Test Match cricket

Hard-wicket home ground bullies?

Australia is rightly recognized for being one of the strongest cricketing nations on the planet. It is tough to beat Australia at home but Australia has been incredibly poor away from home for at least a decade.

Tours to the Asian sub-continent against Pakistan and India have always been difficult but Australia’s first series loss in Sri Lanka recently has added to a growing burden.

The Aussies have now lost eight matches in a row and won only one of its last 17 Test Matches in Asia. 

England, South Africa and New Zealand have each won more Test Matches in Asia than Australia since 2005. England has also won a series in India and South Africa has defeated Pakistan.

The Australian struggle is not isolated to Asia. It hasn’t won a Test series in England for fifteen years, winning only three of the last twenty Ashes Matches in England.

So when the mainstream media suggest that Australian batsmen have a problem with spin on Asian wickets, remind yourself that they can’t seem to get it right against pace or swing in the home of cricket either.

So is it a problem with playing away?

Well, Australia has enjoyed success in South Africa but the dispute between the nations over scheduling has limited the length  of Test Series played there and robbed fans and players of some potentially great contests (both countries share the same summer season and neither will give up its lucrative Boxing Day and New Years’ Tests for one another; shorter series are instead scheduled on the fringes of the southern summer).

Australia plays limited series in New Zealand and with Australia committing to shorter series and fewer Test Matches in the Caribbean recent successes there should be considered in context.

Although home sides invariably win Test Series, other nations have not struggled as much as Australia. South Africa has won two Test series each in England and Australia since 2005 and England won one in Australia in 2010-11. Sri Lanka has won as many Tests in England as Australia since 2005 and both it and New Zealand have drawn series in the Old Dart.

True cricketing might was traditionally adjudged on the level of success earned in different conditions around the world.

So are recent Australian teams hard-wicket home ground bullies?

Pink Ball Nights

Some will call it historic. But futuristic is more appropriate.

Day-night Test cricket is almost here. How long it stays is anyone’s guess.

The outcome of events at the Adelaide Oval in the next few days will have an enormous impact on the concept. This has the potential to reshape the future of the world’s greatest game.

Everybody will have an opinion on the pink ball.

Adelaide will be radically different from the draw at the WACA last week. There will be a result.

Although in recent years Sheffield Shield matches have been played at night with the pink ball and New Zealand have just played a warm up match in similar conditions, both sides will step into the unknown.

This increases the mystery behind the occasion.

New conditions, altered playing times and different equipment will be tested.

The lunch and tea breaks have been swapped. The pitch has been doctored to suit the fragile pink ball and more grass than ever can be expected on a wicket likely to assist bowlers more than batsmen.

Huge crowds will flock through the gates and the scene will be spectacular. The striking images of the incredible India-Pakistan Cricket World Cup Match at the Adelaide Oval in 2015 will be remembered.

India Pak CWC2015

A result is assured on what is expected to be a seam bowlers paradise. Batting at dusk will be difficult.

Vision will be restricted as the setting sun competes with artificial lights. Facing a thunderous 150kmph spell from a pack of carnivorous fast bowlers will be tougher than usual.

Fielding in the deep won’t be fun either.

We all dread the skied shots that slowly make their way to us in the deep. They should be easy, but diving away in the gully for a one handed grab seems like a cinch after you try to chest mark a ‘sitter’ on the fence and it rockets off your collar bone for four.

If you’re not in Adelaide then get yourself down the local tomorrow afternoon and take a peak at cricket’s future.

India v South Africa

Can you believe it?

We’re into the Third Test between these two cricket juggernauts and the highest innings score so far is 215!

That’s right. India has prepared some feisty wickets for South Africa’s tour.

The first Test was a titanic battle and a revolving door for batsmen. India won by 108 runs and the Second Test was destroyed by rain after the Proteas were rolled for 214.

At Nagpur yesterday the Proteas knocked India over for 215 without the injured Dale Steyn or the dropped Vernon Philander. But they are 2/11 in reply.

Expect all out war on day two as South Africa battle to make a three figure score on a low spinners paradise in front of a massive Indian crowd.

 

 

 

 

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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Twenty Years of Hurt: Pakistan’s victory in the making

Cricket Froth’s more mature readers will remember the days when Australia toured Pakistan; a time before the 1992 ODI World Champions were forced to play their home series in an adopted country. Earlier this year Cricket Froth discussed Pakistan’s last Test series victory over Australia in the nostalgia of cricket in Pakistan. The crux of that article is recorded here:

“During the ’94 tour Pakistan won a nail biter by one wicket at Karachi with big performances from Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and current England spin coach Mushtaq Ahmed.

In the following Test Saleem Malik scored a double tonne, which ensured a draw at Rawalpindi. Michael Slater, Damien Fleming, Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan excelled. During Pakistan’s epic 2nd innings every Australian player – except Ian Healy – had a bowl. Yes, even Mark Taylor and David Boon rolled the arm over. In fact, opening batsmen Taylor and Slater took wickets! The third Test at Lahore was also a draw. Pakistan won the series 1-0.

They had some good players. I imagine that tours there were extremely challenging, but equally rewarding. I think Australia’s last tour occurred in 1998, a 1-0 victory for Australia – Peshawar providing the scene for Mark Taylor’s 334 and a big series performance from Ijaz Ahmed and the introduction of youngster Shoaib Akhtar.

In a nostalgic and perhaps rose-tinted sense tours to Pakistan and the West Indies seemed to be the epitome of tough international Test Match cricket. It’s a massive loss that international cricket isn’t played in Pakistan and West Indies struggle from poor governance and administration, un-helped by the ICC and India’s selfish scheduling of T20 tournaments.

In Pakistan the instability and threat of violence means that cricket seems an impossible and a luxurious frivolity in comparison to the issues facing their people. I hope that cricket can return to Pakistan in the near future, because that will mean things have substantially improved.”

If Pakistan nullify Australia in Abu Dhabi they’ll score their first victory in 9 series played across 20 years against Australia. It would be momentous. But Michael Clarke’s men will resolve to prevent it. I expect a more dedicated performance from Australia’s batsmen. The toss will be critical, but not solely determinant.

Australia will need to attack at key moments and prevent Pakistan from reaching a defensible position. The hosts will take a draw. Australia’s spinners – I’m looking at you Nathan Lyon – must penetrate.

I have been a big supporter of Lyon, but his return in the 1st Test was a damning moment in his 36 Test career. Pakistan had scored 454 runs before Lyon took a wicket in the first innings. He finished with 2/148, which was 0/144 until Pakistan’s wicket keeper, Sarfraz, hit out on 109 and a tailender skied one to Rogers at point. He returned 0/72 from 18 overs in Pakistan’s declared second innings.

Pakistan’s spinners looked a million dollars. On debut Yasir Shah took 7/116 and Zulfiqar Babar, playing his 3rd Test, took 7/155 in the match. Shah looks the business, but leg spin is a tough art.

Abu Dhabi may not offer as much spin and there is a rumour Australia may drop Lyon or O’Keefe for a quicker option. “That demonstrates Australia’s confidence in their spinners [on spinning decks]” said a colleague. Mitchell Starc could become the third Mitchell in Australia’s XI (bizarre). Glenn Maxwell could be a late bolter (good player of spin) if Alex Doolan is cut. I’m not convinced of Maxwell’s ability as a top 6 Test batsmen, but Doolan needs runs to repel the criticism that he isn’t one either.

Who do you think? Post your comments here or fire away on Cricket Froth’s Facebook page.

 

A scoop of chips and the never ending summer: Pakistan v Australia and World Cup of cricket

The vital condiment of a great summer feast arrives today. An all out sensory assault begins with cricket poised to turn eyeballs into cherry red leather spheres by summer’s end. Six Tests, thousands of ODIs, the World Cup, the Sheffield Shield and the Big Bash.

Consuming the impending lavish buffet of cricket will be as satisfying as jamming down a fat scoop of chips with extra chicken salt, a fresh caught slice of Spanish mack and guzzling an ice cold West Australian pilsner. Position yourself on a hot breezy beach with a gentle wave and get laid out on the banana lounge with ABC Grandstand humming in the background. This show is about to take off.

Thousands of Australian club cricketers have been toiling away on dusty decks, flat tracks and moonscape minefields since August while State sides have been hacking away in the 50 over cup at North Sydney oval. The four semi-finalists rip in today; Tasmania v Sth Australia and Western Australia v Queensland.

But that’s only the entree. As regular readers know Cricket Froth’s main caper is Test Match cricket and this afternoon at 1600 QLD time Australia begin their two Test series v Pakistan at Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Pakistan’s momentous challenge will be overcoming the loss of Saeed Ajmal, their genius off-break marksman who averages 28 from 35 Tests. Ajmal – reported for a suspect action – leaves a gaping hole in Pakistan’s ability to defend and take 10 wickets. But an unpropitious Australia were defeated in the warm up match by slow bowling and the Aussie batsman will be forced to wade through molasses again as Pakistan’s curators work to negate Australia’s pace battery.

Brace yourself and prepare your partners, colleagues and bosses. This will be the biggest summer of cricket ever.

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.