GABBA Test

Aussie Test squad announced amid raging New Zealand controversy

Aaron Finch and Ryan Carters were dropped by their state teams for the opening Sheffield Shield round. What happened next shocked everyone.

The pair rushed out to Blacktown to play in a tour match against New Zealand.  The Cricket Australia XI won the toss and Finch and Carters opened the batting.

Eight hours later…  both had made double hundreds and broken an 81 year old record for the largest partnership in First Class cricket on Aussie soil.

On 209 Carters finally edged to keeper and the declaration came at 1/503 (Finch 288 not out).

But that’s when things got weird.

New Zealand immediately declared their innings and did not come back out.

The Black Caps expressed concern about the ‘safety’ of the Blacktown pitch. But you can’t just walk off half way through a First Class match!

It’s unprofessional. The Black Caps bottled it! Thousands of amateur cricketers play on far worse surfaces every week.

How bad could it have been? There were 500 runs scored in four sessions.

New Zealand had initially requested for the match to have its First Class status downgraded, which CA rejected. NZ then successfully lobbied to shorten the match from 4 to 3 days.

NZ claimed it wanted to get to Brisbane to ‘acclimatise’ ahead of the First Test.

But surely NZ just want to watch the Rugby World Cup final at 3am Sunday morning instead of having to get up and play First Class cricket!

I can’t understand why they’d want to watch the All Blacks get trampled into the Twickenham turf by Michael Chieka’s Wallabies, can you?

New Zealand rejected the opportunity to have its top order bat on a pitch where 500 runs were scored in four sessions. They've only got a Test Match next week...

New Zealand’s top order must be seething after it was denied the opportunity to bat on a pitch where 500 runs were scored in four sessions. They’ve only got a Test Match coming up next week…

It has been a massive year for trans-Tasman relations; Australia defeated New Zealand in the netball and cricket World Cup finals and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was recently scolded by New Zealand PM John Key for the off-shore imprisonment of New Zealand citizens.

The Rugby final has added to the background noise leading into what will be a hotly contested Test series.

Australia have named their squad for next week’s Gabba Test:

Smith (c), Warner (vc), Burns, Hazlewood, Khawaja, Johnson, Lyon, MMarsh, Nevill, Starc, Siddle, Voges.

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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The Little Master’s farewell & war between the old enemies

Welcome back men of gentle persuasion, and ladies who love or tolerate cricket. Only a few more days until the Ashes contest commences, so get the coronary surgeon on speed dial and book some leave from work. Five Tests in Australia, four in 2013 and one in 2014, and it all commences next week in Brisbane. Right now though, the game’s greatest batsmen of the past 25 years is playing his final ever Test Match in Mumbai.

Sachin Tendulkar

Enormous content will be generated in the wake of Tendulkar’s retirement. Eulogies and comparisons will trigger reflection and debate. The most prominent comparison will be between he and the late Sir Donald Bradman. I must assert that this is unnecessary. Both are brilliant batsmen, eternal legends of the sport, but the sheer gap in time between their careers and the vastly different conditions in which they plied their trade renders them incommensurable.

Tendulkar scored 74 against the West Indies yesterday and moving into Day Three, with the visitors 3 down and 270-odd behind on a 1st innings deficit, it’s likely we’ll never see the Little Master bat again. Perhaps the only man who can allow the world to see Tendulkar once more is West Indian legend Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who at 39 is playing his 150th Test. A rearguard innings from Shiv might see the West Indies force India to go around again, but it would have to be a timeless special. I hope the Guyanese hero can do it and with the big Jamaican Chris Gayle still in, there’s a slim chance.

I don’t think it should have ended like this though… a raging dispute between South African cricket’s CEO Haroon Lorgat and India’s BCCI has robbed the cricket world of what should have been an epic four or five Test match series in South Africa beginning on Boxing Day or in the new year. I argue that Sachin’s last stand would have been far more memorable had it been nutted out in the trenches of Test warfare against the world’s best, rather than in a hastily arranged “farewell” tour against an unprepared and relatively weaker West Indian side. Alas, scatter-gun personality politics and an unbridled BCCI gave us what we have.

Tendulkar’s record is stunning: he will have completed 200 Test matches, at least 51 Test centuries and amassed around 16,000 runs at an average over 53. He’s also knocked out over 18,000 runs in 463 One Day Internationals. He’s only played 1 international T20. Says a lot doesn’t it?

Goodbye and thank you Sachin, you’re a fine cricketer and a gentleman and as New Zealand’s former captain Daniel Vettori aptly described, “you’ve been in form longer than some of our guys have been alive”.

The Ashes Series in Australia

There’s no debate to be had on the assertion that England are favourites and Australia are underdogs. Beaten 3-0 in England only a few months ago, optimistic Australians have argued that there were many “moments” where we could have won Test Matches or forced a closer contest. Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Durham spring to mind, but let’s examine a few truths.

England possess more proven quality, and they did manage to beat Australia 3-0 without their best batsmen firing. Ally Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Johnathon Trott didn’t pile on the runs in the old dart. It was the fine batting of Ian Bell supplemented by a collection of notable cameos that saw England through, and it was the relatively poor, often collapse-prone batting of Australia that ensured we couldn’t sufficiently return fire at the crease. Australia’s revolving selection door, which fostered about as much stability as a contemporary Egyptian democracy, seemed not to assist the Australian effort.

Australia’s strength was its bowling, particularly Ryan Harris. Australian fans should be energetically fist pumping at the prospect of a fully fit Harris, while the English should take note that this man presents a genuine threat to their hope of retaining the Ashes.

Of course, Australia requires more than the fine effort and return of any one man. Australia’s batting must deliver big runs. Not just from Michael Clarke. I fancy that the mean innings scores in Australia will be higher. Even more runs will be required. A tall order for Australia’s lean order, but not an impossible prospect.

First Test,The GABBA, Brisbane

Australia have recalled Mitchell Johnson and added One Day Captain George Bailey to their 12 man squad for the first Test. Johnson was a destructive force on a recent ODI tour of India and has a massive opportunity to excise demons from past Ashes campaigns, hit back at critics and reinstall himself in a Test team that faces South Africa the other side of the Ashes. George Bailey has been selected on the basis of ODI rather than Shield form – not ideal in my view – but I do think the Tasmanian has the character, maturity and mental resilience to succeed at Test standard.

The new faces join a list of players, all of whom played a part in the 3-0 defeat in England.

I think the squad is about right. Obviously Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson are injured and Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja have been overlooked.

There’s some familiar speculation about Shane Watson’s fitness. Pending his fitness to at least bat, then I think James Faulkner will be 12th man and finally we’ll be picking a 6-1-4 formation. Four front line bowlers should be able to take 20 wickets.

England have had a long preparation in Australia, arriving in October and completing various tour matches. The only questions for them appear to be the fitness of wicket keeper Matt Prior and which fast bowler should accompany Stuart Broad and James Anderson.

It will be a cracking contest next week. There’s a lot of fierce storm activity in southern Queensland at the moment and I do fear this one will be interrupted by rain and possibly some golf ball-sized hail, so bring the driver and a few tees. A warning to English fans, the GABBA is nicknamed NAZI dome for the way its security and QLD police aggressively assert themselves in the lives of cricket spectators. The atmosphere will be great, but it would be so much better without the nanny state attempting to frog march 50% of patrons from the ground by Tea for a range of ludicrously petty “violations”.

Anyway, I’ll be there in Brisbane with a bunch of other cricket tragics, so I look forward to reporting pitch-side then.