Showing posts with label test. Show all posts
Showing posts with label test. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

India return from their South African tour having denied the hosts a series victory for the first time in 5 Indian visits. A comparison with the 2006-07 tour is instructive in my view. India won the first Test at Johannesburg in that series, only to lose the next two, the third, despite scoring 400 in their first innings and taking a 41 run first innings lead. That Cape Town Test Match saw the advent of Paul Harris as South Africa's spin bowling option. The 2011 Test may among other things, signal the end of his short Test career, especially if Imran Tahir is in fact the leg spinning wonder that he is made out to be. In that Cape Town Test, India's batsmen got stuck and got out, in this one, they got surer as they shut shop.

The South African team of 2010-11 was a better team than the 2006-07 one, as was the Indian team. Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team went to South Africa undefeated in a Test series, and has protected that record. That was very much a mid-table clash, this, a top-table one. In this Test Match, India created many situations from which it could have gone on to win. At all times, it was thwarted by one of two South African champions - Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn. On Day 1, Kallis produced 80 classy runs as India's fast bowlers recovered from their usual shaky start and improved towards the end of the day. On Day 2, Kallis turned 283/8 into 362 all out, at least 50 runs more than India would have thought reasonable once they had SA 8 down. In the Indian response, Dale Steyn eliminated the threat of Virender Sehwag, and then, when India felt they had worn down the South African bowling attack through the 176 runs Tendulkar-Gambhir stand, Steyn returned to wreak havoc with the second new ball, having done everything other than dismiss Tendulkar earlier on Day 3. He would return to finish the Indian innings. He finished with 5/75. In the South African second innings, India had reduced South Africa to 6/130, before that man Kallis and Mark Boucher produced a 103 run stand that took South Africa from deep trouble, to relative safety. At 233/7, India would have felt reasonably good had South Africa folded up for a further 25 runs. But Kallis was not finished and added a further 106 for good measure with Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn and Lonwabo Tsotsobe. At this point, after four hard days, India's last chance to force a victory was gone, with only 90 overs of play remaining in the game.

The South Africans were now ascendant. Test Matches are rarely won by risking defeat, despite the romantic rhetoric associated with captaincy which involves such claims. Teams only risk defeat against opponents who they are confident of being able to outclass. When Adam Gilchrist tried it against England at Headingley in 2001, in a dead rubber, no less, England chased down 315 in the 4th innings. There was no pressure of the clock. Far more Test Matches have been won by shutting the opposition out, forcing them to play for survival for an extended period of time, and then exploiting the way in which this complicates the assessment of risk thereby forcing batsmen to bat outside their comfort zone. This was the position Jacques Kallis prepared for South Africa on the 4th evening.

As it turned out, the hosts made little headway into the Indian line up, which produced a textbook display of defensive batting, Virender Sehwag included. It was not an easy wicket. The ball was exploding off the surface on occasion and the variety of the South African attack might have proved daunting to many batting line ups. Morne Morkel was able to get steep bounce from short of a good-length, but Gautam Gambhir played him with aplomb. At the other end, Virender Sehwag dealt with Dale Steyn expertly, but then fell to Morkel. In India earlier this year, Sehwag had marked Morkel as the South African danger man, and not Steyn on account of the uncomfortably steep bounce that Morkel could generate. It was this steep bounce which accounted for him. The length had Sehwag trapped on the crease, fending. He did eventually get forward, but only after he had played at the ball.

Rahul Dravid entered and for nearly two and a half hours, withstood everything the South Africans threw at him. His reflexes are not what the used to be, and his priceless innings today revealed his current limitations as much as it revealed his monumental accomplishment in the Test Match arena. Time and again, Dravid would get drawn into playing the fuller balls outside off stump, but unlike 4-5 years ago, he always seemed late on those forward strokes. Where in his prime those sucker balls would have been dispatched to the cover boundary, these days he gets only two or three for those, if anything. The slowing reflexes also showed themselves when Dravid played to leg. There was a time from 2001 to 2007, when Rahul Dravid missed almost nothing on middle and leg, whether off the front of back foot. Recently he has missed these run scoring opportunities. These are clear, undeniable signs of decline.

And yet, such is the foundation of the man's batsmanship, that he is able to defy a high quality attack of great variety for a full session and more on a very iffy 5th day pitch. I do not envy the selectors job given the decision that they must inevitably consider about Rahul Dravid's future in the Test team. To anybody who appreciates great batsmanship, the temptation to stick with one as accomplished as Dravid must be obvious - Dravid has a lot of class. The selectors though are charged with higher concerns. If his decision to quit the captaincy is any indication, Dravid will quit the minute he stops enjoying the grind. It is one thing for the players himself to say (as Gavaskar did), that he would rather quit while people are asking why, rather than why not, but it is quite another for armchair critics to beat up a player like Dravid with the trope. I consider the latter to be in bad taste, but then, taste has never quite been the armchair critic's forte. Dravid is still one of the six best batsmen in India in my view, and he will know, more than anybody else how hard it is to become a successful Test batsman. I have little doubt that he will step away at the right time.

The Cape Town wicket was a magnificent one. It kept batsmen honest, without turning batting into a lottery.  Even on the 5th day, while the ball lept and reared regularly off the tired, battered parts of the pitch, it gave the batsman a little opportunity to adjust. To the tough player who was willing to take blows, the wicket was a difficult, but not impossible ally.

The last session of play saw some immaculate defensive play from Sachin Tendulkar, who batted nearly as long as Rahul Dravid did, and seemed entirely disinterested in scoring runs. Even though South Africa were never realistically close to forcing the issue, the wicket kept everybody interested, to the extent the Graeme Smith tried the 2nd new ball as a final gamble, before conceding that he would not be able to force a result.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe, South Africa's third seamer performed the support seamer's role brilliantly. For someone who has hardly played Test Cricket Tsotsobe is remarkably proficient in bowling both round and over the wicket. At various times in this series, he has swung the ball back into the right hander, moved it off the seam both ways, bowled a disciplined defensive line outside off stumps, and attacked the batsman with short of a length bowling. After an indifferent Test at Centurion, he recovered superbly.

The final day of the series then, was an excellent day of cricket. I have little time for the chatterati (or twitterati) who will condemn it as a tame, boring day's play, for such a view exposes a mistaken conflation of cricket with victory on their part. These are people who seek victory. Cricket is merely a convenient vehicle. Cricket is about much much more than that. For example. Dayle Steyn and Morne Morkel bowled 1 over each with the 2nd new ball. If I were to take those two overs and show them to some of these people obsessed with "turning the strike over" and other such sillyness, and  then show them any other new ball over bowled by Steyn and Morkel, they would not be able to tell the difference. And they would be right, because there was no difference. Both were serious overs - immaculately delivered, and immaculately met by the batsmen. The mark of the highest quality and professional committment.

It has been a memorable series which has tested players, captains, umpires and opinion makers. It has tested and demolished cliche, and produced some classical old fashioned Test Cricket, in which the bowlers relied on high skill and the batsmen were kept honest. It is no surprise that Jacques Kallis and Sachin Tendulkar stood out as the two best batsmen for they are both truly great batsmen in great form. It is a pity that they will not play a Match for at least six months.

It has been a fine treat, and a great beginning to the year 2011.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Looking back - 1986 Tied Test

The 1986 tied Test, it has been argued more than once, is one of the great forgotten Test Matches of all time. The short video in this post is about Umpire Vikram Raju's final decision, which brought the result about. It remains controversial to this day, but I tend to see this the Umpire's way. I think the Umpire was probably right in this instance, even though Maninder seemed to be absolutely sure about the inside edge and Allan Border at silly point suspected it. The grainy pictures are hard to decipher, but it seems to me that Greg Mathews bowled the quicker one and Maninder Singh was trapped plumb in front, his bat came down late on the ball. Whether it came down late enough to miss the ball, or whether it came down just fast enough for the ball to kiss the edge, we will never know. The only disinterested observer thought it missed the ball, and that is the best evidence that we have. While Allan Border suspected the inside edge, the other players around the bat didn't. Their appeal was as spontaneous as Maninder's show of the bat.

Close LBW decisions have a way of playing a part in close India-Australia Tests. With the series level and India chasing 155 for victory, Glenn McGrath bowled to Sameer Dighe with India at 7/147. Cricinfo has recorded that delivery as follows

37.5 McGrath to Dighe, no run, thrusts his pads in front, brushes the pads on its way to the keeper, loud appeal, turned down, looked very close.

It was very close indeed. I remember it like it was yesterday. Dighe was caught on the crease to one that McGrath got to swing in late from a fullish length. It may have hit Dighe a shave outside off stump, but I don't think there would have been too many complaints had that been given out. It made all the difference in my view.

The 1986 game was a rare Test Match where a side made two declarations, neither of which could be consider quixotic, and still came within one run of losing the game. I have a hard time accepting Kapil Dev's spouting of the conventional wisdom about the turning track. It was not a spiteful 5th day wicket, India made 347 runs on the last day there! Sunil Gavaskar, as usual, makes the telling point - that it was a game that India should have won easily, given that they were 251/3 and then 331/6 in the run chase, chasing 347. India used to bat deep in those days. But India's run chases in the 1980s, especially the ones which were reasonably close, were, almost without exception marked by bad judgment, usually including a terrible shot by Kapil Dev.

If you think about the tied Test of 1986, it becomes clear just how much time there is in a Test Match. Australia's first innings continued into the third day, while India scored at over 4 runs per over in that game. It's a stretch to argue that this tied Test was better than the 1960 tied Test. That game saw 40 wickets falling, and fortunes fluctuating over all five days. The West Indies were ascendant early with Gary Sobers' blistering century - he made 132 in less than 3 hours, an almost Sehwagian pace, only to be bested by Australia through Norman O'Neill's 181. Australia did their best to drive home the advantage, reducing the West Indies to 4/127 (effectively 4/54), before Frank Worrell and Joe Solomon steadied things and the lower order extended the lead to 232. Wes Hall then set about the Australians in their 4th innings run chase, reducing them to 5/57, which soon became 6/92 when Sonny Ramadhin dismissed Ken 'Slasher' Mackay. This was to be Ramadhin's penultimate Test wicket, he would breach Mackay's defense again at Melbourne.

At this point Australia were out of it, they needed 141 more to win with 4 wickets in hand. Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson added 134 of those in a 7th wicket stand. When Davidson was dismissed at 226, Australia needed 7 runs to win, with their last three wickets standing. Amazingly enough, Australia managed to lose those three wickets before they scored those 7 runs.

The two tied Tests were very different games. In the Chennai Test, the bat was dominant for the most part, and until India collapsed from 251/3 to 347/10, losing 7/94, the Test had seen 27 wickets falling for 1392 runs. It was a Test made by an aggressive declaration by Allan Border. It was aggressive because India had scored very quickly in their first innings, but it was justified because it was the last day, and India's first innings pace had been on account of Kapil Dev's whirlwind century (119 in 138 balls, this is still slower than Sehwag's usual effort these days). The Indian response was equally aggressive. The early pace was set by Sunil Gavaskar (92) and Krishnamachari Srikanth (39) and the later batsmen kept scoring reasonably quickly.

The Brisbane Test was a more even contest between bat and ball. There were periods when the bat was absolutely dominant, such as during the innings played by Sobers and O'Neill, and there were also periods when the ball was ascendant, through Davidson and Hall. Fittingly, that game ended with Joe Solomon scoring a direct hit from square leg, with just one stump to aim at.

I don't think greatness of Tests is marked by what happens at the fag ends of a Test Match. It is marked in my view by the way in which the viewers perception about the conditions is changed by the participants, often aided by an actual change in the playing conditions. Thus, when Sri Lanka are dismissed for 393 early on the second day of a Test, only to find themselves 50 runs behind 80 overs later, thats an astonishing Test Match. When two bowlers add close to 80 runs in a run chase and take their side within 5 runs of victory, thats a tremendous Test, because there again, the contest between bat and ball is defying the odds. For this to happen, sides need to first possess enough quality to actually take advantage of favorable conditions and find themselves in a position of strength. In great Test Match contests, this happens regularly. It makes individual greatness possible.

Tests can be tied or be won by a very small margin, and still be ordinary contests between bat and ball. I suggest that the tied Test of 1986, despite the controversy and despite the aggressive play from both camps, does not find itself in the ranks of the great Test Match contests because it was a fairly ordinary contest between bat and ball. As a contest between bat and bat, and bat and the clock, and man against man, and team against team, and man against the conditions, it was phenomenal. While these are important to cricket, there are not sufficient in my view. The only essential contest is the one between bat and ball. Close decisions may change the result in the end, but they account for only one decision out of 40, and their significance has been established even before they occur. It has been established through a spellbinding, fluctuating contest between bat and ball.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Test league moves closer

The International Cricket Council have moved a step closer to creating a Test league and play-off series after a two-day meeting in Cape Town.
The governing body have laid out plans for a four-year-long Test championship, with the winners of the competition being decided by a four-team play-off series.
An inaugural play-off series has been provisionally scheduled for 2013, with England being mooted as possible hosts for the event.
The proposal, which has been recommended by the CEC, will have to be reviewed by the ICC board for consideration before it is given the green light to go ahead.
"I am really excited by what the CEC has proposed," ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said.
"Restructuring international cricket is a significant strategic challenge and one that must be dealt with.


"I am grateful to the CEC and its working group for making such far-reaching proposals to tackle this important issue.
"Achieving balance and unanimous agreement is not easy but it is a very important piece of work that requires a strategic response.
"The holistic set of proposals, especially introducing more meaningful context, means we now have the potential to follow international cricket that is even more exciting.
"Protecting and promoting all three formats at international level is viable and I believe the CEC has shown itself to be forward thinking in tackling the challenges.
"I am now encouraged to engage with the ICC Executive Board to consider these proposals as soon as possible."
Several other ideas were put forward by the CEC, including a new one-day international league that would run from April 2011 to April 2014.
Proposals to reduce the number of teams in the 50-over World Cup, increase the participants in the World Twenty20 to 16 and create a rankings table for the 20-over game were also made.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Big Ones win it for India

The last time Sri Lanka lost a Test at the P Saravanamuttu Oval in Colombo was in 1994. They have won six out of their last seven Tests at this ground. The last time Sri Lanka lost a Test Match in Sri Lanka after winning the toss was at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground in Colombo against England in March 2001. In 20 Home Tests in which the Sri Lankan captain has won the toss since that game, Sri Lanka have won 15 times and drawn 5 times. Sri Lanka have lost only twice in 37 Tests in which they made at least 400 in their first innings (batting first or second) in Sri Lanka before this game. This is the third. These were the odds. And yet, without meaning in anyway to gloat, I will revisit my observation at the end of play on Day 4. My reading of this match was different from that of a lot of other observers, including Sanath Jayasurya.

The wicket is still playing well. It is far from unplayable as the scores and the number of runs made by the tailenders suggest. Still, Sri Lanka have a better bowling attack, with more bowlers capable of attacking the stumps. It's not going to be an easy win for Sri Lanka tomorrow, not unless they bowl like magic or India bat poorly.
India's bowling attack - a generous phrase for India's 4 bowlers, produced twenty wickets, thanks to some bad batting by the Sri Lankans in both innings, and some superb batting by the Indian later middle order in their first innings, which built some pressure on the Sri Lankan line up on Day 3 and Day 4. Pragyan Ojha was steady without ever being brilliant, while Amit Mishra came into his own only in the Sri Lankan second innings. Ishant Sharma bowled better in the third Test than he had in the first two - he bowled fewer ordinary spells in the final Test than he did in the first two, but his style of bowling requires plenty of help from the wicket, since he doesn't attack the stumps. Abhimanyu Mithun showed that he can bat in this series, but not bowl.

But it was left to the Indian batting line up to rescue India. Rahul Dravid and Gautam Gambhir were the only notable failures, and Gambhir missed two Tests through injury. Tendulkar made 390 runs in the series, VVS made 279, Sehwag 348 outrageous runs, and Suresh Raina made 223 runs in two Tests. On these wickets, Raina can be a bully once he gets used to batting in Test Cricket. Over the last 10 years, India's batting lineup has ensured, that despite a perenially modest (and sometimes extremely ordinary) bowling attack, India have invariably competed with the opposition and survived. Occasionally when the chance to win came, the galacticos have invariably succeeded.

Here's an interesting statistic. Of the 145 occasions when a 4th innings target between 250 and 300 has been set in a Test Match, the team batting 4th has won 29 Tests, while the team fielding 4th has won 43 times. There have been 73 draws, but i wouldn't read too much into this number because in some cases there hasn't always been enough time to realistically bowl a side out. In Test Matches in the sub-continent (India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka), there have been 40 Tests in which a 4th innings target between 250 and 300 has been set. There have been 6 successful run chases, and 13 unsuccessful ones, with 21 run chases being inconclusive.

Run chases in excess of 250 are relatively rare in Test Cricket, and more prevalent in England or New Zealand or South Africa, where many wickets are at their batting best on days 4 or 5.

Tendulkar was magnificient as usual. As I watched him walk in this morning with Ishant Sharma, I thought to myself how wonderful it would be, if in his world record 169th appearance, the great man would set victory and defeat aside and just set about blasting the bowling. He would have probably produced 30-40 screaming runs before getting out, but it would have been something. But even as I was finishing that thought, I had doubts. This, I was sure would be another day when Tendulkar grafted for every morsel at crease. As a short man, he is invariably at a disadvantage on 5th day tracks because of his limited reach. This was clearly demonstrated today by the easy brilliance of VVS Laxman. But Tendulkar came in at a crucial time in India's run chase - 27/2, very late in the day. He took India through the tricky end of the day, and then played right through the first session today. Yes he was lucky, but it's not his fault that Dilshan dropped that catch, and I dare say that it's not his fault that he had trouble with Randiv's immaculate leg-trap.

At the other end, a genius was at work today. I've seen VVS Laxman play like this a few times. The first time I saw him in a 4th innings run chase was in the Irani Trophy Final against Bombay, where he and Rahul Dravid chased down a 340 run 4th innings target. As in this innings, VVS watch very watchful at first, but then, with seemingly no extra effort, he shifted gears once he got to 35, and raced to a century. There was no apparent additional risk, he just seemed to find scoring opportunities where previously he was content to block. The man is a magical batsman and anybody who thinks he ought to be dropped because he can't field very well in the outfield ought to watch Test Cricket quietly, without offering any opinion about anybody for the next 40 years. He was 46(77) at Lunch and 60(91) when Tendulkar was dismissed. He made 42(58) after Tendulkar was dismissed, bad back and all. In those 42 runs, Virender Sehwag nearly ran him out once.

Keeping VVS company was Suresh Raina, and the contrast between the calm magic of the Hyberabadi genius, and the young tyro from UP couldn't have been greater. Raina came with all the confidence of 98 ODIs worth of experience in run chases of all kinds on various types of wickets, albeit with Limited Overs restrictions. He seemed to convey an impatience to finish the match. He was refreshingly keen on stepping out to the spinners, and notwithstanding his early petulance against Malinga, whom he tried to cream into the Indian Ocean, played with an assurance beyond his years. In Suresh Raina India have found a keeper, at least in sub-continental conditions. It remains to be seen whether Raina will emerge as a Samarweera or a Sangakkara.

All in all, India played like the World's Number One Test team in this game. A World's Number One team on crutches, no doubt, but still, a really good team. Without their first choice fast bowling pair, and their first choice spin bowler, they beat a team which has been notoriously hard to beat at home. They have now won series the last time they visited England, New Zealand and West Indies, lost series but won Tests in South Africa and Australia, drawn a series in Sri Lanka, and lost 1-0 in Pakistan. To add to this is a Home record in which they have beaten England, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and West Indies, and drawn against New Zealand and South Africa. West Indies and New Zealand have not toured India for 8 and 7 years respectively.

India have their batting to thank for such excellence.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Srilanka vs India - 1st Test - Interesting Facts

India will seek to end a 17-year-long series drought in Sri Lanka when they go into the three-match Test series against the island nation on Sunday with a depleted bowling attack and dodgy form of some of their famed batsmen.
The last time India won a Test series in the island nation was in 1993 under Mohammed Azharuddin with a 1-0 scoreline and their track record has not been too impressive.

Approaching milestones
- Muttiah Muralitharan (792) needs just eight wickets in his farewell Test to become the first bowler to complete 800 Test wickets.

- Muralitharan, who is the leading wicket-taker against India with 97 wickets at an average of 33.34 in 21 Tests, requires just three wickets to complete a century of wickets.

- Having registered four hundreds in his previous four Tests - 105 not out & 143 against Bangladesh and 100 & 106 against South Africa, Sachin Tendulkar, with another century, would be equalling Gautam Gambhir's Indian record of most hundreds (5) in successive Tests.

- VVS Laxman (3959 in 60 Tests) needs 41 runs to complete his 4000 runs away from home.

- Virender Sehwag (19), in case of a hundred, would take his tally to 20.  He would become the fifth Indian batsman to post 20 centuries or more in Tests.  Sachin Tendulkar (47) heads the table, followed by Sunil Gavaskar (34), Rahul Dravid (29) and Mohammad Azharuddin (22).
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