Cricket SA 2,India kneel

Success has many fathers, failure is invariably an orphan. For Fans of team India, who wish to see the team to do well abroad away from the sub continent, overseas tour remain a recurring nightmare. For us the fans, repeated half-baked performance in away test match is a Déjà vu, the grips of which don’t ever seem to relent.  An elusive test (not A Series, a test, one 5 day match) win abroad is now Unicorn.

The victors.

This series was more about the men in charge, the sober and phlegmatic Faf Du Plessis vs Virat Kohli. On the onset, one believed that the Teams on the whole looked competitive. Just in case,  Number one and Number two teams in test cricket were competing. Perhaps we tricked ourselves into believe our fragile batting order would stand up to incisive SAf bowling. We hood winked ourselves on the batting prowess that’s hardly turned up this series.

Faf is an assuming leader. When ABD and Steyn were out due to injury he was excellent, Smith & Co didn’t even have a chance. I mean, imagine best bowler and best batsman (in the world) out due to injury when you are touring Aus, perhaps a very tough place to tour. ABD till then wanted to have captaincy till then. SAf under Faf did well and he cemented the captaincy. Faf is perhaps not the best stroke playing if you compare with Amla or ABD or Markram or out of form de Kock. He has his game sorted out though. He sticks around and can change gears quickly. On the fourth day it looked odd when he and Elgar came together and slowly batted India out of the game. He looked good for more. Faf has been a very good captain and very gritty and determined with the bad. He was ringing in the changes on the button. He has lead SAf to a brilliant series win.

ABD on his part did what best, score runs, scores them when chips seem to be done. Twice in two matches he has managed to turn around a situation. He may not have a century to show, but he stood between SAf batting and Indian bowling with some purpose. He is now the top run scoring player for this series.

Rabada and Philander are a terrific combination. Morne Morkle may not be in full rhythm. Steyn won’t be missed for sure. Debutant Ngidi took a five on the debut.

Philander hardly bowl in the second inning of the second test. Indian batting in the second innings had a familiar feel of an impending disaster. The ball started to keep low, only thing bouncing lower was Indian batting line up.

Indian batting line up has consistently shown the tendency to wilt or crumble at any stage if the game. Kohli’s scored an outstanding 150. He has scored 191 tuns so car,  other top batsmen have scored 186. Pandyas silly run out in first inning made a difference between trailing by 28 runs and leading by 30. One has got to feel sad for Pujara.

Two run outs in this match, run out on duck in first innings.

Board, selectors, captain and Coach.

For all his faults, Captain Kohli has a forceful personality. BCCI chose to have an ODI series, immediately after India had beaten SL in SL in Test, ODI and T20. How and why of that series are more belwildiring the more you see the score board of this test series.

Board has recently announced a future tour program. I hope they have not kept tour games as optional. Ideally a tour starts with an ODI series, then couple of first class games and then the test matches. Or in future, Board decides to send the team for the tour and flight lands near the pitch and captain walk out to toss first day of the test. A selection committee member is must on tour who has a vote to pick the team. Board/selection committee have done well, to have frontline bowlers battle ready, we were struggling for the long time. Dhonis team was reduced to one trick pony, bowlers were just not there. Fragile batting made the team a half trick pony. Obviously this is for matches abroad.

BCCI has also worked out two different teams – Murali Vijay, Che, Ashwin, Ishant are not playing ODIs anymore Jinx may be slotted in that same bracket.  Perhaps it is fair for the Board to ask Kohli to choose the captaincy of any two of the three formats. If they can take it a step further, Kohli remains the captain either Test or ODIs (and T20s)

Ravi Shastri is another forceful personality. He is a sharp commentator and made his mark as English commentator. If he is to be blamed for test fiasco, since 2011 India has played 24 way tests and lost 17. We were hopeful that this series was different but wasn’t meant to be. It won’t help blaming Shastri the coach for the fiasco.

On the cricket field, onus is on the captain, the glory and doom is captain’s choice. If Shastri is pulling the strings from behind the boundary, Kohli’s captaincy will prove to be shittier than what it is, as off now.

Captain is as good as the team (selection).

The team selection under Kohli is now has a nature of systemic risk. If all sundries haven’t noticed as of yet, Winning single One test match abroad needs a separate template, separate preparation. Don’t think India will play two spinners in SAf, England, NZ or Aus (new term as read on twitter, SENA) Anyone who has followed Indian team for more than 4 seasons would know it. India sunk into the gulf of timidity that lies in a gap between Kohli the Batsman and Kohli the captain. Kohli the captain needs to up the game. How?

Ask him to think what the opposition would say if he presents the scenario.

Jinx was not selected even for the second test, KL Rahul, failed to amuse, Vijay looked sordid. Che has been such a big disappointment. In the first test he didn’t open with Ashwin in the second innings, Here he did. But then didn’t bowl Pandya for first 65 over, Shami hardly bowled in the second session on the fourth day. He should also relinquish the number coveted number four slot for the team sake. Kohlis game sense on his best day is 10% of Dhoni of what had on his bad day.  Kohli has only once repeated his playing eleven in around 35 plus matches. The fragility of Indian top order is secret to none. Kohli aim for fitness in the team is bearing fruit. However, fielding needs to get better. How a team fields indirectly shows so much, half chances of Amla and ABD or anyone else can’t be spilled.

Keeping ODI like split slips is another example. Kohli the captain while on the field can’t be the lead instigator of low vibe jibes, jeering every incoming and outgoing batsman obviously takes its toll. Kohli needs to be wiser here and needle with some sense. I am, what I am! this excuse doesn’t work; you don’t play certain shots at certain stages of your innings. Kohli has to bite his tongue on this one.

The onus of this series is on Kohli and Kohli alone. He is currently writing cheques his team can’t encash. Kohli has to have a settled opener, a low risk accumulator of runs someone who doesn’t let bowler bowl maiden after maiden and just get into a rhythm, he must play percentage cricket shots and rotate strike. Che had that role, but failed here. Kohli needs to relinquish four, either play at three or control the situation from five. There is a slot empty for a left hander in the middle order. Pandya is a good find, provided he is given the ball in first fifteen balls Pandya looks innocuous and probably doesn’t know what he is bowling, but doesn’t give much away. There is only one spinner who will be playing abroad.

His selection of bowlers has been spot on. Bhuvi however must play every possible match that India plays. He is a very good bowler, can bowl long spells, if there is any swing, and he will exploit it. He is a decent bat and a good outfielder.

Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.


Hopefully under Kohli’s captaincy Indian fans recurring nightmare would be vanquished for once. Kohli had the ingredients but messed up the recipe.

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India close but far at New Lands

On what proved to be a four day test, including one rained off day. India were close but really far in the New Lands test, Philander just ran through the Indian side in the fourth innings. ABD played a brisk and blistering 60 odd in the first inning. SAf tail pitching in. SAf took the upper hand with 77 runs lead in the first innings, India lost by 72 runs, after bowling out SAF for 130 in the third innings. A test pitch is perhaps best judged after two or more innings are complete. A seaming pitch where bowlers ruled the roost, 758 runs in all for 40 wickets, a wicket every 19 runs or less for both teams, SAF saw wicket falling around every 21 runs while, Indians team saw fall of wicket for every 17 runs.

I don’t know how ICC evaluates the pitch, it would be interesting to see the chatter if 18 wickets were to fall on a spin friendly pitch.

SAF innings jitters and ABD.

Bhuvi had a dream start to the spell, and rocked the SAf boat with three quick wickets, Shami was rusty. Bhuvi is an intelligent hard working bowler. I hope he watches how Philander bowled, his lines and length and pace. Philander and Bhuvi are two uncanny bowlers, both swing the new ball both ways. I hope Bhuvi picks up length bowl by Philander on SAf wickets. Elgar had no clue what Bhuvi was bowling. Markram was beautifully set up, Amla was a bonus wicket. Du Plessis may have changed hurriedly, before getting o crease and justify, his choice after winning the toss.

ABD perhaps played the most controlled innings. After more than a year in wilderness, ABD looked determined. Plus Indian bowlers in seaming conditions have … unflattering record. It was high octane batting on ABD as he wrested the initiative back from Indian bowlers. Bhuvi, Pandya and perhaps in second Spell, kept pegging wickets though SAF scored at a very brisk rate. At times the scoring rate in excess of 4.5 an over. Indian bowlers conceded 30 to 40 runs too many.

First day, Indian bowlers reign, SAf with the runs on the board.

Kohli got the bowlers right for this test match. Kohli got the bowlers absolutely spot on, I don’t think there should be any changes for the rest of the series, Indian bowlers seems to have delivered the goods with SAf out on the first day.
Bowling out the host team on the first day, is a rare feat by our bowlers. The bowlers’ went on to bail out the team twice with the ball and once with the bat. Bumrah, Bhuvi and Pandya were on song in the first innings. Shami looked out of the rhythm but came into his own in the second inning. Bumrah got ABD as his first wicket, Pandya got du Plessis. However ABD just got on top of Indian bowling and dented the bowling with some brilliant stroke play, he scored freely and a false stroke, saw him castled by Bumrah.

SAf kept piling the runs, Dhawan dropped Maharaj, he went on to score more runs in the match than Dhawan did. Shami got better of dangerous de Kock, who had picked up the gauntlet left behind by ABD. SAf getting out of the first day meant India should have batted for next five sessions, just to get used to the pitches, the bowling. However SAf bowling was too hot and spicy for Indian batsmen’s liking, Steyn and Morkle, and Philander and then Rabada, the best bowler in the world officially.

The Indian batsmen just didn’t turn up.

Batting vs SL in Indian ODI pitches no semblance of pitches, conditions, bowling of SAf. The decision was telling blow to our chances before the ball was bowled. SAf would have been very happy to see Rohit bat. If Jinx Rahane is the “Test only:” batsman then Rohit is ODI only batsmen don’t get me wrong, he will score runs in ODIs. I think Rohit Sharma is a bad experiment. Jinx with stellar averages, 53.44 away test matches, 60 vs SAf and 69 in SAf. Vs Rohit averages for same set are, 26, 8 and 9. These were the number before the first test. The numbers for Rohit didn’t improve by any bit. Ashwin has far betters number as compared to Rohit. If at all seems if there is a dilemma while playing away from and choice is between Ashwin and Rohit, pick Rohit every time. Rohit didn’t look convincing. Kohli took a punt he shouldn’t have taken. Play Ashwin purely as a batsman instead of playing Rohit on away pitches. Ashwin has average of 32 to Rohit’s 26. All this could change is Rohit does a Steve Smith for remainder of the innings.

However, Rohit isn’t the only one, Dhawan is closing in fast. Dhawan caught on pulling in the ball; it was near repeat in both the innings. Dhawan and Vijay had to just see off the last ten over on the first day. Once Vijay edged, Dhawan should have pulled the shutters down 18 for 1 would have been much better than 28/3. India never really caught up in the match after that. SAF played on the percentages and Indian middle order remains fragile. May remain fragile for some time to come.

The second innings looked a mountain to steep to climb.  One could attribute it to lack of pitches,  one own preparations,  ODI format / schedule. In ideal scenarios tours start with couple of practise matches,  ODIs followed by a three day game,  Test matches and end with T20.  To imagine any team to just start a tour facing Steyn,  Morkel,  Philander and Rabada is but too much.

Kohli the captain needs to patch up with Kohli the ODI behemoth.

Dhoni’s captaincy didn’t have the riches of bowling department. Dhoni always managed to have something up his sleeve, something moment of magic, some moment of inspiration. Dhoni consistently hood winked teams, just a small change. Kohli obviously doesn’t have those subtleties. Ian Chapell in one of his many columns suggest, a captain should, play an imaginary scenarios and ask for oppositions opinion, if they don’t like it then Kohli as captain should persists. Kohli in all his bravado seems to forget he is the captain who has to hoodwink the opposition and win matches. At home, Ashwin and Jadeja help Kohli cover lot of these mistakes. Jadeja and Kohli averaged 15 run per wicket for better part of India’s extended home season. Kohli’s form is imperious, plus Indian tail will always wag at home. Ashwin, Saha, Jadeja, will always get u 100 plus runs at home, so a batsman gets a 100, one of the top four sees a 100 partnership, and India would be very comfortable. Opposition has to faces Jadeja and Ashwin.
India needs to bat four sessions, in the first innings, if it means scoring at 2.5 an over so be it. 350 batting first have to be the target for the batsmen. Now who will score those runs?

Kohli mad some bizarre number of tactical errors in this match, one that costed him this match if not this series.
Not playing Jinx on away from home pitches might have been an expensive lesson to learn.

Not bringing in Ashwin early in the SAf first inning when ABD and Fa and then De Kock were hammering in the bowlers and Shami was still to get into rhythm.

Dhawan should have asked to close the shutters and look for safety rather than trying to dash Steyn Gun out of the attack.

Che eats up so many balls for his first 20 runs, bowlers keep building the pressure, score board doesn’t move. Che shouldn’t be batting at three.

Kohli should either shift up at three where he sets, he shouldn’t be exercising the number four spot, which Tendulkar occupied for so very long, or he should bat at five steers the team through to match the opposition first inning score.

Pandya and Ash should have opened the bowling in AF second innings, at closing stages of the play, Ashwin with his sticks and bounce on the pitch to Elgar or bowling round the wicket to Markram, may not have given the elbow room that SAf openers manage to get.

Imagine with India less than 200 to get, at the start of fourth innings and a luxurious opening stand of 50 runs, too much to ask for?

It is tough to say, if Indian batsmen would turn up in the second match, Indian middle order collapse is always round the corner. SAf batsmen may gather their wits for the second test. One has to keep fingers crossed that Indian bowlers will keep up the intensity. India should look to bat 120 overs at least whenever they bat next. For an Indian cricket the sinking feeling at the end of the first day will continue to persists for remainder of the tour unless Indian batsmen conjure up something of a show. Or Kohli makes some bold moves with the sole aim of winning the test match in SAf. The result at New Lands could have much been in Indian teams favour, however for now Faf and boys are in driving seat.

Let the next playing XI be Murali,Dhawan,Kohli,Jinx,Che,Bhuvi,Parthiv,Pandya,Ash,Shami,Bumrah

Preview : Indias tour to South Africa

South Africa returned to International fold, with a series against India in India before the 1992 World Cup. Allan Donald, Rhodes, MacMillan, Fannie Devilliers are some of the names that quickly come to mind. It was pretty evident since then, that they were a terrific side, very competitive, with blinding capability in fielding. Since 1992 lot of series have been played. SAf have done well against India, home and way till last tour to South Africa, where pitches were horrendous. A slight blemish on Kohli’s captaincy. South Africa during that tour wasn’t exactly a happy camp, lot of turmoil viz a Vis, ABD, Amla and others, they never actually looked competitive.

South African pitches offer lot of carry and bounce and pace. Indian batsmen in general, struggle exactly like Non-Asian batsmen struggle on sub continental pitches. However, some of the best knocks played by Indians are as follows Azhar & Sachin in that sterling 222 run partnership when both got together at 57/5, Pravin Amre’s 104 on debut, Sehwag brain for brawn ton at debut at Bloemfontein with Sachin while India were 64/4. Dravid first big 148. Javagal Srinath has the best returns for a non-South African bowler, in South Africa. Hope Ravi Dada didn’t miss a trick packing him along with the team. A couple of months with Srinath, Shami, Bhuvi, Ishant (very much like Srinath) Bumrah would do a world of good perhaps. Also Mike Deness affair. “If he is not answering questions, what is he doing here; we know what he looks like.” Ravi Dada roared, when Tendulkar and Dravid fallaciously were hauled for changing the condition of the leather ball. The BCCI pulled strings and turned it into an official match. One wishes for a strain free non hullabaloo, controversy free

Sreesanth found home in South Africa, Smashing Andre Nel for a huge six and breaking into a jig then setting up a win at Durban, it was delight to see him South Africans hop and jump on a vicious track and Sreesanth demolished them.

Man for Man; Mirror for Mirror.

India vs South Africa is low hyped heavy weight bout. This series will feature the top two teams in the ranking. For a cricket fan a Test series are like a magnum opus, plots within plot, gripping and twisting stories, great tragedies, some fun elements, a moment of sparkle and weariness of persistence. These teams have so much in common (beside IPL jerseys).

Faf du Plessis vs Virat Kohli. Both have been understudy of Dhoni, one at CSK one at the Indian team. Faf Du Plessis from the outside looks a very phlegmatic batsman but he can hold his own. He had a stellar, series in Aus. where he cemented his credentials as a test captain. ABD saw it and graciously gave up captaincy. SAf had a horrid series when England visited them. He now leads, Elgar, Amla, ABD, de Kock and now has Morne, SteynGun, Rabada, Philander, Morris at his disposal. South Africa may just have their mojo back with senior pros coming back. Morne Morkle, Steyn, ABD.

How Faf plays will be indicative of how the series will sway. He is a very under rated test bat. ABD comes back after some time in wilderness, weighing captaincy issue, test match batsman, IPL specialist. It is good to see things are sorted out and ABD vs Indian bowlers will be a key contest. Amla scores runs by stealth and keeps scoring. Dale Styen is poetry in motion, it’s amazing to see him bowl full pelt. On song he looks to just blow everything away. The problem is he always looks on song. Morne with the bounce. Morne with his bounce and pace, Philander with his control and asking batsman to play everything and then the nibble. Philander has a very envious records a bowler with limited pace.

Rabada is the key here though, it will be interesting to see how Rabada bowls. He bowls at a good pace and bowls intelligently. Chris Morris with the bat and ball will have an impact. Rabada along with de Kock, the envious number 7 for South Africa would be very interesting to see.

Indian team, has had a great spell of success in past 18 months. Kohli and Ashwin leading, the charge in many ways. Kohli has set the benchmark for fitness. His game, his hunger for runs, his performance all based on his fitness. Bowlers have picked up, Umesh and Bhuvi are the fittest of the lot, Shami is probably reaching peak fitness. Ashwin also keep getting better. Pandya and KL Rahul have age on their side but Kohli seems to have set the template here. Jadeja and Kohli are probably at par, fitness wise. Jinx is coming back from Injury. Rohit and Shikhar are fit but not sure, one of them will play all four tests.

Kohli has problem of plenty.

When Dhoni was captain, BCCI look hell bent on reducing team India to a one trick pony. The bowling capabilities were make do at best. A lot of work has gone behind the scenes. Bumrah, Bhuvi, Shami, Ishant, Pandya all in rich fitness and some of them in form. Ash and Jadeja with Spin option, not sure both will play all test. Kohli is spoilt for choice with openers, Vijay, KL, Dhawan, with back of bowlers, will Kohli play three down, I mean must he play three down. Seems Jinx in poor run of form may not play in the first test, which is may be a shame, he has a very good record in South Africa, got nearly century in each inning last time around. Makeup of the middle order is also another good head ache. Will Jack in the box Pandya play the first test, will India play with five bowlers. Two keepers are already there in Saha and Parthiv. Kohli is leading an interesting squad

The challenges for Indian team on this tour are…

The slip catching prowess, a very fragile middle order, someone playing an expensive drive when it is three more minutes to lunch, unable to dislodge the lower middle order. Some of these have cathartic effect on Indian cricket followers. The pitch will take care itself, Sehwag mantras best to follow, see ball, hit ball, bowler, pitch, conditions, etc. all taken out of the equation. Will the Indian tail wag? Saha has compiled pretty decent numbers for past three or four seasons.

However on realistic basis, can Indian play boring matches, where you play for time, look to conserve the wickets and play say 120 over, more than four sessions. If invited to bat first on a green top, play percentage shots, bowlers bowl a conservative, discipline line, conservative field. Will they continue to play five (four and a half) bowlers? It may not be exactly in the Kohli-Shastri playbook.

Cricket: Definitely Resurrected Series

India were favourites to win the first test, lost. Australia looked favourites to win the second test, lost. This is one of the most emphatic wins since that Eden Gardens Test match played in 2001. The background of this test was similar, the result was similar, Che and Jinx are pretty much Laxman and Dravid mould , who then batted entire fourth day of that Eden test to turn the screws and Bhajji & Tendulkar with the ball won the match and kept the series alive. This test match was a series of sessions, one leading to another, always kept you on the edge of your seat. Runs were scored through some gritty batting, bowlers were rewarded for probing lines and lengths

India just got pounded and grounded to dust on a dust bowl. Kohli Ashwin Axle which had scripted a tremendous run of form at home and abroad in previous 19 test matches without a defeat, tripped on a Pune dust bowl. The intent seem to be missing, runs from Virat’s bats seem to be missing, Ashwin’s wizardry with the ball seem missing consequentially Indians from the contest were missing. The glaring loop holes of unstable top order, fragile middle order and uninspiring late order made tall scores against England look like a very tall order. India batted first on a pitch which would turn, surprise surprise. Lyon ran through the batting order like hot butter through melted butter India manged just 189 in first innings. It was a touch shocking to see couple of Indians getting stumped to spinners. Aus. should have closed the match in their first innings by batting India out of the game. This is where the script changed.

Indian bowlers espexially seamers are the one against whom all International batsmen queue up to play. There is one loose ball every over and the pressure from the seamers doesn’t last forever. Aus. championed themselves on scoring 300 plus in 90 overs in their prime, in this test scored just 197 runs in 90 overs. Indian bowlers Ishant and Umesh bowled long spells. Ashwin tied one end up and it was long before Jadeja was bought into the attack. Ashwin claimed early Warner early in day two. The close catching looking nervous and jittery dropping catches was a new routine.

Smith should have kicked along, but seem to be tied down by Ishant and Umesh Smith played a subdued hand only to edge Jadeja to Saha. Smith was Jadeja ‘s first of six wickets. Renshaw has just started with the test career, Shaun Marsh has a prophecy to fulfil, has done justice yet. India kept a check on Aus. run rate. On day two when ideally, they should have buried India under weight of runs and take an unassailable lead in the series they found themselves barely 50 ahead at the end of day two. The bowling at end of the day provided a glimmer of hope that India had a whisker of a chance, though as lot of game still lay ahead. India had managed to prize five Aus wickets, only solace. This meant best Aussie bats with best chances of scoring were back in the hut. Problem was Starc and Wade were still at the crease. Starc likes batting against India just like so  man0y batsmen in time and space. He averages around 40 and already had done much damage in the first test with the bat. Starc vs India is more lethal with the bat then ball.

Day three began with a prayer to almighty and a hope that Aus. could be curtailed for a lead less than 100, Jadeja was soon pressed into action. He gives nothing away and perfect balance for Ashwin. Jadeja is accurate, always inviting the batsman to play and bowls six deliveries within couple of minutes, so as a batsman you realize 6 to 7 overs have been bowled and score is stagnant, his quick overs with not too many runs, means there is always one more over just before add rinks of lunch/tea break. Jadeja quickly got into nosiness, though there was a partnership but lead didn’t swell to three figures. Jadeja claimed two in an over and claimed six in the innings, second bowler in as many innings with 6 or more wickets, there were to be two more bowlers.

Indian had to reply with affirmation. Abhinav Mukund was tested thoroughly, Starc with pace and vocals is a treat to match. It’s amazing how much pace he generates. Hazelwood the more disciplined kind bowls with pace and on the money. Mukund again went cheap. Pujara looks edgy when he starts but somehow plays percentage cricket. He along with more dominant KL Rahul began chipping away the lead. KL Rahul went on to score his fourth consecutive half century of this series. He looked in total command till he reached out to O’Keefe delivery and stride to slice, cut, square drive, late cut a delivery only to guide it Smith who was there waiting.

Kohli, seems like a sailor who conquered the high seas only to slip and feel helpless in the bath tub, probably he will find himself in a corner soon and come out fighting with a brightly majestic ton. A knock that just pulls the carpet under Kangaroo’s feet. Hopefully he will sort out DRS before that. He was LBW, India still in spot of bother. Jinx and Che then scripted a very meaningful partnership, in the third session of third day, ignited memories of that Eden test. India survived third session as lead swelled to three figures and gave India a touch more hope than what we had at the start of the day.

Day four, saw Aus. roaring back, quick wickets of Rahane, Nair, Che and Ashwin saw India limping with not too many to defend. A frugal and appreciable partnership between Saha and Ishant, saw enough runs that 200 looked very realistic. On a pitch with variable bounce and India with a hint of a sniff it was to be a delicious contest.

India started well, early wicket for Ishant, Renshaw, snicked one caught behind. Ashwin was to be the key here, Warner claimed early, Yadav and Ishant got couple ofqA more wickets. Aus. reeling at 74/4 carnage was to follow later. Jadeja bowled a quick over which meant, Ashwin had time for one more, India had a chance to pick another, Wade caught of inside catch of a superb catch, if Smith’s catch of Rahul was sublime, this catch for rhythm divine.

 India came back strongly after a thorough drubbing in the first test. This test match is one to savour and hopefully India carries on the good work.

Aus. always play hard and seldom fair. Aussies seems to have monopoly on invoking sledging especially when they are at receiving end. Smith got a grubber aka surrie ball just scoots along the pitch and he looked to review after looking towards the dressing room, for some hint. Umpires were up to the mark, and declared him out not before shooting down his plea to review the decision. This self-gloating of Aus. cricket team is a farce and this is pulled out of the sleeve for far too often. Smith seeking dressing room advice happened more than once even when India was batting, Kohli had already apprised the umpires. Smith “brain fade” was just a mask, the umpires spotted it and dismissed him immediately and rightly so.

Kohli meanwhile has been imperious and lavish with his praise for his team players and self critical of his own performances in defeat. Dhoni school of captaincy has rubbed well and has got a worthy disciple. He has heaped praise at different times, Saha century in West Indies for example. He praised Che and Jinx for being the best batsmen in his side, even as, Kohli has done pretty well across formats, across opposition across conditions. Kohli plays all the three formats and chasing down steep targets is now routine for him. Hopefully Che and Pujara script many more partnerships in the couple of test match and scores of them for many years ahead. Kohli was terse and had seen enough to make sure Smith’s brains don’t fade anymore.  Another partnership is two Ravis, Ravindra and Ravichandran now both are Number one bowlers in ICC Rankings and India is the number one team. I hope they condolidate their position on top a little more before the series ends. On Indian pitches its pretty lethal, it would be interesting to see how they fare abroad, when they would have to be in defending roles and will have to score more the bats.

Not knowing the law is no reason to try to push the line. It is against the rules that are already set. Chris Broad the match referee very easily washed his hands off. I hope the reports from match officials are made public. It is not for the last time Aus. have flogged dead horse with whip citing fair play. They will do it again in this series if they get a chance.

Aus. would have lost even if Smith didn’t review the decision but from now on in all future test played anywhere all eyes would be on Aus. & Co and how they trample and coerce the game in the name of sportsmanship/gamesmanship. India should burry Aus. with weights of wickets and runs in the upcoming two Test matches and leave Smith alone with wanting to review his review choices for eternity.

PS :- Here is Peter Roebuck column on Bhajji Symonds Sydney bloodbath test in 2007

Cricket: Biting dust on dust bowl

In a long home season, the season’s finale was to be a crowning glory, but it seems we have jumped on an Axe. Aus having beaten at home by SAf and Pak trying to provide so decent challenge, saw Aus primed for the contest. India seems complacent at best in the first test. Aus has always been in top three if not the top two teams, always very competitive to the point of being ruthless, while other teams world over have tried to up the aggression bit, Aus always had players – batsmen, bowlers, fielders. In last few years, they may have seen timid and seem to be losing their footing but Smith has his men with him to be a top team again.

The extended home season saw lot of bad things not to be seen in the shining glory of imposing victories. India’s close in catching has been abysmal. Kohli & Co haven’t had to face as stiff a challenge as the one Aus poses. England were very competitive but could have pushed India more. They didn’t, Aus will. Aus lost in SL but their bowlers Starc and Hazelwood did well. Lyon was good too, Warner looked to score but didn’t exactly set the place alight. Smith is very good. – Kohli, Root, Williamson, Smith, probably in test you would pick Smith, for ODI while chasing Kohli would say 350 in how many overs?
Kohli second inning dismissal, where he left a ball that hit middle and off was the best summary of India innings.

This was the sub plot though. The main plot was lost somewhere between 99/3 and 105 all out in the first innings. This reminded me of one of the English tours (Dravid’s last tour to England) also the series against England where we won at Lords and then hit a road bump and the wheels came off, we lost couple of test match in less than couple of sessions. I get the same nagging feel here for this test series.

Smith, Aussie and intent.

Smith is in peak form, let’s call it hyper form. The Aus team seem to have at least one batsman in middle of this hyper form. If you were to look back till 2000, like of Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke, Waugh bother, Gilchrist, Martyn, Warner, Smith etc. have had this amazing zone of hyper form where the scored like 1000 runs plus in a calendar year and more than 2000 runs in two or three seasons. Smith is exactly in middle of that. He was average 93 runs in 6 matches against India, but please don’t consider his century in first by any means an average inning. It was as punishing and defining as Pietersen knock in 2012 in Mumbai or Amla in Nagpur run of form before that and may be Clarke in 2004. It still March, but Smith has already signed invitations to Indian close in fielders for Christmas he will probably invite them over before this series ends (could be the first day of the second test). Smith has set the course for this series with a brilliant ton in the second innings of the first test.

Aussies are never short of intent; verbal duels like to increase if Aus gets on top and Indians will have backs to the walls. I don’t think any Aus playing would have thought India will bow don’t around 100 in couple of session twice any test, forget first test. Smith had count of days 4502 to be precise since they won a test in India. Aus had an “outside” chance of being the number one team, if they were to win the four test matches series 3-0 or more. This outside chance is now pretty much a target on the horizon.

While Indian bowlers toil hard on Indian pitches, we may not hear many murmurs about O’Keefe claiming 12/70 in this match on a raging turning pitch offering a lot to the spinners, what’s officially now a very poor pitch in the ICC referee report, that’s beside the point I imagine. The glass is half full;or half empty purely depends upon who was thirsty and who drank the water in the glass. Lyon and O’Keefe bowled brilliantly, more dramatic was their performance than the Indian batting collapses in both innings. How many more dramatic moments are there in this series remains to be seen and noted. Aus Spinners were obviously helped by close in catchers, who converted slight tinny little edges into a nightmarish shots and things like those.
Smith was ably assisted by Aus top order of Ravenshaw and Handscomb along with blistering Starc down the order. Starc was the difference between Aus getting out for 200 in first innings and India losing by 333 odd runs.

Few trivial issues Kohli needs to sort out.

Top order, Middle order in batting, close in catching, and bowling needs to come back. India fragility against a finger spinner is quiet telling, one could have many excuses, but the fragility is not going to be addressed any time soon. India may go with 4 bowlers next times. Jayant Yadav’s bowling was something Aus looked fwd. to. Ishant Sharma’s bowling is what all batsmen except Ponting queue up to play. Ashwin and Jadeja are already praying to Sun God for help from close in fielders. Murali Vijay is graduating to Rohit Sharma, a very good stroke making batsman specializing is in edging behind the wicket in crunch starts. KL Rahul is either full tank or nothing. I am not sure he isn’t injured, may be he would miss out on next test, personally he should be dropped for playing rash shots. Rahane also disappointed, but I guess he was just a fish in an ocean of disappointment. His average against Aus in India however jumped from 4 to 13 well on his way to his average vs Aus in all matches to 36 and his home average against all teams in last three years, 42.

Kohli should mix up the batting line up, Rahane should bat at three, Pujara at four and Kohli at five. In a crucial test innings in this series Kohli needs his mind fresh. An extra batsman must be taken in to cover for possible lapses. If batting clicks with extra batsmen and we can score something which Aus batsman would feel the heat of Indian summers and spinners. India’s woes have not sprung up in the previous test matches, the symptoms were there for last two seasons at home, beginning with series against SAfs, when SAf looked like sitting ducks on a spinning track. Indian bowlers had to just “turn up” literally. NZ and Eng didn’t have intent, didn’t show resolve and purpose often on sustained basis. Smith & Co just set the Kangaroos among hosts.

Possible change I want to see for the next test – Rahul, Ishant, Jayant Yadav dropped and Mukund, Nair, Kuldeep/Mishra ji in. Probably, there will be changes as Kohli is yet to retain same XI for consecutive matches as test captain.

The series is well underway and Aus are favourite to win the series. Kohli & Co must up the ante.

Cricket: Aus vs Ind

India Australia test series starts on 23 Feb 2017. India Aus was perhaps the top of the table clashes, India vs Pak and The Ashes aside. Australia has always looked to be competent balance team and for most times seems always a top competitive team. The billing fits as Aus teams invariably seem to turned around a bad patch that they face as a team – for a long time the never lost the ashes for example. Aus vs Ind saw perhaps the best individual performances from either side specially their bowlers – Starc, Johnson, Lee, McGrath Warne, Lille against our batsmen Kohli/Rahane, Tendulkar / Laxman /Dravid, Sandeep Patil/Sunny G/ G Vishwanath to the days of antiquity of Vijays – Hazare and Merchant.

Also our bowlers Ashwin, Bhajji, Kumble, Kapil, Bedi, Jasu Patel, Subash Gupte (best leggie that Sir Sobers faced) vs Warner/Smith/Clarke, Ponting/Waughs/Hayden, Border/Boon Harvey. So there is lot of top talent in display. Aus has had better of India in Aus, sometimes to do with the bogus umpiring that we traditionally see in at least one instance in Aus. However, this series will see, Aus vs Ind in non-traditional centres like Pune, Ranchi and Dharamshala along with Bangalore (traditional venue).

Australia looking to get their act together.

I hope Australia have done their home-work. They got Brown washed in their previous tour. Dhoni set it up with a double at the Chepauk, Chennai rest seemed as easy as completing the formalities. This series too like previous series Aus vs Ind series over the years will see some individual brilliance at display. The list of head to head series is here.

Aussies were found wanting, against Abbot, Rabada and Philander in on Aussie wickets in their home series against SAf. It was amazing how Aus collapsed throughout the series. The Aus batsman now have their task and tusks both cut out. If their previous tour to SL is anything to go by. The Aus batsman looked like they were marooned on a lonely island, doing every basic wrong against playing spin. I hope they have learnt their lessons as Ashwin and Jadeja are already on top of their bowling mark ready to pose questions and invite that expensive drive.

Smith is the key here, not because he is the captain. He is in rich form. Root, Smith, Kohli, Williamson the fab four, Warner, ABD, Faf very close on their heels. Smith and Kohli are perhaps fighting more than one battle, they are their team’s top bats in form, both would be playing number three, both are captain of their sides. It’s the number one contest for this series. Smith averages 58 for all away matches. It will be interesting what batting line up Aus come up with. For me it should be Maxwell, Warner, Smith, Handscomb, Khawaja, Wade, Starc, Lyon, Bird among others.

Number three is the key position here. Smith wouldn’t want to start shepherding the tail for too long. It will be interesting how the seamers cope up. Aus batsman would be itching to play seam bowlers. Indian seamers on Indian pitches, well they deserve to bowl three spells in the day but right now don’t think they inspire that much confidence now.

Old School test match play by India.

The last two test matches in the test series against England were a typical old school test match batting they kept-on batting for sessions on an end and wear down the English bowlers and keep chipping away tall English scores and then kept consolidating. Virat came up with big hundreds and the tail wagged like we had not seen in past couple of seasons at least. They batted with big chunky partnerships and when the elements had commanded the pitch the spinners just ran through the side. A test match tactic and this recipe prevails in our conditions. Bowlers take 20 wickets but need batsman to provide enough cushion.

Kohli is now gold standard for modern day test match craftsmanship. He is at peak fitness. It’s time we say form is temporary, class is permanent, fitness is paramount. For all the power, timing, capability, he keeps ball on the ground, don’t think he has hit many sixes, lot of singles and t. If I were in Indian team I would want my fitness to be like 90% of Kohli’s fitness for at least one series, if I would do that may be I would score 75% of his tonnes of runs. Let the headlines of the series be when Kohli doesn’t make runs. Other key thing I found out, at home against Aus, Vijay averages 62 and Pujara a mighty 70. Vijay and Pujara had very good series against England, but hopefully this second season of 2016/17 perhaps sees them in over drive. Rahane needs to get back to groove soon and score big.

I wonder if Kohli would change the batting order. I like to See, Vijay, Rahul, Jinx, Che, Kohli in that order. It gives Kohli time to take freshen up before he comes out to bat again. Smith must defend using Lyon and attack with seamers, Hazelwood and Starc were awesome in SL. They will keep their good work. The issue that has crept in on Indian batsmen is vulnerability against off spin bowling. Aus traditionally have had that and English team always had an off spinner with them. There is this big opportunity for Aus spinners to chase Indian wickets. Another disturbing point is though India’s ground fielding has improved by and large, India’s close in catching doesn’t inspire that much confidence, although, Vijay, Rahane, KL Rahul and Kohli are brilliant, but for this long season of 9 test matches didn’t exactly made you say Wow, awesome catching. I hope they catch most things coming their way.

One must also discount various verbal exchanges etc. which I presume is to add to viewership and nothing else. I hope it would be a very fun series to follow some high-quality cricket.

As for some number crunching.

I have excluded career averages, just focused on how listed players have fared. For Indian players it includes, how they have fared at home through the career, how they have fared vs Aus in Aus and India, how they have fared vs Aus in India and their performances for at home in last two years. For Aus players its performances away from home (since they are playing here in India).

Sorry for the poor graphics.

Numbers from India batting perspective

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Numbers from India bowling perspective

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Numbers from Aus batting perspective

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Numbers from Aus bowling perspective

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Review Rajkot Test

BCCI is moving test matches to smaller/non-traditional test venues. Traditional pitches have seemingly different characteristics on the surface (pun intended!) but as the game wears out they assist spin. The was a phase in cricket when reverse swing was more of a mystery than art, India looked impregnable as we had better spinners and better ability/capability so play spin. Not anymore. If you think out of the box – reverse swing, scrambled/disoriented seam, slow balls on full length will fetch your wickets – with off course more fielders on the drive to catch a full-blooded drive rather than an edge. SAffers till there previous tour challenged that. Aus certainly won the last frontier and have been subsequently been white washed. The intensity of double ton and heat of Chennai just dissolved Aussies, also they didn’t do their homework.

England have done well against India both home and away. The series is not for those who believe India will spin-roll England. The reason for that, England already “inoculated” against spin in Bangladesh – so they are better prepared, plans are ready, players are ready. England have a core ready in a sense Cook, Root, Mooen and Stokes with the ball. Broad, Anderson, Rashid, Mooen, Stokes with the ball. It is amazing to note England had six bowlers who could bowl. Anderson if and when he comes in the series will obviously make impact. It could be at Broads expense though.

In Rajkot, England had checked all the boxes. Also England team in India can be a cattle sitting in middle of the road and eating fodder without worrying about incoming traffic look to waste time and impede traffic, its Kohli-Ashwin axle that needs to find a way to lure the cattle away. Will they?

I for one think 2-1 or 1-1 either way would be a good result. Off course I want India to win 5-0 or 4-0 or…1-0 but England is the second-best team have done well against India so its going to be a steep chase for India to gain an upper hand. In a way Jadeja and Ashwin coming out of the blue (didn’t play ODIs against WI) at Rajkot. They bowled lot of overs on what Bhajji would call good surface. Off course, that’s to assume India will hopefully drop less catches. India dropped many in the first session of the first test, sign of things to come. England batted for better part of two days. Three English batsman scored century. India replied well, Murali Vijay got among runs first time this season. Pujara scoring runs is a good sign. He averages in 70s when playing in India. Kohli had two good outings, Rahane had two forgettable outings. Rahane is one dismissal away from being Moeen’s bunny. India team stood about to the challenge but seemed like 80% of their best. Probably dropped catches dented the confidence and gave an opening to England which they sought.

India though made a sedate fourth inning shutter down job into an exciting draw in last one hour. India did everything to lose 6 wickets before Kohli salvaged it for a 49 not out.

First test was just like initial rounds of heavy weight boxing, both teams didn’t bat and eyelid nor went ahead full throttle, just testing each other gloves. As pitches turn more spinner friendly, England would look at their reverse swing specialists to dent the wickets while their spinners keep things under the lid.

If both teams bat deep and long in their respective first innings, this one will be a draw too.