Sunday, February 15, 2015

India preserve unblemished World Cup record against Pakistan

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015                                                                                    Date: 15/02/2015  
Game 4
India Vs Pakistan at Adelaide Oval

Live telecast of cricket matches in the 80s and 90s was a luxury. Test matches were telecast live for one hour each in the morning and evening on Doordarshan, the state-run television channel. Highlights of Test matches were shown late in the night. One day matches became a TV regular only after the ‘96 world cup.

We have come a long way from there. With the proliferation of cricket matches & broadcasters in the 21st century, a game of cricket is not really a novelty anymore. Round the clock someone is playing someone somewhere in the world in one format or the other. There are sports channels dedicated to cricket that ensure uninterrupted supply of live or recorded cricket matches.

But what we have gained in access we have lost in value and definitely in quality. Playing careers have shortened. Cricket’s governing bodies are being run by politicians and businessmen who, these days, do not even care to pretend that they are doing it for the love of the game. There are very few contests now that evoke genuine burst of emotions from the fans and followers alike.

India-Pakistan games, fortunately, have preserved their charm through a combination of rarity and ability to stir emotions of the common man on both sides of the border. A world cup match, that too, is like a wedding in the family. Everyone is around to be a part of it. Uncles who cannot stop deriding today’s cricketers make sure they occupy the vantage seats in front of the TV. Office work is given a short shrift and indulgent bosses happily ignore the missing employees.

India and Pakistan met in Adelaide today in front of 41000 fans. The laud, raucous crowd must have made them feel closer to home. Fans had travelled from all parts of the world to witness this game. India went in with 5 bowlers, picking both Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Pakistan too, picked their specialist spinner Yasir Shah to complete the five-pronged attack consisting of Mohd Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Sohail Khan and Shahid Afridi.

MS Dhoni won the toss and chose to bat first. Long gone are the days when MS Dhoni would happily chase any total conceded by his prodigal bowlers. The batting line up is simply not in that form any more. Virat Kohli has looked scratchy in Australia, Shikhar Dhawan’s technique brutally exposed by quality fast bowling. Though Ajinkya Rahane has looked comfortable but has never built a monumental score. So choosing what to do must have been a tricky situation for MS Dhoni.

India opened with Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. They started cautiously and just when it looked like they will give a formidable opening to India, Rohit Sharma’s brain-fade arrived in the form of a mis-timed pull to Sohail Khan. It brought Virat Kohli to the crease who started very cautiously, never in a hurry to dominate. First 10 overs produced 42 runs but had given enough confidence to Dhawan and Kohli.

The way Dhawan overcame his mental demons today was really praiseworthy. He was tested by Mohd Irfan’s height and short ball on more than one occasion. Misbah-Ul-Haq’s field placings also were smart and would have rattled Dhawan enough to go for a release shot. But he held his nerve and absorbed the pressure. Soon both Kohli and Dhwana had the measure of the pitch and Pakistan bowling. Shahid Afridi and Yasir Shah could not maintain the control and both the Indian batsmen started extracting mistakes out of them.

Virat Kohli was also the beneficiary of a couple of drops from Pakistan. Yasir Shah could not hold on to a very difficult chance when he ran towards mid-wicket from long on and dived only to see the ball slip away from his fingers. Second chance was more straightforward. Umar Akmal, keeping the wickets, spilled a regulation chance off Haris Sohail’s left arm spin.

Against the run of play, though, the burgeoning stand between Kohli and Dhawan was broken by slight mis-judgement on Kohli’s part when he sent Dhawan back after taking a couple of strides. Misbah’s direct hit found the diving Dhawan inches short of the crease.

Suresh Raina was sent in ahead of Rahane and he immediately got going. He and Kohli put together 110 in 93 balls. Virat Kohli reached a richly deserved hundred and once again was the bulwark of Indian batting. It will come as a relief for the Indian management to see Kohli so decisively hitting form. Suresh Raina relished the limited overs challenge and was soon carting Pakistan bowling to his favoured leg side. He reached his fifty off just 40 deliveries and India were poised for a score in excess of 320.

That’s when Pakistan bowlers found their inner mongrel and completely threw the Indian innings off the track. The slide started with the centurion, Kohli, chasing a wide delivery from Sohail Khan. India were 273 in the 46th over when they lost Kohli. Over the next 28 deliveries they managed just 27 runs and lost 4 more wickets. Though Sohail Khan reaped the maximum benefit by taking a five-for, it was Wahab Riaz who took the steam out of the Indian innings. He was extremely quick and bowled an awkward length which offered neither room nor height to send the ball to the boundary. Indian batting looking quite clueless against raw pace of Riaz and ended up with a slightly under par 300 for the loss of 7 wickets.

Pakistan opened with Younis Khan, an unusual choice, and Ahmed Shehzad. Younis perished in the 4th over trying to fend a Shami bouncer. After that Shehzad and Haris Sohail steadied the ship and started steady accumulation. Haris was in good touch, the ball coming sweetly off his bat. Just when the partnership had started to threaten India, Haris edged Ashwin to the first slip. This brought Misbah to the crease. Pakistan’s progress was slow but they had wickets in hand. With Shehzad having gotten his eye in and Misbah, Umar Akmal, Afridi in the ranks, the game was heading towards an interesting finish.

However, the loss of 3 wickets in 23rd and 24th overs pushed Pakistan firmly on the back foot. They tried to recover through Misbah’s patience and Afridi’s strokeplay. But Afridi fell to a shot that was a mirror image of the one that dismissed him in the 2011 WC semi-final in Mohali. Shami bowled a full-toss that dipped on Afridi and all he could do was to scythe it over 30-yard circle on the off side. Virat Kohli ran back, kept his eyes on the ball and took a good catch over his right shoulder. Couple of deliveries later Wahab Riaz edged behind to Dhoni.

Misbah fought gamely from there on but with the asking rate crossing 10 runs per over and only the tail for company all he could salvage was a decent total for his team. A little application from his team-mates would have made a lot of difference today. His contribution 76 to the eventual total of 224. India won the game by 76 runs when Sohail Khan holed out at long-on to Mohit Sharma.

It was quite heartening to see the way Ravichandran Ashwin bowled today. He relied more on conventional off breaks and bowled a tight line. For the first time since 1979 any Indian off-spinner had bowled 3 maidens in a world cup game. S Venkataraghavan was the last one to do it. He got good drift and extracted fair bit of turn from the pitch. In quite a break from the tradition, India’s seamers were accurate today and got their bouncers right on most occasions.

The World Cup has begun well for the beleaguered Indian team. Today’s was a team effort where three batsmen contributed handsomely to the total and all five bowlers bowled with discipline. This win will definitely take a lot of pressure off this team. With the fans happy and rejoicing they can now focus on the task of defending their shaky crown. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Australia open account with huge win over England

The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015                                                                                     Date: 14/02/2015
Game 2
Australia Vs England at Melbourne Cricket Ground

The ICC Cricket World Cup began today with the co-hosts, Australia and New Zealand, facing the same opponents they have been playing against over the last one month. New Zealand hosted Sri Lanka in Christchurch and registered a big win. New Zealand are being viewed as serious contenders to the title. Fans and pundits around the world feel that this Kiwi team has the skillset, form and sense of togetherness required to shed the underdog title for good. Their team’s performance today gave another reason to the tiny nation to believe that they can come out of the shadow of their antipodean big brother and claim a place of their own in the cricketing pantheon of world conquering teams.

While the Kiwis were doing short work of the Sri Lankans, the Melbourne Cricket ground witnessed another chapter of Anglo-Australian rivalry today. Both the teams went in with some uncertainty over the team combination. The overnight rain in Melbourne added another dimension to the task of selecting the best XI. England finally chose to have Gary Ballance at No 3, leaving out the woefully out of form Ravi Bopara. They also entrusted Moeen Ali with the responsibility of being the sole spinner. Australia, as expected, decided to rest Michael Clarke. Like England, Australia also chose the part time off spin of Glenn Maxwell over the left arm spin of Xavier Doherty. Injury to James Faulkner had already ensured that both Mitchell Marsh and Shane Watson feature in the XI.

England won the toss and backed their bowling attack to put Australia on the back foot. It was a curious choice considering the benign drop-in pitch at Melbourne which offers little help to bowlers and usually stays true through-out the game. Maybe the England management was influenced by the overnight rain in Melbourne and with an extra batsman in the XI fancied their chances of hunting down any Australian total.

The innings did not begin very well for England, though. Chris Woakes let go a relatively simple chance in the very first over. James Anderson had slightly drifted down the leg side and the uppish flick from Aaron Finch’s bat was misjudged by Woakes in its height. Finch was on nought and made England pay via his brutal 135 off 128 balls laced with 12 hits to the fence and 3 over it. Most regrettably for England, this was not the only favour extended to him by them today. They let go off a couple of easy run-out chances and finally managed to see Finch’s back when Eoin Morgan scored a direct hit from mid-off. Finch left the MCG to a rousing applause having become only the fourth Australian batsman to hit a century on his World Cup debut. Curiously this was the first Australian century against England in the World Cups.

Earlier, today England opened the attack with Anderson and Broad, bringing Woakes at first change. Broad displayed his sense for occasion and right from the word go he was fast and accurate. In the 8th over he beat Warner with pace and swing to disturb his wickets. On the very next delivery Shane Watson fell to a lovely out-swinger when he could do nothing but offer a genuine outside edge to the keeper. Steven Smith could not recreate his Bradman-esque form of the summer and fell cheaply to Chris Woakes. This brought the struggling George Bailey to the crease. He has been terribly out of touch and his struggles in the middle have been palpably embarrassing. However during the course of the next 26 overs and 146 runs he showed why the Australian management has stuck with him. He took his time, kept the scoreboard ticking and made life comfortable for Finch at the other end. With Bailey looking solid, Finch could go for his shots and was soon punishing England.

This partnership set the stage beautifully for Australia. Even their departure in the batting powerplay meant that Maxwell, Marsh and Haddin had just enough time to have a look in and then go berserk. Glenn Maxwell seems to have learnt to put a price on his wicket. He is so powerful and crafty that runs are never far away from him. Till now the only question was whether he has the mental discipline to choose his scoring shots and areas prudently. His batting in the last 5-6 games has given enough evidence that he is calming down in his approach. This only makes him extremely dangerous and with more time in the middle, in important games, he can very well become Australia’s answer to a certain AB De Villiers. Today, he started with singles and respected good deliveries instead of going after everything thrown at him. This allowed him to brutalise anything of poor line and length. As a result, without too much of blood and gore he managed 66 runs off 40 deliveries to propel Australia to 342 for the loss of 9 wickets.

Australia lost 9 wickets only due to Steven Finn’s 5 wicket haul which included a hat-trick in the 50th over. Haddin, Maxwell & Mitchell Johnson fell to very good catches off the last three balls of the innings to give Finn and England something to clap their hands about.

A target of 343 in front of the MCG crowd was always going to be difficult for England and they showed no intensity or desire to go for it either. The innings was soon reeling at 92 for the loss of 6 wickets in the 22nd over. None of the top-6 showed any stomach for a fight. Ali, Bell, Ballance, Morgan fell too easily to the traps laid down for them and in the process the young Mitchell Marsh claimed a five-for of his own. He was helped by some outstanding fielding by his team-mates, especially by Steven Smith’s Superman-like leap to interject Jos Buttler’s rasping drive at short cover.

Only Chris Woakes gave some company to the diminutive James Taylor who looked in fluent touch and was quite willing to experiment. He brought out lap-shots over fine-leg, reverse sweeps, upper cuts to stroke his way to 98 before the last man James Anderson was run out in the confusion over the LBW appeal against him. It so transpired that after the original decision from Aleem Dar to declare James Taylor leg before wicket was over-turned, Australia appealed for a run-out of James Anderson at the other end whom they had found short of his crease. This appeal was withheld and James Taylor was left stranded on 98, this time for sure.

Though Taylor’s fight-back gave some respectability to the English total, they were never in the hunt. Australian bowling was accurate and hostile. However, it would not be completely unfair to say that the outcome of the game was decided after the first innings. This is a long tournament and the top 8 teams have a very good chance of qualifying for the knock-outs. England, however, must find some form and consistency if they do not wish to make this group stage harder for themselves than it should be.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Smith ton helps Australia edge past England

Carlton Mid Tri-series, Australia                                                                                       Date: 23/01/2015
Game 4
Australia Vs England at Bellerive Oval, Hobart

It is not often in one day cricket that you come across a match where you cannot tell one innings from the other. So similar was the progress made by both England and Australia at Hobart today that the match was decided by a passage of 9 overs where one team decidedly lost the momentum.

Score at the end of over
Runs scored in overs
34 for 0
39 for 0
1 to 5
34 for 0
39 for 0
69 for 0
67 for 0
6 to 10
35 for 0
28 for 0
98 for 0
90 for 1
11 to 15
29 for 0
23 for 1
119 for 1
120 for 3
16 to 20
21 for 1
30 for 2
150 for 2
149 for 3
21 to 25
31 for 1
29 for 0
175 for 2
171 for 4
26 to 30
25 for 0
22 for 1
205 for 2
201 for 4
31 to 35
30 for 0
30 for 0
244 for 2
230 for 5
36 to 40
39 for 0
29 for 1
276 for 5
272 for 5
41 to 45
32 for 3
42 for 0
303 for 8
304 for 7*
46 to 50
27 for 3
32 for 2*
Statistics Source: 

England had placed themselves in a dominant position and could have shut Australia out of the game. At 244 for 2 after 40 overs, a score close to 330 was there for the taking. Ian Bell was in sublime form and had reached 134 off 119 balls. England lost the plot from here though and the disciplined Australian attack kept them to just 59 runs off the last 10 overs. England lost 6 wickets in the process and ended up with a sub-par 303.

Australia won the toss and their debutante captain Steven Smith chose to bowl hoping the moisture in the surface would assist his new ball bowlers. Ian Bell and Moeen Ali, though, started briskly. Ian Bell was flashy in the beginning but soon settled in a smooth rhythm. The pair added 113 for the opening wicket rendering Smith’s reading of the pitch incorrect. James Taylor, who replaced Ali, did not last long and fell for 5. Bell and Joe Root then added 121 runs off 19 overs for the third wicket. Sandhu broke the stand in the 42nd over removing Bell and took out Eoin Morgan in the same over to put brakes to England’s scoring. England could not regain momentum and over the next 8 overs managed only 49 runs losing 4 more wickets.

Australia’s new opening pair of Finch and Shaun Marsh added 76 in just 70 balls before Finch fell to a horrendous slog sweep to Moeen Ali. Marsh, on his comeback, was motoring along nicely towards a big score when he cut uppishly and was caught at point by Bell off Finn for 45. Cameron White’s 4 year wait ended in disaster when he could not do anything but offer his front pad to a spearing yorker from Finn and was adjudged LBW. He lasted only 2 deliveries. Steven Smith took charge from here and added 69, 55 & 81 with Maxwell, Faulkner & Haddin respectively to take his team to victory. He remained unbeaten on 102.  

Australia went into this game with three changes. David Warner, Shane Watson and captain, George Bailey were missing and were replaced by Shaun Marsh, Moises Henriques & Cameron White. England went with the same side that beat India 3 days ago.

It was a day of records for both the centurions of the match. Steven Smith, leading Australia for the first time in ODIs, became the first batsman to score centuries in his first innings as captain in both tests and one-dayers. Ian Bell, on route to his 141, became the leading run-scorer for England in one day internationals. He now sits at 5136 runs from 153 games having overtaken former captain Paul Collingwood’s tally of 5092. Curiously, the leading run scorer for England is placed a distant 65th in the pecking order of the 50-overs run plunderers.

Australia have marched into the final of this tri-series. Their defeat of England gives another opportunity to India to qualify for the final. However, they will have to show significant improvement in all aspects of the game if they truly want to see themselves at Perth on Feb 1st. The next game of the Carlton Mid Tri-Series will be played between India and Australia on Jan 26th at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Professional England humiliate India

Carlton Mid Tri-series, Australia                                                                                      Date: 20/01/2015
Game 3
India Vs England at Brisbane Cricket ground

It was painful to see a young Indian side on its knees against England today at the Gabba.

After competing well with a far superior Australian side (than England) two days ago, much was expected of India today. They were facing a struggling England side desperate to find some inspiration to lift them before the WC. England had brought in James Anderson (leaving Chris Jordan out) and his first spell of six overs set the tone in England’s favour. He conceded just 15 in this spell taking out Shikhar Dhawan (c Buttler, 1 run off 5 balls) with a lovely away swinger. Dhawan’s second consecutive failure against the moving ball should convince the Indian think tank about leaving him out on the grounds of inadequate technique, if not on form, for the WC.

India were without Rohit Sharma today as he sat out with a hamstring strain. Rahane opened the batting and looked particularly troubled by Anderson.  It was Steven Finn, however, who made most out of the pressure created by Anderson & Woakes. He came in second change and was the beneficiary of Rahane’s brain-fade who wasted another hard-earned start. Rahane’s attempt to clear midwicket failed miserably and he lobbed a simple catch to mid-on.

Ambati Rayudu at No 3 (again, not Virat Kohli) looked completely out of touch and limped to 23 off 53 deliveries before becoming Finn’s third victim. In between, India had lost Virat Kohli (to extra bounce of Steven Finn) and Suresh Raina (to the off spin of Moeen Ali). At 67 for 5 after 19 overs, the contest was reduced to mere academic interest. MS Dhoni and Stuart Binny fought gamely and added 70 runs. At 137 for 5 after 35 overs with Dhoni and Binny looking decently in control India were entertaining thoughts of putting up a decent total. Those thoughts were laid to rest by Finn who removed Dhoni and Axar Patel (for his second duck in as many games) in consecutive deliveries. James Anderson returned for a second spell in the batting powerplay and quickly mopped up the tail. India were shot down for 153, their lowest all-out total against England.

4 out of Finn’s 5 victims succumbed to extra bounce adding another dimension to MS Dhoni’s worries. Indian bowling did not fare any better than their batting counterparts. England hunted down the target in just 27.3 overs with Ian Bell and James Taylor having some useful batting practice in the middle. Moeen Ali, the sole casualty for England, perished to his own attacking instincts. Stuart Binny was the beneficiary this time.

If MS Dhoni and Co are trying to rationalise the expectations of their cricket-crazy countrymen before the WC, they sure are doing a great job of it. This Indian team is looking quite out-of-sorts at the moment and one can only hope that the experimentation going on in this series is planned and well understood by everyone involved.

India have opted to bat first after winning the toss in both the games. Putting the weak & inexperienced bowling attack to test and gauging what kind of total it can defend in the WC, must be the idea behind this move. If that is so, it looks like quite a shrewd thought. Experiments with the line-up (especially testing players like Rayudu, Binny & Axar) are necessary as loss-of-form or injury may result in call-up for any of the three and when it happens they should not find themselves too overwhelmed with the conditions.

If one has to rely on past, the struggles before the WC augur well as India had similarly struggled before the 2003 and 2011 WC before putting up a stellar show in both the editions. Whatever way you choose to look, the build up to the WC is getting more interesting with every passing game.   

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Efficient Australia trump Rohit’s masterful hundred

Carlton Mid Tri-series, Australia                                                                                       Date: 18/01/2015
Game 2
Australia Vs India at Melbourne Cricket ground

With the Carlton Mid tri-series moving to Melbourne on Sunday, India and Australia, as expected, tried out new combinations with the WC in mind. Australia handed one-day debut to Gurindar Sandhu. India included all the three contenders for the opening slots, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane, in the XI. They won the toss, chose to bat first and sent Sharma & Dhawan to open.

Dhawan did not last for long though. To the outsider it looks as if Shikhar Dhawan is quite adamant on not correcting his mistakes. He played only 3 deliveries before getting out on the fourth. Each of those 4 deliveries he played with more of misplaced aggression than common sense. His dismissal brought Ajinkya Rahane (not Virat Kohli) to the crease. Rahane’s nervous starts are fast becoming a trademark now.  After a few tentative shots, he succumbed to the debutant Gurinder Sandhu in the 8th over.

It is not known how exactly Sandhu’s parents wished him luck before his debut against the country of his ancestors. But if there was any NRI sentimentalism or dialoguebaazi at home, it was not evident in the way Sandhu started his spell. He bowled well within himself. Without trying anything fancy he bowled to his field and conceded just 1 run in his first over. His second brought him success when he persuaded Rahane to drive uppishly. His extra bounce resulted in an edge safely pouched by Haddin. Virat Kohli got a raucous welcome from the MCG crowd. But he too fell to an ill-advised, completely out of character short-armed pull shot that did not go far and ended in George Bailey’s lap at mid-on off Faulkner’s bowling. At 59/3 after 13 overs India found themselves in a similar position as England were a couple of days ago in Sydney. They were staring at a middling total and to avoid it they not only needed stability in the middle overs but run scoring at a decent pace as well.

Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma stitched a 126 run stand in 22.1 overs to guide India to a position from where they could set a target closer to 300 for Australia. Raina successfully overcame the disappointment of his pair at SCG. Smart running between the wickets, intelligent nudges around the ground and the occasional well placed attacking shot made life easier for him at the crease. It also allowed Rohit Sharma to follow his own path without any pressure of putting bread and butter on the table. Throughout the innings Rohit looked assured and never in a mood to throw his wicket away. What was heartening to see was his poise. This very aspect of his game makes him a treat to watch. So far he has been guilty of inconsistency in his international career. But whenever he has gotten his tunes right, the songs he has penned have been extremely melodious. Today was that kind of a day. He played an extremely measured innings with attacking shots interspersed all along. He ran well and along with Raina never let the run rate stifle at any point.

At the end of the 34th over India were at 180 for 3. With both batsmen well set India went for powerplay and that’s when the disciplined Australian bowling started to take the game away from India. Raina fell in the first over of powerplay in a bid to slog Mitchell Starc. The last 15 overs were more about a display of bowling variations from the Australian bowlers. A non-stop stream of slower deliveries from Sandhu and Faulkner and a tremendous display of swing bowling at a lively pace by Mitchell Starc restricted India to just 267. India lost 8 wickets, 6 of them to Starc who ended with his best analysis in ODIs. Rohit Sharma fell in the 49th over trying to score some quick runs. His 138 runs came off just 139 deliveries and were decorated with 9 boundaries and 4 sixes.

The Australian reply started steadily. Warner was in a belligerent mood as usual while Finch was more cautious in his bid to build a substantial score. Indian bowlers, apart from Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, were wayward which did not help in building pressure on the Australian openers. Umesh Yadav went for 12 runs in his first and Shami for 9. Australia’s 50 was raised in the 9th over and they looked well set for this chase. That’s when Dhoni brought Umesh back and Warner holed out to his very first delivery trying to clear the infield. Raina got under the ball that kissed the sky and caught it safely. It brought Watson to the crease for whom this was another opportunity to get a big score. The target was not very daunting, the start had been good and bowling and pitch not particularly threatening. He started well and raced to 41 off just 38 deliveries before his attempt to slog Aksar Patel out of attack resulted in his off stump being pegged back.

That was the 23rd over and from then till the 40th over the Australian innings went on like a Rolls Royce. Without making any noise, hardly ever making its presence felt. Steven Smith and Aaron finch added 101 runs without much fuss. At 216/2 with the required run rate below 5, the game was Australia’s to lose. However, they lost Smith and Finch (for 96 resolute runs off 127 balls)  in the space of five deliveries and with George Bailey falling for a leg side nick to Ashwin, the game looked suddenly alive again.

Umesh, whose first seven overs had cost 46 runs, started bowling accurate bouncers and pin-pointed yorkers. In an inspired burst of 18 deliveries he conceded just 9 runs, picked up a wicket and unsettled Glenn Maxwell. Once again though India could not maintain pressure from both ends. Maxwell flexed his muscles against Ashwin, clobbering him down the ground twice to eliminate any anxiety building in the Australian dressing room.

The game however was not over yet. Bhuvaneswar Kumar, finishing Mohammed Shami’s over (Shami having hobbled off the ground clutching his hamstring in the 47th over), lured Maxwell to play a bit too early to a slower delivery and accepted the return catch. Australia needed 20 off the last 18 and the MCG crowd was only getting louder. Once again, like their previous game against England, Australia had managed to bring life to a dead game.

Brad Haddin and James Faulkner were more than competent to take Australia over the line. Dhoni handed the ball to Aksar Patel to bowl the 48th over and he conceded just 5, which left Australia to get 15 off the last 12. Another lengthy round of discussions followed between Dhoni and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar’s return of 29 in his 9 overs stood out for the discipline he maintained through all his spells. Meanwhile, James Faulkner found himself in unfamiliar territory getting stuck on naught after playing out 6 deliveries. Eventually though he managed to get going with a powerful hoick off Kumar over deep square leg which brought the equation to 10 runs off 10 deliveries. Brad Haddin added another boundary which effectively sealed the game for Australia.

Though Australia have chased successfully in both games of this tri-series, the way they stuttered at the end of both these chases would give some food for thought to Lehmann and team. Shane Watson is still stuck with his penchant for sweet-nothings, George Bailey is horribly out of form and even Aaron Finch was not entirely at his aggressive best today. Only Warner and Smith have looked assured in their stays. Maxwell didn’t get much opportunity so sending him up the order might be a good idea as Australia’s place in the final looks more or less guaranteed.

India too, have plenty to work on before their game against England on Tuesday. Shikhar Dhawan is increasingly looking clueless about the approach required to score on Australian pitches. Bowling still lacks discipline and India would do well to add an attacking spinner to their fold. Dhoni’s favoured mantra of choking runs and creating pressure might not work on these hard, unresponsive Australian pitches and big grounds. In a scenario where his batsmen fail to put a substantial score to defend, the end for India might come a bit too quickly.

Nervous England concede bonus point to Australia

Carlton Mid Tri-series, Australia                                                                               Date: 16/01/2015   
Game 1
Australia Vs England at Sydney Cricket ground

English hopes, strengthened by Ian Bell’s superb “daddy” hundred in the team’s second practice match, were once again proved to be standing on shaky grounds. It took Mitchell Stark just one delivery to pin Ian Bell to the crease, hit him flush in front of the stumps with a lovely delivery that swung in and eluded Bell’s prod. Similar fate awaited England’s new number 3, James Taylor. The only difference being the slight shade of doubt about the ball’s path culminating at the leg stump. Nevertheless it put the fact that England’s tortures in the shorter format of the game have not ended, beyond any reason for doubt. 2 wickets in the first three balls without a run put on the board was enough to dash hopes of any early momentum. Yet as he preached a couple of days ago, England’s other opening batsman, Moeen Ali launched an offensive from the other end. A couple of wristy pickups on the leg side made his intentions clear and brought some much needed energy to England’s charge. Meanwhile after labouring through 14 deliveries, Joe Root chose to chase a slightly wider delivery from Pat Cummins that ended in Shane Watson’s lap in the first slip. England 12/3 in the fourth over.

Enter Captain Morgan with an unproductive 2014 surely playing at the back of his mind. He started cautiously scoring his first run off the tenth delivery he faced. By that time Moeen Ali had scored 22 off 19 and was looking ominous in his intent and timing of his strokes. However, in the ninth over, he ended up depositing the ball safely in the palms of Glenn Maxwell who was stationed at deep extra cover and had somehow managed to cloak himself invisible. The fact that Maxwell didn’t have to move more than a couple of steps to take that catch showed poor awareness of field placing and state of the match from Moeen. From 33/4 consolidation was always going to be England’s first priority. With Bopara for company Eoin Morgan steadied the innings with a couple of well-timed boundaries and safely took his team to first drinks without further damage.

After resumption England lost Bopara in the first over itself to Xavier Doherty. From then to the second drinks break England didn’t lose another wicket and Morgan, with Jos Buttler for company this time, took the score to 135/5 at the end of the 34th over. As it happens so many times in cricket, England lost Buttler immediately after the drinks. He had put on 67 with Morgan and gave some meat to the emaciated English total. Yet merely survival would not have served the purpose for Morgan and England. Morgan was on 58 off 92 deliveries when he lost Buttler in the 35th over. In the next 44 deliveries he faced he scored 63 runs before perishing in the 48th over trying to clear Maxwell at deep midwicket off Mitchell Starc’s bowling. That was England’s 9th wicket down and Steven Finn’s dismissal on the very next ball aptly summed up the state of English innings on the SCG today. England finished at 234 with the help of Morgan’s 121 off 136 deliveries. Other contributions of any significance were from Jos Buttler (28 off 60) and Moeen Ali (22 off 21). Extras contributed 20 to the eventual scoreline. Mitchell Starc took 4 for 42 off his 8.5 overs and James Faulkner took 3 for 47 off his quota of 10. Cummins, Maxwell and Doherty contributed one wicket each.

Australia started their reply with an eye on the bonus point. The aggressive pair of Finch and Warner was starting to open up when Finch fell to Woakes trying to punch the ball on the offside and ended up chopping it on the stumps. He couldn’t make much use of the reprieve given to him by Steven Finn off his own bowling in the previous over. Shane Watson started positively but once again was guilty of throwing away a promising start which has become a hallmark of his 10 years as an international cricketer. Smith Joined Warner who completed his fifty off 48 deliveries. By the time Australia reached 100 in the 20th over the English attack of Broad, Woakes, Finn, Jordan and Moeen Ali had not posed any problems to the Australian batsmen. The question remained whether England could prevent Australia from earning the bonus point or not. David Warner duly completed another pugnacious hundred, his 4th in international cricket since December. Smith fell to Ali and Goerge Bailey was extremely tentative throughout his 25 ball stay which gave England hope of taking atleast a bonus point from the game. Warner and Haddin went on offensive and though both of them and Maxwell fell in the pursuit of the bonus point, Faulkner took them home in the 40th over. Warner scored his 127 runs off just 115 balls. Though Woakes ended up with 4 wickets, none of the English bowlers bowled any particularly threatening spell, something England management would like to work upon if they wish to mount a serious challenge to the WC next month.