India in Australia

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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Kohli struck in helmet: Indian captain ducks into Johnson

India have just lost their second wicket and stand-in captain Virat Kohli, the world’s 2nd most marketable sports star, arrives at the crease. A fired up Mitchell Johnson has removed Murali Vijay, caught behind for 53. Vijay looked set and was headed for a big score, before Johnson executed the quintessential fast-bowler’s wicket. Vijay’s fluent footwork and confident stroke play was obliterated by an over laced with unpredictable short and full pitched bowling.

Johnson then angled a perfectly pitched teaser across the right hander in the next over, and Vijay’s feet were stuck in mangrove mud. His hands offered a reactive stab at the passing ball and the result was a fine edge snaffled by Haddin. But I digress, Johnson’s first ball to Kohli is my focus.

Kohli ducked into a Johnson thunderbolt, taking the full brutish force in the front of the helmet. The Australian players and the umpire reacted immediately and surrounded Kohli to check his health; more evidence of the impact of recent events. Johnson was visibly shaken, but Kohli was fine and went on to score a brilliant hundred.

The media have made an enormous fuss about this and some commentators, from outside the game, have repeated their ridiculous call to review the bouncer.

But let’s be clear, it was not even a bouncer.

It was a waist height ball and Kohli, for whatever reason (probably poor judgement), ducked headlong into its path. It was reminiscent of a similar incident several years ago at the same venue. Sachin Tendulkar was struck somewhere on the shoulder after ducking into a thigh height Glenn McGrath delivery. He was given out plum LBW.

Day four is about to kick off. India are rattling along at 5/369 only 148 runs behind Australia. It’s a great Test match but the 60 overs lost to rain and poor light – unseasonable for Adelaide in December – may annul a result. Adelaide provides a great pitch to bat on, and Australia’s three centurions – Warner’s fine 145, Clarke’s “courageous” 128 and Smith’s 162 not out – had set Australia up.

The weather pushed Clarke into an overnight declaration and India’s batsmen have responded well. Something magical will be needed to extract a result for either side, almost certainly from one or more of the bowlers. The stage is set for the divisive Nathan Lyon. His dismal performance against Pakistan in the UAE and then a barren run in Shield matches caused myself and others to question the merit of his selection.Two good wickets yesterday act like a dam against a swelling river of public discontent. He needs wickets. He needs to bowl Australia to victory. Surely selection cannot be sustained on the promise of future success or the odd productive day.

Can Lyon do it at Adelaide or will India’s remaining batsmen set a lead and make in-roads into Australia’s inconsistent batting order? Australia are vulnerable given the mental pressure this side has endured since the tragic death of Phil Hughes.