Cracker on the cards!

Posted July 9, 2013 by SJK
Categories: Ashes

Consistent selection is one of the key reasons why England have developed into a strong test team in the last decade. They have had a reasonably stable support group and most importantly, the men picked have performed consistently in different conditions worldwide. As a test match fan, it’s so hard not to closely follow a team with such high consistency in selection and performance. A country like Pakistan keeps producing terrific bowlers but the administration is a big joke and you tend to lose some motivation to follow a team like that with highly inconsistent selection.

I believe I’ve observed a few anomalies in England’s recent selections. I have been staggered by the amount of faith shown on a couple of players – Chris Woakes being picked for the test squad, Finn getting an extended run despite a fairly long stretch of ordinary performances, and now Joe Root’s selection as opener. By England’s own standards over the last 8 years or so, a bowler struggling with his run up and consequently struggling to pick wickets and act as an effective member of the bowling unit would have lost his place in a space of roughly 4 test matches. What adds to my surprise is the strength of the queue – Onions, Bresnan, Tremlett, and have you seen Boyd Rankin bowl yet? Finn was chosen ahead of the others in the Champions Trophy as well, and he went for quite a few. Chris Woakes? I’ve got no idea how he got into the test squad. I’ve been following his most recent stint with Wellington and he’s simply not test level. Someone’s got it wrong.

And my gut tells me the costliest one of all is promoting Joe Root as opener for the Ashes. He’s a busy player alright, but does he have the game to survive Siddle, Harris and Pattinson? I don’t think so. I cannot back my comments with averages or recent histories in similar playing roles and I don’t intend doing that either. I have a feeling Joe Root will be exposing Jonathan Trott very early in the innings, and that will give Australia a chance to have a crack at KP and co. at an early stage in the innings. I’m a big fan of Jonny Bairstow but he has struggled to make runs recently. The rest of the batting order looks good to me but the damage done by early wickets has been well established.  I am suspecting 2 early wickets regularly and that 2 others in the English middle order will have an ordinary series.

England’s bowling? Looks like they’re going to pick Big Bres ahead of Finn, and I’ll be okay with that. Personally, I’ll give Onions a go.

The bowling units match up nicely but everybody thinks it’s Australia’s weak batting that’s going to cost them the series. Yes, it’s weak on paper, but at least they’re trying to make sure Micheal Clarke, and the two batsmen that will follow him won’t be exposed to the new ball. Watson and Rogers followed by Cowan is a damn good top order. I also understand that ‘exposure to the new ball’ is a limited factor, and that all batsmen need to cope with a moving ball during overcast sessions. Early wickets kill the chances of a big total irrespective of changing overhead conditions, and I believe Australia is the team that’s in a better position to avoid early wickets.

There are ‘how’ coaches, ‘why’ coaches, and the rest of it but Darren Lehmann seems to be one among the players. He does not tilt the scales by himself but along with a couple of faulty English selections, he’s one of the factors why Australia will do well in this series.

Luck comes into place, but it will more than likely favour the team that doesn’t lose top order wickets too quickly. That’s always been the case in all the cricket I’ve watched. Root and Trott gone early, and it could still be overcast skies. If Watson and Rogers put up a decent stand, they could well get to see some extended periods of sunshine..

The gut tells me Australia – Boof has come into the system but that’s only one of the factors. The players remain key, and Australia have still got the players to win the series. England need to have a rethink on Joe Root.

One thing’s for sure – this will be another cracking test match series.  Even the administrators can’t make this a 2 test affair!

“….N.B.—The body will be cremated and the

ashes taken to Australia.”

Day One, on the bride that was ready

Posted March 15, 2012 by SJK
Categories: South Africa in New Zealand

The start was very promising for the Black Caps, mainly because there was little lateral movement on offer. One can’t blame Smith for inserting the Kiwis in to bat, after winning the toss. He has a potent fast bowling group under his belt and with any indication of swing and seam, he could have chosen to bowl first.   He did that and it almost back-fired.

Rob Nicol was an early casualty to the new ball, although the delivery  wasn’t a genuinely wicket taking one. He looked to come forward and make a positive front foot stroke, only to end up prodding at one that pitched well short of his feet and swung away. Both Steyn and Philander were looking for the perfect outswinger, from middle and leg to off stump and because of the lack of big lateral movement, strayed a lot of balls onto the batsmen’s pads. There wasn’t any short mid-wicket in position, either, and both the batsmen helped themselves to runs through the on-side. Barry Richards made a valid point saying the knowledge that there wasn’t much swing would have helped the confidence of both the batsmen, and hence help their timing.

I thought Guptill was going to get the big score that would save his test spot for a while. He made a lot of good leaves outside off stump. He clipped all the balls that were directed onto his pads into the gaps on the leg side. Only Kallis troubled him for a few balls, that pitched outside off and seamed in. The gap between his bat and pad was exposed. His inclined bat coming down, was on display. In the end, he perished to a Steyn outswinger, that had a beautiful shape to it (one of very few today). The angled bat and the uncertainty just outside off created an inside edge.

When you don’t find too much of swing and seam, you should stick to a line just outside off. The visiting bowlers were wayward in this regard. Only Kallis bowled a tidy and a consistent line.

Brendon McCullum covered well for the swing that was available. He took a lot of responsibility that has to be shouldered by a No. 3 batsman. He missed a pull off Morkel and was badly hit on his fingers. The little period of play that followed was the only uncertain time in his innings. Taylor started scoring with a couple of risky cuts, close to his body. That seems to be one of his serious run scoring shot, so there’s little sense in complaining about the stroke. Taylor and McCullum put on an eighty nine run stand that would have given Graeme Smith some serious concerns. But what followed, was nothing short of a disaster.

Only twice before today, has a test team lost five wickets for no run, and on all three occasions so far, it’s been New Zealand !

When will this batting unit come together??

 McCullum holed out playing the pull, Taylor was caught behind and Williamson succumbed to a ripper from Steyn. Whether it was the rain that caused a change of mindet of the batsmen, I don’t know. But both Steyn and Philander looked to exploit whatever little the rain provided. And this time, there was no rescue act from Daniel Vettori. Bracewell’s bowling at the end of the day was promising again, but I’m not sure he’s going to be an all rounder in the test team.

Kruger van Wyk played another gutsy knock and along with Mark Gillespie’s counter attacking knock, took New Zealand to a slightly more face-saving total. That reminds me, I am still properly gutted for Trent Boult. With little assistance from the pitch in Dunedin, he stuck to a tight line and bowled to a plan. He was promising in Australia, as well. Southee’s axing is understandable, but not Boult’s. I am not going to say two 32 plus bowlers replaced two other bowlers aged around 22, but Boult has done little wrong so far.

 Imran Tahir had little to do, but he had a deep point in his first over, 6 minutes before lunch. Safe to say Smith has caught the infection.

I greatly fear 185 is going to be too small a total on this wicket, with Kallis and Jakkels having centuries behind them. But you can always expect efficiency from the Black Caps’ bowling and fielding unit. That is what could make this game interesting. Smith is already back in the hut, caught brilliantly by van Wyk. It was an atrocious shot from Smith, but again, that’s how he’s played all his career. He has a decent average and has got people calling his technique as gutsy. No purist will like it. South Africa made a poor decision sending a night watchman with half an hour’s play left, and paid for it. Steyn was picked up by Martin and SA end the day on 2 for 27.

The extra half an hour in the morning session tomorrow, because of the rain today, should be utilized well by the bowling team. If South Africa don’t lose more than 2 wickets in the first session, they could be well on their way to a sizable lead.

The bride doesn’t put on her dress and makeup until her wedding day” said the curator at Seddon Park, two days before the game. He’d reacted to concerns of a very green pitch. Today, the bride was ready but the Kiwi batsmen weren’t.

Day two

Posted December 27, 2011 by SJK
Categories: India in Australia

It’s going almost as per script for India. Again, Hilfenhaus and Pattinson formed a handy partnership and Dhoni was so dumb he brought Ashwin into the attack at least five overs too late. After what I‘d written yesterday, I feel I jinxed Zaheer’s success with the new ball. It was an excellent spell. What it consisted was a cleverly mixed bag of insingers and outswingers. If he can do this so confidently to Haddin and Siddle, there is nothing much he needs to change to the top order batsmen. Somehow, a couple of bad balls and he starts bowling wide outside the wicket to the specialist batsmen. Almost everything was on the money today, and yet, Australia managed 56 runs this morning.

Siddle and Pattinson have faced 99 and 54 balls respectively.  I’ll have a close eye on the number of balls Dhoni faces. In Melbourne and Sydney put together.

When Hilfenhaus came in, it was quite clear he was going to play the big shots. Any decent cricket captain would have brought Ashwin immediately into the attack. And when he was finally given the ball, he did the job quickly. He tossed the ball wide outside off stump to Hilfenhaus, with protection at long on and deep mid wicket. To Lyon, he did something Harbhajan certainly wouldn’t have done. As far as I remember, Harbhajan was only looking for LBWs with the tail, of his quick sliders. After having been swept, Ashwin tossed up a carom ball on a full length, inducing the sweep again but beating Lyon around his pads. That was fine thinking.

Gambhir, understandably, was cautious with the inswingers. He perished to a ball that went away after pitching, and he was found playing away from his body. Hilfenhaus bowled well all through the day. He got great shape with the new ball. To those who think he was one dimensional again, I don’t think there is any better fast bowler apart from Ryan Harris who could have been more successful in Hilfy’s spot. He was regularly beating the bat. Only Tendulkar had the measure of him. Watching a classic outswing bowler with a strong action being outclassed by Tendulkar is one of the best sights you get to see in the game.

More good fortune came India’s way today as Sehwag survived one chance and certainly two half chances. Dravid is still batting because he was castled off a no ball from Siddle. Tendulkar had one loose upper cut and an outside edge go through a perfectly catchable height in the vacant areas of the cordon. But if you’ve decided to bat with such positive intent (and rightly so), it is very difficult to score 70 odd runs with just two such chances to the opposition. That’s how good a batsman Tendulkar still is. He scored at a run a ball almost throughout his knock and one should note the class between Sehwag and Tendulkar, against this attack on a Melbourne pitch which did offer movement after pitching. Dravid started well but he was glued to his crease almost all innings. He’ll be a key tomorrow but he’s highly susceptible to these Siddle and Pattinson in cutters if he’s going to be glued to the crease and offer space between bat and pad.

I cannot think of any other bowler in the world, apart from Steyn, who will steam in and deliver balls on the perfect length and cause trouble to Dravid and Tendulkar after they’ve posted 100 runs together. Incredible stuff from Siddle and Pattinson towards close of play.

Lyon is a quality spinner but unfortunately, at this moment in his career, he has four tests lined up against India! As usual, he did bowl well but Sehwag, Dravid and Tendulkar were too good for him.

Tendulkar’s innings was breathtaking.

The bowling and half of the batting unit have clicked in the first innings of the first test touring Australia. Over to Dravid and Laxman.

From an Aussie perspective, it will be disappointing if India score anything above 400 from here.

 

Day One at the MCG…

Posted December 26, 2011 by SJK
Categories: India in Australia

I said Marsh and Hussey are the most likely to score runs in this series and both have started with ducks! Marsh with a loose shot and Hussey to an excellent ball which actually didn’t get his edge. I am glad I got a couple of other predictions spot on; the poor bowling to the tail and the pathetic fields set by the Indian captain.

India found a lot of good fortune today. Zaheer was nearly impotent with the new ball. Ishant didn’t find his rhythm early on and Umesh Yadav took some time to settle down. A bowling unit cannot afford too much time to get on the money, against Australia and especially in Melbourne on Boxing day. Better batsmen would have have played chanceless knocks and the bowling team would have soon been hurt psychologically.

Warner’s dismissal down the leg side was a Christmas present. And so was the loose shot from Shaun Marsh. A player of his caliber should have capitalized on such a fine batting pitch. Umesh did find some rhythm after lunch and that’s when he started hitting better lengths. Ponting started poorly. His body language is far from great. The only thing holding him is the grit. Ian Chappell pointed out that he has to be prepared to play a lower game (uglier game) and credit to Ponting he’s ready to do that. It’s come to a stage where it’s become a serious mental thing for Ponting, coupled with his errors in balance.  His 62 was mainly because of some poor bowling and he’s still in a deep hole. The ball that got him though, was a ripper.

Ishant bowled an excellent spell after lunch and was more consistent in his line and length than Umesh. I’ve heard Ed Cowan say Ishant was the pick of the bowlers today and I won’t disagree, in spite of all the wickets Yadav has taken. His last spell to Haddin and Siddle was the least threatening, consisting of balls wide outside off stump. But none of the other bowlers could do well to the tail. If there are two things I could tell Fletcher today, they would be bowling strategies to the tail, and field settings. Field settings by MS Dhoni in Sachin Tendulkar’s 184th game, Dravid’s 160th and Laxman’s 131st. Have to feel for these men, when free runs are given away to Peter Siddle, leave alone top order batsmen. And for new batsmen at the crease?  MS Dhoni is such a mice man he’ll allow you as many singles as you want. I thought the number of singles that were given away today was ridiculous.

Micheal Clarke’s was another lucky break for the Indians. Zaheer was running in well, for that spell alone but it was never a wicket taking ball. He did trouble the batsmen with movement with the old ball but Zaheer is overrated because he simply does not have the pace, nor the consistency with the new ball that will fetch him wickets. But for the one good spell with the old ball, he was just any other ordinary bowler. People like Andrew Flintoff and Micheal Vaughan still rate Zaheer high and reckon he’s the one who’ll make the difference for India. Zaheer himself will know what his current capabilities are. He might pick three or four wickets, again with the old ball in Sydney and Adelaide, but he’s perhaps the only one in this eleven to be playing more on reputation than ability.

On Ashwin, I sense he was nervous today. That was the reason for his mixed bag. His length wasn’t consistent and he himself was visibly disappointed. Over time, he did become much more secure with his length but he should fight more for better attacking fields. He is concerned about the men around the bat, but what about long on and long off?  The nervousness was the reason, I believe , for the excessive variations he used today. Far too many balls were rushed in, landed short and were easy pickings for the batsmen. A few wickets, a couple of assuring spells, and he’ll be landing his stock off spinner more regularly again.

Almost forgot to mention Ed Cowan…   He’s more like the opener Australia are in need of. A bit in the Katich mould. He left the balls that deserved to be left, and did the opener’s job exactly how it needs to be done. Hopefully, he shuts the door on Hughes. (I wouldn’t mind Katich coming back at all)

The partnership between Haddin and Siddle isn’t hurting India yet, as three wickets fell for nearly nothing. But it will turn heartbreaking for if Australia can make anything more than 320 tomorrow. Again, a bit of Trent Bridge, as I suspected last evening!

I’d say advantage India, because if getting a team out for around 300 is not good enough, it is the batsmen who will be the major culprits. This track is excellent for batting. And it isn’t swinging as much as it did in Brisbane and Hobart. Of course, no excuses for letting Haddin and Siddle get a 60 odd partnership today.

There were 89 overs bowled in the day, in spite of the long interruption due to rain. Not one came from Kohli, Sehwag or Tendulkar. That’s impressive.

Boxing Day Eve

Posted December 25, 2011 by SJK
Categories: India in Australia

The elevens are fixed. People have called Australia troubled and unsettled, but they’ve named their eleven a day earlier than they’d normally do. India have made it quite clear that Zaheer, Ishant and Umesh will start. Given there are four left handers in Australia’s top six, it’s a no brainer between Ashwin and Ojha. Add to that, a century in the last test he played. The only spot I still have a little doubt on is the No.6 for India. Kohli has done well with a century in the three day game but Rohit has been scoring too, quite heavily since his return from injury. Pattinson and Hilfenhaus generally aren’t bounce-you-out bowlers and Siddle is the one who is most likely to resort to more of short stuff. Considering that, Virat may be given a go. But clearly, when playing bounce becomes a bigger criteria, something that will happen in Perth, Rohit has to edge out Kohli. Personally though, I’ll have Rohit Sharma at No. 6, given his recent weight of performances, the confidence that has come along and his grit of late.

Well, this is the third test of the Aussie summer. I have one observation, which makes me feel there is a huge element of fortune involved. On a week where thunderstorms are predicted, the Sun plays hide and seek, at least on three days. In the Brisbane test in the first week of this month, Australia had all the good fortune. The Sun stayed behind the clouds when Pattinson and Siddle were running in, and just when the Kiwis folded up, the Sun came out. Generally, post lunch sessions were bright periods but you never know, post tea sessions could be mixed bags. Morning sessions were always favouring bowlers and both teams should strictly make it a point to see off the first sessions. Only Sehwag and Warner are entitled runs in the morning.

Australia have made fine selections. Cowan was the only opener with tons of recent first class runs and thankfully, Phil Hughes has been replaced. Watson is still injured and that could be a blessing for Australia. He hasn’t played too much cricket recently and Warner is very high on confidence. His body language in the Big Bash league showed he’s in prime cricketing form. Marsh is too good to be out of this team. Ponting has been given a long, long rope, considering his ‘presence in the team’. This is clearly his last chance. I’d pick Ashwin to trouble Ponting the most, given his susceptibility to off spin.

Hussey is simply being tagged along with Ponting for no valid reason. Yes, he’s not made big runs recently but he is not making technical blunders that Ponting continues to make. My top two Aussie batsmen to watch out for in this series would be Hussey and Marsh.

 Hilfenhaus is a class act. His captain in Tasmania has assured that he’s using the crease better. Even in case, the ball doesn’t swing much, he has an excellent short ball to trouble the Indians. I remember he was the only threat when Australia played tests in Mohali and Bangalore, in their latest visit to India.

On current form alone, Pattinson is the biggest threat. I would call this a relentless bowling attack, very close in quality to Anderson, Broad, Bresnan and Tremlett. India will need much more sunshine than what they got in England. Although Nathan Lyon should offer some respite, I’ll look forward to Gambhir vs Lyon. That should be a classic.

Coming to India, Gambhir and Dravid have to bat out all the gloomy periods. I’d imagine Gambhir is highly susceptible to this particular attack. All of Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Pattinson bring the ball towards Gambhir’s pads and he’s a huge candidate for bowled and LBW. He should be very cautious about his drive towards mid wicket.  Dhoni has very candidly admitted he’s not too strong technically. He’s due for some serious contribution in test matches, as both batsman and captain. I’ll pray there is no repeat of his moves in England this year. Because having your bowlers fit is just a pre-requisite. It serves no cause if there are going to be poor fields and horrendous bowling changes. Zaheer has let India down on quite a few occasions now. Personally, I still think he’s overrated. This is another chance for him to make a lasting name, but I believe Ishant and Umesh will pose more problems to Australia.

Another key in this series will be finishing off a tail quickly. Siddle and Pattinson are handy tail enders. Haddin is a crazy test batsman and will keep giving chances. It will be heart breaking if there is a repeat of Trent Bridge, ’11. Pacers should continue to bowl full and bowl normal to the tail enders. Ashwin should be on from one end, as he is most likely to get them, and keep them tight.

Here’s hoping the thunderstorms stay away.

Time to welcome back WILLIAM MORRIS BILL LAWRY!!!

 

From promising to disappointing

Posted December 11, 2011 by SJK
Categories: Trans Tasman Trophy

 

These are extremely frustrating times for fans of the New Zealand cricket team. I used the words ‘promising position’ last evening and the Kiwis showed why one can never bank on them converting promising positions to winning ones.

Kane Williamson looked in great touch yesterday and wanted to start off from where he had left it overnight. He perished in the third ball of the day, trying to force a drive without getting to the pitch of the ball. This seems to be his only streaky area.

Ross Taylor and Dean Brownlie looked to survive the demons of the first couple of hours but couldn’t manage doing it. Australia had a major issue in having no bowler to sustain the pressure that Siddle and Pattinson created. Therefore, Siddle was given an extended first spell, and after the first hour when Siddle had to be rested, Pattinson immediately came back for a second spell. Both Taylor and Brownie looked comfortable against Starc. Starc tried bowling around the wickets and it never really threatened the batsmen. Neither could he beat the bat from over the wickets.

Either Siddle or Pattinson were bowling from one of the ends, all through the first session. So, had Williamson and Taylor survived their initial spells, they could have had huge run scoring opportunities coming out of Starc, Lyon and Hussey. But the problem was that both Siddle and Pattinson were too good to get through. At the same time, these Aussie bowlers were fortunate enough to find the edges, unlike Martin, Boult and Southee who, in spite of bowling in good areas, never found the edge when Australia came out to bat.

What could have easily been a lead of 300 plus, was restricted to 240. And, only Boult and Southee helped it 240. Otherwise, run scoring was so difficult all through the first session that when keeper Young was leg before to Siddle, the lead was just 204. Bracewell was at the crease, with Southee, Boult and Martin left. From an overnight score of 139 for 3, the visitors were bundled out for 226, in little over two and a half hours. Credit to Micheal Clarke for persisting with Siddle and Pattinson all morning. And credit to both the bowlers for utilizing the conditions to the fullest.

Phil Hughes has lived to fight tomorrow. There was a long spell of rain after tea and this could be a blessing for New Zealand. The sun has hardly come out in the first session at Hobart. If there is a concentrated effort to keep bowling in the corridor tomorrow morning, there is no reason why they can’t pick up wickets. I thought some extra effort was lacking today.

Ross Taylor resorted to more defensive fields as edges and mistimed shots went for boundaries. I think giving Taylor the captaincy ahead of McCullum is one of the first mistakes in the John Buchanan era. Vettori’s presence was missed in the fourth innings and he’ll probably be missed tomorrow as well, more for his ideas than for his spin bowling.

169 runs. 10 wickets. Anyone fancy a Kiwi win?

The greenest I’ve ever seen.

Posted December 10, 2011 by SJK
Categories: Trans Tasman Trophy

The biggest worry for me at the end of the first day was the Sun coming out early on day two. In Brisbane, Australia were lucky with the overhead conditions. Here, fortunately for New Zealand, overhead conditions were favourable early on, especially after the rain and early close on the previous evening, and they made the most of it.

Chris Martin has hit fantastic form and he would look to take all the confidence to the tests against South Africa. His natural deliveries going away from the left handers, have accounted for all the three top order southpaws.  Ricky Ponting walked as soon as the ball hit his pads, even before Nigel Llong raised his finger.

New Zealand have unearthed a superb prospect in Trent Boult and he straight away looks a long term candidate. I now think they have overestimated Doug Bracewell’s abilities. Boult was able to sustain the pressure Martin and Southee exerted and this was something that never happened in Brisbane. Bracewell took some confidence from his spell to Micheal Clarke in the first test and he produced another decent effort today. I don’t think they’ll leave out Vettori, given his batting performances, on wickets like these but even if they had made up the ‘hamstring issues’, four seamers worked out perfectly today. Iain O Brien pointed out that there is a pressure to pick wickets that comes along with such seaming and overcast conditions. Bowlers from both teams have delivered the goods. If New Zealand’s top order is bad, Australia’s has serious issues as well. They were pathetic today.

Although it was refreshing to watch a contest where ball dominated bat, there was the feeling that there is almost no batsman left out to fight and survive such paceman-friendly conditions. I would like to see how Kraigg Brathwaite goes in these conditions.

There was some loose bowling to Pattinson and Siddle, which narrowed New Zealand’s lead. Bowlers’ getting distracted to the tail has become a very common phenomenon and this is a mental issue where the coaches can help.

Another major help for the visitors was the fact that the Sun came out in time for their second innings. McCullum and Guptill still couldn’t survive the new ball. This has been a miserable series for Martin Guptill and I hope they don’t drop him for the tests ahead. The pitches in New Zealand for the tests ahead will be much more placid and he’s too good to be out of this team. Ryder was stumped to Micheal Hussey down the leg side and these are dismissals a test batsman cannot afford, more so, when the team badly needs a big knock from you.

Kane Williamson was all class today. He’s got out caught behind only once out of three dismissals in this series. The other two were pretty unfortunate dismissals. He showed a lot of intent and took the attack to Peter Siddle. He played terrific shots of both front and back foot, and his balance was awesome. Ross Taylor survived the early play-and-miss and he improved through the course of his stay. Both of them have put New Zealand in a very promising position. I will be praying for sunlight early in the morning tomorrow.

For those who couldn’t watch the action, Ian Chappell has called this Bellerive pitch ‘the darkest I’ve ever seen’.  ‘Not the greenest but the darkest’.

To my eyes, it is almost as green as the square and if this is not the greenest, wonder how today’s batsmen would have handled the greener ones Ian has seen.