Australia tour of India

Play with the crowd at your peril

Renshaw graced the boundary late on day two. He played with the fans over the fence, clapped, entertained and danced a jig. This went on for forty minutes before Cummins and Hazlewood took the new ball for the final four overs.

It was a critical time in the game and a period of pace and fire from the quicks could secure Australian supremacy. Cummins steamed in and snicked up Saha. The edge flew to first slip and Renshaw spilled a sitter. Renshaw has been great this series but the young man lost focus on the fence at a critical time and it may have contributed to the drop.

India were sixty behind Australia at the time and Saha and Jadeja put on 99 runs for the seventh wicket and India were able to set a lead of 32. Australia will need to score at least 250 to push India.

It’s hard to ignore the crowd. They’re young, keen and many of them love the Australian players. Glenn Maxwell is hugely popular. Recently named the new captain of Kings XI Punjab, the locally based IPL team, Maxwell’s name has been chanted and his every move applauded.

It’s hard to imagine an Australian crowd treating a foreign BBL player the same during a heated international Test series.

But India is different. In many ways. There’s an intoxicating vibe here, something is happening everywhere, all the time. It’s a country on the move. There’s a clear vision of a bright future and a progressive, nation-wide march. It’s evident in the conversations you have with people, you see it on the television and hear it in the streets.

Don’t get me wrong. India has massive challenges. Inequality, poverty, environmental issues, technical challenges, the list is long. But stuff is getting done and India is rising.

This contrasts sharply with Australia, which has ground to a halt. India is thriving with fresh energy, excitement and aspiration and Australia is stuck on a roundabout.

Cyclone Debbie and north Queensland

It’s a little difficult to concentrate on the cricket today. My family, friends and home in north Queensland are feeling the first winds of Cyclone Debbie. The cyclone has continued to track further south toward Bowen and my thoughts and best wishes are with my fellow north Queenslanders. Stay safe everyone.

 

 

 

 

Bully the Bully

That’s the hashtag trending on twitter in India. Promoted by the nation’s major sports cable television station.

It’s an indication of the sentiment among at least some Indian cricket fans about the Border-Gavaskar series and it has supported the rise of another controversy between Smith and Kohli.

A cropped picture of Steven Smith ‘clutching his shoulder’ after the wicket of Virat Kohli stimulated anger among a few Indians here today. Depicted as ‘mocking an injured player’ and the ‘character of a nation’ the image shows an animated Smith celebrating Kohli’s wicket with one arm drawn across his chest gripping his shoulder. Kohli had left the field the day before with a shoulder injury and Indian fans have leapt all over the image in outrage, believing that their celebrated captain and national hero has been mocked.

But he wasn’t.

The image that appeared on twitter, which stimulated the madness was cropped. The arm and the hand, which gripped the shoulder actually belonged to Glenn Maxwell who was caught mid embrace with Smith seconds after the Australian captain had caught Kohli at slip. It’s a beat up. India’s Star Sports acknowledged this but the fire has already started.

Indians want to beat Australia. Some of them are desperate for a result.

That is evident on the confronting streets of the Indian capital, where most of the people you meet are acutely aware of the unfolding cricketing drama in Ranchi.

From passport stamping immigration officers to carbon dioxide sucking rickshaw warriors and your Kashmir textile salesmen, the fate of India’s innings in Ranchi was never far from relevant. It wouldn’t be right to paint a picture of an India where everybody cares for cricket though. Many millions don’t have the time for such a frivolity as they scrap to make a life in a difficult but amazing country.

Bullying the bully is a celebrated ambition though. Many Indians perceive Australia to be a bully. Their response is to be fight back with similar tactics. This is one of the most aggressive and extroverted Indian teams ever. Things have escalated since India beat England 4-0 and victory here against the Australian ‘bullies’ seems to mean so much more.

The bully the bully hashtag reveals a ferocious nationalism among young Indians. But misunderstandings lead to miscommunication. Worse still, deliberately manipulated images or stories can stimulate misguided controversy. On the flip-side, they suck interest inwards and the magnetic appeal of the series is increasing.

This is cricket between two proud nations. And there’s plenty of evidence of its popularity on India’s crazy streets.

India fire back in ferocious contest

India have leveled the series by ripping through Australia’s fragile batting. The ferocity of the Bengaluru contest was stunning and demonstrated again why Test cricket is the game’s best format.

Frantic tension ran through each session and the match turned on its head every few hours. India looked more aggressive than I have ever seen.

Virat Kohli has accused Australia of cheating. Struck on the pad and given out during the frantic fourth innings run chase, Smith appeared to seek guidance on a review from the pavilion. Umpire Llong recognised this and immediately dismissed Smith.

It was not appropriate or within the laws of the game and Smith acknowledged this describing it as a ‘brain fade’ after the match. He will learn and change. But will Kohli change his own often over-the-top approach?

Kohli’s passion and qualities as a batsman are clear, but he must gain maturity and develop humility and tact to be better leader.

The Indians were incensed by Smith’s glance and this will add more rage and drama to the series.

The one that got away

Australia nearly pulled off a miraculous victory. After losing the toss and bowling first it seemed likely India would make amends for their humiliating loss in Pune but Australia’s bowlers tore through their resistance.

The Australians knew  that batting last would be tough and the bulk of their batting had to be done in the first innings. They amassed a handy 87 run lead.

But it wasn’t enough.

In the second innings India seemed on the rails again when Kohli was dismissed cheaply for a fourth time in the series. He was absolutely seething at the third umpire’s decision to dismiss a DRS appeal and support the on-field umpire’s LBW decision.

It was close, but it was correct.

Strangely, Jadeja was sent out to bat at five. A handy number 8 at best, it was never going to end well while Australia’s quicks were tearing into the blood mist.

After Jadeja’s stumps were shattered India were 4 down and only 33 ahead. The normally raucous Indian crowd was stunned into disbelieving silence. Australia were rampant.

The next partnership changed the game though and Pujarra and Rahane’s 118 run stand – the biggest of the series by either team – took the lead into dangerous territory for Australia’s  collapsible batting.

It seemed the lead could go well beyond 200 but after taking the new ball on the fourth day Australia took 4 wickets from 11 balls and finished off India’s tail.

They needed 188 to win the Test, go two nil up and secure the Border-Gavaskar trophy.

It was always going to be tougher than it seemed. As I wrote before the series we knew Australia’s bowlers could expose India’s batting but it would come down to how well Australia could resist Ashwin and Jadeja and bat long and bat big.

India’s quicks, Ishant and Yadav, have also bowled well and have rarely offered Australia notable reprieve from the constant pressure of the spinners. Despite this there were signs that Australia’s batting had improved, playing a more patient and disciplined game as demanded by Smith.

The First Test 333 run thumping of India was a shock. It was a remarkable achievement for Australia and Smith’s fine century was made sweeter by the fact that the match referee reported the wicket to the ICC for failing to meet international standards.

But the the quick pre-series paint job started to crack and Australia’s corrosive batting was exposed in the Begaluru run chase. It needs to be stiffened again if they are stay in the series because Kohli is unlikely to keep failing and India are due to score big runs.

 

What next?

He has some supporters but Mitchell Marsh is not good enough at this stage to be batting in Australia’s top six. With Wade at 7 averaging only 29 in Tests, Australia needs six proper top order batsmen. Not a bloke that averages 22, fewer than number 8 Mitchell Starc.

Having a fifth bowler is a luxury Australia cannot afford. Some prefer Glenn Maxwell but I prefer Usman Khawaja. That may require an order reshuffle, so be it.

India are unlikely to change their winning formula unless Murali Vijay recovers from injury.

Surprisingly the wickets presented so far have not supported long innings. But that may change, the final two venues will be flatter and tougher work for the bowlers.

The next Test begins on 16 March in Ranchi.

Cricket Froth will be on the job in India for the final two Tests. See you soon.