7/494 dec & 5/303 dec (58ov, Warner 145/156b/13x6 4x4' Rogers 39/67b/6x4, Doolan 37/87b/5x4, Smith 36*/20b/5x4, Watson 25/17b/1x6 2x4): T3/3 D4/5 at Newlands, Cape Town.

Australia, powered by another commanding David Warner century, moved rapidly, except for an interlude when Alex Doolan batted at his own, rather than his team's preferred, pace.

 The inevitable declaration didn't come until after lunch, and a run rate still high (despite all 9 fielders on the boundary) leaving South Africa Buckley's chance of victory but a little less time in which to hold out for a draw.

4/71 represents something of a recovery after 3/15 - fiery bowling by Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson was responsible - but in the absence of bad weather (blue skies forecast)  South Africa will need to keep applying themselves as Hashim Amla and AB deVilliers did on a wicket which hasn't 
deteriorated as much as some pundits and windbags have predicted.

Yet Amla is out. DeVilliers is grafting and, despite what the Australians might say publicly, the spectre of 
the last day's  2012 grinding fightback at Adelaide must still hover over,even if not haunt, them. On paper that sort of history shouldn't repeat itself, and I don't believe it will....while conceding that it might.

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

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Australia continue to dominate South Africa: T3 D4

Australia 7/494 dec & 0/27  ( 6ov, Warner 25*/17b/4x4, Rogers 1*/19b) lead South Africa 287 (82.5ov, duPlessis 67/135b/6x4, Petersen 53/62b/8x4, Amla 38, Philander 37*, Johnson 19-5-42-4, Harris 22-3-63-3, Pattinson 2/77, Watson 1/34) by 234 runs with all second innings wickets in hand: T3/3 D3/5 at Newlands, CapeTown.

By declaring at their overnight score and then dismissing South Africa relatively cheaply Australia strengthened their grip on the Test. Whether they should have enforced the follow on is, however, a moot point.

I agree - just - with Michael Clarke's decision, principally because his main bowlers should benefit from a rest before starting again. Yet I hope that he makes a good choice about when to declare, and what target to set.

Mitchell Johnson yet again and Ryan Harris were the standout bowlers for Australia. They were chiefly responsible for reducing the Proteas to 6/146 before Faf du Plessis and Vernon Philander led a lower order revival of sorts, though not one to avoid the possibility of the follow on, not to mention a thumping deficit.

 There are two days, each with, like today, an extra half hour allocated to make up partly for the half day lost on D2. Fine weather is forecast for each, so Australia should be able to force a victory and take the series. Yet the wicket is still playing OK ( not surprising for its third day), and South Africa's top two batters Hashim Amla and A B deVilliers had modest first innings which will make them hungrier for the second innings. Graeme Smith, who announced his retirement after cloe of play, might like to go out with a bang rather than the whimpers he's had with the bat this series.

Australia will - must - be looking to win. South Africa, normally more defensively minded, will either hope for a generous declaration to tempt them or try to bat out the draw, as they did in Adelaide in 2012. The next two days may not, after Australia's second innings,  be scintillating but there's enough talent in South Africa's batting ranks to make for a tough contest.

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

Monday, March 03, 2014

Clarke continues to lead Australia from front before rain stops play: T3D2

Australia 7/494 (127.4ov, Clarke 161*/301b/17x4, Warner 135/152b/1x6 12x4, Smith 84/155b/3x6 9x4, Watson 40/32b/3x6 1x4, Duminy 17-0-73-4) v South Africa: T3/3 D2/5 at Newlands, Cape Town.

Australia's didn't have things all their own way, yet they won all the major segments of the half day's play that was possible before rain, propelled by high winds, halted proceedings.

First Michael Clarke reached his century after a long time on 99, mainly because of a superb spell of tight bowling from Kyle Abbott, whom I yesterday damned with faint praise. Unfortunately for the Proteas there as nobody to sustain the pressure at the other end: Dale Steyn was off the field injured, Morne Morkel on the field but out of his captain's bowling plans for the first hour ( another Graeme Smith blunder?), Vernon Philander was just off his game, having what must have been, considering his international ranking, one of his worst days of Test cricket.

Clarke was able to take his time reaching his century partly because Steve Smith, batting with the mature belligerence which he's developed over the past year, kept the score ticking over at the other end. He looked set for a century before he unexpectedly played (more accurately pulled) on to Dean Elgar, the makeshift second spinner. 

The makeshift first spinner, JP Duminy, actually bowled reasonably well, though his four wickets flattered him. If there was assistance for him in the wicket he was unable to extract it, though he varied his flight and seemed to take stoically the inevitable punishment from Smith, Clarke post century and, in a brief cameo just right for the situation, Shane Watson. We'll need to wait another day (or innings) to see if he completes his hat trick, and to compare him with Nathan Lyon.

The half day lost to the weather was obviously South Africa's. The pitch appears to be playing well, there are 20 South Africa wickets to be taken in three days, minus whatever time may be required for another Australia innings (or the rest of the current one), and a Steyn less South Africa look down on bowling confidence. But they do bat deep on paper and can be resolute in playing for a draw.

<a href=""> Scorecard</a> 

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Feisty Warner and gutsy Clarke revitalise Australia: T3D1

Australia 3/331 (88ov, Warner 135/152b/1x6 12x4, Clarke 92*/181b/9x4) v South Africa at Cape Town; T3/3 D1/5. Australia won toss and chose to bat.

 Both sides made two changes: Australia restored Shane Watson in place of Shaun Marsh (not Alex Doolan as I'd expected and sort of hoped) and omitted the workhorse  Peter Siddle for the greater pace of James Pattinson. South Africa omitted Quinton deKock and the injured Wayne Parnell, restoring Alviro Petersen and giving Kyle Abbott (of whom I know little) his first Test cap.

Once play started it was Australia's day. David Warner and Chris Rogers went after the bowling to the tune of 43 runs from the first six overs before Morne Morkel steadied things down a little  - but not much, as 1/118 at lunch from 26 overs attests. 

The second session was enthrallingly compulsive viewing. Australia added 1/77 from another 26 overs, and, well as Morkel bowled, put themselves into a strong position, which in the final session they converted to a very strong one.

Warner was magnificent - again. What Michael Clarke's innings may have occasionally lacked in style, his resolute blunting of Morkel's short pitched bowling by taking deliveries on his body was a great - cliche alert - captain's innings. (And did his battering encourage Morkel to bowl at the man when bowling at the stumps might have been more productive?)

Excuses for South Africa? Dale Steyn walked off with a hamstring injury, Abbott faded after a promising start and Dean Elgar bowled what must have been the highest number of (and least productive) overs of his career at any level .

Still early days, but with Clarke and Steve Smith, already 50*, in occupation, there's a solid foundation for at least another 100 runs which, barring 2011 style collapses, should provide a launching pad to strive for a match and series win.

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

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The decider

The Third South Africa v Australia Test begins tonight, local time.

After each side has had a thumping victory over the other, I'm reluctant to make a prediction.

However ....some observations

# In T2 South Africa played above what I'd thought was their best form. Not only did several of those from whom better things had been expected in T1 rise to the occasion, but some from whom less was expected eg JP Duminy and Dean Elgar, delivered in spades.

# Sourh Africa's quick bowling in T2 was as superb as Australia's had been in T1, and their lack of a frontline spinner (if such a person exists in the country) didn't really handicap them.

# Australia's second innings collapse after the Chris Rogers- David Warner show laid a promising foundation was unexpected, but not, in the light of the Ashes experiences, a great surprise. (Brad Haddin was bound to fail sometime, though perhaps not three times on the trot).

# Australia's quick bowling in T2 looked worn out: Ryan Harris has virtually admitted that he's on his last legs, while Peter Siddle looked, as he's done on previous occasions when support at the other end has been lacking, an honest trundler (and the speed gun reflected this). The limitations of a four bowler attack were exposed by the Proteas batting.

# Both captains have points to prove with the bat, and Graham Smith with his tactics: sending Australia in after winning the T1 toss was a huge blunder. South Africa may still have lost, but the margin would (says he speculating) almost certainly have been smaller.

# Australia will need to beef  up both batting and bowling for T3. The obvious answer is to play a fit (touch wood) Shane Watson. In whose place: Alex Doolan or Shaun Marsh? This time I think it should be Doolan's. Marsh cannot do any worse than his T2 pair, and you'd hope that his greater Test match experience might count for something in the tight contest which the multitudes watching on TV or the sprinkling of spectators (if the pathetic turnouts at Centurion and Port Elizabeth are any guide) at the ground will be hoping for.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How? Why? Rogers & Warner give Australia 4th innings solid foundation before meltdown gifts Test to South Africa: T2D4

South Africa  423 & 5/270dec (64ov, Amla 127*/176b/16x4, deKock 34, Johnson 2/51, Siddle 2/89) def Australia 246 & 216 (73.4ov, Rogers 107/237b/12x4, Warner 66/73b/1x6 9x4, Steyn 20-5-55-4, Philander 2/39, Elgar 1/24, Duminy 1/33, Morkel 1/46) by 231 runs; T2/3 D4/5 at Port Elizabeth. Series 1-1 ith one to play.

After South Africa, propelled by Hashim Amla's emphatic return to form, had declared and set Australia an unlikely, probably impossible,  448 to win, Chris Rogers and David Warner took up the challenge adding 126 before Warner fell, and the rest of the batting melted down.

This was an embarrassing shambles of a response.

With heavy rain forecast for D5 Australia needed at least to survive until the end of the day and keep their fingers crossed for what would have been an unmerited draw. But it didn't happen. South Africa, minus a frontline bowler injured, and Morne Morkel hit out of the attack by Warner, persisted and broke the back of Australia's middle and lower order batting to sweep to a massive series levelling victory.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

South Africa continue on road to victory as Amla shines: T2D3

South Africa 423 & 4/192 (47ov, Amla 93*/126b/12x4, Johnson 2/48, Siddle 2/53) lead Australia 246 (57ov, Warner 70/76b/10x4, Smith 49/72b/8x4, Johnson 27, Harris 26, Morkel 3/63, Philander 3/68, Parnell 2/31) by 369 runs with 6 2nd inns wkts in hand; T2/3 D3/5 at Port Elizabeth.

South Africa continued to dominate,  with the quick bowlers maintaining the pressure on a brittle Australia batting lineup. David Warner fell early, Nathan Lyon soon after: at 6/128 all looked lost. P

Even after Steve Smith (given out by a third umpire blunder) rallied the lower order (Brad Haddin excepted) the 118 added for the last four wickets avoided the prospect of the follow on but did little to change the impression that Australia are heading for a comprehensive beating.

South Africa's second innings batting reinforced  this. While Graeme Smith failed again Hashim Amla made up for his first Test shortcomings with a scintillating knock which blunted Australia's attack. Smith will probably allow Amla, 93* overnight, to complete a well deserved century before declaring.

Australia has no chance of winning:  its best hope of a draw is that the weather forecast of 35mm of rain on D5 is accurate. If that happens we can count ourselves very lucky. 

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Australia hit brick walls as South Africa counterattack with bat and ball: T2D2

Australia 4/112 (25ov, Warner 65*/67b/10x4, Parnell 6-2-19-2, Philander 6-0-26-2) trail South Africa 423 (150.5ov, Duminy 123/231b/14x4, deVilliers 116/232b/1x6 14x4, Lyon 46-7-130-5) by 311 runs with 6 1st inns KR's in hand; T2/3 D/5 at Port Elizabeth.

It wasn't surprising to see AB deVilliers go on to make a century, but it was to see JP Duminy, whose place in the team has looked less than cemented, do the same. The pair stayed together for the entire first session adding 109 which, made Sourh Africa more secure, if not yet in a commanding position. 

Australia's  quick bowlers looked ordinary against high quality batting. Duminy took the early lead with some pugnacious strokes but deVilliers, looking very much the no 1 ranked batsman in the world, played for the most part with cultivated restraint, hitting out every so often. He was a delight to watch, not that I was disappointed to a see him, early in the afternoon session, hit a return catch to Nathan Lyon who, if he hadn't exactly troubled AB, had kept him on a shorter leash than the quicker bowlers.

JP  continued  after AB's departure, accumulating steadily without cutting loose. The 31 overs bowled in the session produced 3/90, and took the total past 400, which seemed enough given that South Africa need to force a win to remain in the series. Yet Graeme Smith seemed to want to wear the Australians, who had already bowled 148 overs before tea, down (and out). In any event the innings only lasted a further 15 balls, Lyon taking a fifth wicket from his 46 overs of hard slog (and some spin).
At that point fatigue overcame me and I fell asleep. 

It was a rude awakening later in the morning  to learn that Australia had slumped to 4/112 from the 25 overs they faced. Watching the Foxtel highlights it became clear that they were lucky not to have lost more wickets. Once again David Warner benefited from being dropped while Lyon (why was he sent in as night watchman after bowling so many overs?) was fortunate that the Proteas opted not to review what hotspot indicated was a thin edge off Dale Steyn to the wicketkeeper. 

Steyn went wicketless but was hostile, as in their different ways were the other quicks. Vernon Philander and, a real eye opener, Wayne Parnell each took a brace of wickets but the four of them showed Australia a thing or three about how to bowl on a relatively lifeless wicket,

We've seen so e impressive Australian batting recoveries in the last few Tests, but it's asking a lot for yet another one here. This Test looks lost.

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

South Africa revive then falter in face of dogged Australia bowling: T2 D1.

South Africa 5/214 (83ov, Elgar 83/193b/2x6 9x4, duPlessis 55/126b/1x6 5x4, deVilliers 51*/126b/7x4, Lyon 23-6-47-2, Harris 18-5-36-1, Johnson 15-2-44-1, Siddle 21-6-61-0, Smith 4-0-18-1) v Australia; T2/3 D1/5 at Port Elizabeth. South Africa won toss and choose to bat.South 

At 2/11, with Graeme Smith, who had at least made a good decision to bat after winning his second toss in a row, and Hashim Amla, both out lbw, South Africa were in strife. But help came from an unexpected source - Dean Elgar - who, pressed into service as an opener, gutsed out 83 before yielding to Nathan Lyon's pressure.

 Not surprisingly Faf duPlessis and, as expected, AB deVilliers, did their bit to give South Africa grounds to hope for a competitive total on a pitch which, after the shine had worn off the new ball, played very slowly. What a competitive total might be remains to be seen. At 2/11 it looked like 150 or so; now it looks like more than 350.

A few balls at the start excepted, the conditions didn't assist Mitchell Johnson, who therefore sensibly dropped his pace a little (but not too much). All the frontline Australian bowlers bowled quite well in the circumstances, with Lyon particularly effective, and Steve Smith, not yet in the frontline category, taking the bonus wicket of  debutant Quinton de Kock, who looked what he has hitherto been: a short form specialist.

On paper Australia look to have the upper hand, but if you factor in a not out deVilliers and a pitch where runs can be scored, albeit not easily, the Test looks more evenly poised after bad light curtailed the first day. 

There may not be much in the away of fireworks in prospect on his wicket, but a tight struggle (which deserves a better crowd than on D1)   should continue. 

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

McCullum's feat and great, the more so for being unexpected, NZ recovery.

Brendon McCullum's 302 -the highest individual innings ever by a New Zealander in a Test match- deserves acknowledgement, indeed high praise,  as a masterpiece of judicious batting, concentration and endurance. He, with considerable support from an obdurate BJ Watling and, as the immediate threat of defeat receded, a more fluent Test debutant Jimmy Neesham, turned the match and series around. 

A draw may have been a bit anticlimactic, but it did give the series to NZ 1-0 and show several things, notably (which we already knew) that India are below par away from home, and that NZ at their best and at home are a formidable force in the long form of the game.

Well done, Black Caps.

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Johnson again leads Australia to convincing win as S Africa fold on crumbling pitch: T1 D4

Australia 397 & 4/290 dec (72.2ov, Warner 115, Doolan 89, Marsh 44) def South Africa    206 & 200 (59.4ov, deVilliers 48, Amla 35, Johnson 16-3-59-5, Harris 2/35, Siddle 2/55) by 281 runs; T1/3 D4/5 at Centurion. Australia lead series 1-0.

It didn't take Michael Clarke long to decide that the pitch was continuing to deteriorate and therefore that Australia's lead was big enough. After 21 deliveries, 2 runs (a wide and a leg bye) and Shaun Marsh's wicket he declared, setting South Africa an unlikely 482 to win. While there's been a very recent example of this happening - Queensland chasing down 470 to beat South Australia by 5 wickets in a Sheffied Shield fixture- the state of the Centurion wicket, not to mention the quality of the Australia bowling (and fielding) consigned any such hope to the realm of dreams.

Yes, Australia bowled and caught well, with Mitchell Johnson again outstanding, but South Africa had no chance as the ball came through at varying heights. Faf duPlessis was lbw to a grubber then Hashim Amla and AB deVilliers toughed it out for a time, and there was some resistance from the lower order,but any result other than a win to the visitors never looked likely. If anything South Africa, after losing early wickets, did well to reach 200. 

So, a huge victory to Australia. How much was it magnified by Graeme Smith's decision to field first? He clearly misjudged the wicket's staying power, but in his decision there may have been an element of hubris, of we're much better than England, we're playing at home so we'll put the Aussies back in their box.  

The old cliche "a good toss to lose" certainly applied here, but the Proteas underperformed in spades. Some like duPlessis were unlucky in their dismissals but the bowling was below par - and that standard is now set by Australia.

So where to from here? It's hard to see Australia having another cushy victory such as this, and yet South Africa may be rattled after this crushing, and unexpected, loss. If Shane Watson is fit it will create a dilemma for the selectors, but I think he should play to provide a fifth bowling option, something which wasn't required at Centurion, is always handy against a team with batsmen of the stature of deVilliers and Amla.

<a href=""> Scorecard </a>

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Johnson completes destruction of South Africa, then Warner & Doolan build huge lead: T1D3

Australia 397 & 3/288 (69ov, Warner 115/ 151b/2x6 13x4, Doolan 89/154b/1x6 12x4, Marsh 44*) lead South Africa 206 (61.1ov, deVilliers 91/148b/2x6 10x4, Duminy 25, Johnson 17.1-1-68-7) by 479 runs with 7 2nd inns wkts in hand; T1/3 D3/5 at Centurion.

Another commanding performance by Mitchell Johnson with the ball gave David Warner and Alex Doolan an  opportunity to bat South Africa out of the Test and set up a win for Australia. By adding 205 for the second wicket they have almost certainly done the former and, with the pitch playing unevenly, will quite likely, weather permitting, achieve the latter objective.

South Africa's modest first innings was held together by AB deVilliers, the only one of the team to play Johnson with any consistent confidence, competence and courage. Without him the Proteas would not have got anywhere near the follow on (even though Michael Clarke ould probably not have enforced it). As it was 191 behind and to bat last was a very poor look.

When Australia batted again an early wicket to Dale Steyn was a reality check of sorts, but Warner, cautiously  pugnacious (by his standards) kept the score moving while Doolan, as Tom Moody put it on TV,  moved in his partner's slipstream. Well as Warner batted he was aided and abetted by some poor fielding. Doolan had looked quite good in making 27 in the first innings, and took his match aggregate beyond 100 with a mature looking second knock.

In the face of this accumulation the South Africa attack dropped a couple of gears. The TV broadcaster showed a graph of their seamers which revealed that only 5% of their combined deliveries were on the wicket. The pitch map looked as if it had been spattered with grapeshot. Surely it hasn't always been thus?

While it's hard to conceive South Africa winning from here, the recollection of the 2012 Adelaide Test where Faf du Plessis led a doughty rearguard action which secured a draw, is a reminder of the home team's potential. On that occasion Australia were a bowler short because of injury. So far in this match the only injuries have occurred have been to Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. What if Johnson was incapacitated? Interesting thought ...and worrying prospect. Yet on the evidence of D3 it's hard to see this Centurion pitch holding up as well as the 2012 Adelaide one did.

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

Johnson reprises Ashes bowling form to rattle South Africa: T1D2

South Africa 6/140 (43.3ov, deVilliers 52*/94b/1x6 4x4, Johnson 13.3-1-51-4) trail Australia 397 (122ov, Marsh 148/288b/15x4, S Smith 100/213b/13x4, Johnson 33, Steyn 29-6-78-4, Peterson 2/49, McLaren 2/72) by 257 with 4 1st inns wkts in hand: T1/3 D2/5 at Centurion.

Another Australia - or Mitchell Johnson - day . South Africa had a good moment or two in the almost empty stadium: one after they'd  worked through the remaining Australia batting, another when they drew breath at the end of a battering day with AB deVilliers still at the crease, and looking good.

In between it was Johnson who ripped the top order asunder with an exhilaratingly (from an Australian perspective) ferocious (from everyone's perspective)  81 balls. Graeme Smith was tied up in knots        ( look for pics/video of his looping catch to slip) while Alviro Petersen, Faf du Plessis - the find of the last Proteas' tour of Australia - and Ryan McLaren looked out of their depth.

Yes, Johnson bowled very well, but Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and ( particularly compared to the South African spinners) Nathan Lyon supported him well. I hope that none of them breaks down (but also that Australia thinks hard about who might be able to bowl a few supporting overs if required by injury or a match situation.

We mustn't forget that Shaun Marsh and  Steve Smith's 233 fifth wicket partnership gave Australia a good foundation for what looks like a probable victory. The wicket is sometimes keeping low, even to Johnson, so circumspection will be order of the day for the remaining batters - of both sides.

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

199* Marsh-Smith partnership revives Australia after early wobble: T1D1

Australia 4/197 (90ov, Marsh 122*/132b/12x4, Smith 91*/179b/12x4): T1/3 D1/5 at Centurion.
South Africa won toss and sent Australia in.

The series started well for South Africa, whose pace attack, not unexpectedly given their collective and individual reputations,shone in the first session and a bit before Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith wrested the initiative with a very impressive partnership. Australia are in a good position with runs on the board, wickets in hand,  and Brad Haddin still to bat.

Before the match started Foxtel showed extended highlights of the 2009 SAf - Aust series. What I saw there reinforced my opinion that Phil Hughes should be included in the XI. What I saw live told me that I'd underestimated  Marsh - he showed that he's no yesterday's man. Smith also impressed, but then over the last few Tests he'd shown a lot of evidence of maturing as a Test batter.

Well as Marsh and Smith batted against good pace bowling on a wicket  eased as the day went on, the South African spinners Robin Peterson and J-P Duminy looked ordinary. It will be interesting to see how Nathan Lyon fares when his turn comes.

Question: Why were there so few spectators? 

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top Test Teams's Tussle about to begin

In a few hours South Africa and Australia will begin another Test series. I and many others believe the three matches will, no matter what the ICC ratings may say, determine the true top Test team in the world.

This has only happened of course because Australia has just walloped  England 5-0 and grabbed back the Ashes. Its record in the 2013 series preceding that- 0-4 away to India and 0-3 in England - hardly suggested a resurgence of Ashes clean sweep proportions. Which makes me wonder whether the Ashes triumph was, if not an aberration, then an exaggerated reflection of the true state of affairs.

And, on the eve of this series, some of the old uncertainties have re- emerged: injuries and perceived deficiencies (read George Bailey) compelling a rethinking of the team structure and selectors preferring their gut feeling ( or Western Australian affiliations) to their stated position that current form trumps all (eg Phil Hughes).

So the Australian XI for T1 will have a different batting look ( even though as I write  it is yet to be announced)  while the bowling attack will probably remain the same as in the Ashes: Johnson, Harris, Siddle and Lyon. Not a bad group, provided they all remain fit.

South Africa may well start favourites: Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel are world class players. But Jacques Kallis - one of the great Test all rounders (even if IMO not as good as Garfield Sobers) - has retired. He is, in the immediate term at least,  irreplaceable by one player.

So, some very interesting questions will be posed shortly and answers, some if not all, provided, weather permitting over the next few days.



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

England complete ODI series almost as dismally as Ashes: ODI#5

Australia 9/217 (50ov, Bailey 56/74b/4x4, S Marsh 36, Wade 31, Broad10-2-31-3, Stokes 10-0-43-3, Jordan 2/37) beat England 212 (49.4ov, Root 55/86b/1x6 3x4, Cook 39, Morgan 39, Coulter-Nile 10-1-34-3, McKay 10-1-36-3, Faulkner 2/37) by 5 runs: ODI 5/5 at Adelaide Oval. Australia win series 4-1. Player of series: A Finch, player of match: J Faulkner.

By no means a memorable match, though the close finish offset - to a degree- the many passages in which high quality moments were rare or absent.

Australia posted a modest score on an uncharacteristically slow Adelaide Oval pitch ( not, I hope, an indication of things to come with our drop ins). Then England  moved steadily towards its target, before a late innings freeze saw them yield to disciplined bowling, astute captaincy and good fielding. 

 Ravi Bopara at the end couldn't take England over the line. He came to the crease in the 36th over at 4/154, accumulated 25/44b before being  adjudged, after a drawn out deliberation by the third umpire, to have been stumped by a Matthew Wade fumble. 

9/209: 8 needed from 8 balls and the last pair in. They didn't make it, leaving the 27,000+ crowd  of mostly Australia supporters to go into the warm night and, if they so chose, watch the Australia Day fireworks from the banks of the Torrens.

< a href=""> Scores</a>