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…

Adelaide Antics

An account of two and a half extraordinary days of cricket at Adelaide.

The first test between Australia and India in the latest series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy has ended after only half the allotted time, with Australia winning by eight wickets. Two and a half days proved ample time for some extraordinary happenings as we shall see…

THE MATCH

This match was a day-nighter which made it slightly easier to follow from the UK (the BBC have rights to Australian radio broadcasts for three years, so there was live commentary on 5 Live Sports Extra) – just a very early morning start as opposed an all-nighter. Both sides had questions over their opening pairs due to injuries. For India Prithvi Shaw got the nod to open with Mayank Agarwal, while with both Warner and heir apparent Pucovski hors de combat for Australia they opted for Matthew Wade, who had never previously opened a first class innings, never mind a test one to partner Joe Burns. The other question was over India’s choice of keeper, and they opted for the superior keeper, Wriddhiman Saha rather than deepening their batting by selecting Rishabh Pant.

India won the toss and chose to bat. The second ball of the game exposed a gap between Shaw’s bat and pad through which an HGV could have been driven, leading to the ‘death rattle’ and India were 0-1. Agarwal also fell cheaply, before Chesteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli stabilized things. Pujara batted well up to a point, but did not do quite enough to keep the scoreboard ticking. Ajinkya Rahane now joined Kohli and for a time all was rosy for India, as the pairing prospered. The falling sweep twitter account piped up to mention that Rahane had never been run out in a test innings, to which I could not resist responding with a question as to whether that related to good running or an ability to ensure that his partners lost their wickets when mix-ups occurred. A few moments after this exchange Rahane proceeded to stitch his skipper up, and India were four down. Rahane himself followed not long after, and Hanuma Vihari also fell cheaply, bringing R Ashwin into join the keeper Saha. None of the remaining members of the batting order, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami could lay claim to any real batting skill, although Bumrah had just notched his maiden first class 50 in a warm-up game against Australia A. Saha and Ashwin made it to the close with the score at 233-6.

The second day began with a flurry of wickets, as India were quickly rounded up for a total of 244. Australia made this total look quite respectable, and it was only a fighting 73 not out from captain/ wicket keeper Tim Paine that kept their deficit to 53. India missed a cartload of chances as well – officially five catches went down, and there was more than one incident of an edge falling short of a fielder who had positioned themselves too deep to make the catch. Among thos reprieved was Paine himself on 25.

India began their second innings 25 minutes before the cut-off time at which stumps had to be drawn, which I thought represented a case for promoting Pujara to open in place of the clearly vulnerable Shaw (check my twitter account and you will see that I posted to this effect at the time). India felt otherwise and in to bat trooped Shaw and Agarwal. This time Shaw did get off the mark, but with four to his name he was bowled in pretty much identical fashion to the first innings, the ball going through a veritable chasm between bat and pad to hit the stumps. Bumrah was then sent in as nightwatchman, and managed to see things through to the close at 9-1.

For some reason known only to themselves the BBC were not joining the broadcast of the third day’s play until 40 minutes after the start, so I missed the beginning of the end, the commentary being joined just as Kohli was dismissed to make it 19-6. I heard commentary on the dismissals that I had missed, as playbacks were presented during the coverage of what remained, and I heard the end of the Indian innings and the entire Australia chase. Agarwal and Bumrah took the score to 15 before Bumrah was out, the first of four successive wickets, the others being Agarwal, Pujara and Rahane to fall with the score at 15. Saha and Ashwin fell in successive balls as well, and that was 26-8. At 31 Vihari, the last recognized batter was ninth out, and five runs later Shami was struck on the arm and retired hurt, leaving the Indian 2nd innings all over for just 36, their lowest ever test score (previously 42 versus England). Australia thus required 90 to win. Burns and Wade batted well, before Wade was run out with Australia 20 short of the target. Labuschage holed out with eight still needed. The end came with Joe Burns hitting a six that also took him to a half century.

His 73 not out, captaincy and excellent wicket keeping, including a fistful of catches in that second Indian innings earned Paine the man of the match award.

THE INDIAN 2ND INNINGS

Normally when a team is out very cheaply there is at least some culpability on the part of the batters. When England sank for 46 to lose a match they had been ahead in at Trinidad in 1994 the rout began with Atherton padding up to the first ball and being plumb LBW, Ramprakash falling in the same over, also to a dismissal that suggested a player and a team in a funk. Here, apart from Shaw at the end of day two, the wickets all seem to have fallen to magnificent bowling, Cummins (four wickets, including his 150th in test cricket) and Hazlewood (five, at one stage 5-3, 5-8 by the end of the innings, including his 200th test wicket) bowling a perfect line and length and benefitting from some good fortune which both thoroughly deserved, as they found numerous edges and each edge was pouched, mostly by the keeper, some by other fielders. 36 all out in a test is a shocker, but here any honest observer has to credit the bowling, not blame the batting.

One crumb of comfort for India: immediately after the 46 all out I referred to earlier, and which I regard as a worse collapse, for all that England then scraped up 10 more runs than India managed this time, England travelled to Barbados where the West Indies had not been beaten in 59 years, and proceeded to win comfortably, Alec Stewart notching a century in each innings.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Obviously India have a mountain climb, and the fact that Kohli is leaving to be with his wife as she gives birth and Shami is in jeopardy due to his injury today makes it even steeper, but they must not give up. The next game is at the MCG, where they won comfortably last time they were in Australia, and Bumrah in particular will have fond memories of that match. At the start of the 1902 Ashes Australia were bowled out for 36 in a single innings, albeit then being saved by the weather, and rebounded to win the series 2-1, with England’s lone victory coming in the final match at The Oval. I await the match in Melbourne with great interest, having enjoyed this one very much.

PLAYER RATINGS

I will start with the winning team:

Matthew Wade – given a job to do that he had never previously done he can be proud of his contribution to a low scoring match. 6/10
Joe Burns – many were questioning his presence in this team, and his first innings effort was far from encouraging. He also struggled in the first part of his second innings, but in the end emerged with flying colours. 7/10
Marnus Labuschagne – a gritty effort in the first innings when the rest of the Aussie front line batters all fell cheaply, and he fell in the second innings when trying to speed Australia over the winning line. 7/10
Steve Smith – R Ashwin demonstrated in the first innings that the least elegant but most effective batter in the game can be dismissed cheaply, and he did not the opportunity to make a noteworthy contribution to the 2nd innings. 3/10
Travis Head – an anonymous match for him. He failed in his only batting innings. 2/10
Cameron Green – a hugely exciting young all rounder of whom I expect to be hearing much more. He did enough in this game to demonstrate that he belongs at the highest level. 5/10
Tim Paine – a gritty innings, some fine keeping and good captaincy (although his use of the DRS still needs plenty of work). His player of the match award was well merited. 9/10
Pat Cummins – the right arm quick demonstrated why he is currently ranked the no1 test bowler in the world, bowling very well in the first Indian innings and magnificently in the second. 9/10
Mitchell Starc – good with the ball in the first innings, not much needed in the second. 7/10
Josh Hazlewood – a superb bowling effort in the second innings in tandem with Pat Cummins, and adequate in the first innings. 8/10
Nathan Lyon – the off spinner was out bowled by his rival Ashwin, but in a match where the quicks were more prominent he was far from failing. 7/10

Now we turn the Indians:

Mayant Agarwal: not a match the established opener will look back on with any pride. 4/10
Prithvi Shaw: a nightmare for the youngster who has a magnificent record in Indian domestic cricket but is not yet established as a test player. I cannot see him continuing as an opener – it is an early wicket every time for the Aussies if he does, but he may have a role in this series nonetheless as there will be a vacancy at no4, where he will be less exposed. 1/10
Cheteshwar Pujara: he did a solid job in the first innings, although he should have done more to keep the scoreboard ticking. Failed in the second innings. 4/10
Virat Kohli: before being stitched up by Rahane in the first innings he looked nailed on for a century. 7/10
Ajinkya Rahane: played well in the first innings, but a lot of the good he did for his side with his personal score was negated by his role in Kohli’s dismissal and his own subsequent dismissal shortly afterwards. Including the run out of Kohli the last 16 Indian wickets plus Shami retired hurt raised just 89 between them. 3/10
Hanuma Vihari: two failures for the youngster. 2/10
Wriddhiman Saha: kept superbly as usual, and looked to have done a valuable job with the bat in the closing stages of the opening day. 4/10
R Ashwin: good work with the bat near the end of the first day, but dismissed right at the start of the second when a decent morning’s batting could have put India out of reach in the match. Bowled beautifully in the Australian first innings and was rewarded with four wickets. 7/10
Umesh Yadav: bowled respectably in the first Australian innings. 5/10
Jasprit Bumrah: bowled impressively and commanded respect from all the Aussies. It must be said that there was little evidence of his much vaunted improvement with the bat and using him as nightwatchman was probably a mistake (if India were going to protect any of their major batters it should have been Shaw, which they could have done by promoting Pujara one place). Still, he did little noticeably wrong, and did manage the nightwatchman’s first task of surviving to the close of play. 6/10

Looking at the players India have available for the second match I would suggest that they select Shubman Gill to open with Agarwal and fill the temporarily vacant no4 slot by moving Shaw down from his current opening berth.

If you wish to see a scorecard and some more recognized views about this match, click here.

PHOTOGRAPHS

My usual sign off…