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Blog by: Rohinee

CRICKET-RSA-IND

The first test between South Africa and India came inches short of what would have been a record run-chase thanks to the efforts of Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers. South Africa’s decision to play more prudently rather than aggressively may have raised quite a few eyebrows, but their sublime run-chase in the aftermath of Morne Morkel’s crippling injury was nothing short of magnificence.

South Africa would thus look forward to continue this up-swinging momentum at Durban, a ground which hasn’t exactly been kind to them in the past few occasions they have played here. The import of this match grows even deeper in the wake of Jacques Kallis’ announcement from tests after this test series, making it a must-win for the Proteas.

The Durban pitch has been one that has baffled experts and players alike with its transition from a seamer-friendly track to one assisting spinners. Imran Tahir and R. Ashwin will find themselves under the spotlight under these playing conditions with increased expectations; an irony considering that the first test saw these bowlers being mercilessly shredded apart by batsmen at Wanderers.

Aside of these two, both teams will want to utilise their part-time spinning options with a bid to exploit the playing conditions more thoroughly. Of the two teams, despite South Africa’s efforts to draw the first test, the advantage however clearly lies with India.

After the dubious start to their South African tour, their adapting to the conditions has been spot on with names that were required to perform delivering to their potential. For the Indian squad, there has been a perfect blend of experienced stalwarts contributing and guiding the younger generation forward. And there again, while a few players failed to live up to expectations, the disappointments have been greatly limited with even less likelihood of continuance in the second test.

Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma will once again be the favourites as would be Zaheer Khan and MS Dhoni. Giving thorough consideration to the tendency of track to favour spinners, the Indian captain may select all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja over Ajinkya Rahane so as to add more substantiality to the squad.

While the Indian team ponders about resolving this minor selection conundrum, South Africa have slightly bigger problems to grapple with. Graeme Smith will have to reconcile the fact that his team’s crushing defeats in the past five years have come at Durban, in spite of having overall superior team strength.

Dale Steyn’s ineffectuality against the Indians in the first test will be foremost on the South African team’s minds even as they brace themselves about Morne Morkel potentially missing the second test on account of his ankle sprain. Vernon Philander will be instrumental as would be Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy to the South African bowling attack which has borne the brunt of the Indian middle-order. If Morkel does miss the match, it could be the first game-changing moment; even with the Proteas roping in a worthy enough substitute – Kyle Abbott – to replace Morkel.

Both teams’ struggle to develop and maintain partnerships will be a core area that needs to be addressed from both ends. The Indian openers have fallen cheaply as the lower-order has crumbled with-out giving an iota of resistance, piling on the pressure on Pujara and Kohli. For South Africa, barring the flash of audaciousness from Vernon Philander in the first innings and du Plessis and de Villiers in the second, there hasn’t been much reason to cheer about.

Rain being a threat at Kingsmead, the pitch is expected to be a slow turning one with punters predicting a thumping series victory for India. The South Africans’ fighting spirit though remains unquestioned and unchallenged, making a paradox of prediction of the outcome of the match.

Match Prediction: A gruelling four-day test with both sides drawing the series 0-0 and sharing the trophy.

 

Blog by: Sharadha

Australia v England - Fourth Test: Day 1

Melbourne Cricket Ground has been the traditional venue hosting the Boxing Day test match since 1950. It’s a heritage that MCG and Australian cricket are very proud of. Even more so, when they are riding on the back of an emphatic Ashes victory, like in the present, ongoing series.

For England, coming into the Boxing Day test in the aftermath of Graeme Swann’s abrupt retirement following the team’s loss to Australia at Perth and a controversial tweet that made headlines all over, this match is a test of reckoning. The volte-face in their performances, mere months following their successful defending of the urn has manifested itself into a deeper chaotic mess that continues to fester despite all English efforts to sort it out.

The contrasts in both sides are far more glaring – perhaps conversely so – than they were before the start of the series. Each member of the Australian squad has flourished, some more than the rest, while the English team finds itself reduced to nitpicking for salvages in the debris of its innings so far. The loss of two of its most experienced players has hit the team hard which the Australians will be keen to exploit.

As it is, Australia has hinted at ‘targeting’ Monty Panesar, the man on whom responsibility abounds in the absence of Swann to restore England’s pride. Though most of the English team has under-performed, expectations will nonetheless be placed on the shoulders of the remaining senior members to deliver with a few important changes marking the final squad line-up.

The biggest name dropped from the squad could be that of Matt Prior over Johny Bairstow on account of his nondescript play-making in the three matches previously. Stuart Broad’s injury sustained in the previous match makes him a doubtful starter for the Boxing Day test though the man in question seems to be leaving no stone unturned in order to ensure his fitness before the start of the match. More than any other player, losing Broad would probably hit England harder considering that he’s been the pick of the English bowling attack, over James Anderson and the recently retired Swann, both in terms of economy and in terms of wickets bagged. The last remaining place in the English bowling attack should be then completed by Bresnan.

Australia’s bowling coach Craig McDermott referred to the present Australian cricketing contingent as the best in the world. The statement was made not just in relation to the ongoing Ashes series, but also with an eye on their upcoming tour to South Africa in the month of February. Though that series remains a couple of months away, McDermott’s words hold immense credibility for the way the Australian team had managed to morph itself once again into a driving force.

There are no doubts then going by the way Australians have outshone their opponents, Michael Clarke will want to go with an unchanged side in order to keep the winning intensity and steam going.

Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon will be the bowlers to watch out for. The latter is poised to become the first Australian off-spinner in three decades to grab 100 wickets, a unique feat of its own. David Warner, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke will look forward to taking it from where they left off in the third test especially Watson and Rogers who have been the unlikeliest of the Australian squad strength.

Under the hot Melbourne weather on a track that promises to dry out and harden up as the days pan out, the contest of wills between Australia and England promises to be a heated one, despite the outcome that swung Australia’s way at Perth.

Match Prediction: A tight match win to Australia to go on 4-0 in the series.

 

Blog by: Shraddha

Australia v England - Third Test: Day 5

The big screen at WACA proudly reflected the momentousness of the Australian victory over the Englishmen as it proclaimed, ‘The Urn Returns.’ Considering that this was the same Australian team that looked completely out-of-sorts just a few months ago at England, this turnabout brings many memories of the fabled Australian cricketing teams of the past, alongside placing this squad right with those legends who never failed to bring – retain, in most cases – the Ashes home.

On a track where cracks abounded and where groundsmen had to be called on more than one occasion to cover it up, the Australians showed the Englishmen why they were so confident about playing at WACA, exploiting the conditions without giving anything in return. If Steven Smith scored a century in the first innings, rescuing a seemingly hapless Australian side which tottered at five for 143, Shane Watson and David Warner completed the ‘from-insult-to-injury’ phase for England with their dual tons.

And where the English bowlers were plundered, the Australian bowling attack provided sure-fire sustenance by breaking apart English batsmen’s morale along with dismantling their wickets. Mitchell Johnson was once again the rock against whom the English batsmen crashed to their peril with Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon picking up the rest of the English wickets alongside maintaining absolute stinginess with respect to the run count.

On the other side, it didn’t help matters for England that two of its most experienced bowlers, Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson, were left gasping as Shane Watson and George Bailey took them to task with the latter equalling Brian Lara’s record of most runs scored in an over (28). Rewinding back to the English Ashes, for the Australians, it seemed like due retribution for the damage that Jimmy Anderson had wrought in the test series then and as such was met with firm approval from the vociferous Australian crowd.

Though Alastair Cook, in his post-match speech made special notations about the crowd support that the visitors had received, looking quite upbeat for a captain whose team had just lost the most coveted cricketing trophy, there are several areas that haven’t been dealt with by the English captain.

The partnership between Ian Bell and Ben Stokes that gave England a last chance of drawing the match didn’t shape up when it needed to. The way, in which Bell was dismissed off Siddle, trying to move his bat away from the ball, showed certain casualness which ended up proving to be quite disastrous for England. Despite Cook’s continued emphasis that the team needed its senior players to perform, when it came to dire situations, most of the senior players failed to convert their score-lines.

Kevin Pietersen had a good partnership going with Ian Bell in the second innings but his haste in trying to emulate one of his earlier shots landed the ball to Ryan Harris at long on, off Nathan Lyon. As with Alastair Cook who, in the first innings lost his wicket trying to be heroic when he was caught by Warner at point, again off Lyon.

And with each English miss, the boisterousness and swagger of the Australians only increased which further widened the disparity between the two sides. The ability of the Australians to get into the psyche of their opponents, which was missing a few months ago, has returned even more emphatically even though the comparatively new-gen team is still evolving for most parts.

The Darren Lehmann factor has definitely worked for the Australians as the team’s resilience and togetherness being obvious even to the most sceptic eye. In contrast, the unflappability and silence of the English coach – Andy Flower – hasn’t exactly been well-received. Though Alastair Cook and Andy Flower will want to go back to the proverbial drawing board with a view to salvage what’s left of the series, the resonation of this 3-0 Ashes regaining performance is sure to leave a deeper impact than the 3-0 whitewash of England over Australia.

A reality-check for both sides, the 2013-14 Ashes series has been. For England, which perhaps remained too long shrouded in the covers of complacency, the series has been an eye-opener about its method of approaching important games. While for Australia, it’s been an eye-opener to the fact that the team always had it in them to bounce back despite all on-field adversities.

Blog by: Rohinee

South Africa v India 1st Test - Day 3

For India, the whole trip to South Africa has so far been like being caught between a rock and a hard place. Not only have they been unable to retaliate against the South African juggernaut on-field, but they have also been equally inept when it has come to sorting out the best team composition to salvage their reputation of being the ODI side.

The test series, consequentially, has gone to take even more significance than it what it implied initially; prior to the start of the Indian tour. Where the Indians were the favourites for the ODIs – albeit marginally – on account of them being the world’s best ODI team, South Africa will look to start the test series with a much more enhanced boost in confidence courtesy of their assured superiority in tests compared to the currently in flux Indian test side along with their 2-0 whitewash over the Indians.

Graeme Smith will mark his return to the side taking over captaincy duties from AB de Villiers allowing South Africa to start with its preferred opening combination of Smith and Alviro Petersen. The evenly distributed squad strength of the South African also takes away quite a bit of heat from the much-debated topic of the hosts having an advantage over the visitors. Dale Steyn is expected to be the pick of the South African bowling attack which is going with a three-pronged pace attack of Steyn, Vernon Philanderer and Morne Morkel. Spinner Imran Tahir rounds up the entirety of the South African bowling contingent on a track that promises extreme bounciness and pace.

Tackling the pace and bounce at Wanderers is however just the tip of the South African iceberg that the Indian team will have to deal with. Though India has managed to retain a top-spot in the test rankings, their performance in this test series will be more keenly monitored by eager eyes considering they haven’t exactly been able to produce convincing results in test series overseas, despite having consistent victories in test series held at home.

Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement seems to have left the Indian team in a state of flux with uncertainty prevailing all though despite the largeness of roles and responsibilities that has been created. Thus, while the Indian team isn’t exactly middling; the ceasing of the anchoring that Tendulkar provided to the team has left the Indians grappling for a surer footing. Most of the current Indian team’s line-up hasn’t played in South Africa which further could hurt the team’s chances considering their lack of preparation.

Alongside the surging expectations placed on Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli is the guy on whom all attention has been riveted to. As the new man in on the no.4 batting position, Kohli has a daunting task of continuing on the chapters of brilliance that Tendulkar left behind, without altering his individuality. It’s a task that no one envies, particularly at this juncture.

Where the Indian batting looks unsettled; the bowling side looks slightly bit reassuring, thanks to the rejuvenated comeback of pacer Zaheer Khan. Though the 15-man Indian squad boasts an entourage of quality spin and pace, given the nature of the track, the Indians would want to go with the best possible pace attack that they have at their disposal. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami along with Ashwin as the spinner would then make up for the bowling attack for the first test.

India’s coach Duncan Fletcher has come under fire in the wake of the crushing losses in the ODIs. Though the Englishman’s credentials aren’t by any means inadequate, this test series is an equally important pivot for Fletcher whose take-over for India followed the successful run of Gary Kirsten which saw Indian cricket being taken to far-reaching heights as never before.

Though Duncan Fletcher shies away from the limelight, there’s no denying that doing well in South Africa for the remainder of India’s sojourn there will be a priority that Fletcher would want his protégés to carry out, without any slacking.

Match Prediction: South Africa defeat India, lead the series 1-0. 

Blog by: Sharaddha

3rd Momentum ODI: South Africa v India

 

In cricket, a team’s ranking often tends to become relative varying with performances of teams in the short-term rather than on a long-term basis. The miserable performance of India in the ODIs against South Africa is an example of this disparity that has allowed several questions to be raised about the Indian team’s credibility while playing on foreign shores.

Prior to the start of the series, Dale Steyn had referred to the series as being a watershed test for India with increased expectations from the in-form Indian cricketing squad. Looking at the performance of the Indians though, the aura of superiority that the team had about it seems to have been completely obliterated.

The severity of the 2-0 loss was further exemplified given that it had been the batsmen – the stronger link of the entirety of the Indian team strength – who failed rather than the bowlers who managed to rein in the South African juggernaut as best as they could.

The 141-run and 134-run losses in the first and second ODI respectively were the result of the inability of the Indian batting order to come up with an adequate defence plan against the lethality of the South African bowlers. Or, to emphasise more pointedly, the lethality of Dale Steyn who was the pick of the Proteas’ bowling attack picking three wickets each at Johannesburg and Durban at an economy of slightly over three runs.

At both Johannesburg and Durban, India decided to field first having won the toss. The rationale behind that decision – after evaluating the pitch factor – was simple enough pinpointing towards the ease with which the Indian batsmen had chased down huge targets in tournaments prior to their South African tour. But on both occasions, India had to face a huge reality check as their openers lost their wickets cheaply and the middle-order crumbled without leaving any impact. Barring Dhoni and Kohli in the first ODI and Raina in the second, there wasn’t any Indian batsman – despite the changes to the squad – who looked like he could take the fight to the South Africans.

India’s decision to field yet again at Durban after sustaining a mammoth loss at Johannesburg also spoke about the Indian team’s underestimation of the opponents. The struggle that the Indian batsmen had to endure at Johannesburg was the tipping point that India failed to heed, even as the fate of the series hung in the balance.

Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma fell miles short of what was needed of them even as Dhoni was reduced to giving platitudes about the obvious shortcomings of the team. But even though the defeat in the first ODI could have been viewed a bit more kindly given the team’s lack of preparation, it’s the manner of loss in the second ODI that grates on perspectives far more harshly.

But where the Indian team’s fortunes have been largely in doldrums, the South Africans have made merry with the gamut of opportunities that have been presented to them. Quinton de Kock name is the first that comes to mind considering that the 20-year old proved his worth to the team beyond any doubt. Three centuries in three matches not only proclaimed him to be a good batsman, but also effectively went on to seal the wicket-keeper batsman’s place in the squad for the near future.

Contributions from captain Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and JP Duminy sealed the batting deal for the South Africans with Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morne Morkel complementing Steyn in the bowling department whose efficiency promises to be more ruthless in the forthcoming test matches.

South Africa’s win over India also raised a very significant point about the aspect of advantage that home sides are said to have over visitors in cricketing tournaments. For in each way that the rationale is deliberated upon, taking into account South Africa’s most recent home series loss to Pakistan, it only talks about the incompleteness of the Indians rather than press or negate the so-called advantage of South Africans over them which, in turn, further moots out the ranking system.

Blog by: Rohinee

Australia v England - Second Test: Day 5

A few months ago, the Australian cricket team found itself sinking in the wormhole created by the English bowling attack. The team was in chaos, answers were sought – home-works were given – before they finally surrendered to the English side.

In the few months that have separated that series and this, the transformation of the Australian side has been nothing short of phenomenal which has made the English team – still superior on paper – quake before the very rivals whom they had brushed aside quite easily.

Two losses in the opening two tests have put England completely on the back-foot, raising questions that they probably hadn’t even seen coming at them before the start of the series. The mammoth nature of the loss – 381 runs at Gabba and 218 runs at Adelaide – not only represented the sheer implacability of the Australians when it came to exploiting the playing conditions, but also brought out the inability of the English team to make it count.

At WACA, by all accounts, it seems as though the trend is bound to continue. Regarded to be the bane of almost every international cricket team, the natural bounce at WACA holds particularly grim memories for the English team with only a lone match win out of the totality of 12 tests played here. The last time that the English team had won at the venue was nearly 35-years ago in 1978, against an Australian squad that was playing without most of its team strength on account of their prioritising the splendour of the then newly launched Kerry Packer series.

The prospect then gets even more looming for the English squad. Their inability to construct and sustain partnerships has been the biggest letdown for them. Though Alastair Cook has spoken about the senior players coming through for the team, the seniority’s inability to effectively read and tackle Mitchell Johnson’s deliveries has been starker as compared to the newer members of the team.

If the batsmen aren’t able to develop and build on, on partnerships, the English bowlers have been inept when it has come to breaking their counterparts’ partnerships on-field. Graeme Swann especially has been a costly addition to the team so far and it would only be prudent for the visitors to replace him with someone who can at least stem the run-flow, if not take wickets.

The change in the way Australians have come to understand and gauge Swann’s bowling tactics is also indicative of the progress that the Australian team has made in these few months following the English Ashes summer. Mitchell Johnson is just the tip of the ice-berg with his confidence and impressive bowling spells leading the Australians’ Ashes reclaiming journey.

The thriving of Chris Rogers and David Warner at the opening has been obvious as has been the tentative yet unmistakable sureness in Shane Watson’s game. The team’s composition feels just right which may give Michael Clarke some pause for thought with regard to choosing the best possible squad from the ample resources available at his disposal. Nathan Lyon is expected to be a part of the Australian squad, to shore up their bowling department keeping in mind the pitch conditions at WACA. And though James Faulkner has been ruled out with an injured thumb, Australia isn’t exactly lacking for options lower down the order at this point.

In contrast, the English team has a huge task ahead of its in terms of team selection. Though the likes of Anderson and Broad have been doing decently well, the English bowling department still feels incomplete especially with Swann not being able to justify his inclusion in the team. Considering that Andy Flower has indicated of some definite team changes, one can expect Tim Bresnan to be included in the squad in order to provide the team with much needed bowling support.

But where the English team does have some replacement options for its bowling, its batting choices remain largely curtailed and as such the onus still remains piled on Cook, Pietersen, Bell and Prior to ensure that the team’s batting order doesn’t fall short under pressure.

Call it a home field advantage or call it the Englishmen’s slight detour from their otherwise calm composure, the 2013-14 Australian Ashes series has been entirely about the Australians so far. Though the English cricket team isn’t showing any signs of giving up, the English players do have to understand that there are a lot of areas where the chinks in their armour have been exposed and where they haven’t been able to stand up to the Australians. Playing with self-assurance – and potentially trying for a win – at Perth is their only chance at salvaging this series. A series that has so far, not only marked the return of momentum towards Australia, but has also brought an unmistakable re-emergence of the Australian cockiness and swagger, distinctively missing in their demeanour till now.