Border Gavaskar trophy

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.

 

 

 

 

Dharamsala dreaming

Few expected Australia to be here. Heading to the fourth and final Test Match in India with a strong chance of winning the series. Actually. Nobody predicted this.

India are red hot at home and they are frothing to beat Australia. They had a massive chance to go 2-1 up today in Ranchi. Personally I thought we were done. 2 wickets down, 130odd behind on 1st innings and heading into the fifth day. Chances were Jadeja and Ashwin were going to murder our top order.

After touring the Taj Mahal at dawn and then heading to the Agra Fort we headed to a shop to examine some marbel scultpures. All out of our price range. Conversation soon turned to cricket. Away from the hotel’s wifi we had no internet and needed a source of information. It wasn;t far

I spotted a young lad supposed to be selling gifts, but preoccupied by his phone. He was grinning. I guessed he was either talking to a flame or he was on CricBuzz and India were taking wickets. It was the latter.

A few blokes laughed after they saw our faces when the news broke. Smith was gone and we had lost 4/75 and were still 70odd runs behind on 1st innings. Surely we were gone.

Five hours and 124 runs later we were still alive. Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb had batted defiantly and resisted the predatory Indian spinners. The record books will show a draw, but this partnership and the performances by Smith and Maxwell then Pujarra and Saha were of supreme quality. On a pitch that had looked like rolled mud on day one we were treated to memorable batting.

Virat Kohli certainly wasn’t interested in offering an easy hand shake for a draw near the end. As the minimum overs remaining fell below 10, and Australia’s lead grew past 40, one might have expected the call for a draw. But Kohli pressed on, perhaps dreamily imagining that his bowlers could finish Australia and then chase 40 odd from 4-5 overs. A fanciful idea that demonstrated his competitive spirit and desperation for a result.

So here we are at 1-1. Kohli and India are under huge pressure to win. For Australia, a win here is the holy grail. Imagine having a life long dream to watch Test cricket in India, gambling your travel on the last Test of the series and it materalising as the great decider in the foothills of the Himalayas. What a thing!

We all head to Dharamsala in the far north of India in the coming days for what will be an explosive climax.

Shortly after celebrating the draw and relishing the prospect of the decider I peered out my hotel window and saw some kids playing cricket in a field. I hesitated for a moment and then scrambled to get my shoes on to head down and ask to join in. The kids were delighted, they tossed me the ball straight away. I was lucky enough to have a bat and a bowl before heading off buzzing from the experience of playing some backyard cricket in India. I only stayed about 15 minutes as more kids were coming down from the surrounding building and racing across the fields.

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A new generation of cricket: Steve Smith to lead against young India

An astonishing Test match funnelled into a dramatic and decisive final session on Saturday, once again proving that Test Match cricket is the greatest format. Nathan Lyon drove Australia to victory by taking 7 wickets after India blew the chance to crush Australia.

During the final day chaos Michael Clarke tore his hamstring and will have surgery. Steve Smith will captain Australia for the remainder of Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

It was assumed Brad Haddin would takeover but progressive selectors have chosen the future. Smith is a great candidate. My concern is that his rise over the last 18 months may be hindered by the new responsibility.

It may have been best to leave Smith’s surge into one of Australia’s brightest stars uninterrupted. But Clarke’s career is in the balance, and Smith’s place on the England tour in mid-2015 is more assured than the aging Haddin. As a batsman, Smith is now indispensable to Australia’s cause and he remained unbeaten in both innings against India.

Adelaide fire

Big hundreds dominated the Adelaide Test, and aggressive clashes characterised day four. David Warner, Varun Aaron, Rohit Sharma and Steve Smith squared off in tense circumstances.

With India pursuing wickets to create a chase, Aaron had been inexplicably ignored by his captain until the 31st over. He made an instant impact, ripping through Warner’s stumps and sending him off with a cheer. Warner was nearly back in the pavilion when he was recalled for a no-ball. The Indians were devastated, the crowd joyous and Warner chided Aaron.

India’s self-appointed hard-man, Shikar Dharwan, got in Warner’s face and Shane Watson lumbered down the wicket, then everyone was tossing their handbags about. Warner went on to score his second-hundred of the match and by the time Smith was batting, India were frothing with frustration.

On a long hot afternoon, with rowdy a Australian outer flowing on crispy cool amber and the game slipping from India’s grasp, Smith’s tactic of padding away Rohit Sharma’s off-breaks caused much grief. Sharma lodged several appeals for LBW, but Smith was getting three to four metres down the track and being struck outside off, rendering the shouts desperate. After one long appeal, Smith told Sharma to get on with it.

Sharma was incredulous. He whirled around and raged at Smith. Kohli vehemently defended his bowler and once again the players converged to hurl handbags at one another. The contest was now exploding and the crowd loved it.

A declaration was expected that afternoon; the thought of facing Johnson and Harris for 30 minutes in fading light, would not appeal to any opening pair. But Clarke clearly felt Australia didn’t have the runs. However, the late cameo by Mitchell Marsh (40 off 26 balls) convinced him to declare in the hotel that night.

The chase: 364 off 588 balls

However unlikely, India’s task was not implausible.

Considering the position they had manufactured by Tea, India will be bitter. Victory was a real possibility. Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli took them to 2/242, but they fell to pieces and Lyon finally did what Cricket Froth demanded was necessary to retain his spot long term; bowled Australia to a final day victory.

Earlier on day five the hosts looked comfortable, particularly when Shikar Dharwan shouldered one to Haddin and was incorrectly given out caught. No DRS, no review.

Pujarra got a genuine snick and Australia were circling, but Kohli and Vijay batted beautifully through five hours. After Tea the tourists needed 4 runs per over with 8 wickets remaining.

A tired Australian attack emerged for one last push and their patient adherence to the plan prevailed. Lyon struck Vijay in front for 99, and when Ajinkya Rahane was incorrectly given out caught at bat pad, an epic collapse was on the cards.

The new Adelaide Oval hospitality areas are world class and thousands of patrons spend hours wining and dining in them at the back of the stands. The city skyline provides a striking vista. But as soon as the fourth wicket fell, those thousands abandoned the bubbles and canapés and re-joined the rest of the crowd to urge Australia forward. India were emboldened by Kohli’s resistance, but poor shot selection failed him and India’s hopes unravelled. The long tail rolled over in quick succession, succumbing by 48 runs.

The Second Test begins on Wednesday at the GABBA.

Surely it gets even tougher for India there? Hot storms have battered Brisbane for weeks and the GABBA wicket should be a juicy green top, suiting the cut and thrust of Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson’s terrifying wrath. Big quick Josh Hazlewood will probably be unleashed at the expense of Siddle. Shaun Marsh will replace Clarke. India have their own weapons; some very fine batsmen in Pujarra, Vijay, Kohli and Rohit Sharma and a potentially underrated Varun Aaron who may also enjoy the GABBA pitch.

Another great Test is on the horizon on this GABBA green top.

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