Posts Tagged ‘Michael Clarke’

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.


Prasad Moyarath

History repeats. For a cricket team which depends a lot on history, this can be a solace after its comprehensive innings defeat in SCG. India is 2 down going into the WACA Test like in 2008 but unlike 2008 this team doesn’t inspire any confidence in its followers to remain optimistic. When the captain of this side which has now lost six consecutive Test matches outside the subcontinent says “We can beat this team in Perth”, it draws only laughter.

Not much to celebrate for the Swami Army this Australian Summer so far.

SCG has always been a favorite venue for India for its comparatively low bounce and help to spin. Batting is easy on the first few days and there are many memorable knocks by Indians there including those from Tendulkar and Laxman. Those who anticipated the Indian batting greats to flourish in SCG were treated to a show of their fading antics which were rustic and devoid of any flamboyance or passion. The realization that the Great Wall has developed cracks, Laxman – no more Very Very Special, Sehwag – a lottery and Tendulkar – trepid while nearing his personal milestone, was a jolt for many.

Dhoni looked courageous but was unrealistic with his decision to bat first. The Indian procession to the dressing room started in the first over. Sehwag looked like playing club cricket in both the innings and it is time for someone to remind him that he cannot continue in the side as a once in a while performer. Though Gambhir put up a brave face in the second innings when the conditions were good for batting, he never looked convincing whenever the ball moved or bounced. Dravid never lived up to his stature and Australians succeeded in rearranging his stumps for the fourth time (once of a no ball) in this series. Laxman looked rusty though he scored a half century in the second innings. Ageing footwork and reflexes of Dravid and Laxman have been exposed in Australia. Kohli showed glimpses of his talent but did not utilize the opportunity. Only Tendulkar looked assured but his continued inability to play a long innings should be a worry for the Indians. Dhoni once again proved to be a non performer outside the subcontinent and his unbeaten half century in the first innings came more because of the Clarke’s decision to attack the tail enders than his batting ability. Ashwin once again proved that he has the abilities to become an all-rounder. Indian fast bowlers never looked menacing except Zaheer on the first day. This can be attributed to the good batting conditions and also to the short gap between Melbourne and Sydney Tests. Dhoni’s mediocre captaincy made run making easy for the Australians. Seeing the Australian bowlers correct their mistakes after each session, the Indian supporters were forced to wonder whether this Indian team really has a bowling coach.

After a poor start, the Australians sent Indians for a leather hunt. Unlike the Indian veterans, Ponting and Hussey seemed to improve with age. Clarke assured an Australian victory in the 100th Test in Sydney with a captain’s knock and a prized wicket and declared the innings without bothering about his personal milestone. Will this open the eyes of those Indians who see every Test match as a venue for Tendulkar’s milestone? Haddin had a very poor match behind the stumps. The pace trio of Pattinson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus once again tormented the Indians. The Australians had a plan for every Indian batsman and executed it to perfection like in Melbourne.

Australians made a remarkable comeback after their poor performances against South Africa and New Zealand and made the 100th Sydney Test, their own. The innings defeat in SCG has flooded the Indian camp with gloom and now it is up to the team to sit together and find a way out. The WACA pitch is well known for its pace and bounce and the Indian win there in 2008 might have prompted Dhoni to express optimism in the presentation ceremony after the SCG Test. For the moment, all the Indian fans are heart broken not because of the Indian team’s loss but because of its lack of passion, professionalism and willingness to fight. Swami Army summed up the Indian minds in their song “Why This Kolaveri Di”.

Goutham Chakravarthi

There are many ways to look at Clarke’s declaration. For now the divide is even. Some say it was Pup putting team before self: the Australian way. And some say it is more to do with Pup was deliberate to declare there to show he put his team before self: desperately wanting to show that he does it the Australian way. He still has some way to go before he can win the public over. But, it is certain that an Indian captain wouldn’t have declared with another two and half days left, bowlers jaded, fielders disinterested and with a batsman closing in on a world record. And Clarke’s celebrations on reaching 100, 200 and 300 were stories in themselves. He has said the right things through the summer and has been intuitive and impressive for a young captain.

Clarke: Ace batsman and captain. He'll hope his image of a person with questionable lifestyle is all about to change.

Not another wicket fell for the visitors in another day of uninspired effort on the field. Barring Ishant, the bowling lacked penetration. It was like watching a perfect cover drive over and again. It is hard to forget that Clarke walked in to a crises on Tuesday. Those who remember it as a big score on a flat track against a blunt attack have short memories. It could all have been a different story if he had nicked one early. It has been Clarke’s Test so far, and might have firmly established himself in to the job and begun the turn around for Australia.

For the Indians, there is little point in staring at the obvious. It is all fancy to call Dravid as the wall with an open gate after he has been out bowled thrice this series. And Sehwag can be more annoying than gum sticking to your shoe on his bad day. There are reasons for them being on this tour and that cannot be forgotten. Gambhir’s determination came through and Haddin will have played his part should Gambhir go on to play a marathon innings. India will rely on Gambhir to anchor and Tendulkar and Laxman to find their Sydney magic. Their best deeds have come in this land, and there is still hope that there is time for magic even on their last series in Australia.

India’s fall from grace has been spectacular over the last year. They, evidently, seem to find more holes than they can sew every passing Test and seem to lack direction. Their reputation on being a tough side to beat seems now to be a fading memory, in black and white. India are now at crossroads and need something spectacular to lift them up (and not Kohli’s finger-lifting kind).

It is but obvious that changes are inevitable sooner than later. India’s rebuilding cannot mean dismantling the current, but needs vision on how best to use the tools at hand to be in a position to challenge for a top spot at the test level in 18 months’ time. India’s administration and selection aren’t known for forethought and vision. It might throw Indian cricket back a decade nullifying the efforts of a generation of committed players.

For now, the immediate goal of salvaging this Test should be its sole objective. There is enough happening during a Test to be worried about introspection. That can happen when the Test is done. For now, the mission would be to bat determinedly and put up a fight.

Though much of the last hour was a struggle for survival, it is apparent that the wicket has not played any tricks. Australia might have to work harder than earlier in the series to bowl India out this time around. Their quicks have been impressive and they would love to see Lyon give them some control from one end. Australia are still odds on favourites to win this in a canter, if anything, it is only a question of day 4 or day 5.

Goutham Chakravarthi

What’s the fuss all about? Like you didn’t know that Ponting could bat? Or that Clarke’s bat could outshine his spartkling teeth that he brushes between four and a dozen times everyday?

Yes, Zaheer lacked penetration and seemed disheartened. Yes, Ashwin did put various spins on the ball, but still the ball did little off the wicket and only met Clarke’s dancing geet. Umesh was down on pace and Ishant was effective but unlucky. Ponting was made to play across the line. Plan checked. Clarke was made to fish at out swingers. Plan checked. Ponting inside edged, was beaten, was all but run out on 99, but he survived and brought up a memorable hundred. Though Clarke went past Doug Walters’ score at the SCG, Ponting still was the hero of the day. There was no back-up plan.

There was more sparkle in Clarke's bat than his teeth at the SCG. Photo: AP

The sun was out and the conditions were good for batting. And so it was yesterday, but a different set was bowling and another set was batting. After today you might say if Indian bowlers bowled to Indian batsmen, then at least, they might make some runs. But the bowlers might fancy their chances. A lot was riding on them to pull India back in to this Test. And for once Zaheer looked ineffective and Ponting and Clarke took great advantage of it.

Sourav Ganguly tried swapping seats in the ESPNSTAR box and thereby hoped to change India’s luck, but still Ponting’s inside edges missed the stumps. Repeatedly. The Swamy Army sang and danced, but nothing seemed to distract a determined Clarke from scoring a memorable double hundred. Kohli had a tiff with the spectators. And Richie Benaud’s many doubles in the crowd enjoyed piling the misery on the Indians. In short, everything in the ground but for India’s cricket seemed more lively.

Cape Town last month might well be remembered as among Australia’s lowest points. But it cannot be forgotten that Clarke played one of the finest innings in recent times in the same Test. A lot has been said about his fast life and posh girlfriends, but he has been impressive in dealing with his teammates and the media. Of course, he has been the impressive of the two leaders on show. And, perhaps, with this innings, and looking good for many more tomorrow, he has announced himself as the captain of the boat. A captain at the prime of his powers is good news for Australia.

India seems despondent and clueless. Often, the planning seemed non-existent. Field placements and bowling changes were debated, as they often do when things do not go well. Channel 9 feasted on Dhoni’s supposed incompetence as a captain and lacklusture body language of the Indians on the field.

India are a long way from home and even longer away from safety in this Test. Ganguly says India will have to bat out of their skins to save this Test. It has been done before, and by the same people in the team. Gambhir, not too far back, batted more than 10 hours to save a Test, but seems hard pressed to last 10 deliveries this series. John Wright once said he wished to see Sehwag bat 10 hours in a Test. And also said, if he did, he would score 800. If he does, India might fancy winning. For now, the only possibility of the number 800 seems to be with Australia’s first innings total.

It is not impossible for India to save this Test. But it is difficult to imagine the Test going into the fifth day at the moment.

Prasad Moyarath

The MCG pitch was the best thing about this Test. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

Yet another Boxing Day Test debacle for India or another usual Indian start for an overseas tour. The Boxing Day Test match result can be interpreted by an Indian fan in either way but irrespective of the result, this Test match between India and Australia provided a great advertisement for Test cricket. Though this match lacked the usual intensity of an India – Australia duel and finished in four days, the entertainment it provided was worth for any Indian who woke up early morning in this chilling winter to watch it on television. The Test match which started on a cloudy day with a few rain interruptions on the first day proceeded in bright sunshine leaving a doubt whether the rain Gods were sitting and watching with awe.

Not a single century scored, only a single five wicket haul, what was that made this Test match so special? For those who did not follow this match, its scorecard won’t provide the right answer either.

Going into the Boxing Day Test match, concerns were many for both the teams. The career of Ponting and Hussey hung in balance and they were contemplating playing Christian in place of one of the two. Hilfenhaus was making a come back and Cowan making his debut. For India, the fitness of Zaheer and Ishant was the major concern and so was the ability of their batsmen to adapt to the Australian conditions.

Michael Clarke’s decision to bat first on a cloudy day though raised the eye brows of many, considering the poor batting record of India in Melbourne, was a daring one which was vindicated in the coming days. Warner gave an explosive start to the Australian innings but an incisive spell of fast bowling by Umesh Yadav helped India fight back. Ponting despite been hit on the helmet by Yadav at the start, made his critics eat their words with a fluent innings which was cut short by a Yadav’s beauty. Two dubious umpiring decisions against Cowan and Hussey ignited the debate on UDRS and BCCI once again. Ponting and Hussey proved that they are still good enough to play for Australia with some fine batting in the second innings. Australian tail wagged in both innings, thanks to some unimaginative captaincy from Dhoni. Hilfenhaus made a remarkable comeback was well supported by Pattinson and Siddle.

Sehwag played in his own style in both the innings and luck favoured him only in the first. Australian bowlers never looked like bowling in the right areas on the second day and Sehwag, Dravid and Sachin capitalised on it. Sachin was the only batsman who looked comfortable in both the innings. Dravid getting bowled in both the innings has put a question mark on the technique of this great player. Gambhir and Dhoni continued their poor run outside the subcontinent and Ashwin made Harbhajan’s absence inconspicuous. Indian pace attack put relentless pressure on the Australian batsmen and Ishant and Umesh clocking 140+kmph consistently was a delight to watch.

Three of the four days ended like a television serial leaving the viewers to ponder what next. Scores of both teams in each innings drew a slanting graph line putting a question mark on the quality of the pitch. But for those who watched this Test match on a drop in pitch, the curator was the Man of the Match ahead of the official choice.