Category: _author:Arjit Dabas

IPL 2019 | EXCLUSIVE: Have to Plan the Yorker …

Kagiso Rabada is one of the most exciting fast bowlers in the world at the moment. Since his debut in 2015, Rabada has risen through the ranks and emerged as the leader of the pack for South Africa.

His eye-catching talent has been on display in the IPL this year where he leads the charts for the most wicket-takers at the moment. His efforts have been one of the big reasons behind the revival of the usually underperforming Delhi Capitals, who now occupy the second spot in the table.

Whether it was the incredible super-over against Kolkata Knight Riders, where he defended 10 runs against the likes of Andre Russell and Dinesh Karthik, or his performance against Royal Challengers Bangalore, where he dismissed both AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli, Rabada has put up his hand when the team needed him the most.

The 23-year-old almost always has a smile on his face and with the Capitals enjoying a run of three consecutive victories, the smile has only grown bigger.

Ahead of the game against Mumbai Indians, Rabada talked to Cricketnext on a range of issues – from his rugby playing childhood to the upcoming World Cup and how he sees himself emerging as a leader in South African cricket after the 2019 showpiece.

Could you talk a bit about your childhood? Was cricket something you always enjoyed and always wanted to be a fast bowler?

Not really, the first team sport I played was rugby, when I was in school. My dad was quite concerned I would get injured, but the adrenaline rush it gave me was tremendous. It was only when rugby season ended, and winter set in that the cricket season began and I thought – okay, let’s give this a shot. There’s not much I picked up technically at that time, and I was playing more instinctively. But the rugby sort of fizzled out when I didn’t make it to the golden lions team in 10th Grade. After that, it was just cricket, and I started getting picked for a lot of age group tournaments.

From the 2014 U-19 World Cup to now, how do you look back at the journey, which have been the standout moments for you personally?

The World Cup was a milestone for me because those in the national set-up got to know of me and my talent, especially after the 6/25 against Australia in the semis. And then, of course, the debut, and my first international wicket – that was special. I had fun, and in the following match, I got my first international wicket. I dismissed Maxwell.

(Credit: Twitter)

What is the key for a fast bowler when it comes to delivering consistently in the death overs?

Basically, I feel like at the death batsmen come at you more, which gives you more chances of taking a wicket. Having said that, in the IPL for example, I haven’t been used as an upfront bowler, I am first or second change, and the batsmen are conservative. Towards the death when they’re trying to accelerate is actually the best chance to do well. For me, the key is doing the basics well – good line and length.

You’re known to have one of the most lethal yorkers, which is considered one of the toughest deliveries, how did you go about developing that?

Not really. I’m asked often if there’s something or any particular bowler that inspired me develop the art of bowling yorkers, and the answer is no. I just think it’s a good ball to be able to bowl. It takes quite a bit of effort, but it’s a good weapon to have.

Is a good yorker essential to being a specialist death overs bowler?

Like I said, the yorker is a special delivery. So you got to plan it well before executing it. And if you bowl it well, you got a big chance of taking a wicket. In the super over vs KKR for instance, I knew my yorkers were coming well during the game, so I decided to back it when I was called up to bowl the super over. I think more bowlers should bowl it because it’s a very effective delivery.

There has been a lot of talk of workload management in the IPL, especially for fast bowlers, how do you see that and manage yourself in such a tournament?

CSA (Cricket South Africa) wanted us, bowlers, to come back from the IPL to be able to get some rest and get ready for the World Cup. We’ll see what happens. But I think playing four overs is not much of a risk, but at the same time, you never know. The precautionary measure would be to take some rest especially these days, as fast bowlers are quite the talk of the cricket world these days – preserving fast bowling as an art and injury prevention and management. So the precaution would be to pull them out a bit early. It’s way different than being a batsman. It should not be considered lightly. I feel four overs is not that much of high risk but it is a risk at the same time. It’s something that officials need to take a clever decision about.

How do you approach the nets? Are you someone who prefers to spend less time in the nets or keep it as the same intensity as the game?

I don’t do a tremendous amount of nets, I’d rather save the intensity for the match day.

In a tournament like IPL, what’s the biggest challenge for a fast bowler?

I would say adjusting to the different kind of pitches in different parts of India where we are travelling. But to be fair, it’s a challenge for the batters too.

(Credit: IPL T20)

Delhi Capitals seem to be having an up and down season this year, how do you feel they can achieve that consistency of results?

I think we’ve grown tremendously as a team in the season so far. We started solid and then lost matches we definitely should have won. But with three away wins under the belt, the team has come together nicely. As we go along, we’re trying to identify the key areas we’re lagging behind in and work on them in order to ensure victory for the Delhi Capitals.

How has the experience been of training with Ricky Ponting and Sourav Ganguly? Any specific inputs you have received from them?

It’s been amazing to work with not just Ricky, but also Sourav and the others who have played the game for so long and so well. Their inputs are precious. People of that stature, when you’re around them, just picking their brain is something unbelievable. And just listening to them speak, I do enjoy doing that a lot. It’s a big learning experience really for all of us.

You have got some big wickets in this IPL, de Villiers, Kohli, Warner among others. Which has been the most special for you personally?

I always play with AB, so playing against him and on a big stage and getting him out is special. He’s the most talented batsman I have bowled to, you really need your A game on while bowling to AB. I enjoyed his wicket the most because growing up I used to admire him a lot. And now having taken his wicket… I know he’s going to be coming after me!

(Credit: IPL T20)

How do you rate South Africa’s chances in the upcoming World Cup?

Well, I would like to believe we can do well and even win the World Cup. I am aware of the past performances and how it haunts so many South African players, but you can’t approach a World Cup not positive. I think the good thing is that many of our players are young and have not been to a World Cup before. It’s a blessing, and I feel like – okay, let’s give this thing a crack.

Do you see yourself as the leader, especially in South African cricket after the 2019 World Cup and maybe as a future captain?

I get asked this question very often. I think if I was given the responsibility, I would take up the challenge. The more people keep mentioning it, the more I try and put myself in the captain’s shoes on the field and sort of assess match situations. So if the opportunity does come up to me, I would take it up as a challenge and give my absolute best.

IPL 2019 | Hat-Trick Hero Curran Hopes to Achi…

Although his IPL career is only a couple of matches old, Sam Curran has already made a telling impact. In his debut game for Kings XI Punjab, Curran was plundered for 52 in his four overs by the Rajasthan Royals though he did pick up a couple of wickets.

However, in his second game the 20-year old produced a performance for the ages at Mohali. Replacing Chris Gayle at the top of the order, he made 20 in just 10 balls to get his team off to a rapid start. And with the ball, he played a key role in an incredible collapse that saw the Delhi Capitals lose seven wickets for eight runs. Curran finished with figures of 4/11 in 2.2 overs, including a hat-trick, and picked up the man of the match award for those heroics. It was a night he won’t forget in a hurry as Curran soaks in the intensity and demands of the IPL.

“The crowds are huge and that is something I expected coming into the tournament,” he told CricketNext in an Exclusive interview. “The standard of cricket is extremely high and playing with some of the world’s best players. I am really enjoying playing at the moment and just taking it one day at a time.

“Learning to play in front of such big crowds is important. The surfaces have also varied in different parts. It’s my first time playing in India so the heat and humidity has been a challenge but I hope to pick a few things from all these great players and hopefully take something back for the English season.”

Sam Curran along with team members celebrates after claiming the wicket of DC’s Colin Ingram during the Indian Premier League 2019 (IPL T20) cricket match in Mohali. (Image: PTI)

Although he isn’t part of England’s white ball plans, Curran attracted a massive bid of 7.20 crores at the IPL auction from KXIP. Quite clearly, Curran’s stock has grown after his eye-catching start in international cricket, especially his exploits against India in the Test series last summer. Curran, who took just one game to win his first man-of-the-match award, rescued England several times in the series with telling lower order contributions and chipped in with wickets at crucial stages, to be named England’s man-of-the-series.

“It’s been pretty remarkable to be honest, I am really pleased with the way I have started but aim is to keep learning, improving and to keep progressing every day,” says Curran. “Playing international Test cricket is a big learning curve for any player. It challenges you technically, mentally as well as physically. I have started well and hopefully I can keep pushing at it.”

While the IPL is the immediate focus, there is a huge English summer to look forward to for the Zimbabwe born Curran with the World Cup, immediately followed by the Ashes. Though he is a long shot to break into a strong England team for the World Cup, with 454 runs in 16 innings at an average of 32.42 and 15 wickets already in his young Test career, England will rely on him to win back the urn. Curran is hopeful he can be part of a squad that gives the nation something to cheer about.

“Obviously it’s huge (having World Cup and Ashes),” he says. “It’s a great time to be involved with the team and hopefully we can produce results on the ground and make it memorable for everyone. For me, the key is to take it one day at a time and not look too far ahead. Right now, my immediate focus is on the IPL and when I go back, I will start thinking about the English season.”

Curran of course is part of a strong English contingent that is currently in the IPL with his teammates Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow showing sparkling form for Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad respectively. Curran is convinced that the exposure will only benefit them as cricketers and is eager to ensure that he contributes towards a memorable season for KXIP, who are yet to win the tournament.

“Everyone knows this is the biggest T20 tournament in the world and you’re playing with some of the greatest players in front of big crowds,” he says. “So, there is no excuse, it’s a tournament from which we can all learn something and take back.

“The team has a few good players, I am close to the likes of Dav(id) Miller, Andrew Tye, Chris Gayle, Moises Henriques and captain Ashwin. So, we have a really really good squad which is making some really good strides as we progress to the middle of the tournament. Hopefully, we can continue that and achieve something special.”

IPL 2019 | Exciting to Work with Bowlers of Sh…

Over the years, the IPL has provided several players to catch the eye before they enjoy international success. Among those to have burst onto the stage was Australian paceman Ryan Harris. Harris was an integral member of the 2009 IPL winning squad Deccan Chargers under fellow Australian Adam Gilchrist and played a key role in guiding the team to the title before donning the baggy green for a short but fruitful international career. The 39-year-old is back in the IPL but this time on the other side, as he returns as coach of Kings XI Punjab, where he spent three memorable years.

“It’s been fascinating honestly and good fun. It’s obviously different (coming back as coach) but there are some familiar faces in the management,” Harris told Cricketnext. “It’s a learning curve for me as well but it has been good to spend time with this promising squad.

“My main aim is to work out the plans and make sure every bowler is 100% committed to their and the team’s plans. It’s also important for me to know the guys well to understand when they are up for the challenge and when they aren’t.”

Harris knows what it means to win the title and says that its important for the squad to stay together during the tournament.

“Victory with Deccan Chargers was obviously a fantastic moment. To win the world’s best T20 league in my very first year was special. You need experience to win the title and also a bit of luck. You need to stick together and be committed to your plans,” adds Harris, revealing the key ingredients to success.

One of the bowlers Harris is eager to work with over the course of the season is Indian paceman Mohammed Shami, who has been impressive in his recent white ball stints for India. Shami forms part of a strong Indian fast bowling outfit that performed exceptionally in Australia recently, though Harris says Australia still possess greater depth among their ranks.

“I think he is bowling unbelievably well at the moment, he and Bumrah were standout performers in Australia as well,” Harris says. “His consistency is the key. He bowls good pace with tight lines so I don’t feel he will have to change much from the way he bowls with the red ball. It’s always exciting to work with players of such high ability.

“I might be a bit bias here but I will say our (Australian) attack is pretty good. Indian guys outbowled us and that was the main difference but we have got three or four fast bowlers in the queue. India’s attack is right up there, mainly due to the consistency with which they bowled and pressure they created in Australia.”

With World Cup to follow immediately after the IPL, there has been a lot of talk regarding bowlers workload. In fact, the amount of cricket being played globally has become a talking point with the pressure on fast bowlers constantly increasing. Harris is among those who advocates that T20 cricket should remain peripheral in the international game, with Tests and ODIs taking primacy.

“Playing three formats will become tougher. I’m not sure how Test championship is going to affect the workload, you might see less Test cricket but then countries tend to fill the gap with white-ball cricket which I don’t agree with. I’m a massive fan of Test cricket and ODI cricket is great, but I feel T20 is good for franchise cricket. That’s why you might see teams resting key players unless a T20 World Cup is coming up.” he opines.

Talking about his experience of coaching young Indian bowlers, Harris points out that its important for them to stay grounded.

“I feel young guys here want to bowl fast. To bowl fast consistently, you need to be strong. It takes time as you learn with experience. Take someone like Shami for example, he has bowled a lot of balls and is at a good age as compared to someone like Akshdeep. It also takes time for a bowler to know their game. The important thing is to stay grounded.“ says Harris.

‘The Ryno’ as he was nicknamed during his career was part of one of the finest Australian teams, which whitewashed England 5-0 in Ashes and also won a series in South Africa.

“It was a great time for Australian cricket. Especially after being beaten in England (Australia had lost the Ashes 3-0 earlier) where we thought we were a lot closer than the scoreline suggested, we wanted to put up a good show in front of our own fans. We don’t like losing in Australia. Mitch Johnson was just fantastic, he just came in and scared them I thought. Me and Siddle watched from the other end and kept the pressure.” he says, recalling the historic triumph.

His own career came to a grinding halt due to successive injuries and looking back, Harris had an interesting piece of advice to his younger self.

“I should have probably done a few less night outs,” he says with a laugh.

“Injuries are frustrating and they happen if you are a fast bowler. I didn’t look after myself as well as I should have. As a fast bowler you have to look after your bodies. They are a lot more opportunities now as compared to earlier but you have to treat your body like a shrine. It’s your workspace and you have to look after your workspace.”

IPL 2019: Ishant Keen to Use IPL as Springboar…

It has been three years since Ishant Sharma played the last of his 80 ODIs. In this time, several Indian fast bowlers have leapfrogged him as white ball specialists. Ishant’s stock fell to such an extent that last year he was even ignored at the IPL auction.

However, the 30-year old, who has risen in stature in this period in Test cricket, isn’t willing to give up on his white ball ambitions. Back in the IPL mix and this time with his home city’s franchise, Delhi Capitals, Ishant is hoping to put in a string of impressive performances to get him back in reckoning for the ODI setup and perhaps even push for a World Cup call-up. Ishant had missed the 2015 World Cup with a knee injury.

“Honestly, it’s just an opportunity do well. I can’t be thinking too much (about white-ball career). But I know if I can do well here then I can certainly be in reckoning for the Indian team,” says Ishant. “It’s important to stay fit, I never lose hope and everyone wants to be part of the World Cup team. If I can bowl well and pick wickets for my side, then I am sure I can be selected.”

There has been a lot of talk lately regarding the workload, especially for the quicker bowlers, but Ishant feels more cricket can only help players get better.

"I am currently not playing ODI or T20I cricket, but I’m still playing domestic cricket,” he says. “The scheduling in domestic is more tight than international cricket so you can’t crib about playing three formats. Yes, the pressure is more in international cricket but the more you play, the more you’re likely to improve as a bowler.”

While his white ball stock has fallen, in Test cricket, Ishant has emerged as the leader of the Indian attack. Over the last couple of years, since January 2017, the lanky bowler has picked up 55 wickets in 17 matches at an average of 25.85. He is hoping to translate that form into the IPL, where he doesn’t have such a good record.

“If you can bowl well with the red ball, then you can bowl with the white ball,” he insists. “You have to train according to the format. In Tests, you need to be ready to bowl four sessions but here you have to bowl flat out in four overs. You accordingly work on variations; the lengths still stay the same. Test cricket is a format more suited to the bowlers, T20 is a batsman’s format. One small mistake and you’re punished, even good deliveries can go for boundaries so you can’t say any particular delivery is a wicket-taking ball.”

The pace bowling quartet he was part of along with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav played a key role in India’s overseas success, including a series win over Australia. It has been hailed as India’s best bowling attack but Ishant feels that would be disrespectful to the past greats he has shared dressing room with.

“It feels good reading such stuff in the papers but I won’t say this is the best attack I have played with because that would not be right for the previous stars,” he says. “I learnt alot playing with Zak bhai (Zaheer Khan), Ashish Nehra. I can’t say they were not greats.

"We (the current attack) share a great camaraderie and have healthy competition among us. I think that is important, we share good banter as well. For example sometimes Bumrah comes to me and says I am bowling a lot quicker than you.”

IPL 2019: Selectors Feel There Are Better Play…

While India have spread the net far and wide to find the ideal candidate for the number four spot in their batting order, it is still anyone’s guess who will be playing in that position come June 5 when they take on South Africa in their opening game of the World Cup. The likes of KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik have been given a go and there has even been talk that captain Virat Kohli could bat in that spot to ensure better balance. However, one player who could rightfully feel a bit hard done by to have not been given much of a chance to stake his claim is Shreyas Iyer.

In the six ODIs Iyer has played so far, he has scores of 9, 88, 65, 18 and 30 and he did not bat in one game. He batted at No.3 for the first three ODIs when Kohli was rested. He was tried out in South Africa at the No.5 position where he looked solid in the two chances though he failed to make a big score. However, it has now been over a year since his last appearance for India in an ODI and it has left the 24-year old wondering why he has not appeared on the radar of the selectors or the team management.

“Selectors feel there are players better than me but that’s not what I think,” Iyer said. “Every individual will get an opportunity, they have told me to keep performing and that’s what I am doing for the past few years.”

Over the last couple of years, Iyer has been one of the most dominant batsmen on the domestic circuit and also made plenty of runs for India A. Since 2016, Iyer averages 42.59 in 55 matches, aggregating 2087 runs 12 half-centuries and four hundreds. However, with a World Cup call-up now all but out of question, Iyer has turned his entire attention to winning the IPL with Delhi Capitals, an underperforming franchise that he will be leading this year. His coach Ricky Ponting recently said in an interview that India might have missed a trick by not giving Iyer a chance at the No.4 spot, but Iyer has learnt to take the situation in his stride.

“I have been performing well so right now I am not thinking about it (World Cup spot), my focus is on the IPL,” he said. “Playing the World Cup is not in my hands my aim is to perform. Selectors will pick the squad and if I can have a good season then who knows, I am prepared for anything.

“I enjoy captaincy. It has made me more mature and responsible as a batsman also. The team has to play to its potential and enjoy each others’ success. People right now don’t give us much chance but I want to break that jinx.”

Iyer has been one of the bright spots for an otherwise disappointing Delhi outfit over the last few years. He won the emerging player of the year award in 2015, scoring 439 runs in 14 matches. 2016 was a disappointing year as he played only six games but he roared back in style, scoring 338 runs in 12 matches in 2017 and then 411 runs last year. Most of these came while batting in the middle-order.

“It has been a roller coaster journey so far with its share of ups and downs. I have been consistent for the past couple of years and can hopefully maintain that this year.” he signs off.

In Numbers: Jasprit Bumrah’s Career Best Spell…

Jasprit Bumrah’s career best figures of 6/35 were the best ever by an Indian bowler at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The performance also earned him a special place in history as he slotted in behind two legends for the best spell in history by an Indian bowler in Australia – Kapil Dev’s 8/106 in Adelaide in 1985 and Anil Kumble’s 8/141 in Sydney in 2004.

It has been a remarkable year for Bumrah, considering he only made his Test debut in January against South Africa, when apprehensions had been expressed about his ability to deliver with the red ball.

With the performance in Melbourne, he has become the first Asian bowler to take a five-for in Australia, England and South Africa in the same calendar year. He has ended the year with 45 Test wickets, which is the most for an Indian bowler in his debut calendar year, surpassing Dileep Doshi’s record of 40 wickets in 1979.

Interestingly, Bumrah with 45 wickets is fifth in the list of Indian fast bowlers with most wickets in a year, behind Kapil Dev, who took 75 & 74 in 1983 & 1979 respectively and Zaheer Khan, who claimed 51 & 47 in 2002 & 2019 respectively. His average of 21.24 is well superior though.

The ongoing series has seen Bumrah perform at his very best, where he has drawn an edge or missed one every four deliveries. He was also inducing a false shot with 26% of his deliveries in the ongoing Test, according to CricViz.

Not only the wickets, but the way he gets them also establishes just why he has become captain Virat Kohli’s go to man. The slower delivery to dismiss Shaun Marsh on Friday was the perfect example.

The 25-year-old is clearly making the world sit up and take notice, with some such as former Australian captain Michael Clarke going as far as to say that Bumrah can become the No.1 in all three formats of the game within a year.

India vs Australia: Five Key Battles That Coul…

Big things were expected from Virat Kohli’s team India when they started the year with an away series to South Africa. In a year which was expected to help establish India’s dominance as the world’s best Test side, it has been an all too familiar story for the team. India did manage to put up a fight in both South Africa and England, and one could argue that had small things gone their way, we could have had different results but as it stands, India lost the Test series 2-1 in South Africa and 4-1 in England.

Australia offers one final chance for redemption and it won’t be wrong to say India start as favourites Down Under – a place where they have not often had the best of results. Australia without Steve Smith and David Warner, have looked like a shadow of the side they used to be. The young guns haven’t exactly set the stage on fire and will be looking to give their fans something to cheer for in the upcoming four-match series.

With the Adelaide Test starting on Thursday, here’s a look at the five key-battles that could well decide the fate of the series.

Virat Kohli vs Mitchell Starc

Surely among the best batsman and best bowler at the world stage right now, this is the battle everyone is looking forward to. Kohli has been batting like a man possessed, scoring runs in England and South Africa. He has often fought lone battles for a brittle batting line-up. He will once again be pumped up to rewrite history for India but can expect a match-up in Starc, who will be equally looking forward to the series. The left-arm bowler will look to take the bowl away from Kohli and is also known to surprise the batsman with a superb yorker. Both are known to have mutual respect for each other, as they have spent time together at Royal Challengers Bangalore where Starc played under Kohli’s captaincy but be rest assured that friendships will be forgotten quickly once the battle resumes on field. Both players aren’t afraid to speak their minds, and it will be interesting to see if Starc or Kohli get involved in a war-of-words which will further add to this gladiatorial battle.

Cheteshwar Pujara vs Josh Hazlewood

If Starc vs Kohli promises to be gladiatorial, then Pujara vs Hazlewood will be one of pure grit and determination. Not often the players who get the most attention, but Hazlewood and Pujara are both vital pillars of the team. Pujara can grind teams out of the game, as Australia will know very well after they were on the receiving end of a Pujara masterclass in Jharkhand when the two teams previously met. Hazlewood as a bowler is more in the Glenn McGrath mould and can bowl long accurate spells, giving the batsman nothing to play with. The Indian openers aren’t in the best of form and that makes Pujara’s role all the more significant. Hazlewood has often had an upper hand over the Saurashtra batsman, dismissing him thrice, including twice in 2014 – when India last toured Australia.

Usman Khawaja vs Jasprit Bumrah

It has been a breakthrough year for both these players, especially in Test cricket. Bumrah had already established his credentials as a limited-overs specialist but many expected him to struggle in the longer formats. He has managed to pick 28 wickets in six Tests at an average of 25.57 and has emerged as Kohli’s go-to bowler. Khawaja meanwhile has finally lived up to the expectations, delivering for Australia at the top of the order. He was successful against Pakistan, being among the runs in challenging conditions and will back himself to rise to the occasion at home. Former captain Ricky Ponting has backed Khawaja to outscore Kohli, but he will have his task cutout against Bumrah, who he hasn’t faced often. As we have seen, batsman facing Bumrah for the first time have difficulty in picking him up. That is something Khawaja will have to be careful about.

Ajinkya Rahane vs Nathan Lyon

Lyon is likely to be the lone spinner for Australia but he enjoys a great record in Australian conditions and is an exception when it comes to off-spinners performing Down Under. He can be especially lethal on Day three and Day four pitches, thanks to his ability to extract spin from the rough. Rahane comes into the series with the spotlight firmly on him as he hasn’t been in the best of forms of late. Lyon also enjoys a fine record against the Indian, dismissing him six times, including thrice on India’s previous tour of Australia. But along with Kohli, Rahane will have some fine memories of the previous tour and will be itching to get back among the runs. With likes of Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari among others waiting in the wings, the tour might well be make-or-break for the Mumbai batsman. His struggles against spin are known and Australia will look to target him with Lyon.

Tim Paine vs Ravichandran Ashwin

Tim Paine has been given the unenviable job of getting Australia back from the doldrums and it hasn’t been the smoothest of sailings for him so far. He is yet to win a game but will be looking to set the record straight in home conditions. He will have the responsibility of being the anchor in an inexperienced middle-order and contribute with the bat. His task will be cut out though, especially in handling Ashwin, who will be looking to improve his record there. Ashwin has only managed to pick 21 wickets in six matches, at an average of 54.71 in Australia. After starting off well, his form fizzled out in England where he also suffered a hip injury. He will be looking to get his mojo back and also answer his critics, who feel he has been too inconsistent in foreign conditions for India.

India vs Australia: Will be Important to Bowl …

Sydney: India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has underlined the importance of bowling well in partnerships, considering it is tougher to run through the opposition in Australia than South Africa and England.

Ashwin said India got good bowling practice in the sole warm-up ahead of the first Test beginning December 6 at Adelaide. Cricket Australia XI finished day three on 356-6 with Ashwin taking 1-63 from 24 overs and Mohammed Shami picking 3-67 from 18 overs.

“You don’t turn up to Australia thinking wickets are going to seam or spin around. They are always going to be flat we know that. We cannot really complain and we have to put it behind us to try and go play some good cricket. Mostly the first innings are big scoring innings so we have to be aware to play some smart cricket through the series,” said Ashwin.

Looking forward to the series, Ashwin said bowling in partnerships will be of paramount importance, especially since India will be missing a fifth bowler in injured Hardik Pandya.

“You have to stitch together partnerships even when bowling and it’s very important to ascertain your role to get what you can out of the game. It obviously changes the dynamics for the captain when he goes out with one bowler less or one bowler more. But as a bowler personally it’s still the same for me.

"As a spinner it’s important to stick it out there in the first innings, if I get some help in the second innings then try to pitch in. That’s similar to how I came here last time, I had a very good series and that was one of the turning points in my career.”

Indian bowlers did well in England and South Africa but considering the nature of pitches, they are in a long haul.

“It’s more about getting your noses ahead in Australia. Every hour, the game can get away from you really fast in the field. We have some quality batsmen who can take the game away from them.

"It’s very important to soak together good partnerships as a bowling group then try and knock them over. You won’t blow oppositions away it might happen once in a while but you have to get your noses ahead and keep it ahead,” he said.

On his the bowling effort in the practice game, Ashwin said: “I thought the wicket was pretty flat. Initially we conceded a few runs with the new ball and then we realized what lengths we had to bowl and what sort of fields we need to keep.

"In practice matches, you are looking to get something out of it for yourself, and as a bowling group, when you go out there on the park. I think we got pretty much what we wanted to get out of it.

"I thought the ball came out pretty well (off my hand). I haven’t played an international game for a while so it felt good the way it came out. In the next 4-5 days I will prep up a bit more for the game,” he said.

Proceedings on Friday were overshadowed by an ankle injury suffered by young Prithvi Shaw, who landed awkwardly on his left leg whilst fielding early in the morning session, and has subsequently been ruled out of the first Test in Adelaide.

“He is feeling a bit sore and it has swollen up a little bit. Sad that it happened the first time he came out on the field. I hope he recovers fast. He has not spoken much. It has hit him pretty hard. He is a young boy who has come to play in Australia for the first time and had a dream start to his Test career, so this has hit him pretty hard.

"It’s unfortunate what’s happened, but these things happen. You must have heard these cliches before, but these things do happen and it’s an opportunity for someone else. I believe everything happens for a reason, said Ashwin.

Indian bowlers pulled back things in the second session when Shami and Umesh Yadav (1-81 in 22 overs) performed better with the older ball. Ishant Sharma (0-57) too bowled 16 overs.

The off-spinner will be in direct competition with Australia’s Nathan Lyon. Ashwin said the duo cannot replicate each other’s styles but will hope for an interesting duel with his counterpart.

"I also watch his videos. We started our Test careers at the same time so obviously mutual admiration is there. He has done well over the last couple years and he is bowling well. The ball is coming out well off his hand. What can I learn? Probably drop the ball at the right spots and probably as the series goes on look forward to a good competition.

He did not comment on the troubles in the Australian camp, and refused to acknowledge that India are the favourites going into this series.

"There are a lot of headaches when you play international cricket, personally and for the teams you are part of, so it makes no sense to try and get your heads into another dressing room. That’s for them to mind their own cricket and it’s important that when you go out there you compete really hard, make sure you are sticking to your plans and strengths,” Ashwin said.

“The whole talk about India starting favourites, even when Australia came to India they were talking us up, and it looks like more of a strategy for us. I personally think you have to go one day at a time. It’s never easy to come over to Australia and win series.

"In the Ashes they almost whitewashed England, knocked them over, and so as far as I’m concerned they are starting favourites. It’s very important for us to chip away every single day, every single ball, and if we can get our noses ahead, stay ahead, he signed off.

Leading Ranji Run-Scoring Charts, Milind Kumar…

261, 224, 133 and 61.

679 runs in three matches.

An astonishing average of 169.75.

To say, Milind Kumar has had a dream start to the Ranji season wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

During the course of his third consecutive triple figure score, against Uttarakhand in Bhubaneswar, there was a chance that the 27-year old would become the first man in history to score three consecutive First-Class double hundreds. However, records and numbers don’t dominate Milind’s thought process.

It has been a tumultuous year – Milind lost his mother and the Delhi selectors overlooked him. So, just being on the field and doing what he loves – batting – is a source of immense satisfaction.

“I was initially on stand-by for the Delhi ODI team for the first three matches,” Milind tells CricketNext. “Selectors told me I wasn’t batting well in the nets and wasn’t concentrating well enough, they told me they wanted to try out other players. I kept on waiting but the opportunity never arrived, then the call came from Sikkim about the team wanting professional players. I had a word with them and said yes.”

The move to Sikkim was a bold one, considering cricket is only taking baby steps there after the Lodha reforms mandated the inclusion of North-East states in domestic competitions. Milind admits to being initially shocked when he first came upon the practice facilities and grounds. He is also aware of the cynicism surrounding his run-scoring feats, considering Sikkim plays in the plate group where most teams have ordinary bowling attacks.

“All the teams have professional players, even if these bowling attacks aren’t the best but still it isn’t easy to score runs after coming in to bat at 15/5 (Milind scored 261 against Manipur after coming in to bat with his side at 15/5). You still require immense skills to pull your team out of such situations,” he says.

Milind broke onto the domestic scene five years ago, scoring an unbeaten 78 against a touring England side as Delhi chased down 295 to register victory. Shikhar Dhawan scored 110 in the same game. Young Milind’s composure and ability to handle quality pace bowling left observers impressed.

Now, his focus is squarely on just piling on the runs. He isn’t targeting goals such as breaking into the India A side or an IPL contract and neither is he thinking of a return to Delhi on the basis of the strong showing for Sikkim. As a senior professional in a young, fledgling set-up, he is relishing the responsibility of mentoring and guiding his fellow players.

“I just want to keep playing and scoring runs, I am not thinking about IPL or any other teams,” he insists. “As far as going back to Delhi is concerned, I don’t know. Right now, I am playing for Sikkim and I am enjoying that.

“I am enjoying the role of a senior player in the team, there are some good players in the side but the only difference is match temperament. Most of the players haven’t played 4-day or 5-day cricket but they will only get better with more match experience.”

EXCLUSIVE | Experience Important but Form Will…

Although he won’t be part of the South African squad at the World Cup in 2019, having announced his retirement earlier this year, AB de Villiers is convinced that the Proteas can leave years of disappointment behind and win the title. Speaking to CricketNext, de Villiers was of the view that the crucial factor to ensure success in the tournament will be the form of the batsmen.

“I think the Proteas are looking good for the World Cup,” he said. “They have had a great series win against Australia, India and England are the other two teams that I feel have a good shot at the title. The bowlers look exceptional but we will be needing in-form batsmen to travel to England.”

The 34-year old’s decision to call time on his career came as a big surprise and left a big hole in the South African middle order. While there has been speculation on and off that de Villiers could be persuaded to reconsider his decision, he insists that no such move is on the cards, saying his focus now is on spending time with his family after a decade-long playing career.

“I am extremely happy, I feel a lot of happiness in my heart and that’s important,” he said. “My relationships with my wife, my kids, my parents, my brothers are the most important things in my life & that’s exceptionally well in the last few years. So, I am a very happy man.”

However, de Villiers hasn’t walked away entirely from cricket. He will continue to play in T20 competitions around the world including the IPL and is currently involved in the newly launched Mzansi Super League in South Africa. He is in fact captain of the Tshwane Spartans and scored with a half-century on Friday night in the tournament opener, though his team was beaten handily by Cape Town Blitz.

The tournament runs for the next month and de Villiers believes it will be a bonanza for South African fans. However, he dismissed fears that with a surfeit of T20 leagues coming up in different parts world, international cricket will lose its lustre, pointing to the extent of high-profile cricket action on offer to fans over the next few months.

“I am excited, the Mzansi Super League at Home,” he said. “It’s great that our home tournament is taking off & I am very proud of it.

"There are so many good players around the world playing in this tournament. Everyone (team) is looking good. Proteas are coming back. That will up the skill of the tournament as well. I believe it will help South African cricket development and give youngsters incredible exposure to play with some of the world superstars.

"Starting from the MSL till the end of the World Cup in 2019, there will be eight to nine months or almost 300 days of exciting cricket, which includes over 25 Test matches, ODIs & T20Is, involving all the top sides in the world. Leagues will only expose more talents to the global level. It will hopefully make the game healthier.”