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…

BBL10 And A Great Test Match

A great test match, some fine BBL10 action, a very important petition and some photographs.

Overnight UK time Australia and India were fighting out a test match in Sydney, while this edition of the BBL continues to impress. I am going to start with…

TEST CRICKET IS THE BEST CRICKET – A FIVE DAY DEMO

Australia took a first innings lead of 94 over India – 338 vs 244. Ravi Jadeja suffered an injury which ended his participation in the series, although he said that if necessary he would bat in India’s second innings. Jadeja is almost criminally underrated by the cricketing world at large, being on recent figures the best all rounder in test cricket (although New Zealand youngster Kyle Jamieson is bidding fair to change that if he continues as he has started). This was therefore a massive loss – he had already contributed four first innings wickets, some useful unbeaten runs and a superb run out to this match.

Australia made decent runs for the second time of the match, although they were once again heavily dependent on Smith and Labuschagne to do so. They declared at 312-6, setting India 407 in four sessions to win, or else bat out for a draw. By the close of day four India were 98-2, with Pujara and Rahane together.

Rahane was out almost before the final day had begun, which brought Rishabh Pant to the crease. I regard Pant as a proven liability with the keeper’s gloves, but have never questioned his batting talents, and he played a magnificent innings, which briefly ignited hopes of an incredible victory for the visitors. Once he was dismissed for 97 victory was pretty much off the menu, but Pujara was still there, playing very well. Vihari strained a hamstring taking a run, but battled on gamely. Pujara’s dismissal seemed to have once again swung things decisively Australia’s way, bringing R Ashwin to the crease, since Jadeja was being held back due to his injury. Ashwin to a blow to the ribs, but like Vihari, he refused to allow the pain of his injury to deter him. Some hostile bowling, led as usual by Cummins, and alas some vicious sledging, failed to dislodge either of the pair. Eventually, the close of play arrived, with India 334-5, 73 short of victory, and possibly by then favourites had the match been extended to give a definite result.

This was a match which commanded attention throughout five absorbing days of play, and while the heist did not eventuate, the way Ashwin and Vihari, both incommoded by injuries, battled it out at the death and saw their side to a draw will live long in the memory. The final match takes place at the Gabba, a ground where Australia have not lost since 1988. If India win or draw they retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy, while only a win will do for Australia. In 2010-11 England staged a great escape at the Gabba in the series opener, after trailing by over 200 on first innings, and then obliterated the Aussies in the second match at Adelaide, and just maybe saving this game in such a fashion as they did will be the fillip India need to produce something very special to finish this series.

THE BBL

There have been three BBL games since my last blog post. In the first Scorchers sprang a surprise by beating Thunder who had been topping the group. Scorchers batted first, and after 14 overs were 101-4, at which point they claimed the Power Surge. They made brilliant use of those two overs with fielding restrictions in place, accruing no fewer than 40 runs from them. This was followed by a strong finish and a final score of 185-6. Thunder were behind over the Power Play, ahead in runs at the 10 over mark, giving them the Bash Boost point, but also a wicket behind on the comparison. They had a good start to the second half of their innings, reaching 119-4 after 14, at which point they claimed their own Power Surge. This was where they lost their way, and with it, the match. The two overs of Power Surge yielded them just 18 runs and saw the fall of two wickets – suddenly they were four runs and two wickets worse off than the Scorchers had been at the same stage. Overs 17 and 18 were good for them, and with two overs to go they were 161-7 and still just about in the hunt. The 19th over settled the issue, just two runs coming from it and a wicket falling. 23 off the final over was never going to happen, and in the event Thunder were all out for 168, beaten by 17 runs.

Yesterday morning UK time the Heat were in action against the Sixers. Heat were put in after the Sixers won the bat flip, and after four overs were 29-2. After 10 overs this had become 59-3. After 13 overs, when they claimed the Power Surge for overs 13 and 14 they were 77-3. By the end of the 15th, the second Power Surge over they were 109-4, 32-1 from the Surge. The last five overs of the Heat innings were disastrous, yielding 39-6 for a final score of 148 all out. Sixers were behind most of the way through the chase, though they got the Bash Boost point, being 60-4 after their first 10 overs. They were 104-4 after 15, and in the hunt, but not comfortably placed. In the 18th they looked in real trouble, seven down, and still noticeably adrift, but the veteran Dan Christian was batting very well at one end, and he pulled the game out of the fire for the Sixers, just getting them home off the penultimate possible ball. Heat were unfortunate to come away from this match with nothing, while the Sixers moved to the top of the group.

This morning’s game featured the Stars against the Strikers. The Stars were second bottom and in need of a win, while the Strikers were more comfortably placed but were about to lose the services of Rashid Khan, departing from the tournament to play for his country, Afghanistan, and could do with a cushion between them and those just outside the qualifying zone.

The Stars chose to bat first, and were in trouble for almost the entirety of their innings. They were 17-1 after four overs of what was supposed to be POWER PLAY, picked things up somewhat to be 67-3 after ten, then delayed the Power Surge far too long (my own opinion that the Surge is best taken somewhere between over 11, the earliest point at which it becomes available and over 15 depending on circumstances being strengthened by having heard during today’s commentary that Brian Charles Lara, who certainly knows a bit about batting, is also a fan of using the Surge early rather than leaving it late), eventually taking it at 105-5 after 16 overs. They managed 16 runs and lost two further wickets in those two overs. 121-7 after 18. A flourish at the end got them to 149-7, a total that looked decidedly modest. Strikers missed out on the Bash Boost point, Carey holing out in attempting to get it off the final ball of the 10th. After 14 overs Strikers were 96-3 and they claimed the Power Surge at that point, a sensible move. The Power Surge overs saw Strikers score 20 and lose one wicket. A quiet 17th over seemed to have brought Stars back into things, but the 18th over settled the issue, 18 coming from it, and even with a wicket falling along the way, 12 runs off 12 balls was never likely to test Strikers. In the event the 20th over was not needed, as the winning runs came off the final ball of the 19th, when a difficult catch went down and the batters got through for the two they needed. Save for overs 5-10 inclusive the Strikers had won every phase of the game. Where they were decisively clear was in the Power Play and Power Surge overs – Stars managing a combined 33-3 from those overs of their innings, while Strikers scored 47-2 from the equivalent overs of their innings, 14 runs and one wicket better. As this tournament develops it is becoming clear that the Power Surge needs to be claimed fairly early, firstly so it can act as a springboard to a big finish, and secondly to ensure that you actually have proper batters to cash in on it. Stars should probably have used in overs 11-12 of their innings, when Stoinis, well set, could have used it as a major launching pad. As it was, their last pair of recognized batters were together when they finally took it, with Adam Zampa next man in.

All of this means that Stars, Heat and Scorchers are now all on 16 points, separated only by net run rate, although Scorchers, leading the trio and in the final qualifying place, also have a game in hand. Strikers have temporarily gone third, displacing Hurricanes, who in action tomorrow, and have a four point cushion, equivalent to a win plus a Bash Boost point, on the teams just outside the qualifying zone. The two Sydney based teams, Sixers and Thunder, top the group and are pretty much sure to qualify, Strikers and Hurricanes are also well placed to do so, while Scorchers, Heat and Stars are battling for the remaining place, with Renegades effectively gone.

A PETITION AND PHOTOGRAPHS

Just before my usual sign off, a petition, calling on the government to give key workers a pay rise. Please click here to sign and share the petition, a screenshot of which is below:

The petition I want you all to sign and share.