Indian 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.

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Bully the Bully

That’s the hashtag trending on twitter in India. Promoted by the nation’s major sports cable television station.

It’s an indication of the sentiment among at least some Indian cricket fans about the Border-Gavaskar series and it has supported the rise of another controversy between Smith and Kohli.

A cropped picture of Steven Smith ‘clutching his shoulder’ after the wicket of Virat Kohli stimulated anger among a few Indians here today. Depicted as ‘mocking an injured player’ and the ‘character of a nation’ the image shows an animated Smith celebrating Kohli’s wicket with one arm drawn across his chest gripping his shoulder. Kohli had left the field the day before with a shoulder injury and Indian fans have leapt all over the image in outrage, believing that their celebrated captain and national hero has been mocked.

But he wasn’t.

The image that appeared on twitter, which stimulated the madness was cropped. The arm and the hand, which gripped the shoulder actually belonged to Glenn Maxwell who was caught mid embrace with Smith seconds after the Australian captain had caught Kohli at slip. It’s a beat up. India’s Star Sports acknowledged this but the fire has already started.

Indians want to beat Australia. Some of them are desperate for a result.

That is evident on the confronting streets of the Indian capital, where most of the people you meet are acutely aware of the unfolding cricketing drama in Ranchi.

From passport stamping immigration officers to carbon dioxide sucking rickshaw warriors and your Kashmir textile salesmen, the fate of India’s innings in Ranchi was never far from relevant. It wouldn’t be right to paint a picture of an India where everybody cares for cricket though. Many millions don’t have the time for such a frivolity as they scrap to make a life in a difficult but amazing country.

Bullying the bully is a celebrated ambition though. Many Indians perceive Australia to be a bully. Their response is to be fight back with similar tactics. This is one of the most aggressive and extroverted Indian teams ever. Things have escalated since India beat England 4-0 and victory here against the Australian ‘bullies’ seems to mean so much more.

The bully the bully hashtag reveals a ferocious nationalism among young Indians. But misunderstandings lead to miscommunication. Worse still, deliberately manipulated images or stories can stimulate misguided controversy. On the flip-side, they suck interest inwards and the magnetic appeal of the series is increasing.

This is cricket between two proud nations. And there’s plenty of evidence of its popularity on India’s crazy streets.

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?

Test Match Thrillers and an A Team Killer: India and Pakistan miss the rain and a future Protea nails 200 in Townsville

Rain nearly saved Pakistan and it should have saved India, but it denied both sides a reprieve and ensured thrilling finales to two Test Matches over the weekend. England’s destruction of India at Old Trafford was stunning and the quality of cricket on display at the Galle Fort in Sri Lanka was just as fine. The standard was high in (Cape) Townsville too, where South Africa A hammered Australia A in a solid game of cricket at the Riverway Arts and Cultural Precinct.

South Africa might have found a replacement for Jaques Kallis. Actually, cancel that. Kallis is irreplaceable. But, they may have uncovered a future Protea. Rilee Rossouw nailed a superb 231, which killed Australia A’s hopes on a wicket that saw them bowled out twice in four days. Rossouw averages 45 from 72 First Class matches and must be on the edge of Test selection. Temba Bavuma asserted himself with a grafting 162 and Australia A – consisting of 5 internationally capped and 3 Test Match capped players in Phil Hughes, Moises Henriques and Mathew Wade – simply couldn’t match South Africa A. The visitors attracted plenty of vocal support too with many local club cricketers attending, enjoying a few beers and creating a bit of good natured atmosphere from the hill.

But, could the crowds be better? If the small crowds during match 1 are anything to go by, then it would seem that Cricket Australia, Townsville City Council and perhaps the local cricket administrators could do more on the promotions front. On Friday afternoon that little stadium should be heaving with blue and white collar workers and it wouldn’t take much imagination or creativity to spark interest and greater involvement from local businesses and large employers. On a positive note, Cricket Australia announced today the sport has one million participants in Australia, a great result that should be the basis for further expansion.

The two A teams go at it again in Townsville this week beginning on Thursday 14 August. Peter Forrest and Clint McKay have been added to the Australian side and Phil Hughes has taken the captaincy off Moises Henriques who is out injured.

The scene in Townsville resembles Newlands in Cape Town as Gurinder Sandhu steams in and attempts to get a much needed wicket for Australia A against Sth Africa A.

On the Test scene India’s weak surrender to England on the third day in Manchester has created an alarming dilemma for MS Dhoni: where to find players who want to fight? India only needed to survive one afternoon. It absolutely pissed down with rain all of the next day. I mean, blokes were chipping catches to short fielders and trudging off as if preferring to escape to the hotel games room. Unbelievable. England’s bowlers were good, but not quite this is an unplayable Mitchell Johnson who’s going to kill you good.

Two weeks ago India led the series 1-0, perhaps mostly because England were poor and lacked tactical direction. Since then India have been reclassified as an invertebrate species and England have reacquainted with the spinal column and retaliated with more discipline and application. Leading 2-1 England can’t lose the series now, at worst they’ll draw it if India bounce back, but England should win 3-1 with a resounding victory at The Oval Test, which begins Friday. Will England miss Stuart Broad if he fails to play after breaking his nose? Probably not. Moeen Ali will simply take another 5 for and finish the job Jimmy Anderson is likely to start.

Stuart Broad’s broken nose

Perhaps the most startling result occurred in Sri Lanka. Wow. Is Test Cricket alive or what? Pakistan made 451 in the 1st innings with Younis Khan amassing 177. Bang that’s it. It’s going to be a draw. The Galle wicket will be a road. Sure enough Sri Lanka pump out 533 and you’re thinking, yep, draw. But, here comes Sri Lanka’s spin king Rangana Herath and there goes Pakistan for 180 on the final day. A lead of only 98. 126 balls remain in the Test Match, are they going to go for it? You betcha. They peel off the runs with 5 overs to spare. Seconds after the celebrations begin the rain falls on the Dutch fort and rolls across the ground. Pakistani players were last seen kicking the ground, while locals danced and sang in the rain. One of the great Test victories.

No I haven’t forgotten to mention Kumar Sangakarra… he smashed 221 in Sri Lanka’s 1st innings, his 37th Test Match tonne. He averages 58 from 125 Tests. In fairness Sri Lanka don’t play as many top line Test Matches as Australia, England or South Africa, but he would waltz into any of those nations’ teams and score just as many. A timeless legend.

At the Harare Sports Club Zimbabwe made a competitive 256 against South Africa who are 4/201 in reply. It is great to see Zimbabwe back in Test Match action and so far they are holding their own against a rebuilding, but still very good South African team.

10 Tests without victory: Has England lost its spine?

England are only 1-0 down in the series against India, but it feels like they’ve just been beaten 5-0 again. The reaction to yesterday’s defeat at Lords and the projections radiating from England are all dire. A lack of quality, bad execution, ordinary tactics, poor fielding and troubled county and player development systems… I’ve read it all in recent days, but the dressing room problems that stalked England’s tour of Australia appear most relevant.

India bounced England’s batsmen out on a day five wicket, that on day 1, looked as green as the 18th at Royal Liverpool. Chasing 318 for victory with 4 sessions to play, England were in the box seat, but Ishant Sharma shredded them with 7 wickets – many of which were caught in the deep. England asked India to bat first on a green top and failed to capitalise, with their seamers consistently bowling too short on a pitch demanding a full, seam-nibbling length. India toiled hard with the bat throughout and set a competitive 4th innings chase. It was more than a touch ironic that short bowling undid England’s batsmen in the end. The difference between carefully executed, field appropriate short bowling and banging it in too often has never been plainer.

Twelve months ago England were ranked 2 in the world and were on the way to beating Australia 3-0. Now you’d be forgiven for thinking it was 1999. It’s not and England shouldn’t be this bad, but a packet of off-field problems are destroying them in the middle.

The big question for me is why somebody like Matt Prior is now quitting after two Tests?

“To treat injuries” is his reasoning, but Prior is the third (Trott and Swann) top 11 player to walk out on England mid-series is less than 9 months. They’re all legitimate reasons you say? Well ok, maybe so, but if England were preparing as well as they should be then Trott’s mental state would have been exposed and managed internally before he was obliterated after one Test in Australia and Prior’s “injuries” (and perhaps stomach for a fight) been adequately appraised before this absolutely vital home series against India. The bloke has quit when times are tough and injuries aside, I wouldn’t expect he’ll play for England ever again as some of England’s insiders are smarting.

The second issue is Alistair Cook. A great player with an incredible batting record that has seemingly been in steep decline ever since Andy Strauss stepped aside. Cook seems like a “lovely lad” as described by Strauss overnight, but is he a leader of men? I’m not convinced and the sight of bowlers changing fielders behind his back without consent and the general body language of certain players towards him looks bad, but I wouldn’t be demoting him during this series. This again, for me, comes back to preparation. If the head honchos at England cricket do not believe that he is the man to lead the  side then why go into this series with him at the helm? Why do these things keep needing to be dealt with mid-series?

Australia’s terrible, ill-fated tour of India in 2013 threw up several mid-series dressing room fiascos. When these incidents began to emerge on the subsequent tour of England and it was evident that they had not been managed, the head coach was sacked and a new leadership group redrawn before the first Test. Some decried the timing, but it has turned out for the better.

Cook absolutely needs runs to take some of the sting out of the criticism being fired his way. But, he could score hundreds and if England keep losing and their bowling and fielding plans lack shape and distinctive strategy, then his leadership will continue to be questioned.

The upshot is that England are only 1-0 down with three Tests to play. India are a very good side, but they’re not at the top yet and England is a difficult place to win (Australia hasn’t won in England for 12 years). Cook and the rest of the England unit must fight on and win this series at home, or be the subject of a rabid inquisition unseen in English cricket for at least a decade.