Match review

Munaf and Watson – cometh the hour, cometh the men

Cricket can be so infuriating sometimes. Just when you think you know it all, and how a game is going to pan out – thats when it bites you in the ass. Yesterday, I switched off from the India – South Africa game, when SA were 106/3; fully confident that South Africa would easily win the game considering the way Smith was playing. Of course, I conveniently forgot another India – South Africa clash which took place in 2002, a semifinal match in the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo. South Africa were cruising to victory chasing 262, with Gibbs and Kallis leading the way, when I switched off the telly at 180/1. The next morning, I woke up to the news that India had won the game by 10 runs due to a combination of uncharacteristic Indian fielding and characteristic South African choking. That day, I made a vow to myself, that I would never consider any result as a foregone conclusion, based on halfway scorelines. Instead, I fell into old habits, and voila, 24 hours later when I decided to check the latest cricket news – ‘Munaf stars in stunning one-run win’.

After frantically searching for highlights, I managed to watch how the game was won (and lost by South Africa). There will be a lot of critics throwing out the ‘C’ word, but how else can you describe this, other than saying that the Saffers choked big time. The pitch was slow alright, but with Smith playing the way he was, and the presence of legitimate batsmen like Duminy and Miller for support, there is no way that they should have lost the game. The Indian bowling was disciplined but not threatening, and they were more generous with the bad deliveries unlike the South African bowling. With the World Cup around the corner, they will face more pitches like these in the subcontinent, and it is time they think about a deeper batting line up. Botha and Parnell can get you runs now and then, but you cannot expect them to score all the time, and against tougher bowling attacks.

On the other hand, when India needed a player to step up to the moment, Munaf Patel came forward. I don’t think he was unplayable, but he did his part to the best of his abilities. First up, he took out the big wicket of Amla and that was invaluable considering the form he is in. Then, he returned to trigger the slide, with the wicket of the skipper; and hammered the final nail in the coffin with the wickets of Morkel and Parnell. The thing about Munaf is, that like the South African Tsotsobe, he is not express pace like Steyn and does not generate bounce like Morkel; but when the mood strikes him, he can bowl with unerring discipline and accuracy, which is a potent mix in ODIs. With the World Cup team selection next week, Munaf grabbed his chance to impress the selectors, and in the process brought about a morale boosting win for the Indians.


Since I had switched off from the cricket for 24 hours, I missed another classic game between cricket’s oldest traditional rivals. In the first of a marathon ODI series, England had set Australia  a target of 295, which was duly chased down with Shane Watson leading the way. I haven’t yet seen any highlights of the game, but from what I read, he played one of the finest one-day knocks ever seen, and even without seeing any of it, I can agree with that.

Throughout a horrendous summer for the Aussies, Watson has scored umpteen fifties, without ever carrying on to make a big one; and it has hurt the team, as he is one of the few batsmen in good nick. On a Melbourne Sunday, that changed, as he led the way with a fine unbeaten 161. As I cannot judge his innings without having seen it, I can appreciate the context in which he has scored it. Having lost the Ashes at home and tied the T20s, Australia would have been desperate for some good news, anything to divert their minds from the devastating floods. Watson himself had so much to worry about, with the floods having caused havoc in his hometown of Ipswich. Additionally, he had the burden of leading the batting forward in the absence of support from his fellow top order bats. A loss in the first match of the series, could have plunged the team into serious doubt over their own abilities as a winning side and adversely affected their mindset for the impending World Cup; but as they say, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and Watson was the man for Australia. I was never really a fan of Watto, but he has won me over. In the face of doubts, criticisms, ridicules and severe strife, he played a defining knock to cheer his country and give his team hope. For that, I can get behind him, and even make an honest effort to like him. Here’s to an actual contest between England and Australia!


Lessons from Centurion – 1st Test India vs South Africa

  • Gambhir and Sehwag seemed to have learned their lessons, in the second innings; but I won’t be too sure unless I see them again on another day of tough conditions.
  • Dravid is in the same stage as Ponting is. Some days, he will score big centuries, but most of the time, he is going to score painstaking 30s and 40s. A sad final phase of a glorious career.
  • Tendulkar created a new record. Yawn.

  • Laxman had a rare twin failure; but Raina’s continuing dip in form and confidence might warrant trying Pujara for the next test.
  • It’s good to see the return of the original Dhoni when batting. This is the kind of batting that suits him, and he needs to play his natural game every time.

  • As expected, Harbhajan barely had any effect. Will be surprised, if that changes anytime soon.
  • Sreesanth and Sharma were huge disappointments. Looks like Zaheer is turning out to be the ‘Tendulkar of 90s’ for the bowlers. Without him, the pace attack is very unreliable.
  • Unadkat seems to be a decent prospect, but there is no doubt, that he is too raw right now.
  • Smith, Amla and de Villiers – all played characteristic innings. It is hard to envision India getting through these bats easily, for the rest of the series.
  • It is one of the strangest piece of stats, that Kallis scored his first double century in his 242nd innings. Even Jason Gilliespie got a double before him!

  • Tsotsobe and Harris were the supporting acts, and they played their parts to perfection.
  • Steyn and Morkel – they have won the first round. Can the Indians tame them, next time around?

The return of Mitchy’s Australia

Well, well, that was unexpected. I have to admit….I didn’t see that coming. I was pretty sure that Australia would fail to win any of the tests in the remainder of the series, after Adelaide. Like many, I have been proved wrong, and like a few, I am pleased.

I say that I am pleased, because as much as I love to see Australia getting thrashed, it is no fun, when there is barely a contest between two sides. The reason why I hated the Australian team of the late 90s and early 2000s in the first place, is that they barely allowed the opposition to compete with them on the same level. When one side dominates the other, so often, it can be off-putting, most times.

That’s why I am glad to see the return of Mitchy’s Australia; because that’s who I associate a contemporary dominant Australian team with. When Johnson is in the right frame of mind, with the bat or ball, everything falls in place. We got the first glimpses of the return to form, on day 1 of the Test, when he was batting. Unlike most batsmen before him, his head was still, he stroked the ball confidently, and when he decided that the ball had to go, there were no half measures with the swing of his blade.

Then came, his turn with the ball. After enduring months of scorn and ridicule from the press and public alike, justifiably, for his inconsistencies, he roared back to deliver one of the best spells of swing and pace. The English batsmen, who haven’t been troubled since the first day at Brisbane, suddenly found themselves unsure of whether to go back or forward; and before they could make up their mind, they were either trapped in front of the wicket, or had to parry the ball somwhere into the slip cordon.

And just like that, Australia were back in the game. Johnson’s performance was so typically Aussie, that when the team realized that he was back to his best, they started to resemble the team of old. Testosterone levels gradually increased throughout the day, and the verbals started to fly, with even an invitation for an after-game joust, extended to (or by) Prior. The balls started to find the fielders, boundaries were contained, and even Mr Grumpy (Ponting) began to smile more and more.

Just to prove, that this was not an one-innings or one-bowler miracle, Ryan Harris joined the party in the second innings. Bowling with sustained pace and bounce, he skittled out the middle order, who very strangely, gave up the fight easily. After all the talk of preventing complacency, they still seemed to be surprised by the fightback shown by the Aussies, and resembled a pale imitation of the team which played in Adelaide.

This is not to say, that Australia’s problems are solved. Their batting, with the exception of Watson, Hussey and Haddin, still seem to be iffy, and Ponting’s participation for the rest of the series seems to be doubtful. It also remains to be seen, if the bowlers can sustain the improved performance for the next two games. And finally, there is the small matter of deciding, if they want to keep going with the 4 man pace attack, or introduce a spinner to mix things up a bit.

England will still remain favorites to retain the Ashes, for the simple reason, that bad games like the Perth Test, have been very rare for them over the last 18 months. They will be hurting, and the likes of Swann and Collingwood, will have lots to prove, after their disappointing performaces. Its unlikely that England, with the likes of Flower at the helm, will make the same mistakes again. They will come to Melbourne with a fresh game plan and stronger mental attitude.

All in all, it will make for a riveting last leg of the series; because, finally, we have two teams competing on the same level. For that, we have to thank Mitchy…for reminding his team-mates – that there is the Ashes at stake, and more importantly, what the Australian fighting spirit is all about.

Lessons from Adelaide

  • Shane Watson doesn’t like to score centuries. He is satisfied with 50s.
  • Simon Katich might have just played his last Test innings, and the innings itself was typical of the man: stubborn and workman-like.
  • The last time, Ponting struggled so much to score runs in a series, was way back in 2001 against India. That didn’t end well.
  • The last time Clarke got out in the last over of the 4th day in an Ashes match, was back in Edgbaston 2005. In both matches, Australia lost. Just shows how crucial, Clarke’s role is going to be in the coming years; especially in the absence of battle hardened veterans like Ponting and Hussey.
  • Michael Hussey continues to be the man in form for Australia. It is hard to imagine, how they would have fared if they had dropped him before the Gabba test.
  • If North is retained for the next test, Australia deserve to lose the Ashes. If the likes of Johnson, Hauritz and Hilfenhaus can be dropped after unconvincing performances, I wonder, based on what criteria, is North still surviving?
  • Haddin put up a decent performance in front of the stumps, but his work behind it, still needs improvement.
  • Harris would not like to remember this match for his batting, or for the lack of it; but he was the best bowler in England’s only innings. That is not saying much about the Aussie bowling.
  • Doherty was picked purely in the hope, that Pietersen would gift his wicket to him, considering the fact that he is a left arm spinner; but now that he helped KP regain his form, and put up a terrible performance in the field, it is hard to imagine, that he will play the next test; given the whimsical state of the selections so far, that cannot be ruled out either.
  • Siddle has come back to earth with a thud, after THAT hat-trick. He is still searching for a wicket, since he got the scalp of Broad on Day 1 of the Gabba test.
  • Much was expected of Bollinger, after many felt that he had been unfairly dropped at the Gabba. Once selected for the 2nd test, though, he proceeded to demonstrate, how much worse  Johnson could have bowled.
  • Strauss played all of three balls in the match, and then sat back to enjoy a masterclass from the rest of the batting line-up.
  • Once the least threatening batsman in the line-up, Cook has firmly established himself as the prize scalp. If Australia don’t get a measure of him soon, he might end up breaking Bradman’s record for most runs in an Ashes series.
  • Trott is turning out to be the rock of England’s batting. He brings a sense of calm and stability to the batting order, and looks in great touch. Also, his run-out of Katich in the first over, well and truly set the cat among the pigeons.
  • The ego has returned to the building. KP is back with a bang, after a typically belligerent innings. As much as his return to form will please the English fans, the intact penchant to keep going, even after reaching a ton, will be more pleasing.
  • Collingwood has not been required too much so far, but his presence in the field, cannot be understated.
  • When Bell is scoring so consistently at each opportunity that presents itself, you know all is well with the England team.
  • Prior went un-noticed throughout the match; just the way a keeper likes it.
  • Broad’s series has come to an end; his contribution being two wickets in two matches and being the third victim of Siddle’s hat-trick at the Gabba; I’m sure that it will hurt him not to be part of an historic Ashes triumph, after his performances over the last year.
  • Swann has come to the party, and showed why he is considered to be the best spinner in international cricket right now. After a rough test at the Gabba, the  team joker learned quickly, and going by his performance in the recent test, will prove to be a thorn in the flesh of the Aussie batsmen for the rest of the summer.
  • KP might have walked away with the MoM, but no player made an impact on the match in the manner Jimmy Anderson did. Bowling with pace, swing and an aggression, which is at odds with the persona in Swann’s video diaries, Anderson was responsible for putting Australia under pressure immediately after they won the toss and chose to bat. Once and for all, he has put to rest, all the talk over his indifferent performances in the last tour. He has also risen to the 3rd position in the rankings, just behind Steyn and Swann.
  • Finn continued to enhance his knack of taking wickets of crucial batsmen at crucial junctures. In the absence of Broad for the rest of the series, his performaces will become more important in the coming weeks.
  • It is hard to see Australia coming back in this series, considering the shambles, in which the batting, bowling and fielding is in; but then again, this is Australia we’re talking about. It isn’t over till its over.
  • England have prepared meticulously for this series, for a long time now, and the rewards are paying off. Despite Broad’s absence for the rest of the series, they have the players to fill the vacancy, and march forward to one of their most important Ashes victories in recent memory.