India Zindabad!

An account of the spectacular denouement to the Border-Gavaskar trophy series at the Gabba, a look at cricket formats and to upcoming test series, and some photographs.

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.

FUTURE TESTS

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.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Time for my usual sign off…

A Concatenation of Cricket

A look at each of BBL10, AusvInd and SLvENG (preview), including a mention of Claire Polosak’s history making involvement at the SCG, plus a link to a superb thread about Kohli, Smith and Williamson and my usual sign off.

There is a massive amount of cricket going on the moment, with the Big Bash League in full swing, Australia locked in battle with India in the test arena and England engaged in an intra-squad tussle as a warm-up match before their test series in Sri Lanka gets underway. This post will therefore be a long one.

AUSTRALIA V INDIA

Australia managed for the first time in the series to get a respectable first innings score on the board. However, they have plenty of cause for concern nevertheless. 338 is not commanding on a decent batting pitch, and 284 of those runs came from just three players: Smith 131, Labuschagne 91 and debutant Pucovski with 62. India were 96-2 by the end of the second day, and it should develop into a fine game. Ravi Jadeja, whose selection some were questioning, bagged four wickets with his left arm spin and also made an extraordinary run out when he had one stump to aim at from 45 metres, and hit it. Inexcusably, no Indian fielder had got into a position to back the throw up, so it was hit or bust for Jadeja, and he hit. Much of day 1 was lost to rain, which is why the run aggregate looks small for two days play. This match is also significant for the fact that the 4th umpire is Claire Polosak, the first female to officiate in a men’s test match. At the age of 32, she has many years left in which to rise further up the officiating pecking order.

THE BIG BASH LEAGUE

There has been some excellent action in the Big Bash League lately. Today’s game between the Strikers and the Renegades was one of the best games of the tournament, the Renegades getting home with one ball to spare. Renegades also won the Bash Boost point, gaining the full four points. However, even with the rather generous qualifying arrangements in this tournament (the top five go through to the knockout stage, and only eight teams are involved), Renegades remain seven points adrift of a qualifying slot with only five games to play. All of the other seven teams have realistic chances of continuing their involvement. Personally, for an eight team, single group, tournament I would allow just three teams to advance, and incentivize top finishers by arranging the mini-knockout as follows: the group winners go straight into the final, while second place take on third place in an eliminator, with second place rewarded for their own greater success in the group by being given home advantage for that match. With five teams qualifying you do not have to do that well to get through (even Renegades, though rank outsiders, are not completely out of contention yet, and the best they can finish with from their 14 games is won seven, lost seven, an exactly even record, and not one that IMO should have a chance of being rewarded with qualification).

There have been some very individualistic talents on display in the BBL, which set me thinking about a team of players who were uncompromising in doing things their own way. This was my chosen selection:

  1. *WG Grace – right handed opening batter, right arm bowler of varying types, captain. Before his emergence batting was very specialized, batters concentrating on either playing off the back or front foot, and in some cases specializing in one particular stroke. He demonstrated that it was possible for a batter to play a complete game, scoring off both front and back foot, and making use of a wide range of stroked to do so. He was so successful in doing things his way that he single-handedly altered the course of cricket history, setting the game on a course it would follow pretty much unaltered for a century.
  2. George Gunn – right handed opening batter. No one ever knew quite what he would do – he might come down the pitch in a fast bowler’s first over, or he might eschew stroke making altogether.
  3. Ted Dexter – right handed batter, right arm medium fast bowler. He was often accused of losing concentration because he often got out between 70 and 100. CLR James however was of the opinion that what happened was that when a hundred appeared on the horizon Dexter started concentrating, rather than just playing his natural game.
  4. Denis Compton – right handed batter, left arm wrist spinner. It is in keeping with Compton’s general approach that when he decided to develop his bowling he opted for the least frequently used of all bowling styles, left arm wrist spin. On one famous occasion he overbalanced while playing his stroke, brought has bat round in a sweep as he was falling and still collected four runs.
  5. Viv Richards – right handed batter, occasional off spinner. At Old Trafford in 1984 Derek Pringle, following the received wisdom of the day, attempted to tie Richards, going well, but with only lower order batters for support, down with a low full toss. Most batters of the time would have been happy with a single, and delighted had they got the ball away for four. Richards whipped it over mid wicket for six. Richards at the end of that innings had 189 not out in a score of 272-9, an ODI individual scoring record that remained his until Saeed Anwar topped it with 194, some years later. A demoralised England never looked like getting close to chasing those runs down.
  6. Garry Sobers – left handed batter, left arm bowler of every type known to cricket. The most outrageously gifted cricketer of them all, he started as a left arm spinner batting low in the order, became one of the greatest of all batters. He also taught himself to bowl fast, and while playing Lancashire League cricket he learned to swing the ball under the leaden skies that are a feature of that part of the world.
  7. Gilbert Jessop – right handed batter, right arm fast bowler, ‘gun’ fielder. The fastest scoring batter in the game’s history, a useful bowler and a brilliant fielder.
  8. +Alan Knott – wicket keeper, right handed batter. As a batter he was highly effective in a very unorthodox way. Similarly, his keeping, among the best the game has ever seen, was marked by an absolute unconcern for appearance, so long as it worked. He would tape the top of his keeping pads to his trousers to make sure that they could not flap and thereby possibly incommode him.
  9. Cecil Parkin – right arm ‘all sorts’ bowler. He had a penchant for bowling six different types of ball per over. When it wasn’t his day this made setting a field for him difficult, but when it was his day he was well nigh unplayable.
  10. Sydney Barnes – right arm fast medium bowler. That designation tells about 1% of the story. His signature weapon was a leg break delivered at fast medium pace. The nearest any other bowler came to rediscovering this delivery was Alec Bedser immediately after World War II. When Barnes was bowling, it did not much matter who the captain was – Barnes was in control, and everyone, fielders and batters alike knew it.
  11. Jack Iverson – right arm wrist spinner. An unusual designation to use, appropriately since he was a mighty unusual bowler. He bowled with a leg spinner’s action, but sent down off breaks. His extraordinary life and career are covered splendidly in Gideon Haigh’s “Mystery Spinner”.

Two honourable mentions: Johnny Wardle, a master of all forms of left arm spin, but lack of space combined with the presence of Sobers and Compton induced me to not pick him. Derek Underwood’s unique left arm slow/medium bowling was something I would have liked to feature, but not at the expense of Parkin or Iverson who were the only two I could have dropped for him.

ENGLAND IN SRI LANKA

Today England started an intra-squad warm up match, over two days, with each side to bat for fifty overs in the 1st innings and then events to take their course. We have learned little new from today: Ollie Pope, who will not be playing in the test as he is not fully recovered from an injury, bats better with one good shoulder than most of his colleagues with two, which is no great surprise, and the ultimate ‘dog bites man’ story, James Anderson can take wickets anywhere. There was one genuine positive though, Jack Leach relocating form and confidence. The delivery with which he accounted for Ben Foakes was a beauty. This is the XI I would be picking for the first test, limiting my supplementary notes to the controversial selections:

  1. Dominic Sibley
  2. Zak Crawley
  3. James Bracey (with India and Australia being England’s next confirmed opponents and the only others on the menu for this year, New Zealand, now at no1 in the test rankings after thrashing the daylights out of Pakistan, it makes sense to use absences among the seniors to get some new players in against these relatively easy opponents, and I hate the notion of going full-on retrograde by picking Bairstow). He is better suited to no3 than my other envisaged batting newcomer.
  4. *Joe Root
  5. Dan Lawrence – my other envisaged batting debutant.
  6. +Ben Foakes – a recall for England’s best keeper, against opponents he has played well against before, resting Buttler for the big challenges ahead (I want five bowling options in Sri Lanka, which means I cannot accommodate both Buttler and Foakes, and especially after what has happened with Rishabh Pant in Sydney I am not prepared to do without the best available keeper).
  7. Chris Woakes – my chosen all-rounder.
  8. Sam Curran – a three-way battle for this slot, but in view of the risk I have taken with my selections at 9,10 and 11, and the fact that there is little likelihood of a Sri Lankan pitch inspiring an out and out speedster I have opted for Curran’s left arm to add variety, and for his batting skills, rather than go for Wood or Stone for speed.
  9. Jack Leach – the left arm spinner is in form, and it is about time that England started giving genuine spinners some encouragement.
  10. James Anderson – the evergreen Lancastrian looks sharp and ready, and the other veteran, Stuart Broad, has a very poor record in Sri Lanka, so with space IMO for only one of the two I have gone for the man with 600 test wickets.
  11. Matt Parkinson – today after I had advocated for him on twitter I was told by someone that “he is a white ball bowler”. While it is true that he is principally known for his limited overs bowling, a first class bowling average of 25.22, three five wicket innings hauls and one ten wicket match does not bear out the flat statement above – he can certainly handle a red ball.

This team is a little light on batting, with Foakes at six and Woakes at seven, but Sri Lanka do not have a great bowling unit – they have just been harshly dealt with by South Africa. The bowling offers great variety, with Curran and Anderson to share the new ball, Woakes as a third pace bowling option and two contrasting front line spinners, with Root’s occasional tweakers as a sixth option if needed.

A SPLENDID THREAD

This twitter thread about the batting of that great trio Kohli, Smith and Williamson was created by allthingscricket, and I recommend you read it in full by clicking here. Screenshot below:

The start of allthingscricket’s thread about the great trio.

A PETITON & PHOTOGRAPHS

Before my usual sign off, I have a petition to share. This one is open only to UK residents, as it is on the official UK government petition site. It calls for students to be excused some of this year’s tuition fees, as they are not getting what they pay for, since they are quite correctly not able to be at University at present. Click here to sign and share. Screenshot below:

Now it is time for my usual sign off…