Thursday, August 25, 2005

Faboulous Fourth

Today is when the most crucial test of the Ashes starts. The rate at which runs are being scored in this series implies that there is a scarce chance of a draw unless there is rain like in the previous test. If England win then they have to make sure they do not lose at the Oval to retain the Ashes. The Aussies win and they retain the Ashes. And of course the Oval is like the SCG a flat track but the spinners come into the picture pretty early on in the game. I remember Phil Tufnell bowling the English to victory on a square turner in the 1997 Ashes.

The English will play the same XI, a record since I think the early 80's when the last time the English played the same XI in four consecutive Ashes test matches. Their batting looks a lot more solid now. Strauss has regained his form with the knock in the second innings at Old Trafford. Trescothick who was a bunny in the 2003 Ashes is now playing very well with an average well above 40 for the series. Vuaghan showed his master class with a great knock in the first innings. And Bell also scored a half century though his manner of dismissal might leave a lot to be desired. Flintoff and Pietersen are just the sort of aggressive batsmen to follow the circumspect Bell. And Jones has also scored when the opportunity presented itself. All in all their batting is firing on all cylinders. In their bowling department Flintoff is bowling really well, he has kept Gilchrist tied down and Gilly does not seem to have any answers as yet. Jones is a fine bowler as I have blogged before as well, I still think in the last test he must have been bowling to Lee since he was the one to have dismissed him at Edgbaston and at Old Trafford in the first innings. And Giles seems to be bowling much quicker on these slower English pitches and is varying his flight and pace very well. He has been helped by the Aussies batsman not willing to take him on and not rotating the strike very well. Harmison also is bowling very well thought he might be a touch worried about not taking more wickets. He certainly deserves more. The only weak link in the bowling seems to be Hoggard who has not bowled as well as was expected. Of course with 5 bowlers Vaughan has not really felt the pinch of this as yet. The gloomy conditions if they prevail at Trent Bridge might just suit him to get back to form. We will have to wait and watch as to whether that might happen. All in all the English have 11 players all fit and in form.

The Aussies look a sorry lot, they have new injury scares almost everyday their body language on the field does not look very positive. It reminds one of the numerous English teams that have lost the Ashes over the past 15 years. Hayden looks a sorry batsman now. His inability to either leave balls wide of off stump or play authoritatively through the covers has been well exploited by the English bowlers. And his getting bowled might have been a further dent to his conifdence. The worst way to get out after a run out is probably bowled since it indicates a serious technical fault somewhere. Langer has been playing well but he needs to get on and score a big hundred if the Aussies have to win this test match. He seems to be having a problem playing Giles early on in the innings and then countering the reverse swing, but he is a fighter and I think we can expect him to play well. Ponting played a fine knock and one thing about Ponting is that once he gets into form he makes the opposition pay, so the English need to be careful about him. He also seems to be able to handle reverse swing pretty well. His only problem might be starting an innings when the ball is seaming around too much or starting against spin, because when he starts he takes a huge front foot movement which is fatal against both the above forms of bowling. Martyn got a raw deal in the last test, was bowled off a beauty in the first innings though he must have moved his right leg across to cover the spin, in the second innings he was given out lbw though he had edged it onto his pads. Clarke is playing very well and must soon start learning to play reverse swing to make sure he does not get out when he is set like in the last match. Katich if he plays which I doubt should become more tighter in defence and try to play himself in, get a bit calmed down before he goes for his strokes. What has not helped his cause is the fact that whenever he has gone to bat the Aussies have been under a considerable amount of pressure. But thats what makes the difference between the really good ones and the also rans. Gilchrist seems to be all tied, should free his arms more and play naturally and try farming the strike with the tail. Warne and McGrath are bowling pretty well and so has Lee. Since Aussies play only 4 bowlers they need all 4 to be in form. They have not been helped by Gillespies display so far, Tait will be playing. He is supposed to be fast, but this series seems to be hinging on reverse swing, and if he can do that then it will be a real bonus to Ponting.

Captaincy wise Ponting needs to trust his instincts more and not be the predictable guy that he has become these days. Vaughan since he has 5 bowlers at his disposal has a slightly easier job. But his bowling changes are good and his captaincy seems to be more inspired and imaginative than his counterparts at present.

Finally this match will all boil down to how well the Aussies play the reverse swing of Jones and Flintoff. And how well they can attack Giles so as to deprive Vaughan of his strategy of Giles wheeling away at one end and rotating his pacemen at the other.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Frustrating Finals

India yet again lost a final to Sri Lanka yesterday. The final margin turned out to be 18 runs. What made it even worse India were in the chase till about 35 overs chasing 282 for victory till panic set in and they lost it.

Any team with a reasonably stong middle order would be expected to win a match when you have to score 76 runs off 67 balls with 7 wickets in hand and the top scorer still on the crease. But not so in Indias case. First of all Yuvraj Singh played a highly irresponsible shot to get himself out. He probably should listen to Geoffrey Boycott who says always add 2 wickets to the present to get a real assessment of the value of your wicket. Yuvraj has done this time and again. In the Natwest Final though he acted very disconsolate he had actually thrown his wicket away. And to repeat the same mistake that too after a couple of years experience at the top level is unpardonable. The Indian selectors should probably take a leaf out of the Aussie selectors to drop him for the next 6 seasons. They did the same thing with Damien Martyn when he played an irresponsible shot in the 1994 series against SA, thus depriving us of watching one of the most graceful batsmen of our times.

And then the Indians panicked. Kaif had no job whatsoever looking at the ball when Dravid called him for a run. He should have shouted an outright "NO" when called if he felt there was no run, but he took 2 steps making Dravid commit and then refused in mid pitch. Dhoni played a forgettable innings. For the first time I think he is facing so much pressure and he came out on the losing side. He needs to tighten up on his defence and look to rotate the strike more. Pathan of course showed us why he will never become the fine batsmen that he can by getting out stumped off the last ball of a Murali over. He could have just knocked it down the ground for a single or just played him out and waited for the next over. As it is the old adage that you dont make any runs from the pavilion still holds good I think.

Zaheer Khan yet again started off by bowling so many wides that India must seriously consider resting him for any big match. He has lost all the pace he had when he made his debut, can no longer bowl the yorker consistently, has lost the ball that curves back in and is a liability on the field plus his fitness is always a question mark. The Indian bowling lacked incisiveness, there was no planning and just went about listlessly through their overs. There just wasnt any inspiration to be found everywhere.

I dont know what Greg Chapell has done to the Indians but for some strange reason they seem to be very angry these days. Look at Nehras reactions on taking wickets, or Yuvraj after scoring his century going be*****od. Or even Pathan. Aggressiveness is fine but if one is not enjoying cricket then they will never be able to perform at the peak. What was entirely avoidable was the spat between Harbhajan and Nehra in the middle of the field. Nothing can account for that sort of behaviour.

And then there were some strategic mistakes as well. Kaif should play at #4 the spot where he played at the world cup, he is a rotator of the strike and India sorely missed such a player in the middle of the innings. Yuvraj whose power hitting would have been more useful in case he had to play the last 13 overs would have been more useful at #6. I think India should play with Sachin,Sehwag,Ganguly,Kaif,Dravid,Raina,Dhoni rather than send in Kaif at #6 and expect him to hit boundaries on a slow,low pitch against the spinners. Further whenever one is trying something new, they always do it in a league match not in a final. I have no idea why they changed the composition for the final, the least they could have done was play this combination agains the Windies before the final.

The final was won by the team which enjoyed the game, had a quiet belief in themselves against an opponent who were listless, had a wrong notion of what constitutes agression, playing an untried line up, panicky led by a capatain whose head was on the line. No prizes for guessing who won.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Greatest Test Match Ever

I have seen some really great test matches in my life. Some which come to mind are the 1999 test match in Chennai where Sachin played a valiant knock only to end up on the losing side. Another was the third test match of the 1997 Ashes where Steve Waugh scored 2 centuries in the 2 innings even though he had split the webbing on his right hand, I can still recall his grimace after facing every ball. Also there was the series decider in the Frank Worell trophy which the Windies won by one run. Walsh dismissing McDermott with a perfectly pitched outswinger. Of course a Brian Lara inspired Courtney Walsh winning over the Windies by one wicket. There were 2 such matches in the same series where Lara single handedly proved to the rest of the world why he is without any doubt the best test match batsman of our times. Or even the 1987 tied test match where Dean Jones was literally vomitting on the field in his marathon double century. But apart from all these the test match that I watched yesterday must surely rank as the best I have seen.

There is an incredible romance assosciated with any sport whenever you see an old pro taking on the brash new comer. Graf versus Hingis was one of the matches I remember in Tennis. Sachin taking on Qadir in the late 1980's. In this case it was an Oldpro team taking on their challenegers to the title of world champions. England have won series in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand, South Africa. The only places left were India and Australia. In India they were denied victory by rain in Bangalore which would have drawn the series. Australia meanwhile are the hardened professionals who have won series everywhere around the world. And quite recently they had conquered the final frontier India. They were and probably still are the undisputed world champions.

After losing the first test match by a huge margin the English one would have expected would repeat the old story of folding up by going into a shell. There was a lot of stick from the media against the English team. Most of it directed against Giles who reacted to it and again got lot of stick for it.

The beginning of the test match did not lack any drama. Glenn McGrath while playing rugby on the morning of the match stepped onto a cricket ball and injured his ankle. This meant that the Aussie attack lost one of their potent weapons. Kasprowicz who by his own admission looked forward to having cheese cake and tea was slated into replace the injured pigeon. Australia won the toss and Ponting seemed to have been drawn into the groundsmans bluff when he asked the English to bat. (The groundsman of course telling the media that the pitch was undercooked by a couple of days and there would be a lot of moisture. Also Pontings crack on his cheek courtesy Harmison might still have been fresh in his memory).

Out walked Trescothick and Strauss. They got off to a blazing start scoring at more than 6 runs per over. Lee who does not have an in between length was either driven or pulled away with scant respect. They put on 112 in 25 overs before Strauss chose a ball that was too full to cut and was castled just before lunch. After lunch Vaughan and Trescothick resumed, attacking anything that was loose. Kasprowicz then induced an edge from Trescothick and in the same over had Bell caught behind with a beauty of a delivery. And four overs later when Gillespie who was bowling better than anytime on the tour made Vaughan top edge a pull which must have in Sidhus language brought down an air hostess with it was well taken by Lee one began thinking whether England had gotten everything wrong. Out walked Flintoff to join Pietersen and then began one of the best counter attacks in test cricket. In a space of 18 overs more than 100 runs were added as Flintoff hit 5 sixes and 6 hits to the boundary in his 68. Pitersen meanwhile was content to let Flintoff do the bulk of the scoring. After the tea interval though Gillespie again induced an edge off Flintoff and then soon Kasper got Jones out off a peach of a delivery. The pendulum had swung the Aussies way yet again. At 293 for 6 one would have thought that 320-350 would have been what England would end up with. But then Giles also began attacking the bowling and was helped by the sort of fields Ponting was setting. He scored 23 before he was plumb in front to Warne. Meanwhile Pietersen began opening his big huge shoulders. One shot stands out. Lee who was bowling fast came in and bowled a short of good length ball just outside off stump, and Pietersen non chalantly drove it on the up and with a flick of the wrist to ensure that it went wide of the mid on fielder the ball raced away to the mid wicket fence. And then one of his mis hits found Katich who took a good low catch. Harmison meanwhile hit Warne for a couple of boundaried to score 17 before he was deceived in the flight and was castled. The last wicket pair of Jones and Hoggard put on 32 crucial runs before Hoggard was also lbw to Warne. At the end of the first day England was 407 all out. There was a feeling that on the feather bed of this pitch it was 100 runs short of what would test the strong Aussie batting line up.

And in what has become the usual tradition in this series Langer was again hit on the helmet, thighs and what not. Hayden went again playing a casual cover drive to the short cover fielder off his first ball. Ponting and Langer consolidated before Poting who looked set to get a big one was stifled by Giles leg stump line and gave a catch to Vaughan at short fine leg. He was out for 61 and the score was 88 for 2. England got the stroke of luck they needed when Martyn who was playing with ease and had moved onto 20 off 23 balls got run out on the stroke of lunch. He was out by an inch and Vaughan with one stump to aim at had hit. Clarke and Langer then took the score to 194 for 3 and just when you thought the Aussies had it in the bag Giles produced a quick one which Clarke edged through to Jones. Katich was troubled by Flintoff and soon went caught behind. Gilchrist playing a very subdued role compared to his usual flamboyant self took them to 262 before Jones produced a beautiful yorker to dismiss Langer who had produced a doughty knock of 82. Warne swung his bat at everything and was out to Giles bowled. Jones again bowled just the right length to force lee to edge to Flintoff to second slip. Gillespie hung around for quite some time during which Glichrist was happy to let him have the strike and I think this was one of their blunders. Giclhrist should have farmed the strike and tried to score more. Instead Flintoff came back to dismiss Gillespie and Kasper off consecutive balls to dismiss Australia for 308. England had the crucial first innings lead of 99 runs. But the action for the day was not yet over. England had to play out a sticky half hour. And Warne produced a magic delivery to get rid of Strauss in the last over of the day. After taking a long time to set his field, Warne bowled a ball which pitched about 3 feet outside the off stump and Strauss looking to pad it away offered no shot, the ball hit the rough spun past his pads and crashed into the stumps. At the end of the second day England were ahead by 124 runs with 9 wickets in hand.

Next day Lee bowled his spell of the series and accounted for Trescothick (lazy edge to Gilchrist), Vaughan (bowled by a quick straight one again) and Hoggard (caught a gully). England were tottering at 31-4. Bell and Pietersen consolidated and took the score to 72 before Gilchrist took an excellent catch down the leg side to snare Pietersen, though it was doubtful whether the ball hit the glove/bat. And soon enough Bell was making the long walk back to the pavilion again given out caught behind in a doubtful decision. Jones was out next to a snorter from Lee. The score was 101 for 7. England lead by 200 runs and 3 wickets in hand. Yet again it looked like the Aussies had pulled it back. But Flintoff had other ideas. With Giles he added 30 runs. Soon enough Giles was out to Warne edging him to slip. And Harmison went second ball caught at silly point. Flintoff then freed his shoulders and smashed Kasprowicz for 2 sixes in the same over. Kaspers over went for 19 runs. And then followed it up with 2 more in Lees next over who had replaced Kasper. Finally Flintoff and Jones had added 51 runs in less than 8 overs and had changed a target of 230 to one of 282. England now had a slight edge because of the late onslaught. While Flintoff had batted he seemed to have done same damage to his shoulder and looked to be in discomfort but had soon overcome that to hit those huge sixes. Australia began well with both Hayden and Langer playing very safely to take them to 47 in 12 overs. Soon enough Vaughan brought on Flintoff for a wicket and he obliged with his second ball when he bowled Langer through the gate bowling round the wicket. And then the next five balls were the best I have seen in my life. Of course I have read of Holdings over to Boycott but this one was probably up there with that. Three balls at the right length all coming back a long way and all Ponting could do was to either play and miss or edge it. He left the fourth ball which was a wide half volley. And then since there was a no ball the last ball was full and left him, Ponting had to play at it and its a tribute to Pontings class that he could edge it to Jones. Match had swung Englands way again. But Martyn again started off pretty well hitting boundaries in a a manner that suggested that he was born on earth with the sole purpose of batting. Simon Jones was brought back and after being hit for boundaries through square leg and mid off he bowled one at the right length and Hayden yet again paid the price for playing towards covers only mangaing to edge it to trescothick who dived to his right to take a good catch at slip. And then in an inspired piece of captaincy Hoggard was brought back and his first ball got him the wicket of Martyn who played a casual flick which he could not keep down to Bell at mid wicket. England were now 107 for 4, needing another 175 to win with 6 wickets in hand. Katich scored a few boundaries to ease the pressure before he failed to read a straighter one from Giles that he glided into slips hands where Trescothick took it on the second attempt. Out walked Gilchrist and played the most irresponsible shot of the match when with a few minutes to close of play he danced down the track to Giles and gave a dolly to Flintoff at mid on. Next to come was Gillespie and he was promptly sent back first ball by a booming Flintoff inswinging yorker catching him Plumb in front. Clarke and Warne then played pretty well till it was the last over of the day and Harmison was running into bowl the score on 134. His first 3 balls were delivered from the 2nd floor of an apartment as usual and were short incoming delivieries, Clrake went back to all three. The fourth ball was a beautiful slower ball which was a yorker on middle stump, Clarke tried to put it through mid wicket and closed the face of the bat too soon and the ball pitched and left Clarke and crashed into off stump. It was 175 for 8 at the end of the third day with all but an England victory left for the next day.

No body had an inkling of the events to unfold the next day. Flintoff and Harmison started proceedings with both bowling right into the rib cage following it up with yorkers. Lee took many blows one flush on the arm guard. Warne got hit on the padding once but his run was disallowed as he was deemed not to have played a shot. But the runs were coming quick and fast through byes,leg byes shots over third man. Till once Warne who was going a long way across and back to play the bouncers walked onto his stumps. It was 220 for 9 at this stage. Aussies still needed another 62 runs with 1 wicket in hand. One over of Giles went for 13 with Kasper hitting 2 boundaries. Lee playing well to reach 43. In the meantime he was hit on his hands had to had a spray put on and was facing real hostility from the bowlers as well as the crowd. They had taken their team to within 10 runs of victory when Jones dropped a tough chance at third man. Then Lee hit a boundary and got them within 6 runs. 3 singles later all that was required was a boundary to win. Meanwhile Harmison came in and bowled a quick bouncer, Kasper tried to get out of its way hanged his bat at it taking off his hand and the ball hit the glove and Jones took a tumbling catch. England had won by 2 runs. Most of the spectators had their backs to the action such was the agony they were going through. I dont think too many people were left with fingernails at the end of the Match.

What were the turning points. Was it Ponting allowing so many free runs on the first day, was it the careless attitude that the Aussies displayed in the first innings especially from hayden,martyn and katich. Or was it the stubborness of Gilchrist to farm the strike.
To me the main turining points were the blizkreig of Flintoff and the nervousness of the Aussie batsmen. And add to it the careless shots that they played. Hayden, Martyn and Gilchrist all need to hang their heads in shame for the way they gifted away their wickets. They should thank their stars they dont have Ray Jennings for coach or Steve Waugh for captain. The only guys who could come out with their heads held high would be Lee,Warne and Langer who played tough good cricket. The rest need to re look at this match and try to be more commited in the remaining ones. For the English Bell needs to do something about playing Warne else he might become the next Daryll Cullinan. And Vaughan needs to do something about his batting form which at the moment is woeful.

But all in all the greatest test match I have seen in my life. Just because every hour the pendulum would swing in the other teams favour and for the tough cricket that was displayed by players on both sides.

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Apparently what I had predicted did not turn out to tbe true. Giles took 3 wickets. Flintoff anf Pietersen played Warne the way he needed to be played.

Dont allow Warne to settle into a rhythm or he will eventually get you out. Even Rahul Dravid realised this on the 1999-2000 tour to Australia. Ian Bell needs to understand that. Use your feet when playing back play a positive shot rather than defend. I think far too many batsmen play him on reputation now. Match is interestingly poised.

England leads by 194 runs with 4 wickets remaining. In the first innings as well it was the last 4 wickets which put on 100 runs compared to nothing next to zilch for the Aussies that made the difference. I think Aussies will feel the pressure once the required target goes above 300 runs. Till then they will feel they have the upper hand. Right now they need to play out a session and score about another 100 runs or so by loosing only a couple of wickets.

Warne is bowling splendidly. Lets see how Flintoff and Jones handle him. Also it will be interesting to see if Kasper is able to get the same reverse swing that Jones was producing in the post tea session yesterday.

I would think that the Aussies will give the ball to Kasper and Warne after the lunch interval and go on from there. They would probably attack Jones since he has gone cheaply in his last 2 innings.

The next session may well determine who wins this match which has fortunes oscillating like a Yo-yo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

English August

As I write this post all the hype surrounding the first Ashes test is over. It seemed to be the same old story except for the first 2 sessions of the match. On a difficult pitch for batting the English bowlers bowled really well and restricted the Aussies to a low score. But still ended up losing the match by a huge margin!!

What went wrong ?

First of all Vaughan seems to be losing his edge in captaincy. He seems to over rely on Matthew Hoggard who it must be said got Clarke out in the second innings, but then went for a lot of runs as well. But on the other hand Simon Jones who after Harmison was the most penetrative bowler in the side was underbowled. I think had Jones had a bit more luck then things could have been a wee bit different. The other of course is the non chalance with which Clarke and Martyn handled Giles. After facing upto Murali, Kumble and Bhajji, Giles is just a walk in the park. England might be well advised to play Gareth Batty since the Aussies seem to play the away turners better than the offies who give lesser room to the batsmen. Theres no use of using Giles to bowl over the wicket, he wont take a wicket neither will he stem the flow of runs since there are 4 left handers in the top 7 of the Aussie batting line up. And anyways Martyn Clarke and Ponting are all good sweepers of the ball. He might as well give the ball a bit of air going around the wicket since the Aussies dont mind leaving the crease when playing the spinners and he just might end up appealing for a wicket, though his getting one seems to be remote right now. For all it might help Vaughan would be tempted to bring himself on.

The batting seems to have come undone as well. Trescothick as usual will have a tough time since he does not move his feet too well at the beginning. On the other hand Strauss is probably playing a spinner a real spinner for the first time in his life and is being found out. Vaughan for all he might say played a poor shot in the first innings though he would like us to belive that the ball stayed low. Bell though needs to be more positive if he has to score runs since the only way you can get runs against McGrath and co is by attacking since once you start defending the runs just dry up and you end up putting lot of pressure on yourself. Flintoff of course has always had a problem playing spin usually committing himself too soon and going very hard at the ball. He would be well advised to use his feet when playing forawrd and go right back instead even if the ball is marginally short and look to score. Warne is a much easier bowler to play now that he has hardly any variations, just a straighter one. And Gillespie is still not into his stride as yet, so England have to win this match if they dont and as the pitches get drier Warne will become a bigger looming threat and Gillespie might soon re discover his touch and McGrath's prediction of a 5-0 whitewash might well come true. Englands cause wont be helped by the fact there are only a couple of days between the tests.

Only time will tell whether English August is going to be good or bad.