Australia v India, 2nd Test: 5 Key Questions

Only 3 days after Australia's last session win in Adelaide, Australia and India are back at it again at the Gabba. Much has changed in that short period with both sides coming into this game with a new captain on top multiple changes to each line up.

 

Here are my 5 key issues upon which I think the result will hinge:

 

1. Oh Captain, my Captain: how will Steve Smith fill the shoes of Michael Clarke?


I have been a vocal advocate of Steve Smith's elevation to the captaincy of the Australian cricket and now the day is here I am looking forward to seeing how he leads the team into battle. Generational change has always been problematic for the Australian team so this move is one to be applauded. Smith faces a massive challenge in this game with 2 significant players in Harris and Clarke being out of the line up. Smith's captaincy against the experience of MS Dhoni will be vital to any Australian win.

 

2. How will the Gabba wicket play?


By all reports the Gabba wicket for this test match is a bit greener than normal for this time of year. Given the rain we have had in Brisbane it is no surprise that the wicket is green and thus one could expect that it will seam around a bit particularly with the new ball this morning. Equally, we have seen a lot of Gabba green tops over the years and time and again once batters get in on such a wicket they can score and score quickly. There might be early benefits to a team bowling first but they will have to bowl well to reap those rewards.

 

3. Different test, same question: will Chris Rogers score runs?


I posed this question before the 1st test and I will pose it again now: whilst David Warner has been dynamic at the top of the order for Australia, Chris Rogers has struggled. If Australia bat first on this wicket all of his years of batting ring craft will be needed to get Australia through to lunch. He needs runs to hold his place in the team given the other players who are in the queue behind him and in form.

 

4. Shaun Marsh: will he last the game?


There is only one hamstring that has been more problematic in cricket over the last 24 months than Michael Clarke's and that is Shaun Marsh's. Injury prone and averaging 36 in first class cricket, the selectors have taken a punt on Marsh. One can only hope that the faith is repaid by Marsh both with the willow and staying on the field.

 

5. Can India take 20 wickets?


This will be the quickest and bounciest wicket the Indians will play on this summer and they must take advantage of it. The Indian bowlers only took 12 wickets in the first test at Adelaide and will need to take the full complement to even get close to winning this game. Varun Aaron could present as the key man for India on this wicket: he bowls swiftly and can bowl wicket balls. If he can keep things tight between wicket balls he could be a weapon for India.

 

This will be a great game played at the best ground for watching cricket in the country. I am, of course, tipping an Australian win. As I look out my office window 27 floors up the weather looks perfect for cricket. The first ball will be bowled at 10am.

The Ashes: First Test Day 2 Preview

It was a brilliant day of cricket yesterday and day 2 looms large as one of the most important in the series. Australia fought back in the final session on day 1 to almost return the game to parity and both sides will be looking to take a hold on the game on day 2.

Here are my keys to winning the day:

How long can Australia bat?

At 6/135 Australia’s innings was in absolute disarray but Brad Haddin, ably assisted by Mitchell Johnson, rested the rot and remains unbeaten on 75 runs. Australia is only 27 runs from 300 which will be their first target of the day. Given the position Australia was in every one over 300 will be a nail in the hearts of the Englishmen so the longer Australia bats into day 2 the more pressure the Englishmen will feel.

M Johnson: now to step up with the ball

Johnson’s effort with the bat on day one in concert with Brad Haddin was a stoic and solid display at just the right time for his team. He will be bowling at some point on day one and one expects him to take the new ball. It will be vital to Australia’s chances of winning this test match that Johnson performs well and, in particular, does so in his first spell before the ball gets older and pitch flattens out even more.

Trott factor

Jonathan Trott, by his own lofty standards, had an ordinary series in the 2013 Ashes. He returns to a happy hunting ground for him following his performances in Australia in 2010/11 and one again expects him to be a key roadblock to an Australian victory should he recapture that form. He seemed to find strange ways to get out in the last series and Australia clearly has a plan to test him out with the short ball. Expect a deep backward square leg to go out as soon as he walks to the crease. His wicket early will be a prized one for Australia.

Will the Bell toll again?

Ian Bell was the best batsman from either side in the 2013 Ashes and has gone from being one of the most maligned and underperforming players in the English side to the glue that holds the English batting order together. He historically has not enjoyed Australian conditions but the quality of his driving on the up in England would suggest he will enjoy the extra bounce here. He came in regularly when the English were in trouble in the last series and if they are in trouble again on day 2 he will be looked to to return the game to England’s favour.

As I mentioned at the outset this will be another great day’s play and could have a large bearing on the outcome of the test and the series. Play kicks off in 2 hours time. Enjoy!

Ashes 2013/14 Countdown: Why am I not excited? Blame the Three Stooges!

I am a cricket fanatic. I do not deny it indeed a rejoice in it. I have been to the first day of the first test of the summer at the Gabba every year since 20 November 1998 when the Australian’s led by Mark Taylor and Alec Stewart’s England faced off. This year will be my 15th year anniversary of attending the first day of the first test of the summer. I have seen some great things on day 1:

* G McGrath’s 6/17 against the West Indies on 23 November 2000
* N Hussain’s brain melt and bowling on 7 November 2002
* R Ponting’s 149 against the West Indies on 3 November 2005
* The “Harmison Ball” and another Ponting hundred on 23 November 2006
* P Jacques’ breakthrough hundred against Sri Lanka on 8 November 2007
* P Siddle’s hatrick and 6/54 against England on 25 November 2010
* The partnership between Amla and Kallis on 9 November 2012

It is an Ashes year this year and, by rights, I should be more excited than normal for day 1 given the contest that is about to take place. Strangely though I am, frankly, just a bit nonplussed about it all. I have been away for a week and have had plenty of times to ponder the upcoming test and my lack of current excitement for it and suspect that a combination of my ongoing disgust with the administration of the game in Australia, the lack of first class cricket that has been played in Australia to date and concerns about the Australian team selected has led to this.

A couple of people have suggested to me that I am just a “fair weather” fan and am not excited about the cricket because Australia is losing but that could not be farther from the truth. I concede I hate that Australia is losing but this is the Ashes for goodness sake: I should be just itching for the action to start. My worries though about the state of the game in Australia under the watch of the “Three Stooges” (Sutherland, Howard and Inverarity) are getting in way of that. I wonder if I am alone in feeling this way because, I concede from a limited sample, the bulk of cricket people I have been talking with about the series seem similarly nonplussed. This has left me to further wonder whether some of the passion Australia cricket fans have for the game is being sucked of the fans by the state of the game.

Hopefully I will get over my disdain for the work of the Three Stooges in the next couple of days as I am immersed in the lead up to the game because, in my respectful opinion, there are few better days of cricket to attend than the first day of the first test of the summer. I have been to cricket at every test ground in Australia, save for Bellerive, and day one of the first test of the summer is right up there, for me, with Boxing Day at the MCG.

One final ponderance: there has been special cricket played on the first day of the first test at the Gabba over the last 15 years which I have been privileged to watch. I am left to wonder though, given that there are still tickets available, how long Brisbane fans of the game will be afforded such a privilege? This day is one of the show piece days of cricket for the year but support for it, and the Brisbane test, continues to wane. This can not go on much longer before the Gabba loses this game.

Australia v South Africa: will Day 5 lead to a dreary draw?

Day 5 of the 1st test of this summer of cricket has dawned with Australian in an impregnable position 37 runs in front with 6 wickets in hand. With 95 overs to play it seems that the only genuinely available result for the teams at the end of today is a somewhat “dreary” draw.

However, with South Africa, it must be conceded, out of the game for Australia to win they will rely on the follow keys to success:

1. Getting the declaration right: Forget what the fools in the Channel 9 commentary box were saying yesterday: there was never any chance of Michael Clarke declaring whilst the Australian’s had their metaphorical foot on the throat of the South Africans. This is a 3 test series and breaking down the South Africans yesterday was much too important. Today however is a different story: making the declaration will be essential to any prospect of victory. So when is the right time? It strikes me that with the fire power in the South African batting line up at least 55 overs will be needed for the necessary 9 wickets to be taken which means a declaration 30 minutes after lunch is around the mark.

2. Will the real James Pattinson please stand up? There is some thought, and statistical back up to support it, that Pattinson bowls better in the second innings of games. Certainly last time out at the Gabba for Victoria, Pattinson cut a swathe through the Queensland batting order in the second innings to take a 5 for and, indeed, on debut against the Black Caps last year bowled one of the best spells seen at the Gabba in some time in the second innings of that game. If Australia is any chance of success Pattinson must fire today.

3. How will the pitch play? It would be pretty fair to say that the pitch is fairly benign at present and is just excellent for batting. This wicket has all the hallmarks of the pitch put out in the 1st test of the 2010 Ashes series when England, anchored by 235 not out from A Cook, batted for an extended period to save the game. I don’t expect any demons in the wicket today on the basis of that evidence and the evidence of yesterday. A pitch so benign will do Australia no favours.

4. Where are the South Africans mentally? Yesterday would have been a massive shot to the ego of this very good South African team. Much vaunted as the best bowling attack in the world they failed to take a wicket by ordinary means and were dominated by a batting line up under broad questioning about form and selection. Whilst I have no doubt the South Africans are a bit flat this morning over their eggs on toast, this still is the best team in the world so I expect them to come out mentally prepared to save the game today. This again will do Australia no favours.

So where does all of this leave us: I think it is pretty safe to say that today will petter out to a dreary draw at around 4pm Brisbane time. There is just too much class in the South African batting line up for there to be any other result. As an Australian fan though I am allowed to dream and if all of a sudden the South Africans are 3 down for not many chasing 180 odd to avoid an innings defeat it might be the right time for Australia to exorcise the demons of Sydney in 1993.

Australia v South Africa: will Day 5 lead to a dreary draw?

Day 5 of the 1st test of this summer of cricket has dawned with Australian in an impregnable position 37 runs in front with 6 wickets in hand. With 95 overs to play it seems that the only genuinely available result for the teams at the end of today is a somewhat “dreary” draw.

However, with South Africa, it must be conceded, out of the game for Australia to win they will rely on the follow keys to success:

1. Getting the declaration right: Forget what the fools in the Channel 9 commentary box were saying yesterday: there was never any chance of Michael Clarke declaring whilst the Australian’s had their metaphorical foot on the throat of the South Africans. This is a 3 test series and breaking down the South Africans yesterday was much too important. Today however is a different story: making the declaration will be essential to any prospect of victory. So when is the right time? It strikes me that with the fire power in the South African batting line up at least 55 overs will be needed for the necessary 9 wickets to be taken which means a declaration 30 minutes after lunch is around the mark.

2. Will the real James Pattinson please stand up? There is some thought, and statistical back up to support it, that Pattinson bowls better in the second innings of games. Certainly last time out at the Gabba for Victoria, Pattinson cut a swathe through the Queensland batting order in the second innings to take a 5 for and, indeed, on debut against the Black Caps last year bowled one of the best spells seen at the Gabba in some time in the second innings of that game. If Australia is any chance of success Pattinson must fire today.

3. How will the pitch play? It would be pretty fair to say that the pitch is fairly benign at present and is just excellent for batting. This wicket has all the hallmarks of the pitch put out in the 1st test of the 2010 Ashes series when England, anchored by 235 not out from A Cook, batted for an extended period to save the game. I don’t expect any demons in the wicket today on the basis of that evidence and the evidence of yesterday. A pitch so benign will do Australia no favours.

4. Where are the South Africans mentally? Yesterday would have been a massive shot to the ego of this very good South African team. Much vaunted as the best bowling attack in the world they failed to take a wicket by ordinary means and were dominated by a batting line up under broad questioning about form and selection. Whilst I have no doubt the South Africans are a bit flat this morning over their eggs on toast, this still is the best team in the world so I expect them to come out mentally prepared to save the game today. This again will do Australia no favours.

So where does all of this leave us: I think it is pretty safe to say that today will petter out to a dreary draw at around 4pm Brisbane time. There is just too much class in the South African batting line up for there to be any other result. As an Australian fan though I am allowed to dream and if all of a sudden the South Africans are 3 down for not many chasing 180 odd it might be the right time for Australia to exercise the demons of Sydney in 1993.