Category: _author:Karthik Lakshmanan

India vs Australia | Lakshmanan: Another Test …

Rohit Sharma played the shot of the match when he lofted Pat Cummins effortlessly over deep extra cover in the first innings for six.

He also played the worst shot of the match, though there were several contenders for that, when he slogged Nathan Lyon wildly to be caught at deep square-leg in the same innings.

That, in short, sums up Rohit’s Test. And maybe even his Test career.

Look great in patches, but also ugly just around the time when he seems set for a big one. It’s why he hasn’t been able to seal his spot in the format, despite being 11 years into international cricket and averaging over 54 in first-class cricket.

The Adelaide Test was a great chance to change that perception. He came into the match with plenty of question marks around him. Why was he selected in the squad when he hadn’t played first-class cricket for a year? Why was he picked in the XI ahead of Hanuma Vihari, who hadn’t done much wrong in the only Test he played? And could offer a fifth bowling option to the skipper.

For a brief while, it looked like the questions would be answered in typically elegant style by Rohit. He walked in with the side tottering at 41 for 4 on the first day. If ever there was an acid test, it was this.

Rohit seemed to grab the opportunity and got rolling quickly. He was composed, and yet not over-defensive. When Cummins banged it short, he even hooked for a six. Along with a steady Cheteshwar Pujara, he added 45 for the fifth wicket to put India on track somewhat, before playing a reckless hoick to be dismissed. It was an ill-advised shot especially considering he had been fortunate with a similar shot the previous ball, which had sailed for a six off the top edge.

The second innings presented Rohit with an opportunity to play a bit more of his natural game. He walked in with India already having a lead of 249, but lasted only six balls. Unsure whether to stay in the crease or come down the track to Lyon, he ended up taking a couple of steps and lobbed a catch to silly point.

Yet, is it right to be harshly critical of Rohit? An overall average under 39 and only three hundreds in 26 Tests is below par for a middle-order batsman of his talent – to use a clichéd term. But a closer look suggests Rohit has been fairly unlucky with uncontrollables over the last couple of years.

Rohit seemed to have finally cracked the Test code during the home seasons in 2016 and 2017. In three Tests against New Zealand in 2016, he had scores of 35, 68*, 2, 82 and 51*. Just when he seemed to have found consistency – the missing link in his Test batting – he was sidelined with injury. He returned to the format after more than a year, and seemed to extend the consistency with scores of 102*, 65 and 50* against Sri Lanka.

Rohit’s Test career had finally seemed on the right track, but just two Tests later, it was back to square one.

Rohit was picked over Ajinkya Rahane for the first two Tests in South Africa, which turned public scrutiny against him higher. He had scores of 11, 10, 10 and 47 in the four innings; not great, but it wasn’t like the others (barring one Mr. Virat Kohli) was scoring a mountain of runs. The 47, in Centurion, was the highest score of the Indian innings.

Yet, Rohit was dropped from the squad after the series, cutting short his comeback ambitions. He stayed out for the England tour; his game for overseas conditions was considered dodgy.

Not much time later, his backfoot play – as chief selector MSK Prasad explained – earned Rohit a sudden recall for the Australia tour, although he had not played a single first-class game since the South Africa tour.

One Test into the latest comeback, Rohit has done a bit of everything he has done in his Test career so far: shown promise, and also thrown it away. But now that India have backed him, it’s perhaps only fair to give him an extended run, unlike the last occasion in South Africa.

India vs Australia | Lakshmanan: Struggling Vi…

M Vijay’s Test career seemed done and dusted when he was dropped – first from the XI and then from the squad – after his pair at Lord’s during the England tour. A quick dash to county where he scored heaps of runs, and the failures of KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan handed him a lifeline for the Australia tour.

Even then, the sight of Rahul and Prithvi Shaw opening in the only tour game made it clear he was only the third choice opener. That’s when Vijay received another lifeline, through Shaw’s injury. Vijay got a chance in the second innings, and responded with a century, sealing his place for the first Test in Adelaide.

Two innings into his comeback, Vijay has wasted his lifelines with scores of 11 and 18. What’s more disappointing from an Indian perspective is the manner of his dismissals – edging Mitchell Starc behind the stumps driving loosely on both occasions.

It’s an extension of the mode of dismissals that led to Vijay’s axing from the squad. For a batsman who was hailed for leaving well, Vijay’s dismissals show an uncertainty in knowledge of where his off-stump is.

Since the tour of South Africa, Vijay has no half-century in 12 overseas innings. His highest score is 46 in the second Test in South Africa, although the 25 (127) in the following Test on a breaking pitch was an invaluable knock.

In five of those 12 innings, including twice in this Test, Vijay has fallen edging while driving or tamely poking outside his off-stump. Conditions over the last one year have been tough – and sometimes even extreme – for batting, but it’s also true that the very foundation of his success overseas seems to be breaking.

Interestingly, it’s not like Vijay is getting out very early into his innings. Only twice has he been dismissed within ten balls into his innings, both at Lord’s when he bagged a pair. He has played at least 15 balls in each of the remaining ten innings, and more than 100 balls twice. Vijay is getting out constantly just around the time he should be settling down.

That was the case yet again in the second innings in Adelaide. Vijay battled for 18 off 53 balls, doing everything the way he would on his good days. He left well, battled through some testing spells, played a couple of nice looking drives. And then did something he has been doing over the last one year – fish outside off and edge.

It was similar to the way he fell in the first innings too. Starc had set him up brilliantly then – bowling a few short ones before luring him with a full ball. To be fair to Vijay, the shot was on, but his feet just didn’t move.

In the second innings, Australia’s pacers tried getting him leg before, bowling a lot of inswingers that targeted his pad. Vijay survived a couple of lbw appeals, but perhaps it kept playing in his mind. He ended up chasing one that was angled across – once again without footwork – and fell in a now familiar manner.

It all started with a change in technique in South Africa, where Vijay introduced a shuffle towards the off-stump into his game. It was quite surprising, for he already seemed a batsman who knew exactly where his off-stump was. He shed the shuffle before England, but he still hasn’t found his off-stump.

Are these mid-innings dismissals just lapses in concentration? Or is Vijay not trusting his methods – being patient, wearing out the bowlers – completely? The toughness of the pitches over the last year has meant it’s not always possible to defend your way out of trouble. It’s this dilemma that is working against Vijay. He can perhaps take a leaf out of Cheteshwar Pujara’s book. Trust your methods no matter what.

Or maybe he can just look within, for not long ago, he knew exactly what worked for him.

“You’re either Virender Sehwag or Alastair Cook,“ he had told to Cricket Monthly about his approach. “As simple as that. There’s no in-between. If you’re in-between you will get out, because the quality of bowling is up there.”

It’s this in-between zone that Vijay has to get out of. He must do it soon, for the lifeline might not last long.

Auctioneer Richard Madley Left ‘Disappointed a…

Auctioneer Richard Madley has questioned BCCI’s decision to axe him from conducting the IPL player auction for the upcoming season, saying the ‘illogical’ decision made him ‘deflated’.

The BCCI on Wednesday (December 5) announced that Madley, who had conducted all IPL player auctions since the tournament’s inception in 2008, would be replaced by Hugh Edmeades, an independent fine art, classic car and charity auctioneer.

“I’m sad, disappointed and a little bit let down and deflated,” Madley told Cricketnext. “It’s not my decision, it’s the decision of the BCCI combined with IMG. It has come as a bit of a shock to me after 11 unbroken years of conducting the auction and always receiving positive comments and feedback from the franchise owners, administrators, BCCI and my many fans. It has come as a bolt out of the blue – to be released, to use an IPL term – without reason or explanation.

“I have been told that the BCCI wants to ‘change up’ the auction with a new venue, new timings and I assumed then that they were going to bring in a newer, younger auctioneer. Perhaps an Indian auctioneer, which would be perfectly logical. Therefore I was surprised when my replacement is a British auctioneer, older than me, more grey hairs, heavier! He’s a good friend of mine, I’ve known Hugh for many years. But he’s a first class art auctioneer who has no experience of IPL. Therefore, it is illogical to me to replace me with somebody who is almost my mirror image. That, to me, is the one area that hurts.

“I was thinking that if I was going to be replaced, it would be a seed change in the auction and not a simple substitution without rhyme, reason or logic. Is it fair, equitable or honourable? So naturally I feel somewhat bruised.”

Madley, 60, was upset with the manner in which the BCCI dealt with the issue too, saying he was not given any sort of explanation.

“I was in early November if I was available to conduct the auction. I confirmed my availability and heard back from IMG/BCCI two weeks back with a one-line e-mail saying ‘Your services are not required. We have chosen a replacement auctioneer’.  No explanation, no thanks for the 11 years of service, and no reason whatsoever. I was shocked.

“They did mention they were considering other auctioneers when they asked me my availability. I confirmed my availability and assumed – wrongly – that they wanted to hire me. I surmise that they had already decided to hire Hugh and were purely going through the motions, and had already decided that they’d axe the hammer man.

“I want to know the reason why. What have I done wrong, or who have I offended, or where have I stepped out of line? For my peace of mind and professional integrity, I need to hear the truth. I quite understand I might never work in India again, but personally and professionally I need to know who these decision makers are, who can influence these matters masquerading under the guise of BCCI, but nobody being big enough to put their hand up and say this was my decision, and this is the reason. If they do that, I would feel much happier.”

Madley said conducting the IPL auction was a ‘part of my DNA’, but doubted he would be back in the future due to the damages done.

“Never say never is my motto. I have been proud and honoured to come to India and conduct the IPL auction. It’s part of my DNA,” he said. “The BCCI have said the decision is for one auction. They’ll review it after that. But I feel like a batsman who has made a double century and dropped by the selectors for no reason. However, a good cricketer will put his head down, make more runs in state cricket and get a recall. Of course I’m not going to say I’ll never return. But I feel the damage might be done and it might be difficult for the BCCI to eat humble pie and accept this decision was the wrong one, and in doing so, upset what is the greatest auction in the world.

“It would appear that they are making change for change’s sake. You don’t fiddle with something that isn’t broken. The IPL auction is an extraordinary process, it’s more than just selling players. It’s a great launchpad for the tournament which usually starts six weeks later. Alter it at your risk. It’s inconceivable to me why they would want to do it. Why remove a key player in your team who has given 11 years service and still has some life left?

“The IPL auction process is highly transparent. I am asking for that same transparency.”

India vs Australia: Vihari vs Rohit for Final …

If you’ve been living under a rock and just about tuned in to the cricket in Australia over the last week or so, you can be forgiven for thinking Australia are going to face 11 Virat Kohlis over four Tests.

Kohli is just everywhere. Fox Cricket, the broadcasters of the Border-Gavaskar Test series in Australia, ran a promo exclusively focusing on ‘King’ Kohli in Australia.

The king is coming,’ it said. ‘The first Indian captain to win a Test series in Australia?,’ it wondered.

Kohli’s face is splashed across all newspapers. Even a video of Kohli batting in the nets has gone viral on social media.

Former Australian pacers like Jason Gillespie and Ryan Harris have words of advice on how to get Kohli out. Ricky Ponting – a big bully with the bat in his playing days – says Kohli shouldn’t be allowed to bully Australia in their own backyard. Such is the aura around the India captain as the sides get set to clash on Thursday (December 6) in Adelaide.

Even as the crescendo has built, India have gone about their business as calmly as is possible. A 12-man squad was named for the clash, with a toss-up between Rohit Sharma and Hanuma Vihari for the final batting spot. India have given up on the five-bowler theory for this game, and chosen just four frontline options in Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin as the lone spinner, a decision clearly premised on the surfeit of left-handers in the Australian line-up.

In normal circumstances, the very same Australian media would be out targeting Kohli & co, trying to play mind games against the visitors. If not for the events in South Africa earlier this year, the build-up could have been a lot different. It would have been about Kohli v Steve Smith, like it was in 2014 and even in 2017 in India. Kohli had a tremendous tour last time around scoring four centuries, but it was Smith’s runs that clinched the series for Australia. Smith even led Australia to a win in Pune with a century.

Without Smith, and David Warner, Australian cricket finds itself in such a situation that there are doubts over who the favourites are ahead of the series. Hardly has a visiting team started favourites ahead of a series in Australia, across any format. Even if some don’t consider India as the favourites, there’s no doubt that they start on par with the hosts. This, despite India losing in England and South Africa over the last year, in itself is extraordinary.

The home team has announced their playing XI for the clash, dropping one of their vice-captains in Mitchell Marsh for Peter Handscomb, recalled for the first time since the tour of South Africa in March and April.

Despite scoring a century for Sheffield Shield side Western Australia in the lead-up, Marsh pays the price for a poor tour of the United Arab Emirates where he managed 30 runs from four innings with the bat against Pakistan and two wickets at the cost of almost 100 runs with the ball.

“Mitch Marsh probably hasn’t been as consistent as he would like and we would like,” captain Tim Paine said. “We know he’s good enough to be a genuine all-rounder at test level. The quicks are going to have a bowl a bit more and we have full faith that Nathan Lyon can do the job.”

Australia haven’t won a series in any format since the sandpaper-gate, barring the one-off T20I against UAE. Worse, they aren’t sure about their brand of cricket. Michael Clarke reckons they won’t win s**t without their aggression. Justin Langer and Tim Paine have stood firm by their ‘elite’ values.

Given both sides have strong bowling attacks, the series could well be decided by how the batsmen perform. India’s batting let them down against England, where they lost 1-4. Barring Kohli, and to some extent Cheteshwar Pujara, none of the other batsmen can claim to be in form. M Vijay will be under pressure making a comeback. KL Rahul will be under pressure of poor form.

Ajinkya Rahane will have to step up and be the glue in the middle order, like he did wonderfully in the last tour down under. The series will also show if Rishabh Pant can step up to the big level, and if Rohit Sharma can revive his Test career. Firstly, though, it remains to be seen if he gets into the side ahead of Hanuma Vihari.

Meanwhile, Australia have struggled to fill in for Smith and Warner. They’ve got new faces at the top with uncapped Marcus Harris, and the recently Test capped Aaron Finch. Handscomb is making a comeback and Travis Head is yet to play a Test at home.

Much of the batting responsibility, thus, lies on Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh, along with captain Paine. If they can do just about enough to give their bowlers a chance, they might change the pre-series perceptions.

The last Test series between the two sides – in India in 2017 – was acrimonious and yet competitive with India winning 2-1. How this one pans out, on both counts, will be interesting to watch.

India XII: Virat Kohli ©, A Rahane (VC), KL Rahul, M Vijay, C Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Hanuma Vihari, R Pant (WK), R Ashwin, M Shami, I Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah

Australia XI: Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Tim Paine ©, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

((With Agency Inputs))

‘Fortunately, the Kookaburra Swung’ – Agarkar …

Rahul Dravid cutting Stuart MacGill for a boundary, removing his cap and raising his bat in celebration is an unforgettable sight for Indian cricket fans. It was Adelaide, 2003, and India had just beaten Australia in Australia for the first time ever. Dravid was the Man of the Match, having made 233 and 72* in the game.

It was a special moment for the non-striker too, although he hadn’t faced a single ball. Ajit Agarkar had set up the famous win, with a spell of 6 for 41 in the second innings which gave India an opportunity to push for a win after both teams had scored 500+ in the first innings.

It’s been 15 years since that game, but Agarkar remembers it vividly. In a chat with Cricketnext, the former pacer recalls his fondest memories from the game, the string of ducks against Australia, and a lot more. Excerpts:

What are your first memories of that game?

Rahul hitting those winning runs. Till then we didn’t know that we could win a Test in Australia. It was my second trip; some of us had been there in 1999-2000, it was quite a tough lesson against arguably the best side in the world. To go back and… in Brisbane Australia played really well but we managed to draw that. So Rahul hitting those runs is my first memory. He cut Stuart MacGill, and I was at the non-striker’s end.

We needed only four and I think Parthiv Patel got out, and I don’t think I faced a ball. It was a special moment to witness it from the other end.

Talk us through your spell in the second innings, the wickets of Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting…

I always liked bowling at Adelaide. In 99-2000 I got five wickets in the game. It’s one of those grounds where although the wicket was pretty flat, sometimes some grounds give you a nice feel about it. In the first innings I got a couple of wickets, Gilchrist and Katich. It was tough, Australia scored 400 on the first day and it was quite a flat wicket. From what memory had in the 99-00 Test, on days four and five, the wicket went up and down.

Thanks to that partnership of Rahul and Laxman, the scores were very close. We were not too far behind. There was still a fair bit of time left in the game where we could have been under pressure. The thing I remember the most was the Kookaburra usually swung. That particular afternoon we just wanted to bowl well, get some early wickets and put Australia under pressure. I don’t think at that point anyone was thinking about winning the Test match because when there is 500+ runs scored by both teams and there’s just one and a half days left on a good pitch, you don’t think that you’ll bowl a team like Australia out in their conditions and be in with a chance.

Fortunately the ball swung. Swung into Langer. Ponting was in some form… he has been in good form all his life and had made a double-hundred in the first innings. It was probably a ball too close to him and maybe with the new ball, it bounced a bit more. Instead of cutting square of the wicket, it went behind the wicket and Aakash (Chopra) took a sharp catch at gully. That kind of helped. Two premier batsmen, and the ball was still new. Suddenly the middle order was exposed, although it was a strong middle order.

It was one of those grounds where I sort of enjoyed running in to bowl. Always had a nice feel. Kookaburra generally swung for the first few overs, and if you get it right, you’re always in with a chance.

How were the celebrations like?

Rahul was missing most of the time as he was busy doing pressers! We didn’t see Rahul until a long time later. Obviously there was some champagne in the dressing room. Indian team had never been big drinkers, so it sort of happened very quickly.

Obviously for the newer guys it was just as special, because it was a tough Australian team to beat inspite of not having Warne or Mcgrath. Maybe I’m speaking for other guys as well, but guys who had been in the 1999 trip – in most matches we were smashed then. At no point in that series did we ever look like having a chance. To then come back and then win a Test, it was quite emotional.

Did it help that India weren’t thinking about victory at the innings break?

No, maybe I put it wrongly. Everyone was happy that the scores was this close so we were not chasing the game. If we had conceded a lead of even 100 runs, we knew Australia could put a lot of pressure on us.

It was one of those things where we thought that if we got a couple of wickets, we could put Australia under pressure. It was a very good pitch, and if we had to chase somewhere around 200-220, we could. Maybe I put it wrongly, of course you want to win Test matches and funny things happen in the game. But the first thought was to get some wickets, and we got it. Everyone chipped in at different times.

Do you revisit that spell by watching on YouTube?

If it’s on TV I watch it. It’s very fresh in memory so I don’t need to watch it. Any time you win a Test match, it’s obviously special, especially away from India. In India you tend to win a lot. If you perform in those Test matches, it makes it even more special. So I don’t mind watching it as many times whenever it’s played on television.

You were good throughout the series, the second highest wicket-taker behind Anil Kumble. Was it one of the highest point of your career?

I think so. In 1999 I was highest wicket-taker among Indian bowlers. In both series I hadn’t picked a wicket in Sydney, so all my wickets were from three Tests. I suppose it’s a high point. We were in a position to win the series but we didn’t quite get the job done. But to go and draw the series in Australia was tough. A lot of people back home had written us off saying we were the worst team to travel and all that. It usually happens. Nobody gave us a chance. To then compete and draw a series, you’d have to say it was special.

Steve Waugh was retiring after the series and things were changing, but they were still a hell of a team. They still dominated 4-5 years after that. To beat them in their backyard, to draw a series in their backyard was special. I wish we had got the job done in Sydney, it would have been even more special.

Another famous sight from the series is you raising your bat, after you broke the string of seven ducks against Australia.

You’re always fortunate every time you get an opportunity to play Test cricket for India. It was one of those things, it was very instinctive, very unlike me to really show anything on a cricket field. It was one of those things. People spoke more about the zeroes than about my bowling, unfortunately!

That seemed to be the tendency. In 99, I thought it was probably the best I had bowled in my career and nobody spoke about my bowling after the series. For some reason I couldn’t buy a run against Australia. Against the rest of the teams, my batting record wasn’t so bad in Test cricket. For some reason – whether it was Mark Waugh or XYZ, I just couldn’t get off the mark. It was one of those things, looking back, it’s quite funny now. It was relief as well. Somehow I could get a single!

Is the current tour the best chance to get a series win in Australia?

You’ll have to think so. I mean Australia seem to be all over the place even though our bowling attack seems to be back. It’s not as straightforward as everyone is making it out to be. The batting doesn’t look great on paper but they’re playing in home conditions. You’d expect them to be more comfortable than in the subcontinent or even in England.

I don’t think we’ve ever had a better chance. We’ll have to bat well. Our downfall has been our batting when we’ve toured. Our bowling seems to be in good shape. Every time we bat well, whether it’s in Johannesburg against South Africa on a tough pitch, or Nottingham against England, our batters had managed to put some sort of score which was par for that Test. It is definitely our best chance since we’ve been touring Australia. At least since the cricket that I’ve been watching. I don’t know if we’re favourites, but it’s very close. Australia might be favourites because it’s at home but I don’t think it has happened before. I don’t think India has ever started on par with Australia going to Australia.

What’s your take on the current crop of Indian pacers?

I think the variety. Another thing that Virat has got into the team is the fitness ethics. The guys are a lot fitter, you have to pass a certain bar to be there. And it helps. Being a bowler I know that if your physical condition is good, generally you’re a lot stronger in your mind. You can push yourself that extra mile. It’s the variety, you still have to bowl well. That comes with experience. Bhuvneshwar can swing the ball. Umesh can bowl fast and swing the ball. Shami has got a bit of pace and bowls straight, bowls a lot of wicket taking balls. Ishant has got the extra height, Bumrah has X-factor, whether he bowls with the red ball or white ball. He’s played in helpful conditions so far, but how quickly he has adapted has been really good. The quality is there, it’s how quickly they adapt that will be key. It’ll be different from England or even South Africa, so how they adapt will be important.

India vs CA XI Warm-up Takeaways: Kohli the Al…

An entire day washed out. Only a handful of opposition players with first-class experience. No first-class status for the game. A lot of questions were raised over the effectiveness of India’s only tour game before the first Test against Australia, but Cricket Australia XI did give the Indians a decent work out.

India might have taken a few pointers as well. Here’s what India can take away from the match, although Kohli is known to surprise many with his eventual selection choices.

Opening combination settled

One person’s misfortune is another’s luck. Prithvi Shaw made a stroke-filled, fluent 66 off 69 balls in India’s first innings and would have thought he had done enough to seal his spot for the first Test in Adelaide. However, he twisted his ankle while fielding in the deep, and has been ruled out of the game.

While it’s a tough pill to swallow for the 18-year-old, it’s the opening Murali Vijay needed. Vijay did not even bat in India’s first innings, making clear the first-choice openers were Shaw and Rahul. He got his chance in the second, and grabbed it with both hands with a ton. Get dropped mid-way through the England series, stay out for home series against Windies, score runs in county and make it to Australia, get a chance due to injury, and make it count. Vijay has had a roller-coaster ride in the last few months.

Rahul too got some runs in the second innings and will go into the Adelaide Test with a bit more confidence. His form has come under the scanner, with even Sanjay Bangar showing signs of frustration over his modes of dismissals. But the 62 in the second innings will do Rahul’s confidence a world of good.

So, Vijay and Rahul it is!

Hanuma Vihari over Rohit Sharma?

Vihari batted above Rohit Sharma in the first innings, and scored more runs as well (Vihari made 53 while Rohit, 40). As the game was heading towards a draw late on

the final day, India sent in Vihari at No. 3 to get a hit. Maybe it’s a signal that he’s above Rohit in the pecking order, if there’s a vacant slot in the middle-order?

Vihari played one Test in England and made a half-century. Rohit hasn’t played a Test since the tour of South Africa earlier in the year, but has been in terrific form in limited-overs cricket. With Hardik Pandya out with an injury, it remains to be seen who takes the middle-order slot.

Lower order disappoints

One of the big differences between India and England in the series earlier in 2018 was the contributions of the lower order batsmen. England had an upper hand there due to their batting depth, which India couldn’t match. In this tour game, R Ashwin, Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav – the last three batsmen – made ducks. It’s just one inning, but not a great sign for the side.

Bowlers toil without the two Bs

India’s bowling was on paper much stronger than the inexperienced CA XI batsmen. But it was the home side that managed a big lead, scoring 544 in response to India’s 358. Harry Nielsen, who has played seven first-class matches, made a century. Max Bryant and Aaron Hardie haven’t played first-class cricket yet but they managed 62 and 86 respectively. D’Arcy Short scored 74.

Shami picked up three wickets from his 24 overs, but Umesh and Ishant Sharma got only two wickets from a combined 50 overs. Umesh and Shami were expensive too, with economy rates above 4.

Jasprit Bumrah bowled only 1.1 overs; he had to come in because the last-wicket stand added 57, and promptly ended the partnership. Bhuvneshwar Kumar played no part in the game. It’s interesting that he didn’t bat too; is it a sign that he won’t be the first choice pacer due to the flat tracks?

R Ashwin over Ravindra Jadeja?

Will Ashwin be the first choice spinner? He got an opportunity to bat while Jadeja didn’t. Ashwin bowled 40 overs for two wickets, Jadeja bowled only 11. Kuldeep bowled just one over.

Australia have as many as six left-handed batsmen in their Test side, so Ashwin could have a big role to play. It’s perhaps why Vihari bowled quite a few overs (12) too, although he went wicketless.

Virat Kohli’s part-time bowling to come into play?

The India captain bowled seven overs, and dismissed the player who made a century. In Pandya’s absence, will Kohli chip in with his medium pace if he needs to give his pacers a break?

India vs Australia: No First-Class Status, Wea…

Max Bryant: 0

Aaron Hardie: 0

Jonathan Merlo: 0

Param Uppal: 2

Jackson Coleman: 2

Jake Carder: 4

Daniel Fallins: 4

David Grant: 4

Harry Nielsen: 7

D’Arcy Short: 9

Harry Conway: 12

Sam Whiteman: 50

Wondering what this list is? This is the Cricket Australia XI 12-member squad, along with the number of first-class matches they’ve played. This it the side that India will play in their only warm-up match ahead of the four-Test series against Australia. To put things in perspective, the least experienced Test player in the Indian side – Hanuma Vihari – has played 66 first-class matches. Prithvi Shaw has played 17. Short is the only player in the CA XI to have played international cricket. He has played only the limited-overs formats.

To make things worse, the first day has been washed out by rain. The second day is also likely to be affected as the forecast is for scattered showers. The match isn’t a first-class encounter, players are unlikely to go full throttle. In short, India’s only preparatory match before the Test series could be a glorified net session against a weak opposition.

This isn’t the first time India are in this situation either. Owing to their cramped schedule, they’ve found it tough to fit in proper warm-up matches. They cancelled their practice match before the South Africa tour, instead opting to have nets among themselves. In England earlier this year, India cut short their four-day warm-up match against Essex to three days. They had a gap of 14 days between the end of the limited-overs series and the beginning of the first Test. Yet, they fitted in just one match, which too was reduced to a three-day affair.

Virat Kohli’s men lost both the series, with their preparations coming under the scanner. Kohli defended his side’s decision then, saying it was pointless wasting time if the opposition isn’t good enough.

“Lot of people talk about tour games but where are those tour games happening and against what quality of bowling are very important questions to be asked,” Kohli had told Michael Holding in an interview for Sky Sports during the tour of England. “Because if you don’t get the preparation you need before a Test series, then it is actually not utilised well. Time is not utilised well if you don’t get the quality of opposition that you will face in Test cricket.”

Make no mistake, it’s not just an Indian issue. Teams all over are using this ‘strategy’; every country realises that packed international calendar makes it difficult for visiting teams to play multiple warm-up matches, and deny them the best exposure in the only opportunity. The most recent case was Pakistan fielding a side without a single spinner against Australia before the Test series in UAE. Pakistan ended winning the three-match series 2-0.

This isn’t a guarantee for success either. India themselves have done the same. Remember 2012, when India fielded a side without a spinner against the visiting English side? The series ended with England winning 2-1, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann spinning a web around the Indians.

Whether it’s right or wrong, ethical or otherwise, is up for debate. Why should a cricket board help the opposition beat their own side? But then, won’t this create a never-ending loop?

The need of the hour, as Rahul Dravid pointed out in an interview with CricketNext earlier in the year, though is for co-operation among cricket boards.

“Ideally, they should. They should be playing that and it should be planned,” said Dravid when asked if India should play two warm-up matches before overseas Tests. “And it is not an Indian issue, I think it is a world game issue. I remember Trevor Bayliss taking about it last time the Ashes were held. I think they had a similar problem in Australia, where because of the kind of schedules and the reluctance, I think of first-class teams now to put their best players out for visiting teams than in the past, because first-class teams are playing more cricket now.

"I mean I benefited a lot from it in my career, playing solid first-class games when I first started and when we went on tours it was a done thing that you practice and you play first-class cricket. It seems to happen less and less nowadays and not only for India, it is less and less for any country. But, definitely something India needs to look into talking from an Indian perspective. But, even other teams need to co-operate on their behalf.

“For, example if Australia can guarantee India two solid practice games when we go there, we should be able to do the same for them when they come here. So, like anything else, it has to be reciprocal and we have to work with other boards because nobody wants to see one-sided overseas results, you want to see close, exciting Test matches.”

These are the same boards that have come together to improve their ‘A’ sides with regular tours. Until they do the same for Test cricket’s sake, these warm-up matches, as they are now, will indeed be pointless.

Meet Tamil Nadu’s Varun Chakravarthy, the Arch…

Play cricket in school without much success. Quit the game for academics and get into the mainstream. Relive your old love for the game in the mid-20s and start playing again.

This is a common theme among many across India, and perhaps the world. Most settle for playing some form of club or corporate cricket over the weekends while staying in the mainstream through the rest of the year. It’s too late to make a career out of cricket at that stage.

Tamil Nadu’s Varun Chakravarthy, though, has taken a ‘comeback’ to the game to another level. He began cricket in school but struggled to make it to higher levels. He quit the sport in Class XII, then did a five-year Architecture course, and worked in a firm for close to two years. One fine day, at 25, he decided enough was enough.

“I don’t know, I just built up so much pressure inside me and it blasted… I just quit. I walked in and right away said I want to stop working and I came back,” he narrates his journey to Cricketnext. “I told my parents that my mind was not there, I just wasn’t able to do it. They understood and supported me, although I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I dusted off my old kit bag which I hadn’t used for six years. I didn’t know anything else. I had to take up cricket again.”

Around just three years on, Varun is now potentially on the radar of some IPL teams after earning a name for himself as a mystery spinner.  A terrific Tamil Nadu Premier League, where he spun Siechem Madurai Panthers to the title with nine wickets at an astonishing economy of 4.7, brought him into the limelight. Until last year, he was just a fourth division player. Now, he’s the second highest wicket-taker of the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy, and has also made his Ranji Trophy debut.

The comeback was a massive decision given Varun wasn’t even a hugely successful cricketer in his early days. In his own words, he ‘was dropped always’ and found it ‘frustrating’. He finally made it to the XI regularly when he lied that he could keep wickets when the regular wicketkeeper was injured, and turned keeper for the next few years.

Varun decided to make a comeback but didn’t know how to go about things, since he had no contacts in the circuit.

“I had no contacts, didn’t know any player or coach,” he recalls. “I randomly went into the Abdul Jabbar cricket academy. They said they take people only below 20. I was much older, beard and all. They initially rejected me because of my age, but I convinced them saying I’ll just bowl for three hours every day. All I would do there was bowl. It gave me happiness.”

It also gave him contacts, through which he began playing league cricket albeit at a lower level (fourth division). Even then, he didn’t play with any ambition of making it high; he was just another medium pacer playing league cricket.

An injury to his knee that ruled him out of action for six months, though, worked as a blessing in disguise. It gave him a chance to work on his mystery spin, which he had developed through years of tennis ball cricket. Varun says he now has eight variations.

“When I came back from injury, I didn’t want to take up fast bowling again,” he says. “In those six months, I started bowling carrom ball and other stuff with a cricket ball in the nets. But even in the next year, I bowled only fast bowling as I was not confident. Only after two years did I start spin with a cricket ball in a league match. When I wanted to bowl mystery spin in fourth division, I asked permission from a number of people because I wasn’t confident.

“Once I started, I got 26 wickets from four matches for Jublee CC. I started bowling in the nets to some 1st division players like R Rohith, who introduced me to Baba Aparajith, Indrajith and Malolan Rangarajan. Malolan helped me a lot.

“In fact, I went for my first TNPL trial as a batsman. At the trials, there were plenty of better batsmen from higher divisions. I knew I could bowl a carrom ball then, although I hadn’t tried it out even in a league match. I just bowled there because I had to do something different. A video analyst called Hari was impressed, and he passed on the word to Robin Singh (Karaikudi Kaalais head coach) and they picked me.”

Image Courtesy: TNPL

Similar help from a few others helped Varun get a taste of IPL too. He got a chance to bowl in the nets to Chennai Super Kings, and spend some time with Kolkata Knight Riders at the Eden Gardens.

“Net bowlers are usually from first division or Ranji trophy level, and I was only a fourth division cricketer,” Varun says. “I just called Mr TS Mohan sir in TNCA and convinced him somehow to give me a chance. He was nice enough to consider me, and I ended up bowling to the CSK superstars.

“But just when it was coming out well, Chennai’s matches were shifted to Pune. I was very sad. Suddenly, everything went blank again and for 15-20 days nothing happened.

“Suddenly AR Srikkanth, the video analyst of KKR called me through Dinesh Karthik. I stayed with the KKR team for 10 days.”

At KKR, Varun got a chance to observe the likes of Sunil Narine closely. He also interacted with Carl Crowe, Narine’s personal coach from London who also trained Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla. Varun says the sessions with Crowe ‘opened doors’ and helped him in the TNPL.

Now, Varun has also trialled with the Mumbai Indians ahead of the auction next month and is hoping he gets picked for the tournament next year.

That could be another big step in a rapidly rising career, but Varun is keeping himself grounded.

“People call it success. But through age group cricket in school, I’ve seen so many failures. I’ve been to 10 selections and not got even into the round-robin stages once,” he remembers. “Every time on the results day, I’d go to TNCA and find my name missing out. The memory that people term as ‘success’ is so little because the failures are so much in my mind.

“I was never recognised even once. Back then a name in the newspaper was a big aspiration. Now I see my photo on newspapers. It’s taught me not to get too attached to all these things.”

India vs Australia: Chase Master Kohli Gets it…

It’s become such a routine thing that it’s hardly even noticed these days. Virat Kohli and run chases.

The love affair was on display once again in the third and final T20I between India and Australia, where Kohli’s unbeaten 41-ball 61 helped India overcome a tense chase to level the series.

He perhaps doesn’t feel it anymore, but there were multiple points where India were under pressure. He walked in after a superb platform at 67 for 1 in the sixth over, but fortunes swung quite dramatically almost immediately.

The swing started with Adam Zampa bowling a wicket-maiden, dismissing Rohit Sharma and triggering a middle-overs choke. With two new batsmen in, Zampa and Glenn Maxwell ran through some quick, quiet overs. It wasn’t too different from what had happened in the Australian innings; Aaron Finch and D’Arcy Short had begun well against pacers but Krunal Pandya and Kuldeep Yadav changed the course of the game in the middle overs.

The difference between the two halves, and the two sides, was Kohli. Australia’s batsmen kept trying to force the pace, and didn’t manage beyond knocks of 20s.

Kohli too went through the middle-overs struggles on a surface which increasingly became sluggish. His first ten balls yielded only six runs. It didn’t help that his partner KL Rahul was struggling even more, managing only 14 off 20 balls despite hitting a six. As Maxwell and Zampa strung together dot balls aplenty, India managed only 22 runs between overs 11 and 15.

Twitter/ ICC

He watched from the other end as Rahul and Rishabh Pant fell off successive balls. At that stage, India needed 57 off 41. With Dinesh Karthik too taking his time to settle in, the next 11 balls yielded only five runs.

Australia’s plan was to hold Andrew Tye for the death. He came on only in the 14th over, and immediately struck with Pant’s wicket. At that point, Kohli was on 25 off 20. Within the next 14 balls, he reached his half-century, dismantling Australia’s plans without any fuss.

From 52 off 30, Kohli smashed Tye for a six and a four, bringing the equation to 40 off 24. The six was a statement in itself; he could dance down and send it over long-off whenever he wanted, but hadn’t done until then only because it wasn’t needed. Another six off Maxwell made it 27 off 18, which wasn’t too difficult with Karthik also joining in. Fittingly, Kohli finished the game hitting two boundaries off Tye and raised his arms in joy, as he has done on countless times in coloured clothes for India.

In many ways, this innings was a mini-version of his knock against the same opponents in the World T20 2016. India were chasing a tricky 161 on a tough Mohali track and were struggling for momentum at 94 for 4 in 14 overs. Kohli took control, ending unbeaten on a 51-ball 82, built largely on terrific running and smart pacing of the chase. In that game, his first 50 had taken 40 balls. The next 11 produced 32, and India won with five balls to spare.

Here, too, Kohli had hit only one boundary in his first 20 balls. By the time he ended, he had four fours and two sixes. It’s this ability to pace his innings and attack when, and whenever, needed that makes him the master chaser even in T20s.

He has remained unbeaten 14 times in chases in T20Is, and India have won in each of those occasions. That says it all.

India Eager to Tuck into T20 Appetiser Before …

Pre-series build-ups ahead of India’s tours of Australia generally talk about how difficult Australia are to beat at home, and how oppositions have to match the hosts’ positive’ and ‘aggressive’ style of play.

Things are a lot different now. The build-up is all about how weak Australia are, and whether this is the weakest side ever from the country. Many are even wondering if the upcoming series will be competitive in the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner. Some hoped the duo’s suspensions would be lifted, but that is now not happening.

Such are the times for Australian cricket since the ball-tampering saga earlier this year. Off the field turmoil has been matched by poor performances on the field.

Australia have been poor across formats, unable to cope with the constant changes in search of stability. They’ve lost series against England, Pakistan and South Africa, apart from a tri-series in Zimbabwe involving Pakistan. The only series they won – across formats – after the infamous South Africa tour was a one-off T20I match against UAE!

Australia’s home summer started with losses to South Africa in the three-match ODI series and a lone T20I. Things won’t get any easier, for they’ll be up against an Indian side that has been steamrolling opponents in T20Is over the last two years. Since the World T20 2016, India have won 24 of their 34 matches and lost nine. It includes victories in 10 of the 13 series in the period.

The latest of those was a three-nil whitewash of Windies at home. They did it without Virat Kohli, who is back for the Australia T20Is making the side even stronger.

All eyes in this tour will be on the four Tests, which are sandwiched between the T20s and ODIs. With no immediate major T20 event in sight, the T20 series will be all about preparing for the bigger Tests by beginning positively. It gives India’s batsmen a license to have some fun, just trying to get into a good batting rhythm.

Continuing with their recent trend of naming a XII a day before the game, India have chosen to leave out Shreyas Iyer, Manish Pandey, Washington Sundar and Umesh Yadav from their 16-man squad.

The likes of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant will be part of both the T20Is and the Tests, and will see the shorter format as a sort of preparation for the longer ones. Similarly, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav too will look to adjust to the Australian length and pace.

“Our limited-overs form has been good, we just want to continue that and as a whole, throughout the tour, we want to do the little things right and have our focus really precise so that we can win more situations than the opposition,” Kohli said at the pre-match press conference. “When you step on the field, everyone has an equal opportunity of upsetting any opposition and having their day with the ball, bat or in the field and the Australian team is more than capable of doing that on even after losing their quality batsmen. We definitely will have to be at our absolute best to win against Australia in Australia.”

India found out pretty recently that playing the shorter formats before Tests isn’t exactly the perfect preparation. India played ODIs and T20Is in Ireland and England before the five-Test series in England, which they ended up losing 1-4. No amount of white-ball cricket can compensate for red-ball form in overseas conditions.

But unlike red-ball cricket, white-ball form hasn’t been a problem for India overseas, especially in T20Is. They won their last overseas T20I assignment, beating England 2-1 in a three-match series. They’ll fancy their chances against this Australian side too, given they’ve rested the likes of Mitchell Starc and other big pacers ahead of the Tests.

But Australia are still a formidable unit with a few T20 specialists. Finch and D’Arcy Short can hit a few, as can Chris Lynn. Glenn Maxwell blows hot and cold. Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye and Adam Zampa are well known faces in the IPL. The challenge for Australia will be to put everything together and fire in unison.

The last time India toured Australia for a T20I series, they created a bit of history by whitewashing Australia 3-0 in 2016. More history beckons now, starting with the first game in Brisbane on Wednesday.

Squads:

India XII: Virat Kohli©, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Lokesh Rahul, Dinesh Karthik, Rishabh Pant, Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal, Krunal Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jasprit Bumrah, K Khaleel Ahmed

Australia: Aaron Finch©, Alex Carey, Ashton Agar, Jason Behrendorff, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Chris Lynn, Glenn Maxwell, Ben McDermott, D Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa