This post is mainly about the amazing conclusion to the battle for the Border-Gavaskar trophy, the last day of which ended early this morning UK time. I will also be comparing the various formats that cricket now has and looking ahead to upcoming test series.
THE INJURY STREWN ROAD BACK FROM 36 ALL OUT
India took a first innings lead in the first test of the series, before that game underwent a shocking turnaround, as an hour of Cummins and Hazlewood at their best routed India for its lowest ever test score of 36, and Australia knocked of the target of 90 for the loss of two (see here for more details) wickets. At that point, with Kohli departing on paternity leave and injuries already making themselves felt an Indian series victory looked a long way away.
In the second match at the MCG India, captained by Rahane in the absence of Kohli hit back hard to level the series, but their injury list continued to lengthen.
In the third match of the series at Sydney, India continued to suffer injuries, with their two best spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja joining the crocked list. Also injured was Hanuma Vihari. However, in a display of determination that was a foretaste of what was to come at the Gabba, Vihari and Ashwin carried India to a hard fought draw in this match.
The final stop for India, with a bowling attack so depleted that those selected in bowling spots had one test cap between them, was the Gabba, where Australia were unbeaten since 1988, when a full strength West Indies, featuring one of the most awesome collections of fast bowlers ever seen, did the job.
Australia won the toss and chose to bat first (a number of sides of been lured in by the prospect of early life in the pitch and chosen to bowl, normally with terrible consequences – Hutton’s England leaked 601-8 in 1954-5 and lost by an innings and 160, Border’s Aussies conceded over 450 in 1986, were made to follow on and ended up beaten by seven wickets, Hussain’s England allowed Australia to reach 367-2 by the close of the opening day, and thereafter there was only going to be one result), and they tallied 369, a very respectable effort. Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar each featured prominently in the bowling figures, as did Siraj. At 186-6 India looked in colossal trouble, but Thakur and Sundar followed their bowling exploits with some excellent batting, making 67 and 62 respectively, and in the end the deficit was just 33.
India did well to restrict Australia’s 2nd innings to 294, which left them 329 to get and just over a day to do so. The weather which had intervened several times, did so once again, ending day 4 early with India 4-0, needing 324 off 98 overs on the final day to win, with a draw also sufficing to retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
By lunch on day five India had lost only one wicket, and Gill and Pujara were going well. The afternoon session was better for Australia, but they still did not capture many wickets, and Pant was batting well by the tea break.
When Mayank Agarwal fell for a skittish nine it still seemed that only two results were possible. Sundar joined Pant, and they were still together going into the mandatory last 15 overs, with 69 needed. By the ten over to go mark this was up around a run a ball, but they were still together. Briefly the ask went above one run per ball, but then Sundar hit a six and a four in quick succession, which in turn encouraged Pant, and suddenly the target was approaching at a rapid rate. Cummins, who had toiled heroically and picked up four wickets on the day gave way to Hazlewood, while Lyon was wheeling away at the other end. There was a brief wobble when Sundar fell essaying a reverse sweep and then Thakur got himself out cheaply, but the target was close to being achieved by then, and not long later a straight driven four for Rishabh Pant ended the chase, India winning by three wickets to take the series 2-1 and retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy in style. Pant had scored 89 not out, backing up Gill’s earlier 91 and a determined 56 from Pujara.
Pant was named Player of the Match, while his 20 wickets earned Cummins the Player of the Series award. Personally I would have given the match award to Thakur who made significant contributions to all of the first three innings, without which India would never have been in the contest, but I can understand why it went to Pant.
Of all the test series I have followed closely enough to comment on from personal experience (dating back to the 1989 Ashes debacle) this one between Australia and India has only one remotely serious rival, the 2005 Ashes series, which featured three of the greatest matches I have ever been witness to plus Pietersen and Giles’ heroics at The Oval.
ON CRICKET FORMATS
Top level cricket these days has four principal formats with a fifth in the pipeline, and this match just concluded at the Gabba, plus events at Galle prompted to me to write a little about each:
- Test Cricket – these two matches in their differing ways provided excellent case studies as to why the five day format is the best of the lot for cricket. Both matches featured fight backs which could not have been mounted in a shorter version of the game.
- First class cricket – played over either three or four days (one of the definitions of a first class cricket match is that it must last at least three days), and like test cricket the longer time frame enables things to happen that could not in a short match.
- One day cricket – played over the one day, usually one innings per side, although various split innings formats have been tried, and each side is limited to a certain number of overs, and at least five bowlers must be used. It has its great moments, notably the 2019 World Cup final, but the great majority of games in this format do not stick in the memory any longer than it takes to play them.
- T20 – One innings of 20 overs per side, various fielding restrictions and other gimmicks according to the exact competition. These can be cracking entertainment while they last, especially if they get close, but again few stick in the memory.
- The Hundred – 100 balls per innings for each side, to be bowled in some combination or other of blocks of five and ten balls. Nobody really knows why this joke of a format was invented, though after being delayed for a year by the pandemic it is expected to make’s it appearance in the 2021 English season. I feel that tampering to the extent that is involved in the design of this new format is unacceptable. The number of balls in an over has changed through cricket’s long history – it was four in the early days, five in the 1880s and 1890s, then six, then eight for a time (briefly in this country, for about 50 years in Australia) and then back to six, but it has always been fixed and constant within each match. Just as I refused to pay any attention to the Stanford extravaganza, rightly seeing it as fundamentally bad for cricket, so I plan to ignore the Hundred.
England have two series coming up against India, first in India, then in England, and an Ashes series down under at the end of the year. I now feel having seen an injury ravaged India fight like tigers and beat the Aussies in their own back yard that England will be lucky to win either series against India, but for all that no England team not holding the Ashes have won in Australia since 1970-1 they have a decent chance of winning that series. I noticed that Axar Patel, a left arm spinner, is in India’s squad for the upcoming series in India, and given the ‘rabbits in headlights’ responses of Messrs Crawley and Sibley to Lasith Embuldeniya taking the new ball for Sri Lanka I can see exactly how India might use him to their advantage! Overall, test cricket is in fine health, and has once again dealt very effectively with premature rumours of its sad demise, by producing a couple of amazing games that overlapped with one another.
Time for my usual sign off…