Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Time for Virat Kohli to let his bat do the talking!

Virat Kohli is always the standout of a very good Indian team.

Usually, it is for his masterful batting that has all compelled by its profound skill and unique charisma coupled with the aggressive mindset garnering respect for his leadership.

In a sense, he is very much the evolution of the new Age Indian in the likeness of the feisty Sourav Ganguly and so detached from the astutely gentlemanly demeanour of Indians from the past. A reputation that was always lauded and respected but also exploited under the auspices of kindness being treated as weakness.

Under Kohli's leadership, India has become a team to be feared not just as a formidable foe in conditions that suit but also one raising hopes of being able in any confines.

The sad part of this series as it goes into a winner take all 4th Test with the series tied 1 all is Kohli has lost the balance that has made him such a facilitator for the Indian ascent in the game. Being so intent on matching the anticipated on-field antics of the Australians as well as being an ignitor himself.

Leading to these VVS Laxman observations:

“Very disappointed to see a celebration of Kohli after Warner’s wicket,”  

“He is the captain.

“Someone did a mistake, that does not mean he has to do the same,” 

The right or wrong of Kohli's actions in truth is irrelevant.

With the more valid point making one question whether his seeming obsession with matching the Aussie 'pukka-pukka' has detracted from his batting with the lack of focus paid to his primary role. It has made Kohli fall for a double bluff inspired by perception where he has largely decided to 'play the man rather than playing the ball'

Leading to a series average of 9.2, a huge statistical anomaly when compared with his series averages at home recently:

51.5 versus New Zealand ( 1 century )

109.16 versus England ( 2 centuries )

121.00 versus Bangladesh (1 century )

Putting the emphasis solely on Kohli's pays scant respect to an Australian attack that has been excellent along with pitches in the series aside for the recent Ranchi road that have been divergent from the recent batting paradises in India.

But it still leaves one scratching their head as to the 'why'

Of greater concern for Indian fans is it has held up their lauded batting line up as the main reason for their failures in a series most thought they would win easily.

Not only for the lack of avalanche of runs it usually contributes facilitating the success of their bowling unit but also the lack of options it allows in team selections. Highlighted in the last game where playing 5 bowlers to get 20 wickets on a thankless pitch was dictated but the selectors obviously lacked belief in a batting line up that has struggled all series long.

Having 2 batsmen averaging over 36 along with two individuals posting centuries in the series pulls no punches.

With it depriving the team of the frontrunning aspect that is so key in Kohli's Captaincy.

Going into a winner take all 4th Test the buck largely rests with Kohli with him needing to find a way to be a factor inspiring a turnaround in India's recent batting struggles.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Australia Steal a Draw from the Jaws of Indian Victory

Test Cricket has always enthralled with its joyous uncertainty.

This series has embodied this while taking it to a whole new captivating level. With all certain of an Indian procession pre-series with Australia emulating their last three ventures to Asia, all ending in humiliating series whitewashes.

Going into the last day already 2 down after being grinded brutally into the turf on day four by a brilliant Indian rearguard it seemed an inevitability that Australia would go down like a deck of cards. following a long history of meek 4th innings collapses.  The epitaphs were being written seeing two pillars of the batting from this series in Matt Renshaw and Steven Smith fall in successive overs short of Lunch with an eternity left in the game.

Particularly seeing the back of Smith, not only for its pivotal nature in the context of the battle with him a key tormentor with the bat all series long but also the nature of his dismissal with his stumps shattered shouldering arms to Ravendra Jadeja. Setting ablaze the Indian players and crowd in support igniting a cauldron-like atmosphere that even the most accomplished would struggle with.

Enter a virtual odd couple in Shain Marsh and Peter Handscombe and the aforementioned 'uncertainty' delved into the realm of surreal with them sharing in 189 ball partnership full of skill, grit and resolve. Silencing the crowd while flipping the Aussie faithful from drowning their sorrows in expectation of a heavy loss to toasting a draw representing a watershed moment for the new look Team after the shambles of Hobart.

It casts them as a very dangerous entity going into the last Test in Dharmashala with them resembling gamblers playing with the house's money. This could free their minds of any pressure in the realisation that they have already exceeded all expectations on this tour along with knowing they only need a draw to retain the Border/Gavaskar Trophy.

How huge will be the toss in the deciding Test??????

The reality for India is more grim.

With the aftermath sure to have occupied head scratching and recriminations amidst a dissection over how they failed to seal victory here. Particularly after having a tidal wave of momentum after their remarkable come from behind win in the third Test coupled with the 4th-day heroics from Pujara/Saha filling their sails further to smash the tourists into oblivion.

The reality of their failure was the Lone Ranger nature of their attack betraying them with it being Jadeja or no one. The left armers spin twin in Ravichandran Ashwin was synonymous by his absence with match figures of 185/2 belying the lauded reputation he is held in.

The irony of the off spinners struggles was the absence of Australian spearhead Mitchell Starc. With the big left arm quicks absence depriving Ashwin of his footprints to become lethal on a wearing pitch. It exposed two associated realities, the first an expectation for Ashwin to be better regardless of the conditions along with the thought after the match that India erred in selection.

Their reading of the pitch prematch dictated a batsman dropped and an extra bowler added to assist on a thankless deck. It would have set up a perfect chance to flip the script on the Aussies by inserting the unorthodox nature of Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav. A move that would have challenged the Aussies who have brilliantly pre-planned for orthodox spinners with an avante guarde type of bowler.

The fact they resisted this obvious change highlights a lack of faith in a batting line up that has spluttered for most of the series with only two of their top 6 averaging over 36. On top of this, they have only scored two centuries with both coming in the first innings of this Test. It stands out like dogs balls when you revert to their previous series against England where 9 of their players averaged over 36 on top of 9 centuries scored.

The absence of proper due diligence and associated courage from the Indian selectors puts acid on the team big time in the deciding 4th Test.

A fact that will run a real rule over the real pedigree of an Indian line up viewed as the best in the Test arena.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

All Hail a day of Test Cricket at its finest in Ranchi!

As an neutral onlooker with no allegiance to either Team, this series has left me in captivated awe begging for more

With it showcasing Test cricket at its finest, backdropped by brilliant pitches that have highlighted individuals with real skill, temperament and resolve while ruthlessly exposing impostors along with paper tigers.

Day 4 in Ranchi it highpoint.

With India's number 3 Cheteshwar Pujara playing one of the best innings seen on Indian soil. A 525 ball epic epitomising old style Test batting full of grit, skill, discipline and an endless array of other superlatives I could drag out. It not only delivered a likely knockout blow in this Test to the Aussies but also a standing 8 count for the remaining game of the series.

He was the quintessential tide eroding away the Aussies resistance with a death through a thousand cuts mental disintegration that will leave a lasting legacy. Pujara was the tormentor while Wriddhiman Saha was the silent assassin rising in the face of his inspiration. The nuggetty keeper has such a likeness to Ian Healy with his astute glovework and gritty batting that Indian fans can rely on when a crisis is afoot. The 199 run partnership the pair shared made the bed for Ravendra Jadeja to come in after and strike a free flowing unbeaten 55 ball 54 against a tired and demoralised Aussie attack.

As for the Aussies, they were a mix of heroes and others who withered in the face of the assault. Pat Cummins was superhuman in his bowling, not only in its threat with figures of 106/4 but also his heart. Bowling in just his second first class game in 6 years, to see the fiery quick get through 39 overs that never wavered in the challenges it presented the Indian bats gave one chicken skin. Steven O'Keefe also gained respect with his amazing stamina in bowling 77 overs in the innings along with his ability to adapt in lieu of the Indian batsmen making alterations to counter him after his match winning efforts in the first Test in Pune.

By comparison, his spin twin Nathan Lyon failed miserably a similar challenge. With his only response to the Indian batsmen distinctly changing their guard to him after him obliterating them with 50/8 in the first innings in Bengaluru being bowling fast darts approaching 100kmh that represented money for old rope. It stood out when mirrored by O'Keefe providing threat by lessening and cleverly changing his speeds that Lyon chose such a differing tactic.

Steven Smith's Captaincy was exposed as well. With him letting the game endlessly drift rather than try something a bit different to try to gain back the ascendency. Endlessly turning to Cummins in the hope of another act of brilliance rather than tossing the ball to a few more than handy part timers. Not seeing Smith himself bowl was startling, with his leg spin a liquorice all sorts assortment containing an often unplayable delivery made all the more lethal due to its unexpectedness.

Lastly, and perhaps as pertinent as Cheteshwar Pujara for the opposite reason, Dave Warner.

As the Indian declaration became inevitable stress was etched on the Aussie Vice Captains face in the field. Knowing he had to front up and face a 8 over assault from the Indian spinners with him ruthlessly exposed so far in this series. And to be frank, anytime he has ventured away from the batting paradises of Australia with his Indian average of 23.28 on top of an away average of 35.11 pulling no punches.

Leading to him exposed once more in a 16 ball stay based on hope rather than any semblance of belief. It would never happen because of the connotations for both teams, but a real case could be made for dropping Warner and replacing him with Usman Khawaja at the top of the order for the 4th Test.

His departure, followed quickly by nightwatchman Nathan Lyon, both falling to Ravendra Jadeja left the tourists 23/2 and still 129 runs adrift from making India bat again.

All will fall on Smith and Renshaw to fend off the Indians. If either, or dread the thought for Aussie fans both go cheaply, it could get real ugly, real quick for the tourists.

A likely scenario with Jadeja already looking nigh on unplayable bowling into the footmarks setting up the possibility of even an innings victory for the hosts.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Preview, 3rd Test, India versus Australia

Image result for ranchi third test

As forks in the road go, the remarkable Indian win in the 2nd Test was pivotal in this unexpectedly compelling series.

With it representing a huge momentum shift after India was under real threat of facing a heavy defeat going into day three. Only for the combination of telling lapses by the Aussies letting the hosts off the hook allowing India to take full advantage through their resolve as a unit and lethal skill in the confines.

The momentum in the wake of Bengaluru has become tidal wave like with the Aussies dealt a telling blow losing Mitchell Starc. Starc is irreplaceable in the Aussie 11, not just for his strike bowling and the meaning it represents to the rest of the bowling unit but also his underrated lower order batting that has already proved definitive in the series.

Looking forward to Ranchi and the series going forward, Starc's injury is a standing 8 count that the Aussies will find hard to recover from

Equally as crucial in the turnaround were the renewed tactics of the Indian batsmen to the Aussie spinners who up until that point had been lethal in the series. It led to a quantum leap of returns for the Aussie spin twins of Steven O'Keefe and Nathan Lyon from 234/26 in the first three innings of the series reduced to 118/2 in the pivotal 2nd innings of the 2nd Test. The changed batting guards to counter Lyon after him obliterating the Indian batting in the first innings with 50/8 was a standout. With the guard marked on a more off stump line challenging the off spinner to counter with his line and proving decisive when he failed to do so

It provided a pointer to the impending storm of the Indian top 6 usually resembling a murderers row in home confines awaking from its mysterious slumber.

A worry for the tourist made all the more valid with Virat Kohli astounding all by only averaging 10 so far in the series along with the vastly underrated Murali Vijay strengthening the hosts batting by returning to the top of the order.

Kohli is bound to awaken at some point, it seems an inevitability.

Putting the acid on Australia to counter, raising the question whether they can?

The toss is always crucial in Tests in Asia, but looms series defining in this Test

Australia to stay valid in the series needs to win it, bat long and big.

A scenario that will rely on Dave Warner finding his feet in the conditions after giving rise to his detractors that diminish him as a 'flat track bully'. His Indian average of 24.41 after 6 tests on top of his away record in Tests of 35.82, as opposed to a home average of 59.21 does little to quieten them.

His time is now, particularly in lieu of a top 6 that only has two averaging over 25 in the series.

The loss of Mitch Marsh at 6 to injury will aid the batting but the plan to either insert speculative entities such as Marcus Stoinis or Glenn Maxwell in his place is hardly an answer. Particularly with the duo averaging respectively 17.9 and 25.9 with willow in the Australian first class comp the Sheffield Shield this season. Made worse with the duo playing in the strongest team in the competition, Victoria.

Inserting Usman Khawaja in the top 6 would represent greater sense, particularly with the need for a 5th bowler hardly justified with the spinners getting through so many overs. Fans will point to Khawaja's struggles against spin in Sri Lanka recently, but after a brilliant Summer with bat in Australia, he certainly deserves a chance and fully justifies one before the aforementioned 'bits n pieces' duo masquerading as 'all-rounders'.

If you need further justification for Khawaja, think of Ricky Ponting's initial struggles in Asia and how he adapted to the demands.
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Extending my rant over Khawaja, if he is not at least given a go, then why was he selected for a place on the tour in the first place?????

The other side of the coin is if the toss falls in India's favour and it bats it is likely to represent the first nail in the Aussie coffin in the series.

With them fuelled by their remarkable win in the 2nd test coupled with them slowly getting on top of an Aussie attack now missing a key figure in Starc.

If they post a big first innings score a heavy defeat for the Aussies would not surprise