Saturday, 23 March 2013

Tests and Tedium

India v Australia
Siddle & Pattinson
There was a sameness to the opening day in Dehli. Australia won the toss, the Indian spinners grabbed them around the throat, the batsmen made promises they couldn't keep and India finished the day well on top.

Not that it was a day of complete desperation for an Australian team without Michael Clarke. The quartet of Ed Cowan, Phil Hughes, Steve Smith and Peter Siddle all made significant contributions towards reversing series trends. Siddle remained the only one unconquered at the end, adding 53 with Smith and 42 in unbeaten partnership with James Pattinson, to chalk up his highest Test score. It was a resolute display from a man who extols the fighting lineage of the Baggy Green which includes Langer, Steve Waugh and Ian Chappell. Siddle just doesn't know when he's done.

Those last two partnership save Australia from a score of 150 but won't be enough to avoid a massive deficit by the end of day three. That responsible will lie with a cobbled bowling line up which hasn't bother India so far this month.

Hughes played the best of his cuts and drives in a breezy 45 which included ten boundaries. He's not a better player when he attacks, just more effective. That technique will always see him bowled, usually of the inside edge or caught in the behind the wicket arc. At least when he throws his eye at the ball he gets some runs.

Cowan's obduracy is his strength and like others on the first day, he was out when in control. Again it was a blood rushed sweep shot which gifted his wicket to Ashwin. Smith battled long and hard, using his feet like none of the others and as well as the absent Clarke against the Indian temptations and was out after nearly fifty overs at the crease. His judgment of when to thump and when to defend was excellent and he is the silver lining of the tour. He was out to a very smart catch at short leg by another of the rising Indian tide of batsmen, Ajinka Rahane.

Of the rest, little can be said, as they frittered their wickets away like rich men on a poor street. Warner and Wade couldn't last an over and Watson and Johnson were both out the embarrassing misjudgements. Maxwell played like an excited school boy out on his first date, whacking a few balls before being humbled by Ravi Jadeja.

For all the positives, there were more negatives.

Ishant Sharma has gradually returned to form during this series and he accurate and threatening, buying 14 overs off the spinners but it was again the Ashwin, Ohja and Jadeja show. The mistake most make is to think that spin is about ripping the big break and sending down Gatting balls over after over. In India, the spinners art is a lover's act of subtlety. Batsmen are seduced, deceived into boldness where such actions leave them stranded and playing the way the bowler wants. Only the English seem impervious to the Medusa charms.

New Zealand v England
Peter Fulton 124x
After two draws - the staple diet of cricket in the land of the long white cloud - New Zealand have made what would have once been described as a good start to the final Test, being played in Auckland.

Hamish Rutherford was the only wicket to fall on the opening day, after he added 79 with Peter Fulton. With the hard work done, he slashed at Steve Finn just before lunch and was caught at first slip by Alastair Cook.

For the rest of the day, the English attack was nullified by Fulton and Kane Williamson, who have 171 so far. Monty Panesar bowled 25 overs, on a day when Jonathan Trott and Joe Root even had a crack. Fulton's hundred was his first in Test cricket, his debut being seven years ago during which he has played just 13 matches and averaged 23.

The more impressive was Kane Williamson, who appears to have emerged from a run of poor form and is rewarding himself and the Kiwi selectors for perseverance. Form should never be the only factor in choosing your side.

Its a flat deck which holds little worry for the Englishmen, even without Kevin Pietersen. The most interesting question is how either side can take twenty wickets to win the series.

West Indies v Zimbabwe
10-93 and 19 wickets
for the series
Darren Sammy's men wrapped up the second Test at Roseau in less than eight sessions and took the series 2-0. Home series wins for the West Indies are few and far between since the glory days, this being only the third in the last ten seasons and as in the 1st Test, it was spin which proved too much for the Africans.

Having rolled Zimbabwe cheaply in the first innings and then batted themselves to a strong lead, Shane Shillingford and Marlon Samuels were again irresistible in the second. Off spinner Shillingford had batsmen caught in close right around the wicket, at slip, point, short leg and leg slip. Sammy pocket three catches and Keiron Powell his eighth in two Tests.

Chris Gayle and Shiv Chanderpaul both made hundreds and Dinesh Ramdin 86 in the West Indies only innings. It was Gayle's first score of note after an embarrassing run of outs against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Chanderpaul, of course, just keeps going on and on, this being his third hundred in his last five Test innings after he went to Bangladesh and created mayhem. Its a stellar career, dating back 19 years and including 28 hundreds, all of them scored from a starting position more akin to backyard French cricket. You could say he has taken a stance against convention.

Tasmania v Queensland - Sheffield Shield Final
Silk & Cosgrove
133 in 77 overs
It was a long, boring and contrived day at Bellerive Oval, with Tasmania taking the attitude that their position higher on the points table meant that this was a final for them to lose not Queensland to win. As a result, Mark Cosgrove just about put himself into a coma with a 217 ball half century in an opening stand of 133 with Jordon Silk. 

Silk was even slower, batting all day to be 82 not out. Ricky Ponting, by stark comparison, came to the wicket in the last half hour and hit three fours in taking 20 to bed with him. The leading run scorer in the Sheffield Shield this season is unlikely to bat for occupation on the second day.

Using up time is a good theory but 176 runs on an easy batting track in 92 overs might have eroded a day but not enough runs have been scored to look like making the title secure in this five day event.

Queensland had their chances, dropping catches and missing run outs that would have changed the game significantly. It was a lacklustre day for Lehmann's men. A bright spot for Qld and Australian cricket, was the continued return to fitness and form of Ryan Harris who bowled 26 overs for the wicket of a disappointed Alex Doolan. James Hopes (0-28) and Nathan Hauritz (0-27) both bowled 21 overs tightly but without looking like breaking through.

Australian cricket needs to get its spark back and this sort of cricket won't do it.