Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

It is something of an unfortunate oddity that the first test of the 2013 Ashes will be remembered more for dubious umpiring decisions as against the tide of sinusoidal sessions that have tilted the scales back and forth.

Swann’s exploits on a fourth day turner shifted the focus from otherwise folkloristic fervors provided by Bell, Broad and Beer (did you observe the stands these days?) all day. Swann’s delivery to dismiss Phil Hughes tested the very limits of technology, fractional math and yet another umpire’s uncertainty. Though Dharmasena can be absolved of blame in this instance. Technology won, and as many voices echoed, Cook has been the wiser of the two captains in effectively putting the DRS to use.

With a target of 300+ on the cards given the way Broad and Bell closed Day 3, Australia did well enough to restrict the lead to 310. A brilliant fight back followed Bell’s, possibly, match-winning century, and Broad’s fighting fifty. Siddle cleaned off the lower order to take his tally to 8 for the match. On a slow, low wicket, Siddle’s performance has been very commendable.

Australia’s response was reminiscent of the team they once were. Watson’s aggression setting the tone for a combative start, at the same time deriving an unspoken sense of satisfaction through Roger’s solid, defensive methods at the other end. Granted, the reality didn’t turn out to be quite as effective as their yesteryear opening stands. Australia’s top order woes continuously point to how no batsman is ready to proclaim a new dawn of Australian supremacy. The elite always ensure self-perpetuation.

Cowan fell victim to Joe Root’s first wicket in Test Cricket, offering a shot similar to that of the one he played against the pace of Finn in the first innings – only to be caught at slip. Earlier, Watson’s unsuccessful use of the DRS, after being trapped in front off a Broad in-swinger, proved yet another case of the all-rounder’s solid start not being converted in to a bigger score.

Rogers laid a strong foundation with his maiden fifty in Australian colors

Chris Rogers, resembling an old, bespectacled, gritty Lance Corporal looked every inch an effective blocker, notching up his first fifty before chipping Anderson to mid-wicket. David Saker’s dramatics from the pavilion indicated a well framed plan to reduce the pace off the odd ball to make Rogers play a touch early. Or whatever it was, it worked.

With much hope sheltering on the willows of Clarke and Smith, a brief spell of play indicated their resilience towards battling it out in the middle. A slow, but steady, progress towards keeping the scoreboard ticking threw brief light on a slow Australian recovery. But Broad and Swann had different ideas.

Within no time, Clarke, to his dismay, yet again inclining towards the DRS, unsuccessfully questioned Aleem Dar’s decision to declare him out caught behind off Broad. Swann sent Smith back after deceiving Smith with his guile, making him play back to a delivery that spun a mile and caught the Aussie trapped plumb in front.

Swann’s role on Day 5 will be critical towards England taking a lead this Ashes

Hughes followed to a successfully DRS-referred lbw decision by England, with Dharmasena turning the initial appeal down. The Sri Lankan couldn’t have been blamed for thinking that the ball pitched outside leg, for the replays showed a very thin margin that had fifty percent of the ball within the danger zone. A whiff the other way would’ve had pundits lauding the precision of Dharmasena’s eagle eye.

Agar’s dynamic innings with happy dashes of flair earned him a promotion up to number 8 in the second innings. Say what you want about him being a debutant, but he kept a still head to face off 24 balls to close off the last session.

With plenty needed for the Australians, England clearly have the upper hand to take a 1-0 lead. Swann holds the key on a wicket that appears to oddly turn like a minefield. But we all know what happened last innings don’t we?


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

You can carp over England’s performance over the first three days up to a certain point all you like, with a fair sense of justification around loose strokes and a couple of idea-devoid sessions on Day 2. But you can’t accuse them of at least not trying to salvage some morale through responsible batting during the second innings.

Ian Bell, as he’d shown over many an innings post his maturity, finished the day unbeaten on a well-paced 95 – an innings that tilted the scales towards England. He’s mastered the art of wearing down bowlers; waiting for the right occasion to unleash his aesthetic drives through the off-side. He is what the likes of Phil Hughes and Rohit Sharma should become – boys who entered the international scene with immense potential, waiting to grow in to men who can carry the burden of expectations on their shoulders moving forward.

Bell's gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s gritty, unbeaten 95 help steady a ship that otherwise was ready to run off course

Bell’s style is placed on simple principles coupled with a style that pleases the eye. But what he lacked initially was a quality that he’s gained, and gained substantially well over the last three years. The boy became a man with a few match-saving, and winning, innings in South Africa – a fluent 140 followed by a persistent 78 against the likes of Steyn, Morkel and co.

A successful Ashes followed down under, before the perils of the turning ball in the subcontinent raised a few eyebrows over his technique under such conditions. But he’s recovered strong enough to pose as a fulcrum of the middle order at 5 – acting as the meat of the sandwich between the flamboyant, boisterous Pietersen and the exuberant, young Bairstow.

Bell, like Cook and Pietersen earlier, showed a lot of intent towards occupying the crease for as long as he could. So did Broad, who refused to walk after edging one to Clarke at slip off Agar, off a deflection courtesy Haddin’s gloves. Australia had no reviews left.

How Aleem Dar failed to notice that will remain an unsolved mystery. Broad’s deadpan expression following that was a classic. But the notion of walking rarely gets mentioned especially when these two teams meet. England will point to the Hot-Spot blunder that presented Trott his first golden duck in Test Cricket as a karmic equivalence. Clarke didn’t seem too pleased. But the game already has had its fair share of contentious decisions.

Haddin made a nuisance out of himself by dropping Bell in the very next over, a fairly difficult chance though. Australia desperately needed a wicket if their dreams weren’t to feel totally futile. They’d toiled hard to get Pietersen and Cook before lunch, after which Matt Prior threw away his wicket to a needless shot that matched his wicket-throwing first innings stroke.

Australia responded to the doggedness shown by Bell and Broad, but not with too much vigor. Agar got plenty of bounce, showed encouraging signs of proving his mettle as a bowler. It was a shame that his team had no reviews left when Broad smashed one off his edge to Clarke. At the other end, Bell was given plenty of opportunities to commit himself to the expansive drive – a temptation that he intelligently restricted, especially of the bowling of Shane Watson.

He played late, played his shots with soft hands to construct an aptly paced innings given the circumstances. England had plenty of time at their disposal, with an ardent need to keep the scoreboard ticking. Any run rate freeze would’ve exposed them to the risk of a collapse resembling their first innings domino. If a lead of 250 was their first milestone, they got there comfortably with Bell and Broad well stuck in.

The Australians were forced in to redrawing their contingency plans for chasing a score that appeared to cross 300. Not every innings can script a record breaking tenth wicket stand. England’s continued resistance crystallized the notion that they aren’t a weary shadow of the team that clinched the Ashes down under last year.

There was a sense of staleness about the Australian attack when things didn’t go their way. As Broad and Bell ticked on, Pattinson tried every trick in his young repository of skills to reverse the red cherry. His valiant attempts, though, didn’t yield a wicket.

The first session of Day 4 will decide the likely outcome of the first test. Many a skeptics fear of the game unlikely to run on to the fifth day can be buried to rest, unless a dramatic Australian collapse exhibits itself tomorrow. Or if they manage to chase down 300 odd with a series of Agar-ian innings.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Inventors are held in high esteem, albeit the fact that some of the best discoveries and inventions have been a by-product of an accident. Corn Flakes. Microwave Ovens. Post-it notes. Potato Chips. And Ashton Agar, the batsman.

Theory could point to the fact that his inclusion was intent to shatter Pietersen’s psychological stumps. Forget Lyon’s form with the ball, or the bat in hindsight for the time being. At 117/9, most would’ve expected Cook and Root to have been practicing their bat swings with their mindsets sold to the idea of getting ready to bat anytime soon.

At lunch, the scoreboard read 229/9. By the time the Australian innings came to a close, Agar fell agonizingly short of a record-book inscribing century on debut by a number 11 batsman.

Poor old Hughes would’ve wondered why God was so hostile to him. After years of living up to a label that read ‘one of Australia’s biggest unfulfilled promises’, he ended up having the best seat in the house to witness a teenage debutant, at number 11, overshadow his gritty performance. One which has been long overdue. The game of cricket has a funny way of biting you at times.

Agar’s no mug with the bat though. His first class record spanning 10 games paints a batting average of 33, with 3 fifties to his name. You could’ve been forgiven for associating these stats to a young, promising teenage batsman coming out of the intimidating Australian setup.

His brand of batting against Finn, Anderson and Swann was fearless. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t have fears, he batted in spite of knowing that some of those deliveries could have sent him back to the pavilion – be it the scorcher that sent Clarke home, or the wild turner that left Haddin perplexed.  He survived a stumping early in his innings. And then hit Swann for six a few overs later.

Ashton Agar's dream debut ended two runs short of a century

Ashton Agar’s dream debut ended two runs short of a century

Within no time, he became the first number 11 in the history of the game to score a fifty on debut. And as if to demonstrate his acclimatization, he sent Swann over long on for his second six of the day. I wonder what Glenn McGrath would’ve made of this innings. It was, quite frankly, a ridiculously brilliant session.

Tino Best had flirted similarly with the English bowlers batting at number 11 last summer. He ended up five runs short of a deserved hundred. In the shorter format, England had the Champions Trophy robbed off their sights when a last wicket partnership by the West Indians sent the trophy packing to the Caribbean. That made it feel even more inexcusable to have sullied England’s reputation towards cleaning off the tail. It is staggering that it has come to this again.

By the time Australia had bowled themselves out for 280, Agar holed out to deep midwicket two runs short of an outrageous hundred. And as Shane Warne, exhibitor of the game of cricket’s most painful and agonizingly just-short-of-a-hundred moment, will attest, this will be etched in the pages of the history book forever. It was as though William Dear’s Angels in the Outfield was being staged live a couple of decades later. And to think this hugely contentious game opened on Day 2 amid great hopes of an English ascendancy.

Finn’s struggles with the ball locked one end to disparity, while Stuart Broad’s injury meant that he just about had enough in him to bowl a few overs, go for aplenty but walk away with undoubtedly the most crucial wicket of the day. Whether Broad’s fitness played a role in England’s inability to wipe off the Australian tail is something we wouldn’t know, but Agar’s batting certainly didn’t seem to possess any real weakness that a fully fit Broad could have exploited.

As we move towards Day 3, with England ahead by a few having lost Root and Trott to Starc, the home team have a monumental psychological barrier to conquer before they start entertaining any hopes of taking a lead in the series by the time they leave Nottingham.

Well played Ashton Agar. And spare a thought for Phil Hughes.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Consider this.

In the days just before the closely contested Ashes, Andy Murray wins the Wimbledon. Australia’s tactical blunders during the lead-up seem painfully obvious on either camp. It becomes mysterious to note how certain writers, or former cricketers, magically understood and responded to the sacking of Mickey Arthur, and the installment of Darren Lehmann, as an ingenious move towards Australia being tilted as favorites.

The English press doesn’t need an excuse to run tactical, negative campaigns – they take every opportunity to remind the public, and the Australians, about their self-inflicted chaos, unrelenting in their desire to also publish demi-god narratives around Cook and Murray, often providing the much needed humor bordering sledgehammer stupidity.

I suspect that the Australians saw past the outright cynicism being depicted. Handing Agar his debut was a reflection of their experimental attitude, coupled with a huge dose of self-confidence. Or his services for a solitary Pietersen wicket. And England’s choice of Steven Finn over Tim Bresnan, whose statistics at Trentbridge and ability to reverse swing would’ve made him an automatic choice hands down, sent a puzzling message.

The lack in parity to this series’ build-up, given the absence of pyrotechnics involving verbatim mouthfuls that we have so been used to, was nullified by sessions two and three of Day 1. Australia’s bowling wasn’t as portentous as a score of 215 would indicate, rather an obvious display of England becoming victims of their self-aggrandizing stroke decision making had the writing on the wall. And what could pose as a better example than the loose stroke Cook played to unscrew the wheels of his parked bus that fetched him in excess of 700 runs the last times the two teams met.

Peter Siddle

Siddle’s Five-For sparked off the Ashes once again © The Australian

That doesn’t deny the due credit Peter Siddle deserves for his five-for. A game of test cricket is about remaining patient, waiting to exploit the right opportunity and the right time. And that is precisely what Siddle did, inducing the Englishmen in to playing strokes they otherwise wouldn’t have.

It isn’t often that you get a chance to see a frustrated Trott at the crease, his suicidal whiff of the wand outside off-stump ending what otherwise looked a promising, foundation-laying 48. Australia’s plan of bowling straight at Trott reaped few results, with the number 3 batsman happy to work anything around middle-off-outside-off down the leg side.

Only a shot as un-Trottesque as that could’ve sent him back to the pavilion. Chris Rogers would’ve been in his nappies the last time Trott would’ve even thought of playing such a shot. Siddle’s figures would have been a mere footnote had Pietersen and Trott not succumbed to loose shots.

A brief period of counter-attacking batsmanship featuring Broad and Bairstow was otherwise what threw hopes of England posing a decently sizeable total. A momentary lapse in concentration sent Broad back home, followed by a classical Bairstow dismissal – playing all around a straight delivery. England crashed down like a pack of cards placed in front of a table fan.

And so did Australia’s top order. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking that the same sample set of batsmen swapped shirts after seven minutes, and continued their tryst with flaying at deliveries outside off stump. And so did Clarke to the delivery that almost got Finn his hat-trick.

The margins of success between a good and a bad shot played to a ball outside off stump are so inconsiderable that video analyses are unlikely to render anything qualitative. On another day, the shots played by Watson and Cowan could have ended up in the cover boundary. But they played them early, all right. If a naked eye couldn’t spot it, observing how late Chris Rogers played the ball at the other end stood a relative frame of reference. Experience counts.

So does luck. Or brilliance, however you see it. With the initial limelight on Finn and his pace, it took a peach of a ball from Anderson to get rid of Michael Clarke, almost as though the occasion was saved for England’s spearhead bowler to get rid of Australia’s most dangerous batsman. Any hope that Australia harbored on their captain to deliver was smoke-screened by a late out-swinger that kissed the top-of-off. Clarke would’ve fallen victim to that, whether he’d been on 0, or 150.

James Anderson lived up to expectations with a classic out-swinger that sent Clarke back home

James Anderson lived up to expectations with a classic out-swinger that sent Clarke back home

It looks a platform that would require the patience of an archetypal anchorman to crawl through to a hundred. Smith’s unsure methods, indicated by his ‘little boy waiting in a dentist’s room’ nervousness towards the not-so-short deliveries, laid the onus on veteran Rogers, playing his second test, to sail the Australian towards safer shores.

But the old statesman didn’t last long, falling leg-before to a straight delivery from Anderson and knocking of a tally from the review count as he walked back. With Graeme Swann still awaiting a swing of his arms, there seemed every possibility of another wicket falling given the Englishman’s healthy track record of a guaranteed scalp within his first few overs. And that the badly out-of-form Phil Hughes walked in at six.

It makes you wonder the sort of message that is being sent across when a batsman of the caliber of Smith is sent ahead of Hughes. Not to doubt the former’s ability, he is a gritty individual but isn’t considered in the same league of batsmen as Phil Hughes is, although recent statistics won’t point necessarily so.

But to his credit, Smith started looking more assured with every ball faced. He started playing with soft hands, often removing his bottom hand off the grip to place the ball delicately between fielders for quick singles. His determination wins over his not so quaint technique.

And with a day lasting as long as a Djokovic preamble to a serve, a pleasantly surprising feature of an English summer, England hold the edge on a day that would’ve had them made read unpleasant verdicts of themselves during the innings break. What a comeback to spark the Ashes!

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

One of the weird aspects of understanding cricket and captaincy is that by the time you’re mature enough to appreciate it, you have much less opportunity to do so. In particular, I was never a fan of Darren Sammy (who was?) – his inclusion in the West Indian squad, at all times, seemed more bemusing than watching Piyush Chawla get out of the Indian team bus today.

What seemed easier than trying to decipher the logic behind this was to merely acknowledge his role in fielding a team that has been through a lot of turbulence – I’d even read somewhere that Steve Waugh had called Darren Sammy to offer a few words of advice when he became captain. Was I too young / immature to acknowledge his role?

Gary says No!

Goutham and I had a chance to say hi to Garry Redman, a Barbadian living in the United Kingdom – we’d spotted him sitting a few rows away from where we were during the game between Ireland and Australia.

Gary was more than happy to answer a few questions that Goutham had with respect to a few critical issues from the West Indian team. To begin with, unsurprisingly, he names Chris Gayle as his pick for the Player of the Tournament award, and that he was here in Sri Lanka to “see the West Indies take this trophy home.”

When questioned on his views about Darren Sammy, he curtly replied: “He has taken Andre Russell’s place in the squad.” (more…)