Chennai: December 15 2008 – A day to remember in Test Cricket

What a test match it was! I have not seen such a run chase in test matches in my whole life, that too in a Day 5 sub-continental pitch that’s damaged and causing uneven bounce. Yes, we are talking about the first test match between England and India in Chennai

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dhoni and his team at the moment looks unstoppable! Mainly due to the amount of positive energy that the captain himself brings in. And this is a super test combination despite Rahul Dravid’s failure at No.3.

Steps to a historic win!

  • Day 1: KP wins the toss and decides to bat on what looked like a super batting wicket. England puts a hundred run opening partnership in a display of controlled and patient batting. Eventually Strauss hits a century and England close day 1 at a reasonable 229/5
  • Day 2: Mat Prior takes England to 300+ and in reply the Indian top order collapses (37/3) with the debutant spinner Swann striking twice. England does exremely well to restrict India to 155/6
  • Day 3: Another day that belonged to England again! They get India all out for 241 taking a 75 runs lead. England puts another strong display in the second innings by finishing 172/3. Strauss again was the man!
  • Day 4: England progresses till lunch but collapses from 257/4 to 311/9 in a display of extremely defencive batting. KP declares with 29 overs remaining for the day and England failing to cross the psychological score of 400. India needs 387 to win with a day and 29 overs remaining! Indian openers walk in, as cool as ice! And it was calm before the storm. Even before KP realized whatever happened, India close their day 4 at 131/1 from just 29 overs! India’s fortunes changes for good! Sehwag scores 83 from just 68 balls!
  • Day 5: With just 256 runs required from 90 overs and a whole day, Sachin Tendulkar plays an innings of his life and takes India to the shore, very well helped by Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh! Nobody has ever seen Tendulkar playing such a patient and beautifully crafted innnigs in his whole career
  • India wins a historic test match with a sub-continent record run chase and fourth best run chase in the history of test cricket!

It’s unfortunate that despite back to back centuries from Andrew Strauss England ended up loosing. But nobody could have stopped a determined Sehwag who changed the course of the game in a matter of an hour and a half during the fag end of Day 4.

The BCCI Annual Contracts are out!

The BCCI’s annual contracts were announced at the right time soon after the famous test win and fittingly enough Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag etc got promoted to the next respective grades. People like Sreesanth who had attitude problems on top of injury and underperformers such as Wasim Jaffer and Robin Uthappa have been downgraded. By dropping Ramesh Pawar, Akash Chopra and Ajit Agarkar the BCCI has sent out a strong message that they are looking forward to the future. At the moment Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar are the only 30 plus players on the side.

The BCCI also showed appreciation towards some of the Under-19 world cup winners by offering them one-year contracts under Grade D.

International Test Teams For the Forthcoming Series

Champions League is gone and so are some one-dayers… So what? Some exciting test match series is in the offing – that too between the closest possible competitors in the current ICC rankings – i.e. No.1 Australia v/s No.2 South Africa, No.3 India v/s No.5 England and No.7 West Indies v/s No.8 New Zealand. It cannot be any better match, right?

Team Selection

Australia: Since it is a home affair for the Australians, they haven’t announced their squads yet. I doubt if they will think anything different in the batting department, especially the top order. In all probabilities Matthew Hayden will be still around. Since there is no match in Adelaide, I feel that Shane Watson might a chance in place of Nathan Hauritz, at least for the Perth encounter. And I hope to see Andrew Symonds fully recovered in this series.

South Africa: No surprises but as usual the spin department – that neither the South African selectors nor the captain himself ever cared about – is weak. They have two of them but both Paul Harris and Peterson are slow left arm orthodox spinners and hence no variety. And moreover, they may not have the skills that bowlers like Nikki Boje had. No changes in the batting department but where is Andre Nel in their famous pace battery? Did he get injured or something?? Nel and his aggression could have been handy in Australia.

The pre-series press encounters have started already and this time, for a change, between the coaches.

India: Yuvraj Singh coming back to the test side is the big news and RP Singh, who seems to be captain’s favorite, is out. The spin department looks versatile and with a lot of options. Pragyan Ojha gets a chance and Amit Mishra is retained as well. But I thought Piyush Chawla would have been a better choice with his batting abilities as well. Batting line up has not been changed except for the retired Ganguly. Rahul Dravid has been given more time and it is a sensible act. Another good decision is not to drop M. Vijay who showcased exceptional temperament in the series against Australia. If it was for the old selection panel, they would have probably dropped him by now. Badarinath, though not so convincing yet in the international arena, gets blessings from the selection committee chairman! The pace team looks good as well without any change. However, I wonder whatever happened to S.Sreesanth? Is he permanently out of the team due to his on and off field heroics or is it genuine injury and lack of match fitness? India’s test team looks really strong and versatile right now!

England: I doubt if England will do anything good in this test series mainly because of their batting line up. Except for Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Alistair Cook, their batting line up looks very weak. As for bowling, Panesar should add the required punch especially under the Indian conditions. Pace bowling would have been great if Ryan Sidebottom was in and Harmison was doing a good job. So Indian, especially under the Indian conditions, should be going for a kill in this series.

West Indies & New Zealand: Unfortunately both New Zealand and West Indies do not have quality batting line up to excel in test matches. The New Zealand team can be a good one day side but they need to figure out what it takes to build a test team. With some experienced players still around, the West Indian team may look better in the batting. But in the bowling department the New Zealand pacemen and Vettori together may do a better job than WI. This series still can be a close encounter – that between two under-prepared teams.

Looking forward to an exciting test season!

Australia – New Zealand test series – 1st Test Review

We had an exceptional test match at the Gabba, Brisbane that highlighted the bowling performances mainly, by both the teams. Barring Michael Clarke and Simon Katich in the first and second innings respectively there were not any great batting performances. Good to see that Michael Clarke is getting more and more ready to take over the reigns where as the always sidelined and soft spoken Katich is suddenly everything of Australia’s top order with Hayden and Ponting miseries continuing.

New Zealand’s Lazy approach after initial spurt

Time and again this has happened. I thought, New Zeland got out of this mode after Vettori started showing more and more fighting spirit and pouring in more inspiration. But none of the New Zealand batsmen showed the intend to stay longer and infact, they lost the match on second day itself. After restricting Australia to a mere 214 in the first innings, they should have taken a vital 40-50 runs lead in the first innings. Had the game spread into the whole of 4th day, things could have been different.

Pace Bowling…

This is the first time I am seeing the teenager Kiwi, Thimothy Southee bowling! In fact, after seeing him ripping through Aussies’ top order in the first innings, I thought a new star is born for NZ. Anyways, Chris Martin is getting a little older. The Martin-Southee-O’Brien pace combo looks good though the main difference between the New Zealand pace team and other test playing nations pace battery is that NZ doesn’t have a quality left hand pace bowler. Nevertheless, this is one of their finest attacks in years.

I guess we are talking too much about the NZ bowling here. Australian bowling attack seems to have regrouped very well after they fell apart in the dead pitches of India.

Hayden and Ponting

Both these old stalwarts failed miserably again. Ponting is also finding it difficult to cope with his low over-rates yet again. According to me the main problem here are two:

1. Not having a quality spin bowler who could bowl 20 or 25 overs in two or three spells every day. The all-pace attack usually consumes more time.
2. Too many left-right hand combinations in the opposition team.

It is high time the Australian think tank did something about this issue. This can also prove to be bad for the opposition team as their momentum is sometimes lost due to Ponting overdoing stuff on the field.

Despite the victory, the Australian team is not the same again and I am predicting that their downside is yet to be seen (along side the recession that the world is witnessing right now)

Tail Piece: The media seems to be too much obsessed with what Andrew Symonds is doing on a daily basis. I guess, it’s time to leave the talented all rounder alone so that he gets back on track as early as possible.

Border – Gavaskar series is back!

Australian cricket team has just landed in India. I am sure the Indian fans are looking forward to the event, still remembering the 2001 series. Some of the stalwarts from that memorable series is still with the Indian team where as Australia has a much more changed outlook.

Very Very Special series

When it comes to a series against Australia the name that comes to an Indian fan’s mind is not that of Tendulkar or Dravid! It is all about Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman who relishes the Australian bowling attack – does not matter whether it is spin or pace. This time around, age has caught up with him but the fans are still looking forward to witness yet another Very Very Special inning. Fitness and whether permitting, Laxman will be completing his 100th test in this series as he has now 96 test caps and it is a 4-test match series.

After VVS it’s all about Dravid and Bajji and I sincerely hope that Kumble along with Bajji will do some magic this time around. And more importantly, this could be one of the last two or three series for Kumble and he MUST give some opportunity for budding spinners as well. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if they play three spinners in at least two matches in this series.

As Tendulkar is not present, there will be additional headache for Dravid. Hopefully a younger batsman (not Yuvraj) will also get a chance to prove his worth. India’s ODI captain, returning to the test squad, will also use this opportunity to improve his test form as well as gain some learning to take over reigns from Kumble soon.

The Australian Team

Compared to the Indian team, the aussies have an inexperienced but a tougher team. The youngsters on the side must be looking forward to a great opportunity to play in India which Steve Waugh called the Final Frontier. Althogh, the jinx was broken in the last visit, playing in the sub-continent is still not an easy thing for the Aussies. Ponting would love to find some form in India during this series and Michael Clarke will have a great apprenticeship as he prepares to take over the captaincy in another two years!

There are also three youngsters, on the side, whom I haven’t heard about before… Hope the debutant quickies Peter Siddle and (the tall) Doug Bollinger along with the oldie debutant spinner Bryce McGain will duly support Lee, Johnson, Clark and Watson in their respective departments. Jason Krejza is the new allrounder and that makes almost 25% of the team inexperienced. Though the bowling department has a very good representation, the batting looks pretty week for Australia. With Ponting never finding form in India, Matthew Hayden and Mike Hussey will have an enhance role to play and hopefully Phil Jacques, Simon Catich and Shane Watson will find some form against the Indian spin attack.

I only hope that no dust bowls will be prepared by the groundmen this time. Of course, the venues are picked in a balancing act with Mohali/Nagpur offering some bounce and Delhi/Bangalore are pancake flat pitches made for Bajji and Kumble.

Anyways, looking forward to see a wonderful test match series…

Lankan tigers roar!

The first test match between India and Sri Lanka has been something that I was looking forward to due to the changes in umpiring rules. Though it was exciting to see that a couple of umpiring decisions were taken after referrals to third umpire, the whole match was pretty boring with the clueless Indians succumbing to a superior side that was brimming with confidence, skills and professionalism.

Ajanta Mendis, after his heroics in the Asia cup, led by the wizard of spin, gave no chance to the Indians to even put together a decent fight. If you consider the rain affected time, the Lankans managed to beat the Indian in roughly three days, a feat that Australia has been doing for a while.

Momentum favored Lanka

Following their Asia cup win, the Lankans really managed to maintain the momentum. The good thing with them was that the majority of their one-day players also figure in the test team and hence the momentum clearly favored them. The decision to debut Mendis was a great one and the youngster did not disappoint the selectors, his captain and his country men. The Indians on the other hand have been fielding a bunch of middle-aged men that have been lacking match practice and athleticism for a while now.

The Twenty20 hangover

The Indians (and their cricket body) are also not really getting out of their T20 mode yet. Though the side claimed to have the best test batsmen combination on earth, that was only on paper. Moreover, they lacked a game plan against the best spinning side in the world! There have been complaints that the placid pitch did not add to the spirit of the game, but that was only a lame excuse and the batting collapse cannot be forgiven.

In the meanwhile, the Indian cricket think tank is busy taking on ICL and the English Cricket board in order to secure more money via the T20 format for the future as well. They are also helping out Pakistan’s cause to make sure that the Champions trophy is played in the neighbor country. Among all these high profile agenda items, test cricket seems to be taking the backseat. The Sri Lankan board at the same time is reiterating the fact that they have a clear plan for the test cricket. Arjuna Ranatunga even made a statement that the Sri Lankan players should quit IPL 2009 in order to take part in the England tour completely. I liked that attitude of the Lankans.

I hope that in the coming matches, the Indians would regroup and adapt. As I mentioned in the last post, the ideal thing to do was not to play all five or six old men together but rest one at a time and rotate them with youngsters. The case is the same with the spin bowlers as well (even if it would mean that Kumble has to rest in a match). If not, the Indians can expect a 0-2 or even 0-3 loss at the hands of the Lankans.

Does Bangladesh deserve to play test matches?

I just finished watching the record breaking opening stand of 415 runs between Graem Smith and Neil McKenzie during the second test between Bangladesh and S.Africa. The record definitely was a boon to Graem Smith who didn’t have a very good run in the recent past. And for a mediocre test cricketer like Neil McKenzie, a double ton – and only third century in 44 matches – assisted by poor bowling & fielding, pancake flat pitch and fast outfield was more than winning the super lotto!

Bangladesh had their downs and some ups in the limited over cricket arena. Their ex-couch, Dave Whatmore, groomed a better fielding side comprising of a bunch of aggressive youngsters with some batting and bowling abilities, during his stint as the national coach. His success as a coach included Bangladesh handing an unexpected blow to the Indian team during their first round exit from last world cup. However, what even Mr. Whatmore could not do is to turn around their fortunes in the longer format of the game.

Since Bangladesh got into the test playing nations’ league in 2000, they have played 53 matches and managed to win only one against an ever weakening Zimbabwe side. Not winning is still acceptable for a budding test side, but not having no more than five draws out of 50 plus matches shows how weak this test side is. Other teams like Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe had put together a better show and steady improvement after they qualified to play test matches 15-20 years back. But Bangladesh doesn’t seem to get their act together at all despite having a couple of good bowlers and a good attacking batsman in the form of Mohammed Ashraful.

It is high time ICC looked into this matter and disqualified Bangladesh from playing test matches. Otherwise the Bangladesh board themself should step down from the league like the example set by Zimbabwe last year. The other option is to have two different test leagues. The first division league consisting of Australia, England, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and a second division league having Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Kenya etc. As and when the quality of their cricket improves they can qualify to play the first division or premier league. If not, it will only help certain modern day batsmen to pile up records against weaker nations!