Dharamshala cricket

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.

IMG_1257[1].JPG

 

 

 

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.

img_9552

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.