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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Two Reasons India will spin webs around Aussie batsmen

Next week the first Test between kicks off in Pune. The contest will be dramatic. The war of words strident and the crowds big and loud. Can Australia compete?

India’s form is irresistible. Undefeated in 18 Tests. Most were at home and recent series provide clues. They beat Bangladesh 1-0 in a solitary Test and England 4-0 across five Tests.

The England series was compelling for Australian fans.

England posted 400 and 500+ totals on three occasions. In the first Test they had India on the back foot, but India held on for a narrow draw.

India then found rhythm and England were thrashed. Despite having five of the series’ top ten run scorers England were routed by superior batting.

Virat Kohli scored 655 runs at an average of 109. India passed 400 five times, their biggest total was declared at 7/759.

Meanwhile, Australia’s batting has been a widely publicized problem. Series losses to Sri Lanka and South Africa were papered over by resurgence against Pakistan. 

New faces adorned the top order. Handscomb and Renshaw provide hope.

But India away is next level. Difficult conditions, big crowds, lots of noise, falling wickets, men around the bat, blunt words and pressure to hold on.

Can Australia avoid past mistakes?

The common phrase ‘play your natural game’ is a pitfall.

It is bandied about too often. It’s a license to throw your wicket away in difficult circumstances. Chase a wide one in the hope you’ll get a few, before they get you.

Steve Smith has forecast change. Aggression is not the only tactic. Counter-attack has often failed. Australia’s batsmen need to be prepared to go to war in the dusty trenches. For hours, even days.

For Australia, the question isn’t how do we take 20 wickets?

But rather, how do we score 600 every time we bat.

Warner’s quick 100s need to be converted into bigger, longer scores. The top order must bat long and wear down bowlers down, who won’t be intimidated by one-off rapid scoring.

Ashwin and Jadeja need to be stopped.

They spun webs around England. Ashwin bowled 300 overs and took 28 wickets at 30. Jadeja bowled 290 overs and took 26 wickets at 25.

It was all about spin.

The leading fast-medium bowler on the England tour was India’s Shami. He took just 10 wickets. Each of England’s pace bowlers took fewer than eight across the series.

The point here is spin. It’s all about spin. And batting big. Really big.

Starc and Hazlewood will play a role. But Lyon, O’Keefe, Agar and Swepson will be important. But nothing is more important than runs and Australia will be tempted to cram as many batsmen into its XI as possible.

Enjoy the ride, this series will be awesome. Cricket Froth will be there for fourth Test in Dharamshala. So stay tuned for up-close analysis.

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Himachal Pradesh Cricket Stadium in Dharamshala. Situated at the foot of the Himalayas in northern India. Hosts the fourth Test between Australia and India in March 2017.

Three reasons to support Pakistan in Sydney

Imagine never playing a home game. Touring the globe playing cricket would be a thrill for most of us but what about seven years on the road?

Pakistan has not played at home since 2009 and Australia hasn’t played there since 1998.

They look exhausted. Australia has already won the series and there seems little to play for? Aussie fans are predicting an easy win.

Three reasons to shout for Pakistan

  • Sun sets on two greats. Misbah and Younus. 42 and 39 years old. Probably their last tour to Australia and our last chance to see a memorable innings. Who remembers quality players like Javed Miandad and big Inzamam? Younus is just as good. He averages 52 from 114 Tests and has scored 33 tons. He is world class.
  • Where’s your empathy? Pakistan is plagued by conflict and bloodshed. The survival of elite cricket there is a great story. A little success might bring joy to some of the millions of peaceful families trying to survive the chaos brought by a few.
  • Flying your family from one country to another, rarely visiting home and never playing there. Earning less than one-sixth of what many Australian players earn. Look that might sound better than shoveling dirt on a hot day, but in context, that’s a tough gig. They’ve been on the road constantly since June 2016.

Get behind Pakistan.

Anyway, the Aussies need a good fight before their tour to India in March and five days cricket in Sydney is better than three, right?

A perfect 10: England dive into India

UK based Cricket Froth correspondent John Boon previews the massive upcoming Five Test Series between England and India.

A perfect ten: Haseeb Hameed will need to be when he becomes Alistair Cook’s 10th opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. At an average of about five tests per partner, the smart money would be on the 19-year-old Hameed making a swift return to county cricket.

The England in India series starts in Rajkot today, six hours from Hameed’s parents’ hometown. Along with Ben Duckett, however, Hameed is being counted upon to provide some extra ballast to a brittle batting line up. These two young batsmen have had stellar county seasons and at least one of them will need to hit the ground running.

But England’s selection lacks planning. If Hameed is ready now, and with Gary Ballance depleted of form and confidence (scores 1,9,9 and 5 in Bangladesh), surely Hameed would have benefited from a couple of knocks under his belt in the recent drawn series with Bangladesh?

He instead faces a tough debut in India and both he and Duckettt, who debuted in Bangladesh with scores of 14, 15, 7 & 56, will be up against it facing the world’s no. 1 ranked bowler Ashwin and his left-arm sidekick Jadeja.

A bit like Australia with Smith and Warner, England have relied too heavily on two world-class batsmen, Cook and Root, and a bevy of all-rounders in the lower order. Cook has previous form in this neck of the woods, and if he can match his output from England’s last visit to India in 2012 (562 runs at an average of 80) that will go a long way towards a positive series result.

The trouble is? No-one has come close to replacing Graeme Swann and the events in Bangladesh provided more questions than answers.

Moeen Ali is a classy all-rounder, but can he take 20 wickets? The ace in the pack is the mercurial Jimmy Anderson. Anderson’s mastery of the swinging ball makes him a threat in all conditions. If he comes back for the second Test in top nick, England’s batsmen put the necessary runs on the board and Ali and co. improve their accuracy, we may have an upset on the cards. There appear to be too many ifs though and India will start as favourites.

Hooray for Harare!

The past few months have been great for Test Cricket.

  • We’ve seen a resurgent Pakistan, at their best since the 1990s
  • Bangladesh recorded an historic Test match victory against England
  • Sri Lanka beat Australia in a series for the first time
  • Even the West Indies have displayed positive signs in their recent series against Pakistan.

Best of all though?

Test cricket has returned to Zimbabwe. The current Test against Sri Lanka in Harare is Zimbabwe’s fourth in recent months and the hosts have not been embarrassed. The greatest format of the game must keep the momentum up in 2017.

John Boon

UK based Cricket Froth correspondent

 

 

Next gen destroy Aussies

 

No AB de Villiers, virtually no Dale Steyn and only 1 run from Hashim Amla… yet South Africa have thrashed a full-strength Australia.

This raises two clear points:

  • Australia is a mediocre cricket side
  • South Africa have a strong squad with fabulous new talent

To be fair Australia displayed some fight on the fifth day. Khawaja’s 97, Peter Nevill’s four hour 60 not out and the tail’s resistance showed some much needed spine. South Africa deserve the accolades though.

Man of the Match Kagiso Rabada. Wow. The 21 year old from Johannesburg averages under 25 with the ball from his first 9 Tests and looks a real gem.

Rabada first attracted interest in Australia in 2014 when he played for South Africa A at Townsville’s  Tony Ireland Riverway Stadium, a possible venue for a home Test against Bangladesh in 2017.

Rabada became a cult hero with local fans from Norths Cricket Club in Townsville who enjoyed the youngster’s raw pace and fire.

Two years later Rabada slaughtered Australia’s Test top order at Perth. Quick, accurate, swung it both ways and demonstrated he has a great attitude. He took the time to shake Usman Khawaja’s hand when he was dismissed for 97, a sign of maturity and good character, and accepted the man of the match award with great humility.

After Steyn’s withdrawal Rabada shouldered a big workload with seam partner Vernon Philander who  – as an overweight medium pacer – continues to defy the odds and take lots of wickets. But it’s the young guys that will excite South Africans.

Rabada spearheaded a group of 5 under 30 who made definitive contributions in Perth; Maharaj, de Kock, Elgar and Bavuma. The future looks bright for Protea cricket.

Australia’s youth appears less convincing. Channel 9’s lunchtime cricket show ran a feature on Pat Cummins. The story focused on the injury-riddled pace bowler’s recovery from injury… again.

We all hope this young man sorts his body out. But the Cummins story has been running a long time.

He has played 8 First Class matches and 1 Test Match since 2011. Maybe its time to move on and focus on nurturing players from the youth teams?  Or feature stories from the Sheffield Shield?

In other cricketing news; India host England for 5 Test matches beginning on Wednesday in Rajkot.

It will be a fascinating series. England beat India 2-1 last time they toured but England’s recent 1-1 draw with Bangladesh and a reinvigorated India under Virat Kohli indicates that a thrilling series is about to begin.

Australia’s next Test against South Africa begins in Hobart on Saturday.

Rotten batting, again

 

Rotten batting. Fabulous fightback.

Sums up day two at the WACA. Australia squandered an almost impregnable position at Perth. They had the game by the short and curlies at stumps on day 1 after they had bowled South Africa out for a cheap 242 and sailed to 0/105.

By stumps on day 2 South Africa led by 102 runs and were in the box seat to beat the Australians, who had lost 10/86 either side of lunch on a fabulous batting strip.

The acronym WTF comes to mind, but nobody should be surprised. Absolutely nobody.

Cricket Froth predicted this type of scenario would unfold throughout the summer. The prediction wasn’t based on some specialist inside knowledge. Australia’s batting is really quite poor.

They have been susceptible to devastating batting collapses for several years.

Cricket Froth described this trend in October 2014. I detailed how Brad Haddin – at number 7 – saved Australia in virtually every major game-changing innings of the home 2013-14 Ashes Series win against England.

The Aussies won 5-0. The mainstream media tarted up the Aussie performance, which at times was amazing. Mitchell Johnson’s fast bowling was as good as anything ever seen in the game, including the great West Indians.

But the issue of the collapsible batting was lost in the archives. The collapses have continued since then, most notably away from home.

This home summer is going to be really tough because it looks as though the mediocrity is going to be difficult to contain.

The worst thing for the neutral was the best thing for Australia today; Dale Steyn’s injury. A potential blow for the series. This might offer a glimmer for the Aussies as they look ahead to their inevitable run chase, which is still a long way off yet.

 

 

Under Siege

Hard-wicket home ground bullies. Is that a fair label for Australia?

  • Three wins from the last 20 Test Matches played in England
  • One win from the last 17 Test Matches played in Asia

The public’s memory is shaped by strong performances either side of Christmas. Mid-year series losses on the sub-continent are obscured by the winter football codes.

The fifteen years without an Ashes win in England is papered over by the two 5-0 thrashings of England in Australia (the notable exception being Australia’s 3-1 loss at home 2010-11).

This summer promises something different. Australia is on the back foot.

It faces strident opposition with three Test Matches against South Africa beginning on Thursday in Perth and ending with a pink ball  day-night fixture in Adelaide.

Then its three Tests against Pakistan around Christmas.

Australia will find it tough to prevent a summer of losses. Both touring sides look more stable and Pakistan have form and a formidable line up.

The Proteas will miss the injured AB de Villiers but the batting looks solid. Their attack is capable of shredding the collapsible Australians and the Saffers have beaten Australia at home twice in the last decade.

Meanwhile Australia doesn’t know who its best eleven is.

Shaun Marsh is back again, this time to open. Marsh scored a ton in Sri Lanka when he replaced Joe Burns, so his place is vindicated but we’ll see Burns again before 2017.

Crowd favourite Peter Siddle also returns and Adam Voges is the middle order glue.

Peter Nevill needs runs. Usman Khawaja was dropped for a lack of them in Sri Lanka but is back again. If Warner and Smith fail, who will go big?

Mitchell Marsh is a concern.

We all have big hopes he can become our Ben Stokes, a thriving all-rounder capable of winning matches with centuries (Stokes has 3 from 27 Tests, Mitchell has none from 18) and bowling tight spells when the strikers need rest.

Marsh averages 36 with the ball, which is OK. But Marsh’s batting worries most. He averages 24, a paltry return for a number 6.

You need 20 wickets to win a Test and if Mitchell Starc fails to blast away touring batsmen, Australia’s bowling suddenly looks mild.

Hazlewood is accurate, shapely even but was virtually impotent in Sri Lanka. Nathan Lyon failed to make a dent on spin-friendly decks there either. If Lyon has a lean summer, is his time up?

Success at home is common but Australia’s record away is poor. For some this is tolerable, as long as the legendary Aussie summer is punctuated by tumbling opposition wickets and big runs.

But this summer will offer intrigue and high drama because the Aussies will be under siege.

The hard-wicket home ground bully tag may become irrelevant should the tourists dispatch the locals over the fence.

How would the public respond?