Category Archives: test cricket

South Africa face trial by spin against a strong Indian team

Faf du Plessis returns as South Africa take on a very difficult assignment against a team who are chasing 11 consecutive home series win. South Africa’s last visit to India did not go well and their 3-0 loss was one of their worst performances in subcontinent conditions and possibly left many of their young players pretty scarred. The chief destroyers from the series Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be back in action for the Indian team and the pitches this time as well will be aiding spinners.

The South African team though will rely a lot on the batting of captain Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock. The rest of the batting though except for Aiden Markham are inexperienced in these conditions and will be hoping for lots of help from the experienced heads. The bowling attack will have the talented Keshav Maharaj and the fantastic Kagiso Rabada leading the attack. Vernon Philander is back to take the new ball giving South Africa a pretty well rounded bowling attack for the conditions.

For India though the opening combination is still an issue. Rohit Sharma will be taking up that mantle this time along with Mayank Agarwal. The middle order though has a settled look with Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. Hanuma Vihari who had a great West Indian tour will take the number 6 slot in the batting order. Rishabh Pant has been dropped owing to his poor performances in Tests recently which means Wriddhiman Saha makes a comeback to the Test side. Jasprit Bumrah’s stress fracture means that Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami will be the two lone Pacers in the XI. Jadeja and Ashwin as the spin bowling all rounders will complete the Indian bowling attack for the first Test.

Key Players:

Cheteshwar Pujara (India): Pujara was instrumental in India achieving the historic series win in Australia earlier this year. Even though he had a poor series in West Indies, his credentials as a very good player of spin makes him very important in home conditions. He averages 62 at home with more than 3000 runs and he once again will be crucial for India in this series.

Ravichandran Ashwin (India): Closing in on 350 Test wickets Ashwin will be back to being the lead spinner in home conditions. His record at home is exceptional with 234 wickets at 22.68 and he will once again be key for India on pitches which will for sure be helping spin.

Faf du Plessis (South Africa): In an inexperienced batting line up Faf will hold the key for South Africa’s chances. He has been on multiple tours to India and has most experience playing in these conditions and him having a good series will be crucial for his side on this tough tour.

Keshav Maharaj (South Africa): Maharaj was brilliant in Sri Lanka and bowled his heart out on yet another subcontinent loss for his side. He would want to bring all that experience onto this series to help his side against a very strong home batting line up. It will not be easy but Maharaj is extremely talented and will be leading the South African spin attack this series.

Probable XIs:

India XI: Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli (C), Ajinkya Rahane, Hanuma Vihari, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Mohammad Shami

South Africa XI: Aiden Markram, Dean Elgar, Theunis de Bruyn, Faf du Plessis (c), Temba Bavuma, Quinton de Kock (wk), Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, Dane Piedt, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi

What they said?

“I think the most amount of credit has to go to the team, because we, we lay down a vision in 2015, that, you know, we’re going to be flexible [with our combination]. We were going to choose sides according to the conditions that we’re playing in. Because we want results, we want to be successful as a team, and we want to be at the top of the world. So if the team hadn’t bought into it, then it becomes a little difficult for guys who started don’t start to, you know, play with the kind of intent that you played with.” Said captain Virat Kohli about the success of his team over the last few years

“If you look at our squad, there’s a hell lot of new faces from the last time. It could work in our favour in terms of the brand of cricket and positivity. Yes it may not go our way but we are here to compete. We are not going to lie down and back down with the sort of old woes from the last tour. And who knows, it could be our time, in the next three Test matches, to shock some people.” Said Keshav Maharaj ahead of the first Test

This will be South Africa’s start of the Test championship and they will be hoping to make a good start to their campaign. India who have already been to a flying start with 120 points would want to build on it and start of the home season with a bang. Even though the visitors are expected to give a better account of themselves this time around, the hosts are overwhelming favourites to win this series and it will be hard to bet against that result.

Afghanistan’s fairytale continues as Bangladesh succumb to an embarrassing home defeat

Afghanistan are the newbies of Test cricket. They were given Test status along with Ireland just over a year ago but the strides they have made so far has been amazing. They had a horror start against India who are the best side in the world but the team under Rashid Khan have showed that they are quick learners. They beat Ireland in their only second game and now they have taken a giant leap by beating Bangladesh away from home.

This is a huge achievement considering how difficult Bangladesh has been for touring sides over the years. Captain Rashid Khan led from the front with an amazing display of bowling taking 11 wickets in the game. The batting was held together by Asghar Afghan who scored fifties in both innings. The batters showed lots of application contrary to their display against India where they looked lost. The batting had purpose and on a wicket aiding spin they showed great skill and temperament.

The same cannot be said of the host batters. Bangladesh showed no application or patience on a wicket which required a loads of them. The Bangladesh batters seemed in a hurry against an attack which was tailor made for the condition on offer. The pitch was probably godsend for Afghanistan as they have world class spinners in their ranks. The visitors made full use of thr conditions and bowled Bangladesh out in the both the innings to seal a comfortable 224 run victory in the end.

The result looked little difficult to achieve, not because of the Bangladesh batters but because of the weather which almost threatened to wash out the final day but thankfully for Afghanistan they got enough overs to achieve another historic win. They have now 2 wins in 3 Tests which is a great achievement for a budding Test nation. They will for sure face tougher challenges in the future but again they have shown an ability to adapt and learn. This win also was a great send off for the iconic Mohammad Nabi who decided to hang his boots in this format.

For Bangladesh though this is a huge step down. They had a good hold on the home Tests for the last few years and by this defeat their vulnerability in familiar conditions showed as well. The strategy of going for a spin track with all spinners in their XI, fully knowing that the opposition has world class spinners was a poor one. Their batters who have lots of experience in this format once again showed lack of discipline and will to fight it out when things got tough. The Bangladesh camp will want to take a hard look at themselves as this is not the first time their batters have thrown it away when things aren’t going their way.

For Afghanistan though this is a huge boost and something which will help other teams take notice. They deserve to get many more chances and this team under Rashid Khan looks like they will learn and improve fast.

Scores:

Afghanistan 342 (Rahmat Shah 102, Taijul 4/116) & 260 (Ibrahim Zadran 87, Shakib 3/58) beat Bangladesh 205 (Mominul 52, Rashid Khan 5/55) & 173 (Shakib 44, Rashid Khan 6/49) by 224 runs

Playing County cricket will be good for Ajinkya Rahane

 

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Ajinkya Rahane’s hundred at Lord’s was one of the best innings played by an overseas batter on a difficult wicket

pic Courtesy indiatimes.com

The year 2013 saw a young Indian team under MS Dhoni embark upon a overseas tour leg with their first stop in South Africa for a 2 Test series. The Indian team was touring for the first time with you the legendary trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the squad after a really long time. A young Virat Kohli along with Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara were the considered the lynch pins of the Indian batting on those tours.

India did not win any of the series on those tours but two players clearly emerged as the leader of Indian batting unit and Ajinkya Rahane was one of them. Rahane had a brilliant season with the bat. He scored hundreds in England, Australia and New Zealand and was brilliant in South Africa as well. In just over a year or so he had become India’s most crucial batter in the X1 along with Virat Kohli and was rightly made as the latter’s deputy when MS Dhoni called it a day midway through the Australian series.

Rahane was brilliant and with his technique against quick bowling and his naturally attacking style of play it was a joy to watch him bat on those tours. His 100 in Lord’s was one of the best batting you will see on a spiteful pitch and was a purists delight and his  147 in Melbourne against Mitchell Johnson was one finest attacking knocks you will see by an Indian batter against quick bowling overseas. Even during initial phase of his career Rahane was always a nervous starter with a slight weakness against spin. He did struggle to score runs at home and was always comfortable playing on hard fast wickets overseas. After the overseas leg was done, he had an average close to 50 and was considered one of the leading bats in the world at that time in 2015.

Fast forward to 2018, now an experienced Indian team led by Virat Kohli began yet another overseas leg. In the 3 years between the two sets of tours Ajinkya Rahane went from one of the 2 best batters in the side to being dropped for Rohit Sharma in the first two Tests of the South Africa tour. He did make a come back into the team and played few crucial knocks on all the tours but he was a pale shadow of the confident batter we saw in the 2013-15 season.

Rahane did not score a single hundred in 19 innings he played overseas since 2018 and his average of 27.94 showed the inconsistency that had crept into his batting. He struggled to convert starts and got out playing some uncharacteristic shots during that time. His Test average had dropped from something in high 40’s to just about 40 at the start of 2019. It is very hard to decipher as to how a brilliant player can regress so much in a short span of time. He wasn’t his usual self in this IPL for Rajasthan Royals as well which cost him his captaincy this season.

Ajinkya though who wasn’t picked for the World Cup in England has signed up to play for a first division county side Hampshire this season. A decision which might be god send for him in the current state of his career. Playing endless international cricket when you are not doing well cannot be good for your psyche and have some time away from the Indian team is probably what he needs right now. A good season with Hampshire away from the razzmatazz of the World Cup and media attention will be good for him to try and rediscover his magic with the bat. The responsibility of being a senior member and an overseas player for his county side is probably what is needs to get his career back on track.

Rahane is a crucial member of the Indian Test side and with the ICC Test Championship set to begin after the world cup, him being in form is crucial for the team’s success. I hope that he has a great county season. The runs he scores is not as important as the confidence he gains by playing away against some good competition and some very good bowlers. Players in the past have benefited a lot by playing in England and if he uses this chance well, he can also do so and return as the confident player he once was for India in Tests. India begin the Test Championship in August with a 2 Test series in West Indies and he along with Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara will be once again the batting leaders guiding the young players around them.

Is Rishabh Pant getting pigeonholed into a finisher role?

Rishabh-Pant

Ever since the Indian World Cup squad was announced, the one thing which has been in constant discussion is the omission of Rishabh Pant from the 15. Yes there have been talks about Ambati Rayudu missing out as well but Pant has been the favourite for everyone and the noise has only got louder. I agree that Pant is an amazing talent. A supremely talented batter who has impressed one and all within just a year of playing Test cricket but his omission is valid for what the team management is scouting for.

Pant is a brilliant young player and for sure is the future of Indian batting in all formats.  The one thing though I am not that convinced about is everyone trying to fit him into a finisher role. A finisher role in LO format requires two completely different skill set to be effective. One while batting first providing the required impetus to get the team to a good total and two is while chasing playing at a right pace to finish games for your side. While I agree that Pant can easily fit into the former when the team is batting first , he I am afraid is not there yet as a finisher while chasing.

While Pant is the replacement for Dhoni in the limited overs format, we should not take it literally and expect him to do what Dhoni does so effectively. Dhoni was different, when he came in, it felt as though he was always meant to be a finisher. Within a year he was winning games for the country chasing some big totals with mature head on his shoulders. Pant isn’t there yet and needs time before he can get there.

That’s the reason I feel he missed out on the selection as well for the World Cup. In the current scenario, the best value you can get of him in the LO format is at the top of the order. He can bat at number 4 or even open the batting in the future. Effectively he can be the floater in the batting line up can be used based on the situation of the game. That will give him the freedom to go after the bowling without the pressures of trying to preserve his wicket. He is just 21 and trying to pigeonhole him into a role where he isn’t that comfortable yet is completely destroying his potential and his ability to effectively contribute to the team’s success. While the experts are right about his potential their premise for the argument is wrong. We could see the effect of the same in the recently concluded Australian series where he was trying things he wasn’t comfortable doing. We need to give him space and provide him with the freedom to express himself as we have done in the Test format.

I am not saying Pant can never be a finisher in ODIs, he will get there in the future, but he isn’t there yet.

Time for some retrospection after another overseas series loss

he Indian team’s defeat at Southampton followed a familiar pattern, a pattern which is all too familiar if you are an Indian fan.

The inconsistent batting, the inability of the bowlers to dismiss the lower order – all the ingredients of an Indian overseas loss – were present in this defeat as well. The biggest difference between Trent Bridge and Southampton was India had somehow avoided the clichés in the former but it came back to haunt them in the latter.

The Indian team arrived in England with a hope of winning the series. The series was against an opponent who were going through their own troubles. The English team had just drawn a series at home against an inexperienced Pakistan team.

The home team were struggling to find the right combination and, with the captain and their most experienced opener misfiring, India had a great chance to put this past the hosts.

For all the troubles England had, the visiting team had greater issues. The biggest problem for India was that, barring Virat Kohli, the batsmen took two Tests to get used to the conditions.

Read the full article @TheRoar

Has Steven Smith damaged his legacy as a player?

The Australian cricket team has been one of the top sides for a long time, have always been extremely competitive on the field, and played the game hard.

However, over the last few years they haven’t been able to replicate their enormous success, struggling especially outside Australia.

Howver, they looked settled in the Test format over the last few months. The demolition of a good English side, who themselves went through a difficult phase with disciplinary issues, meant the Aussies were moving in the right direction under captain Steve Smith.

The skipper himself was in tremendous form and the bowling was one of the best attacks Australia has ever had.

The South African sojourn couldn’t have started better for the Aussies, with a crushing win in the first Test. The Proteas were under the pump, having just lost two Tests in a row at home. The second Test disaster though, which left the vice-captain David Warner with demerit points and resulted in the ban of Kagiso Rabada, seems to have affected the visitors more than the hosts.

Read the full article @The Roar

Are Indian pacers ready to take the lead?

India have had a stellar last couple of years: the team has won eight consecutive Test series under skipper Virat Kohli, which has catapulted them to world number one in the ICC rankings.

But even though the Indian team has done wonderfully well over the last couple of years, everyone knows that their real test will begin later this year when they embark upon another round of overseas tours.

The young Indian team without experience went through a similar cycle from 2013 to 2015 without much success. Even though the team did not win many games, the core of the present team was formed during those tours. The team since their 2015 tour of Sri Lanka has gone from strength to strength and has now finished their run with a crushing 3-0 away win against Sri Lanka.

To read the full article, click here.