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.

Cricket: Australia in South Africa 2014, Second Test Preview

The second test between South Africa and Australia kicks off tomorrow night at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth. Off the back Australia’s thrashing of South Africa at Centurion Park by 281 runs all of the pressure is on the home team to break Australia’s streak of wins at six without Jacques Kallis whilst also rebuffing Mitchell Johnson’s willing attack.

Aside from the performance of AB de Villiers with the willow in both innings there is not a player in their line who did not underperform in the first test match. With the ball the “best bowling attack in the world” was put to the sword by Australia’s inexperienced top order. In particular spinner Robin Peterson was outclassed and seemed bereft of ideas. With the willow Mitchell Johnson had his opponents on the back foot right from the start. In the field: things fell swiftly apart for the Proteas, so much so that dropped catches became the norm. Simply put: they have much to improve on in this game.

For the Australians, the first test match was a repeat of many of the performances of the Ashes series. They were in trouble in the first innings until a big partnership saved the innings. The bowlers dominated the opponent’s batters and benefited from some loose shots. Then in the second innings they benefited from a David Warner century. As bizarre as it is say it (considering I am talking about a team that has won six test matches in a row): there is still room for improvement to be made in Australia’s performances particularly in the top order batting.

The biggest battle in this game though presents as the battle between the captains and the back room tacticians. Michael Clarke bested Graeme Smith in the captaincy by some distance in the first test match. Indeed from the moment Smith won the toss and bowled Clarke was ahead of him in the captaincy battle. Further though Australia seemed to be much better prepared and had more refined plans for what they intend to do for each of the batters and bowlers they would face. South Africa conversely seemed bereft of ideas and without a plan B once their usual processes failed.

Australia will select the same team for this fixture, injuries permitting, which is the benefit of winning by such a margin. South Africa though have decisions to make at the top of the order and in the spinner ranks as well finding a replacement for Ryan McLaren who has been ruled out with concussion. With St George’s Park likely to play more like the Adelaide Oval than any other Australian ground the role of the spinner will be vital in this second test.

Sitting over all of this is the spectre of whether South Africa has adjusted to the loss of Jacques Kallis. Simply put: he is irreplaceable but the hole he has left is one that an attempt at least needs to be worked on in this post Kallis era.

I predicted a South African series win at the start of this series in part because I thought there was a question mark over the form line of the Australians coming out of the issues. Australia’s performance in the first test match, albeit still with room for improvement, has shown that they can beat the South Africans but it must be admitted that this was a South African team that was operating significantly below their usual par. I expect the South Africans to improve but whether they have enough improvement in them to best the on a role Australians is questionable. Given the likely pitch conditions I am tipping a draw in this game which will go a long way to, ultimately, an Australian series victory.

Play commences at 6:30pm Brisbane time. Umpires for this fixture will be Richard Illingworth and Ian Gould with Aleem Dar in the TV chair.

The Ashes, Second Test: Australian Player Ratings

Australia lost the second test at Lords by a whopping 347 runs and, as painful as it is, here are my ratings of the performances of Australia’s players from this game.

Chris Rogers: 4 out of 10

Two of the more bizarre dismissals I have seen in test match cricket from the man they call “Bucky” and at times when his “expertise” at Lords, given that he is the captain of Middlesex and has score a ton of runs on the ground, was needed most. Was energetic in the field.

Shane Watson: 5 out of 10

Made two starts and was again out LBW in both innings. Top scored in the first innings which was overshadowed by the DRS referral issues. Got the initial breakthrough with the ball and shouldered the workload most have been screaming for from him.

Uzman Khawaja: 6 out of 10

Terrible shot in the first innings but top scored in the second innings. Will be much better for his performance here and thrived in the pressure of the second innings till he got a ripper from J Root. Suggestions that he is a liability in the field proved false by a solid performance.

Phil Hughes: 1 out of 10

Scores of 1 and 1 so why not go with that as his rating here too. More to the point, if Watson is to be pilloried for a bad review then Hughes must be similarly pilloried for two terrible reviews.

Michael Clarke: 6 out of 10

When Clarke doesn’t score hundreds the chances of Australia winning dissipate to zero. No hundred here but a solid 50 in the second innings showed a glimpse of a return to form that is sorely needed by the team. Tactically a few question marks particularly regarding his use of Pattinson when so woefully out of form and heavy reliance on Agar when the game was gone and he was injured.

Steve Smith: 4 out of 10

Gains with the bat seen in India disappeared in this test match but his work with the ball in the first innings got Australia back in the game, albeit fleetingly.

Brad Haddin: 2 out of 10

Did not get past 10 with the bat and two gaffes with the gloves, one the most costly of all given that Joe Root was on 8. Never thought I would say it but Matthew Wade must be close to coming back in off that performance.

Ashton Agar: 2 out of 10

I commented in my preview about the potential for “second test syndrome” to strike and it certainly did in this test match. 44 overs without a wicket whilst a part timer took 4 and for the other side the spinners took 11 just not good enough for the “next big thing”.

Peter Siddle: 5 out of 10

Heart the size of Phar Lap and his spell on the afternoon of day 2 was a stirring effort. Innocuous in the first innings when Harris needed support up the other end.

James Pattinson: 2 out of 10

Went for 5 an over in the first innings and was yanked from bowling in his first two spells after 2 over and 3 over respectfully. Not good enough. Workmanlike in the second innings without being threatening. Gritty with the bat but that is not his job.

Ryan Harris: 8 out of 10

It is a measure of his performance that without it Australia would have lost by much more but for it. Was wonderful in the first innings when the other two fast bowlers in the line up did not come up with the goods. Sadly looked like he was being nursed through the second innings a bit but off the back of 3 hours rest got to expect that. 10 days break before Old Trafford vital for him.

Simply, we were beaten in all aspects of the game. Can only suggest that a massive improvement is needed and we now have 10 days to do what we need to do to make that so.

Postscript: as I am currently taking a break from twitter, please feel free to comment on this blog or at shumpty77@mail.com should you wish to have a chat about these ratings or any other blog topic.

The Ashes, Second Test Day 2: Don’t let DRS drama mask the truth

It has only taken seven days of this series for many Australian fans to return to the view that Australia is well behind England and will not win back the Ashes in England. The efforts of our tenth wicket partnerships in Trent Bridge masked some of the frailties in the Australian batting lineup that ought to have be obvious to all.

Simply put: Australia’s batting was not up to standard in the the first innings and, frankly, has not been for some time. Forget the batsman who come in at number 8 through 11: it is not their job to score runs for us and in recent times they have been doing that job. This issues did not just arise in Trent Bridge but has been a fairly constant refrain through Australia’s test cricket for a number of tests now.

Last night’s efforts from Australia’s top 7 were nothing short of woeful. Did anyone really get a good delivery that lead to their wicket? Shane Watson was dismissed because another bowler exploited his most obvious technical flaw. Chris Rogers missed a full toss. Usman Khawaja had a brain snap and hit one to mid off. Phil Hughes slashed at one a foot outside off stump. Steve Smith meekly gloved a ball to short length. There was no mystery in the English bowling: they simply bowled the ball at Australia’s batsman and even when it was not in the right areas the Australian batsmen contrived a way to get themselves out.

Much has been made on social media of the use of the DRS system by Shane Watson. Australian fans need to stop whinging about their players and start looking at the real frailties in Australian cricket. Whether the use of DRS was right or wrong arguing about it masks the fact that the batting order Australia has in England and has stuck with since the retirements of Ponting and Hussey is not up to the task at test match level.

I am all for seeking to bring young players through and for trying to develop talent from within the team. That said, a massive question hovers over some of the selection decisions that were made during the Mickey Arthur era that have flowed through into this team now. I am not talking about revisiting the past here: we must stop waxing lyrical for a return of Simon Katich for example. Conversely though here are some names of players who have performed in Shield cricket that have not received an ounce of the chances that others have: D Hussey, A Voges, A Doolan, P Forrest and J Burns. I am not saying that they would have performed any differently at Lords over night but the fact that they have not received a semblance of a chance in the test team is something that must be questioned.

Australia was 9/114 in the first innings of the first test match at Trent Bridge and was dismissed for 128 at Lords on a wicket described by all as a run machine. That is simply not good enough. It is time to forget the vitriol aimed at one player about his use of DRS and focus on just how poorly our top 7 is playing. There is not much Australia can do given that they have squad to select from in England and those players must be relied upon to at least try to get the job done. Equally, perhpas the Darren Lehmann era will proceed when he has the reigns in full back in Australia with the end of the careers of some of the players who have not performed in recent times and the elevation of those who have earned their chance in Shield cricket.

Only time will tell: until then, if nothing else, last night was a jolt to the expectations that Australian fans probably needed after those expectations were elevated by the events of Trent Bridge.

Australia v South Africa: 2nd test, day 4

Day 4 of the second test from Adelaide dawns today with the match fairly evenly poised. I did not get to watch any of the game yesterday due to a golf commitment and will be similarly indisposed today playing in the Ipswich Rugby League Old Boys Golf Day out at the Rosewood Golf Club.

Nonetheless, I have watched the highlights package of today’s play and analysed the score card and have some thoughts on what will be the keys to success for the combatants on day four.

1. The battle of the captains: Clarke v Smith

I think it would be fair to say there have been moments in this test, indeed in this series, where one of the two captains has clearly had the ascendancy in both the position of the game and the tactical nous they have put into their decision making. The game is even at the moment and could very well come down to which of the captains “bests” the other captain in the game of high stakes chess this test match has become.

2. How many runs is too many?

The largest run chase at the Adelaide Oval to win in the 4th innings is a little over 300 runs set in 1910. I think that record could be broken here simply because there is so much time remaining in this game and how good the pitch still is to bat on. Two full days of cricket remain or 180 overs. A lot can happen in that time and thus the run chase set by the Australians for their South African counterparts (if they are allowed to set a target rather than being bowled out) needs to be enough that the draw is secure as a result but also needs to be low enough so as to entice the Proteas to go for it.

3. Clarke / Hussey: can they do it again?

If Australia’s first innings showed fans one thing only, it was who fragile Australia’s batting lineup is at numbers 7 through 11 against quality bowling. Thus the course of the game will rest heavily on the shoulders of the men at the crease presently. If Clarke and Hussey can stay together till about tea today then it will be likely that the game will be out of the Proteas reach. Conversely if one of them falls early this morning then there is another real prospect that Australia will be “6 out and all out” (Siddle having been and gone as night watchman) which will open the game up for a South African run chase.

All of what happens today hinges on the partnership noted above and thus I have no more “keys” for readers to look for today. I for one will be glued to my cricket score apps on the golf course willing the Clarke / Hussey combination to another big partnership. If they can not produce one I fear that the game will fall directly into the hands of the South Africans.

It will be another fascinating day of cricket. I hope you enjoy it!