Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

In the midst of Test Cricketing doldrums, the Indians have been beset by yet another storm that has washed away its final chance of salvaging some pride this series.  Yet again, the Indians find themselves in a position on Day One where the result seems inevitably favoring the opposition. True enough, the mystery behind a slump in form – spanning seven tests – remains.

India’s batting collapses have been well documented since the commencement of the England tour last summer. And (un)fortunately, there’s nothing new that a writer can add to throw more light to this crisis.  It is easy to gain the impression that nothing is happening behind the scenes, and in truth, it appears as though not much was. A titanic squad on paper has been relegated to the backbenches of cricketing credibility.

Lack of faith in the current team to reverse the premonitions seem evident, and entirely rational: another short-term spark is needed to ignite the fused morale, as is a long term veteran replacement plan to throw some hope in to the future, but both seem beyond any imaginable degree of capability now. These impulses are largely altruistic – precisely the reason why a change, even though rightfully claimable, has escaped the thoughts of selectors forever. Individual interests seem to have taken precedence over larger interests.

Amidst a fierce recession in Indian standards, David Warner stepped into the WACA, with a mere four caps against his name, to rewrite record books. The intensity of his innings remains an awe-inspiring memory, given how the Indian batting had made the spectators, initially, believe that there was something in the wickets for the bowlers to exploit. Record books will indicate that four out of the seven fastest test centuries have been made at this venue – highlighting the fact that if you can play pace and bounce well, you’re likely to succeed at the WACA.

Warner feasts on Indian Curry during his way to a record breaking ton © Daily Mail

The cynical Indian will point his fingers at Sehwag for having planted the thought of Test Cricket in Warner’s mind during the inaugural edition of the IPL. Warner reminded us of a young Viru who took pleasure in decimating bowling attacks, and it is no wonder incidental that the closest shave Warner had was an LBW appeal from a Sehwag offie. Cowan, at the other end, remained solid and firm to remind fans of the successful, if brief, partnership that Sehwag and Chopra had formed during India’s tour down under back in 2003/04.

Warner delightfully gathered runs at levels and rates at which Iran perceivably enriches Uranium. And it doesn’t look as though either is likely to stop anytime soon. Warner’s willow seemed to possess the venom that the Indian pacers lacked. At times, it would have appeared cruel to be judgmental on the Indian bowlers given how Warner dismissed even good deliveries to the fence. His assault crippled Indians hopes of revival and there seem to be no evidence that Day Two would promise change in fortunes, given how implicitly the bowling has qualified cluelessness.

Warner, thus far, has looked as rigorous in dismissing bowling attacks as the Indians have struggled to cope with it. The Indian batting, to begin with, painted a diametrically opposite picture with batsmen clearly looking lost in a wicket that didn’t even closely resemble the nature as described during the buildup.

Hilfenhaus continued from where he left off at Sydney, and Starc, who’d come in place of Lyon, silenced any doubters over the four-man pace attack by grabbing two wickets. Although, in hindsight, it would’ve appeared as though playing a spinner wouldn’t have been all that bad an idea. The only resistance offered by the opposition was via Kohli and Laxman who, briefly, looked as though they were doing a decent job rebuilding the innings.

The Aussie pacers had other ideas. As did Warner, subsequently. With one record firmly under his belt, it wouldn’t be all that unrealistic to imagine the possibility of him breaking more as the Test progresses. Unfortunately for the Indians, the harsh reality of a Formula One Race lasting longer than a solid innings would give their go-karting skills little to brag over.

Goutham Chakravarthi

India stand to lose more than just the series when the third Test gets underway on Friday morning. Talks of both teams going with four quick bowlers have donned the headlines over the last two days, but they have been just a sub-text in a week dominated by Haddin’s claims on India being a side not needing much to turn on each other and Zaheer’s counter claims to it. Perhaps, Haddin folding his hands and saying, “Friday the 13th… be scared India…. be very scared…” is sillier than Hrithik Roshan calling this the Agneepath series. Even though some of the cricket from India in Sydney was pretty silly, none could match these sequence of events over the last week.

From being touted to be the best opening pair in the world two seaons ago, Gambhir and Sehwag have largely disappointed. They were Batman and Robin, Holmes and Watson, and Bryan and Bryan: irresistible and scintillating. They would thrill with their strokeplay and running between the wickets. One would sneeze and the other would catch a cold. Two close pals, one a genius on his day, and the other, a determined soul, needing each other more than ever before to turn it around for themselves and for their team. They set the tone and their form usually dictates how well India do as a batting unit.

If they can give India a good start, India will fancy their chances. Photo: AFP

Yes, in their heyday, this team would turnaround every friction, banter and abuse to its advantage. They were among the most respected and tough bunches going around. Yet, with reasons, firstly, with injuries, and now with age, the reasons for decline have not been arrived at. Some have pointed out to Fletcher’s incoming to this team coinciding with its dipping fortunes, but, the coach and the team swear by the culture and insist that nothing has changed.

The reason for India’s declining fortunes is directly proportional to its waning batting performances. India’s planning in the Tests has not been as prudent as it has been in the one-dayers. It took a hard stand to leave out the likes of Laxman, Dravid and Ganguly and groom youngsters and reaped benefits. A similar attempt in Tests has never materialized.

India goes into Perth with little confidence and/or collective form. A green pitch might guarantee 20 wickets for both sides. There in lies India’s best chance. The chasm between the sides has been Australia’s bowling. India’s bowling has been inconsistent and seems to rise and fall with Zaheer’s mood and health. Should the wicket encourage a three day Test, the result will hinge on a crucial 70 here or there, and, right now, that seems to be the best the Indian middle-order seems to be able to produce.

Over the next few days, this Indian team will not just fight the Fremantle Doctor and the Aussies for the series, but for their immediate future. While the right thing would be to blood a couple of youngsters, it is difficult to imagine this team management opting for that. For long, consistency in its team selection counted among its strengths, now, it might have come back to haunt them.

Australia go in as favourites, but the pitch might give India a chance to pull one back.

You can read preview from the Australian camp here.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Mind games with the Aussies, much akin to the way they play cricket themselves is about attack and more attack. Rarely courteous and often lacking an element of political correctness, the ‘mind-game’ quotient is always deferential to the raw aggression at the core of their intent. The channels through which these thoughts become manifest, apart from media headlines, is via the Aussie crowds’ seascape of humor: from inflammatory jibes to stirring loud-mouthed opinions.

Australia’s most potent 12th man is the collection of chants emanating from the dry-humored men amidst the high terraces of Aussie arenas. And as the stage moves to the West, Australia’s quasi-twelfth men look as though they’d have a greater impact on the Indians than the current Australian top order.

It should be noted however that two, out of the three, top order places currently occupied are stop-gap solutions to what otherwise is a better laid plan. Injuries, and lack of a better idea, are what still keeps Cowan and Marsh at the top – although this might sound a lot lesser harsher than what it really conveys. No individual can be thoroughly judged in the context of two games, but given today’s competition for places, such thoughts become inevitable.

Perth demonstrates how Cricket is Going Green © Resource2 News

A green and bouncy Perth wicket would mean as much joy to the bowlers as it would mean misery to some of the Aussie batsmen. Given their record against the moving ball of late, it would be a surprise to see a greenish top (even if reports claim so) given how the Aussie batsmen have been found wanting under such conditions.

The selectors can afford to be cagey though, given the middle order spark of late, and decide to stick to the winning combination for the rest of the series. That would mean that further lack of runs from either Cowan or Marsh (and even Warner to an extent) would be ignominious to their reputations perpetually. And players, who’ve traditionally taken this route, ended up not witnessing further international action, or in some cases, revived their careers after a rather large period of isolation and strong domestic performances. Marsh, a Perth local, would especially want to capitalize on home soil.

In the process of admiring Clarke’s feats, the revival of Ricky Ponting and the gusty temperament of Michael Hussey, the other side of the equation – the pace bowling department’s steadiness throughout – has been overlooked. Sure, the likes of young Cummins and Pattinson would’ve relished a wicket like Perth to bowl on, but the tendency to repeatedly catalogue young, exciting fast bowlers has not ended up giving Hilfenhaus and Siddle the credit they deserve. Whether a four man pace attack at Perth would be an option envisioned is yet to be ascertained, but over-rate concerns apart, the idea may not seem all that farfetched.

Ryan Harris would be an automatic choice to fill the void left by Pattinson. Having not played since being injured during the tour of Sri Lanka, Perth would be an ideal venue to resume duties. As for Mitchell Starc, the question lingering around the four man pace attack would have to be answered before his name pops up on the team sheet. Given his height and the steep bounce he is likely to generate, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he lines up with his team mates at Perth, leaving Nathan Lyon to warm the bench this time.

Unlike Sydney, where the focus was largely on the numbers gathered by the middle order batsman, Perth would give the audiences an opportunity to witness what pace and bounce can do to unsettle batsmen. Given that age has caught up with most of the Indian batsmen, their reflexes would be tested beyond imaginable measure by the Aussie attack, which would, like the previous tests, target taking twenty wickets before the final day dawns. But with the visitors having triumphed at Perth last tour, complacency may find very little space in the Aussie dressing rooms.

You can read preview from the Indian camp here.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

If Michael Clarke had hoped for a better start to the New Year, I yearn to know what his desires were.

Surely, a triple hundred, and the prized scalp of a legend approaching a significant landmark wouldn’t have found its place even in his wildest of dreams. Pup is not only a full grown dog now; he is a monster. And he is growing in size.

Clarke has not only answered his critics in style, he’s done it with the aura that each and every one of his predecessor possessed. He doesn’t seem as arrogant or as tough as Border, Waugh or Ponting; he’s more the Mark Taylor mould – a postulate that might help reason why he declared when he was batting on 329, with more than a couple of days left.

But what Clarke faces, rather pleasingly, is the challenge of grooming promising youngsters with immense potential to restructure a team that craves to regain lost glory. The Australian team has checked every box in the ‘To-Do list of Champion Sides’ during the course of these two Tests. They have transformed myth by harnessing promising young talent through seemingly undistinguished youngsters, and an odd ex-grounds man, who defied every limitation placed on traditional Australian selection policies.

The only drawback of this approach was over-burn, an opinion echoed by Steve Waugh during the rise of young, raw fast bowlers with limited first class experience. Pattinson’s injury blow follows the fate experienced by Pat Cummins post the South Africa series. How the selectors handle this issue would be interesting to watch. Their visitor counterparts, on the other hand, have a bigger share of headaches to address.

Some of us soothsayers may have well read the writing on the wall on the completion of Day One – that the Sydney Test wouldn’t last the five days. As much as we love to cherish the memories of Kolkata 2001, it is nice to remind ourselves every now and then that the Kolkata Test deserves its place in history as an event that no romantic would like to see a repeat of.

When the Aussies win, they win in style. And no one can take that away from them. Age didn’t seem a barrier when one witnessed the likes of Ponting and Hussey, both past their mid-thirties, steal quick singles or convert twos in to threes. In truth, their fielding standards of late haven’t been the greatest but they certainly seem more determined on the field as compared to their counterparts. An aggressive bowling line up ideally requires great support from the fielding unit, and this very thought was personified well enough. Barring a few hours of dominance from the Indian middle order, it seemed destined that the Sydney Test would end sooner than later.

A few pessimists from their camp would have shown signs of concern when both Tendulkar and Laxman, Australia’s tormentors in chief over the previous tours (and especially at the SCG), crossed half centuries and looked in fine touch. Clarke’s New Year got better when the rolled his left arm over to dismiss Tendulkar.

Clarke has been largely successful even with the ball in his hands against the Indians © The Age

Incidentally, Clarke’s remarkable bowling spells have come against the Indians – from the dusty minefield of Mumbai to the controversy-laden field of Sydney last tour. Laxman succumbed to the new ball soon after. The rest of the innings is probably not worth documenting (keeping Ashwin’s fifty in mind), given that Hilfenhaus had the last laugh grabbing a five-for to press for his constant contention to feature in the playing eleven.

Six consecutive losses away from home would do no good to any sporting team that had sat up on the Rankings Tables until not too long ago. It would be hard to comprehend how Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola would react if Manchester United or Barcelona goes through lean patches. Even though the fundamental points of perspectives between these two sports differ, surely the thoughts planted are the same. And one wonders what Fletcher’s mind is experiencing now.

India’s brief glimpses of determination to succeed at what was, by any imaginable measure, a highly improbable mission is probably about the only facet that can be commended. Tendulkar’s ominous form was undoubtedly a treat to watch – it is only a pity that this couldn’t be translated into the much awaited three figure mark. Gauging how India performed otherwise, the respect for this man’s scores, over the course of the two tests, will not be expressed as overtly as the ovation he gets every time he walks in; it will be evinced through raised eyebrows admiring those deft late cuts.

That the SCG ticket sellers breathed sighs of relief after Tendulkar survived until stumps on Day Three is a testament to how much the Australian public awaits the milestone as much as we Indians do. But for the Indian fan, given the turn of events over the first three days of the Test, the contending forces were rival thoughts fighting a civil war within – does the result of the Test matter as much as a Tendulkar hundred? Or vice versa? As much as the Middle East’s inability to create any business outside Oil, it seemed as though the milestone was more likely than a favorable result.

Barring isolated shows of promise, and misdemeanor (courtesy Virat Kohli), the cricketing facts are a lot more virulent than the insinuations thrown around. History will one day point out that there couldn’t have been a better time to beat Aussies in their own backgrounds, whilst closing the curtains on two illustrious careers that were under pressure. Instead, Hussey and Ponting responded with tons. Just as strong as their responses were, equally insolvent were Indian ideas.

The body language of Indian players represented incessant tides of undifferentiated low morale. The exciting numbers thrown by speed guns pointing towards feats of Sharma and Yadav didn’t matter as it would have during the build up to the series. Neither did the plethora of runs amassed by the Indian batsmen.

The immense task of polishing their high-minded credentials, following displays of creative destruction, is one that champions do not particularly enjoy. And amidst tweets relating to the start of the year 2012 reminding many of the start back in 1999 when India toured Australia, the notion that the ‘next-gen’ players aren’t too far away from entering the Test arena offers a breath of fresh air. One can’t doubt the records that the current batsmen have, but a welcoming change is never shown a closed door as long as it is equitable.

Or maybe, we are just desperate to see a change.

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

So we enter another chapter of the Gregorian calendar with the Australian team poised to enter the Sydney Test with as much optimism as confidence, given that their young bowling attack is not only steering the visitors’ batting out of Aussie shores, but loving the challenge of it. It is the quality that distinguishes great teams from other mortals – teams that possess enough ammo to grab twenty wickets consistently.

Even during tough times, especially after defeats to South Africa and New Zealand, there seemed a resilience and determination that promised perseverance. And the Boxing Day Test wrapped up those beliefs, although cynics would argue that the result of the first test had more to do with India’s self-aggrandizing interests, and some dreadful decision making. No wonder ‘Pigeon’ McGrath’s crystal balls predict a 4-0 whitewash this Australian summer, albeit his share of grossly incorrect predictions in the recent past.

It only seemed logical that Michael Clarke decided to stick with the same eleven he fielded in Melbourne, given that a four man pace attack on a Sydney wicket would not only break tradition, but deprive Nathan Lyon to execute his reworked methods based on the learning imparted during the first test. Given that he, by far, looks the most likely of spinners from Australian soil to pick up wickets consistently in the big stage, the petulance of an average outing against the Indians can be excused knowing that even the great Shane Warne didn’t have his share of success.

Australia’s batting, on the other hand, still has a few significant question marks that require addressing. Cowan’s grit in the first innings, Ponting’s flashes of brilliance, and Hussey’s determined second innings knocks, coupled with strong performances with the bat from the tail, aren’t strong enough to support the batting foundation that has enough to claim bragging rights. You would have been forgiven for thinking that Marsh probably didn’t play the Test. To rely on to old veterans to steer the ship isn’t a great sign for the future – an issue that even the visitors are facing in parallel.

Clarke will need to score runs to ease the burden on the ageing Ponting and Hussey © TopNews

Skipper Clarke’s magic with the ball at the SCG Test towards the end of Day Five last tour brought one of the more controversial Tests to have ever been played to a nail-biting finish. Given that his contribution with the bat would hold more value in a lineup that clearly lacks experience and numbers, excepting the two veterans, his quasi-purple patch of late will demand more runs from his willow. As would Brad Haddin’s contribution with the bat – although Tim Paine, touted to be the next in line for the job behind the wickets, is out injured.

The Aussie public, without doubt, will be relishing the prospect of witnessing an eleven with the currently injured Cummins and all rounder Shane Watson, whose potential slot in the batting order is a matter of endless debate. But that is a discussion for another day. Meanwhile, the likes of the ‘stop-gap’ members would well bring out performances to ensure that they don’t find themselves in the shoes of the promising Hughes and Khawaja.

One can only hope that this year’s Sydney test is a lot more exciting, and a lot less controversial than its own course of events last tour.

You can read the match preview from the Indian perspective here