Virat Kohli

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.

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.

India have disgraced themselves: Who is to blame?

Bowled out inside 30overs for less than 100. What a day for India’s batsmen. Concede over 100 runs in 11 overs against England’s tail. What a day for India’s bowlers. Smashed by an innings and 244 runs. What a day for Indian cricket.

Routed inside three days for the second time in a week. India are in pieces, their players under fire, the coach – Duncan Fletcher – has been sidelined by BCCI and the Captain, MS Dhoni thrashes about in a London hotel bed wondering what the hell comes next?

It’s an ODI Series and Ravi Shastri has been hastily appointed by the BCCI to run the team during the series. The move effectively demotes Fletcher and adds confusion to India’s set up. Will it help?

Well India haven’t won an ODI on their last two international tours. Shocked? Don’t be. The players have little to no chance of working hard on faulty techniques or improving their games. India’s Board of Control for Cricket in India have established a relentless schedule of matches decimating all reasonable opportunity for rest, recuperation and meaningful practice. Oh what a shame you say? They’re millionaires, right? Yes, but all cricketers must work long and hard to exorcise bad habits and polish technique. The Test series defeat reveals a lack of strategic training and toil at first class level.

Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane represent the future of India’s batting, but their lack of mental fortitude in tough circumstances and adaptability were wildly exposed by England throughout this series. Shikhar Dhawan, another batsmen who might have had a future with India, was replaced after 3 Tests by 32 year old opener Gautam Gambhir, a regressive selection that backfired. Gambhir looked haunted and worked to avoid the strike during his four innings in the series and, on his last day of torment, was pathetically run-out a few minutes before lunch when clouds threatened.

India visit Australia for 4 Tests in the southern summer and their batsmen must be absolutely shaking with terror at the prospect of facing the Aussie pace battery.

Can India take wickets?

India also lack genuine wicket-takers. Cast your thoughts back over the years. Can you rattle off a selection of top notch Indian bowlers who’ve consistently taken wickets home and away?

They seem to have cobbled together bowling attacks, just enough to get by and sure, guys like Zaheer Khan were quality and Ishant Sharma is kind of okay I suppose (he wouldn’t get a game for Australia, England or South Africa with a bowling average of nearly 37). India lack spearheads. Ravichandran Ashwin has potential as a spinner and Bhuvneshwar Kumar was their best player in this series and maybe India should build their pace attack around him, but he won’t be the spearhead they crave. He doesn’t have raw pace and Dhoni’s overuse of Kumar flattened him.

MS Dhoni may lose the captaincy

Dhoni himself mostly batted with defiance throughout, but his captaincy and wicket-keeping were second rate. He is a fighter, a man of character who, despite possessing a pedigree most suited to short-form, has proven that resilience of character and resolute commitment often gets you over the line in Test Match cricket. Better cricketers than Dhoni have failed to make any dent in the Test arena because they lacked those attributes. But, after this embarrassing 3-1 defeat to England, where his side have squandered a 1-0 lead, can he retain the captaincy of the world’s most popular cricket team? The hashtag #dhoniout has been trending on Twitter for over 12 hours now so perhaps India’s fans have already indicated a clear choice.

England were good

English readers are saying “what about OUR performance?” Yes, yes I know, you won 3 Tests and bounced back from near oblivion with great aplomb. Alistair Cook has revealed that he nearly quit the captaincy in June after England suffered home defeat to Sri Lanka. His wife convinced him otherwise. After 2 Tests against India, a draw and a painful defeat at Lords and a whole lot of snicking to slip with no runs, Cook must’ve been thinking “gee thanks wife, now I’ll be sacked in disgrace”.

But Cook, the senior players and coach Peter Moores have orchestrated a thrilling fight back. Anderson was tremendous, Broad was great and Moeen Ali showed that he can get wickets (but remains questionable as a top 6 Test batsman). Gary Ballance looks all class and new keeper Jos Butler can play. Don’t get too excited just yet. India were ordinary opposition and Australia’s visit up north next year will be tougher.

Mahela Jayawardene

Sri Lanka’s batting legend is currently playing his last Test Match. He scored 54 in his final innings against Pakistan. The 37 year old has played 148 Test Matches, scored 34 hundreds and will finish with a batting average of 51+. A world class cricketer and great servant of for Sri Lanka. Many will mourn his loss, but Sri Lanka are producing exciting cricket talent and their Test future is bright.

Phil Hughes 243* in Townsville

The 2nd match between Australia A and South Africa A in Townsville finished in a draw after a washout on day 2. Seventy five mm of water fell during Friday disappointing myself and a few others who had organised a day off work. Townsville’s long term August rainfall average is 15mm. A bookie would have offered you 100-1 if you’d said that 75mm of rain will fall on a Friday in Townsville in August, the day you plan to take off-work to watch a rare 1st class cricket match. Blue skies shone the next day and Phil Hughes scored a memorable 243 not out, earning an ODI call up for the Zimbabwe tour and staking a claim (again) on a Test recall. That might inspire groans from Aussies or laughs from Englishman, but Hughes is only 25. With further development he could still make it at Test level.

The 2 match series in Townsville was a success. It was reported over the weekend that Townsville City Council and Cricket Australia are negotiating the application to have Tony Ireland Stadium certified for Test Matches. Cricket Australia are impressed with the facility and suggest only minor upgrades – such as improved lighting for television broadcasts – would be needed to attain accreditation from the ICC. It would become the eleventh Australian venue to receive ICC approval. This would be a huge asset for cricket, Townsville and Northern Australia. Make it happen people.

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Phillip Hughes flicks off the hip to score the first run of his 243 not out against South Africa A in Townsville: August 2014