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…

Galle and Brisbane

A look at the two test matches currently in progress, and at Joe Root’s status as an England batter.

There are two test matches in progress at the moment, with overlapping playing hours. This post looks at both.

GALLE: ENGLAND ON TOP

When bad light brought a slightly early end to day three in Galle (due to the old fort that adjoins the ground Galle stadium cannot have floodlights – the fort is a World Heritage Site, so my usual gripe re bad light and test matches does not apply here) Sri Lanka were beginning to offer resistance, but were coming from a very long way behind.

Day Two, also truncated by the weather, saw England establish complete control. Bairstow failed to add to his overnight 47, but debutant Dan Lawrence made a fine 73, Buttler was looking comfortable by the close, and Root had a blemish free 168 not out to his credit. England were 320-4 and looking at all sorts of history if things continued the same way.

Day Three saw the remaining England wickets add just a further 101, Root being last out for a splendid 228. The only chance he offered in this innings was the one that was taken at deep midwicket to end it. Embuldeniya had every right to feel more than a little frustrated, a fine effort with the ball leaving him with figures of 3-176 while the much less impressive Perera had four wickets in the end. Root’s innings took his test aggregate past 8,000, in fewer innings than any England batter save Pietersen (KP 176, Root 178). It now stands at 8,059, meaning that he needs a further 56 to become the all-time leading test run scorer among Yorkshiremen. Inspired by the rapid fall of England’s last six wickets Sri Lanka then showed some fight with the bat, helped it must be said by an unimpressive bowling display from England. Bess could not get his length right, Leach was unlucky, there was little for the quicker bowlers, though Curran picked up a wicket when a rank long hop sailed straight to deep third man. Root tried a few overs but unaccountably Lawrence was not given a go. Mendis finally got off the mark after four successive ducks, a sequence known in the trade as an ‘Audi’, thereby avoiding the ‘Olympic’, but fell just before the close. Sri Lanka sent Embuldeniya in as nightwatchman, and the light closed in quick enough that he was still there at stumps. Scores so far: Sri Lanka 135 and 156-2, England 421, SL need 130 more to avoid the innings defeat.

England are of course heavy favourites, but that should not conceal the problems – Bess has been far too erratic, and if he bowls this kind of stuff in India he will be destroyed, other than Root and Lawrence there were no major batting contributions.

IS ROOT ENGLAND’S GREATEST EVER BATTER?

This question was raised on twitter today, in view of the milestone Root has just reached in test cricket and his great records in the other two formats. My own answer was that this question cannot be resolved because it is impossible to compare different eras, but Root is a magnificent all-format player who would have been a great in any era. I am now going to look, in chronological order, at some of those who might have been just as good had there been multiple formats in their day. I have restricted myself to players who experienced international cricket…

  • WG Grace – the man who virtually created modern batting. He successfully countered every type of bowling that existed in his day, could score rapidly when the occasion warrants (in 1895, less than two months shy of his 47th birthday, he scored 257 and 73 not out v Kent, the latter played against the clock to chase down a target, which was achieved successfully.
  • Jack Hobbs – The Master, capable of very attacking performances, especially in his younger days.
  • Herbert Sutcliffe – as he once famously told Plum Warner “ah luv a dogfight”, a claim borne out by his averages: 52.02 in first class cricket, 60.73 in test cricket, 66.85 in Ashes cricket. Although he is best known for long determined innings, like his seven-hour 161 which began on difficult pitch at The Oval in 1926, and his 135 at Melbourne two and a half years later, he could and did attack when the occasion demanded it. His 100th first class hundred was made with Yorkshire needing quick runs, and he hit eight sixes along the way.
  • Walter Hammond – averaged 58.45 at test level. His highest score was 336 not out against New Zealand, accrued in just 318 minutes. When he scored 1,000 first class runs in May 1927 the innings that completed the achievement came at the expense of Hampshire, and saw him score 192 out of 227 made while he was at the crease. He once started a day’s play v Lancashire by hitting Ted McDonald, then the best fast bowler in the world, for five successive boundaries, and according to Neville Cardus, a Lancastrian, it was only a fine bit of fielding by Jack Iddon that stopped it being six boundaries out of six for the over.
  • Denis Compton – averaged over 50 for England, reached 100 first class hundreds in 552 innings, a tally beaten only by Bradman (295), scored the quickest ever first class triple hundred, reaching the mark in 181 minutes at Benoni in 1948.
  • Peter May – the 1950s were a low and slow scoring decade, and yet Peter May averaged 46 in test cricket through that decade, and was noted for his stroke making.

INDIA FIGHTING HARD AT THE GABBA

India have had terrible problems with injuries during their tour of Australia. Among those on the sidelines for this match were both halves of India’s best new ball pairing, Bumrah and Shami, both of India’s two best test spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja, and others. Nevertheless, they are very far from being down and out at the Gabba. Australia won the toss and batted, scoring 359, with three wickets a piece for Natarajan, Thakur and Sundar, of whom only Thakur had previously played test cricket. India had reached 62-2 in reply before a storm hit Brisbane, bringing an end to play for day two. Rahane and Pujara are together at the crease, with Agarwal and Pant still to come, Sundar at seven capable of making a useful contribution and then the specialist bowlers. If India win it will be an incredible achievement, if they manage the draw and thereby retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy that will still be a mighty effort, and even if Australia ultimately prevail I for one will salute India for making such a fight of this series in the face of so many misfortunes.

PHOTOGRAPHS

I end with my usual sign off…

Some BBL Thoughts and All Time XIs Revisited

A look at the innovations featured in the tenth edition of the Big Bash League and a visit to all-time XI territory, with place names the link on this occasion.

A two-parter today, first looking at the innovations featured in this year’s Big Bash League and then, inspired by something I noticed during commentary on today’s weather hit game a revisit to all-time XI territory.

BBL INNOVATIONS

The current version of the Big Bash League, the tenth running of said tournament, features three innovations, and I shall touch on each in turn:

  1. Power Surge: instead of a straight six overs of power play and then 14 of standard fielding restrictions there are now four overs of power play, and then a Power Surge of two overs, to be claimed at any time after 10 overs at the behest of the batting side. This has been a really successful innovation, with a lot of thought going into to when to take it. Ideally you would want two set batters at the crease to maximize the potential gain, and also to be quite close to the end of the innings to use it as a kind of springboard into a big finish. I can see the possibility of claiming it for overs 11 and 12 if the openers are still together, on the understanding that a big hitter will be promoted to cash in on it if one of the openers falls. If that is not an option then if two batters are going well at the end of the 15th over, claiming it for overs 16 and 17 with a view to really making the final quarter of the innings pay would appeal. I do not share TMS Commentator Simon Mann’s view about taking it for the last two overs of the innings being a good notion.
  2. Bash Bonus Point – a bonus point is awarded to the team who score more from their first 10 overs, while three are awarded for the outright win. This has led to some interesting situations where teams knowing that overall victory is effectively out of the question go all out for being ahead after 10 overs in an effort to salvage something, as opposed to concentrating on surviving the full 20 overs so that their net run rate does not take a hammering. I consider this to be a success, although I could see a situation where a team gets knocked out due to this innovation, and fans would not be happy with that.
  3. The ‘x-factor’ sub: players designated for this role before the game may be brought in (no more than one per side) after a maximum of ten overs of the first innings of the match. The substituted player must not have batted and may not have bowled more than one over (sensible caveats which prevent a specialist batter being used and then replaced by a specialist bowler, and vice versa). I have witnessed only two matches (via TMS commentaries) in which these players have been used, one of them today’s no-result. I have waited until I had actually seen the usage of such players before commenting on the innovation, but I have seen nothing to alter my initial thinking that if you actually pick your best XI at the start you should not need to make use of this option, and the fact that uptake of it has been very limited is itself a comment on the innovation. Thus I score these innovations at two out of three.

A PLACE NAMES XI

One of the players who featured in today’s match was Joel Paris, a left arm pace bowler, which started me thinking about players who have places in their names. I set myself rules that the place name must be the whole of on the player’s names, not part thereof, and that it must be spelt the same way (as you will see later this latter was germane). After I have been through the batting order I will explain some of those who missed out for one reason or another.

  1. Sir Leonard Hutton – right handed opening batter, occasional leg spinner. Hutton is a place in Essex, on the edge of Shenfield.
  2. Sidney George Barnes – right handed opening batter, occasional leg spinner. A combination of World War Two and the fact that he and the authorities did not always get on limited his test career to 13 matches, in which he recorded an average of 63. Barnes is near Putney, either southwest London or Surrey depending on who you consult.
  3. Frank Woolley – left handed batter, left arm orthodox spinner, excellent close fielder. Woolley is a small village, almost precisely equidistant between Barnsley and Wakefield in Yorkshire.
  4. Ken Barrington – right handed batter, occasional leg spinner. Upper and Lower Barrington are a matched pair of villages in Gloucestershire (Marcus Berkmann mentions them in one of his books about life in cricket’s lower reaches).
  5. Victor York Richardson – right handed batter, fine fielder, occasional wicket keeper. A fine test batter in the 1920s and 30s, and grandfather of two others, Ian and Greg Chappell, his middle name gets him into this team.
  6. *Warwick Armstrong – right handed batter, leg spinner, captain. I rated him the finer of the two regular test captains in this line up, and anyway I wanted Hutton free to concentrate on his batting. In the 1905 tour of England he scored over 2,000 runs and took over 100 wickets in first class matches.
  7. +Jack Blackham – right handed batter, wicket keeper. He played in each of the first 17 test matches ever contested and is regarded as one of the greatest of all keepers. Blackham is a small village almost exactly equidistant between East Grinstead in Sussex and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
  8. Washington Sundar – off spinner, left handed lower order batter. The 21 year old Indian has been making a name for himself in T20, but he also has a more than adequate FC record, averaging 31.29 with the bat and 26.93 with the ball in that format.
  9. Joel Paris – left arm fast medium bowler, left handed lower order batter. His first class averages are just the right way around – 23.38 with the bat and 23.25 with the ball.
  10. Sydney Francis Barnes – right arm fast medium bowler, right handed lower order batter. In the case of Sidney Barnes the batter I had to use his surname as the place name, but this greatest of all bowlers qualifies twice over, since his first name Sydney is spelt the same way as Australia’s largest city.
  11. Ian Peebles – leg spinner, right handed lower order batter. Peebles is due south of Edinburgh.

This team has a deep batting order, a very varied and strong bowling attack, and would definitely give a good account of itself. Now for some honourable mentions:

William Maldon Woodfull, a fine opening bat and captain for Victoria and Australia would qualify by virtue of his middle name, which is a place in Essex and also the place in Victoria where he was born. Anthony William Greig, an attacking middle order bat good enough to average 40 in test cricket and a decent bowler of both medium pace and off spin missed out by a single letter – the Cornish seaside village of Antony not having an H in its name. Rahkeem Cornwall might have replaced Washington Sundar without unduly weakening the team (he is also an off spinner and more than useful lower order batter). Had I allowed myself to reach back a few hundred years to a long antiquated spelling of a place near York, which is now always spelt Bootham, as it is pronounced, I could have accommodated Ian Terrence Botham – the single o spelling was once a thing. Arran Brindle, a batter for England women who has at least one century in men’s club cricket to her name, could have got in via her first name. Ian Peebles’ place in the XI could have gone to either of two other leg spinners, Richie Benaud, whose name derives from a village in France, but who I would have heading the commentary team, and Amanda-Jade Wellington. Finally, I was tempted to find a place for Mike Gatting who shares a surname with a legendary former UK constituency. The old Gatting constituency, disenfranchised in 1831, contained one grand house, and it happened on one occasion that the butler had a quarrel with the master of the house and stood against the master’s son (the master by this time considering himself to old to be a candidate). The master voted for his son over the butler and that was that.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Now it is time for my usual sign off: