Around The World – Part One

An update on world cricket in three parts. Today, part one on India, Pakistan and Australia. A brief review of where we are, a look forward to the winter and other assorted comments.

The World Game… Test Cricket

This blogger loves test match cricket. You know that. But there is not enough time in the day, or the week, to keep up with it all. Not while holding down a full time job, and keeping up with all my sporting interests. But I can take an overall view of what’s happening, subjecting myself to the greater experts out there, but putting down a starting point for a discussion. Hopefully.

 

India (Latest Series – Leading 2-0 v West Indies (a))

The Indian cricket team, on paper, doesn’t strike fear in the hearts. This may be because I take a rose-tinted view of the past teams, with the Sehwag-Laxman-Dravid-Sachin-Dhoni axis at the top of the order, and with a quality seamer in Zaheer Khan. Spin also seemed more daunting with Kumble and Harby over the past couple of decades. The team is currently playing the West Indies in a four test series (and by the time this goes to print, it will all be over) and they have handled the hosts quite comfortably. The batting revolves around Virat Kohli, who has looked good on this tour at times, with solid citizens like Rahane to back him up. The opening slots look to be between 3 players – KL Rahul, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan – while Pujara, who looked awesome a couple of years ago, seems to have really gone off the boil. In this series India have played Ashwin as a number 6 bastman (and he has rewarded them with two centuries) but that has to be an unlikely gambit to play at home against England, one would have thought. Saha appears to have nailed down the keeper-batsman slot, which leaves the bowling. We’ll see three spinners I would imagine (given the quality of Ashwin’s batting, we are talking a potential all rounder here) in the series against England, and hoping that Ishant and whoever else is doing the seam work can do their share.

Before England visit India, there is the small matter of a three test series for India at home to New Zealand. These will be played at Kanpur, Kolkata and Indore, with the first starting on 22 September. The five test series against England will start on 9 November in Rajkot, with the following four matches in Vizag, Mohali, Mumbai and Chennai all being wrapped up before Christmas. India are also scheduled to be playing a one-off test against Bangladesh at home – that’s taken them just the 18 years – at Hyderabad in February. I refuse to believe that India will then let their international players twiddle their thumbs until the IPL starts, but Cricinfo has not got them playing anyone until then (but it looks like Australia will be visiting – see below). Surely Sri Lanka are available for an ODI series?

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Zahee Khan – the last truly fearsome Indian seamer?

England fans are always going to wonder about India. It’s terribly hard to shake the memories of the Indians last two tours to this country. Firstly the 2011 tour, when a keenly fought first test gave way to a downward slide in performance was put down in part to a dying of the light of the old pros (although Dravid gave a lie to that), part due to Zaheer’s injury and part to boredom on the part of India – and a bloody decent England team playing just about as well as they could. 2014 was different only in that the performances lasted until the second test, before the remainder of the test tour descended into performances of atrocious quality. India will be back here in 2018, and with the different style of Kohli as captain, I don’t expect phlegmatic shrugs and devil-may-care attitudes. Not sure Kohli hasn’t seen a situation he doesn’t see as a competition, and I put the brilliant but undervalued Ashwin in the same category. Both are fine cricketers. Many love to watch Rahane, while I’m quite partial to the traditional opening skills of Murali Vijay. The bowling will always be a hostage to the conditions that home matches are played in.

Many think that the five test series will be played on similar surfaces to the ones that took South Africa down last winter. Some on here were particularly scathing of those wickets. We’ll get an idea when New Zealand visit. England know what is coming. India do to. They can reinforce the number one position in the world this winter against two good foes.

PAKISTAN (Latest Series – 2-2 away v England)

The English summer, as Chris said in his recent piece, was a magnificent one for Pakistan, and for England fans who craved a competitive series with committed and competent foes not from the Big Three. It wasn’t 18 months ago that New Zealand had provided an albeit short quality series, but Pakistan’s longer series was much to enjoy, and greatly received. They stand on the cusp of World #1, and yet this may be elusive as India may well reinforce their lead. Their core is quite old, with two key batsmen nearer pensionable age than school age (allow me some poetic license with Younus, eh) and the quite experienced tier underneath looking good at home, but not so much on the road. However, I mean Asad and Azhar in particular here, both adapted and made test hundreds in England to add to their excellent home records. Like many world teams, the openers are not settled, but they may have found a good one in Aslan (a lion heart – sorry), and I suppose Hafeez may come back for home conquests. It was interesting that Azhar opened in the final test, and whether this may be his new position we’ll see in the fullness of time. The bowling was up and down in England, but is going to be useful in its “home environment”. Actually, Yasir Shah is probably a bit more than “useful” in the UAE, while Amir will be good for the run-out in England, and Wahab, Sohail and Rahit all looked decidedly decent at times. They’ve got some great talent.

According to the cricinfo page on future series, Pakistan will not be playing tests in UAE this winter, but they have two test tours lined  up. The first of those is the abomination that is a two test series, which makes no sense still, in New Zealand, with the matches being played in Christchurch and Hamilton. These take place in November. This is followed by a tour of Australia for three tests – the first, in Brisbane, is a day-night match, with the second and third at the traditional Boxing Day and New Year’s venues of Melbourne and Sydney. International duties are fulfilled by the end of January in Australia, and there then seems a gap. Maybe the path is being cleared for the PCL, or whatever it is called? The ICC Future Tours programme (stop laughing Simon and D’Arthez) suggests they’ll be contesting a four test series in West Indies. As if. It also suggests that they’ll be playing a two test home series against the West Indies in October, but I haven’t seen a lot about that, have you?

Pakistan were impressive tourists, but we could see their flaws in the way they were thrashed at Old Trafford, and let a great position slip away, in my view due to an abundance of caution, at Edgbaston. When on the front foot they can be excellent foes, and at Lord’s they won a close game by keeping their heads when England were losing theirs. The team’s core is old, and when they go, which won’t be long, it’s going to need Azhar, Asad and Sarfraz in particular to take up the cudgels of senior pros and lead from the front. They have the ability, but whether they have the sticking power is debatable. But their ability, their flair and their personalities shone through and the long-awaited renaissance of Pakistan cricket looks to be on track. Whether it is sustainable, and whether it crosses into other formats, is a matter of wait-and-see. The world would be a better place for a firing Pakistan playing regular international cricket.

AUSTRALIA (Latest Series – Lost 3-0 in Sri Lanka)

What on earth is going on? We know that for non-Asian teams, winning away on alien surfaces is a treasured prize, but the same goes for Asian teams on their visits overseas, and very little slack is cut for them (see my views on India in 2014). This Australian team is an absolute mess when it leaves the shores of their beloved home. It folded any time there was movement in England in 2015, and now, in Sri Lanka, a team rebuilding after star players have left the stage, who looked dreadful for large swathes of their previous series, turned over Australia in three hard fought matches. Their bowling didn’t let them down, it was the batting putting their bowlers into various states of Mission Impossible. On paper, with Warner, Smith and Voges an experienced trio anchoring the batting this should not happen. Joe Burns and Usman Khawaja are supposed to be talented batsmen. But there is something about Australian selection that is harking back to the hilarities of the Hilditch regime, where bits and pieces players are popping up at number 5 (Moises), and talents like Burns are given a couple of bad games before they are fired out of a cannon into limbo. Australia used to be the benchmark when it came to shrewd considered selection. I’m wondering if Ted Dexter is secretly running the show.

Australia will fall back on their success at home as they attempt to get over yet another Asian shambles. They go to South Africa for some ODI nonsense, before hosting the Proteas in Australia for three tests in November (South Africa want Boxing Day matches of their own, not bowing down to Australia, so it seems unlikely Sydney and Melbourne will see them much in the future). Those matches take place in Perth, Hobart and finally Adelaide (a day-nighter it seems) and will probably end up in a comfortable home win with lots of players looking really good. This will then be followed by another three test series against Pakistan (see above), where we will see if normal service is resumed, and Australia dish out a beating. After some ODI action, the FTP has them playing four tests in India in the early part of 2017. No details of venues yet, but Bengaluru, Dharamsala, Ranchi and Pune are mentioned as the potential hosts.

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Another Mitchell – Impressive in Sri Lanka. Can he stay fit?

But what of the team? The flow of ready-made, top quality batsmen, with almost flawless techniques seems to have passed. Australia, rated number 1 until recently, are a pale shadow of past number 1 teams – hell, if you need a benchmark from 10 years ago, they are it – and are something we’ve never associated with them, brittle. From losing the first test having bowled the hosts out for 117 in the first innings, to contriving to lose a test match in Colombo where the hosts were 26 for 5 in their first innings, and the visitors were 267 for 1 in their reply is staggering. These players appeared mentally bereft. The old tenets of international cricket were ripped up. Australia losing their composure? Really?

Selection for the first home test is going to be fascinating. Joe Burns had two ordinary tests and was replaced by Shaun Marsh, who promptly made a ton, but has let Australia down before. David Warner is secure, but he went another Asian series with no real success. Steve Smith was a centurion in Colombo, and made starts in the other two tests, but he’s not convinced as a leader as yet, and may find himself in a position that Clarke inherited, but without a Mitchell Johnson to bale him out. Voges had a low-key series, Khawaja, having looked a million dollars last winter, was dropped again as soon as he failed in a couple of games. The bowling was fine, although Lyon wasn’t the success that was hoped on wickets where Herath made hay. But it was Australia’s sense of throwing selectoral mud on the wall and hoping some would stick that mystified. Heaven knows what happens when they go to India next year. It might not be pretty.

One senses with Australia that they will maintain home dominance and still falter when not expected to away. Despite weaknesses against spin, and the apparent discomfort on Asian surfaces, no-one expected that latest reverse to be so dramatic. Their handy dismantling of the New Zealand good news story last winter is evidence that this is a quality side. Where they concern me, if I can be concerned about Australia, is that this team needs selection patience, and they aren’t doing it. It’s fine and dandy to have a hair trigger when your team is dominant and your 2nd XI would probably give you a better game than most test teams (as in the early 2000s), because the top boys need to maintain their standards. In a team bedding in new players, that’s not sensible. I mean, seriously, who envisages Moises Henriques becoming a test stalwart? We saw this in 2010-11, albeit a bit more laughable, but the portents aren’t good. Burns and Khawaja are quality players. Faith is needed. Perhaps the most interesting country to watch this winter. It might be bipolar in the extreme.

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25 thoughts on “Around The World – Part One

  1. SimonH August 21, 2016 / 12:28 pm

    A few thoughts on India:

    It is difficult to know how good this Kohli-led side are. One thing is certain – they take Test cricket seriously. Kohli would want to win a game of tiddlywinks against a five year old. Kohli also has just the 9 Test centuries abroad (compared to, for example, Joe Root’s two). Yet there’ll be endless BTL comments this winter that India only care about one-dayers and Kohli isn’t a proper batsmen. Once a certain sort of English cricket follower has made their mind up about something, it seems almost impossible to change it.

    India beat SL away 2-1 and beat SA at home 3-0. How good were these wins? Did they catch a SL side in transition and then ambush SA on a couple of massively dodgy wickets? Or was SL, always a difficult place to tour as Australia have discovered, an underrated triumph and SA would have been beaten anyway? Difficult to say. These next series coming up are going to answer a few questions.

    Rahul looks a promising bat and is a good fielder. Pujara remains an enigma – there seems to be a feeling that Kohli doesn’t really rate him and wants him out of the team given half a chance. Pujara’s 145* in Colombo essentially won the series in SL – but he’s only made one fifty in seven Tests since. The balance of the side is an even greater issue. Playing Ashwin at No.6 and Saha at No.7 works against weaker teams but it looks brittle against a stronger team. Both scored centuries in their last match but it took some terrible cricket from the West Indies to allow India off the hook. India lack an all-rounder – and whatever the question I think we can safely say Stuart Binny isn’t the answer – and their batsmen don’t contain any useful part-time bowlers who could deliver some fill-in overs. Kohli has said he wants five bowlers but it is risky. It looks like three/two of Ishant, Yadav, Kumar and Shami for the seamers and two/three of Ashwin, Jadeja and Mishra for the spinners. With the amount of Test cricket India are due to play, some injuries to the bowlers must be considered probable.

    Six months from now, it’s going to be interesting to see how things look. India could well be top of the world – or the side could have fallen apart. They could go into the England series a battle-hardened, well-drilled unit – or could still be uncertain of their best No.3, best balance of the team and best seamers (if they aren’t decimated by injury). And it could be that the future of Test cricket as we know it, hinges on what happens here….

    Like

    • d'Arthez August 21, 2016 / 2:34 pm

      Just to back that up, Ashwin averages 28 against non-West Indies sides and 57 against West Indies. All his 4 tons have come against West Indies. The figures against the West Indies are those of proper allrounders. Then again, Bopara’s batting average against West Indies is that of a proper batsman. And well, we know how that one worked out (sadly).

      Saha has not convinced against quality attacks either, and my Indian friends are truly mystified on why he is in the team, since there are quite a few better batsmen wicketkeepers in India.

      I really doubt that India won’t pick a proper batsmen for the more difficult tours – and Jadeja in India is a wholly different beast to Jadeja outside of India (he averages less than 16 / wicket in India, and nearly 41 on the road; a difference of a mere 26 runs / wicket).

      So if India want the #1 ranking that badly, expect Nagpur reloaded. Which will be “fun”. Especially since there is no Swann, no Panesar, and I don’t think Moeen is that much better than what the Saffers could muster (Tahir, Piedt, and the somewhat mystifying pick of Harmer), so India will feel that it offers a relatively safe tactic.

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    • RufusSG August 22, 2016 / 6:06 pm

      Another point to consider regarding Jadeja is that the first test against England is going to be the first ever held in Rajkot, where Jadeja plays his domestic cricket for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy: whilst the standard of teams is somewhat variable, Jadeja has a ridiculous record at that ground with both bat and ball. Last season he took 37 wickets in the three games he played before being recalled to the test team against South Africa, and two of his three first-class triple centuries (yes, really) have come there too. As you can imagine, the wicket is often prepared for a lot of spin to assist Jadeja when he plays, as their best bowler, and with England in town you can expect this to be even more the case. His pedigree there is half the reason you’d pick him there even if he doesn’t do well against New Zealand (although he almost certainly will).

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    • RufusSG August 22, 2016 / 6:19 pm

      As much flak as the surfaces in that South Africa series took, a lot of it deserved I admit, I’d say Nagpur was the only flat-out unfit one of the four (as much as we may go on about how easy batsmen have it nowadays, conditions where the top score on both sides is 40 are still pretty unfit). Mohali was pretty borderline, admittedly, but Bangalore actually offered more assistance to the seamers (hence India’s selection of Binny as an extra seamer over Mishra as a third spinner) – and whilst we saw only a day’s play there due to rain, South Africa still got shot out for barely 200 in that time. Delhi was fairly slow and low, but this has been typical of surfaces at the Kotla in all formats in the last few years: conditions were still good enough for Rahane to make two centuries, and quite a lot of wickets fell to the seamers there too (I think Kyle Abbott took a five-for from memory). Of course, South Africa’s poor batting at Delhi, as the last test of the series, could be put down to their shattered confidence as much as anything.

      Again, I obviously get that the surfaces were extremely helpful to India and deserved a lot of the criticism that they got, but Nagpur to me was the only one of the four patently doing disrepute to the game as a fair contest between bat and ball. The others were challenging, of course, but not unduly so in my opinion.

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  2. Rooto August 21, 2016 / 8:02 pm

    No play today in the two tests scheduled. Poor weather and wet outfields were to blame, but both matches are being played out of season. It seems that test cricket is being pushed to the margins of the calendar, made to fill up holes in the schedules after the prime slots have been filled with other tournaments. Audiences are not (directly) to blame for this: they don’t draw up the schedules. It is clearly the role of national governing bodies to assign matches to apt grounds at apt times of year. If they disrespect test cricket in this way, they will lose it. It appears some of them want to.

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  3. SimonH August 22, 2016 / 8:34 am

    So, sunshine all day yesterday and a dry night are still not enough to have the ground in Durban ready. The vibe is that there won’t be play until well into the afternoon, if at all.

    Any lingering chance of getting a result has gone.

    Like

    • d'Arthez August 22, 2016 / 12:31 pm

      No play at all in Durban. So if we’re getting some play in tomorrow, barring a couple of outrageous collapses by New Zealand, draw is guaranteed. So a 1-Test shootout in Centurion.

      Brilliant, CSA. Brilliant.

      Like

    • "IronBalls" McGinty August 22, 2016 / 3:19 pm

      Aye, you don’t hear the “worthy” Stuart Lancaster’s name whispered in the corridors of the ECB anymore, do we?

      Liked by 1 person

    • thebogfather August 22, 2016 / 5:36 pm

      An article so half-arsed that it didn’t know it’s own next-door neighbour buttock. Like so many EDucational columns, it was flaccid….so who are the ‘we’ who can learn from Jones? Was the reference to over-programmed youth camps a reflection on NotallowedtoLaughborough, surely not a poke at the moodhoover, as he readies himself to spread his flatulence back into the higher echelons of the ECB?
      in the end, it’s classic ED, a point made, blunted with no ending… at least he wrote it himself?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. SimonH August 22, 2016 / 3:33 pm

    Despite blue skies and sunshine, Port of Spain Test has been abandoned so Pakistan top the rankings for the first time ever (by 1 point and India play NZ before Pakistan play again).

    Delighted for Pakistan and especially for Misbah and Younus. Lordy, it’s a shit way for it happen though.

    “The past few weeks of Test cricket have been incredibly absorbing with some high-quality competitive series being played, exhibiting what is so special about Test cricket” said Dave Richardson. Imagine how great it would have been if anyone had actually been playing!

    Like

    • SimonH August 22, 2016 / 3:54 pm

      Also from the ICC press release:

      “To mark Pakistan’s number-one Test status, it will be presented with the ICC Test Championship mace. The details of the presentation ceremony will be announced in due course”.

      Months later in a closed ceremony in a SL hotel is the recent precedent.

      The battle for the number-one ranking between the two traditional rivals will resume in September/October when New Zealand will visit India and Pakistan will host the West Indies in the UAE. Both the series will be three-Test rubbers”.

      So WI are playing in UAE and three Tests as well – hurrah! Although the way things have been going it’ll probably rain in UAE….

      Like

      • SimonH August 22, 2016 / 4:00 pm

        Nobody’s told the chaps who run the ICC Rankings Predictor because the PvWI series doesn’t appear there.

        India would need to beat NZ by a two Test margin in their forthcoming series to overtake Pakistan’s current ranking score. England can’t overtake it whatever the score in Bangladesh (2-0 would give England 109 ranking points when Pakistan are currently on 111).

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    • northernlight71 August 23, 2016 / 7:04 am

      The perfect illustration of how pragmatism can lead to grace!

      Like

      • SimonH August 23, 2016 / 7:47 am

        Coincidence that selectorial interest in Bell has appeared in the public domain just when he was about to join the world of franchise cricket with Perth Scorchers?

        Like

      • Mark August 23, 2016 / 9:08 am

        If this story is true it shows what hypocrites and liars the England management are. First, Bell is 34 which we were told is too old for a certain other player. Second, Bell has scored only one hundred this season. Remember when scoring a triple hundred was mocked as not important? And third they claim Bell lost his hunger. So another 34 year old with a great hunger was dropped for what? Oh yes, trust!

        Simon’s point about this coming out just before contract negotiations for the winter in Australia is very valid. England management lead another player up the garden path about breaking his 20/20 contract, and putting everything into getting back into the England fold. (A good definition of hunger I would say) And then reneged on the arrangement.

        If I was Ian Bell I would tell them to stick it. They only want him for this series because of his experience in the dressing room. (Isn’t that the job of the worlds greatest captain? )and will get rid of him next summer. If they really believe in Vince and think he can play spin then this is a good series to take him on. Sometimes players like him do better away from these shores where the media spotlight is not so great. But can they risk it?

        Interesting the article refers again to England in transition. A couple of weeks ago it was all about being number one, and holding 9 trophies………..now we are back to being in development!!

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  5. SimonH August 22, 2016 / 10:36 pm

    The group looking at security in Bangladesh are back in the UK and a decision is expected this week. Player’s hotels and ground safety aren’t the main concerns – safety on transport and for visiting fans is. (Article in the DT).

    Like

  6. SimonH August 23, 2016 / 10:23 am

    Match abandoned in Durban with no more play after one thunderstorm two and a half days ago.

    The whitewash being thrown at this farce on Cricinfo’s coverage is pathetic.

    Like

    • LordCanisLupus August 23, 2016 / 11:04 am

      Not seen a lot of the whitewash, Simon. Most seem quite pissed off. What am I missing?

      Like

      • SimonH August 23, 2016 / 12:12 pm

        I was thinking mainly of the OBO report at 9.20am when play was finally abandoned. All the emphasis is on the “unseasonable weather” and none on the scheduling a Test match in winter, nor on the relaid outfield, nor on what resources Durban has (D said they had a supersopper but presumably there’s no modern underground drainage?).

        Fair play to Cricinfo for printing some unhappy comments from fans (both here and for Port of Spain) – but if fans didn’t send their comments in, what’s left would be pretty bland for such a monumental cock-up.

        Liked by 1 person

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