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    November 11, 2008

    What a series, pity about the pitches though!

    A fantastic series came to an end with India winning at Nagpur to win the series 2-0 and bring back the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after 4 years.

    Like I wrote fairly early on, partnerships at the top and the bottom proved to be crucial. Five out of the 50+ run partnerships for the first wicket were by India's openers. Right from around the time Harbhajan & Zaheer put on 80 at Bangalore, the momentum switched to India. Australia's woes got compounded with the Harbhajan-Dhoni partnership in India's final batting dig of the series.

    Barring a couple of sessions here and there, the momentum stayed with the home team. India won most of the crucial sessions. Amazingly enough for a side as good as Australia, far too often they eased up the pressure when they had India by the unmentionables.

    Is that an indicator of the quality of personnel on either side, the captaincy, luck, pluck, or a shift in on-field power equations? I'd still say that Australia started the series as favourites. But a lot of their personnel misfired at the same time. With the exception of Mike Hussey & Simon Katich, there was no consistency in the batting. Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke & Ricky Ponting fired only once or twice all series. In the case of the bowling, it was worse. Brett Lee & Stuart Clark just didn't turn up (strike rates of 111 & 219) and Johnson's numbers were hardly a true reflection of how ineffective he really was.

    The fairytale story of Jason Krejza hid a very obvious problem: Australia thought they'd be better off playing Cameron White as a second all-rounder, and they got what they wanted (some decent stands with the lower order, but precious little with the ball). It was bloody obvious to most folks that White really shouldn't have played after Mohali (3/120 in 27 overs in the game on a pitch that helped spin). Yet, Ponting & the selectors persisted with him. Krejza was thrown in to the deep end when there was nothing to lose, and he showed White how to purchase his wickets. There'll surely be more innings when Krejza bowls far better for worse returns, but his out-of-the-blue performance should give Australia some hope for the future.

    Several questions can be asked about Ricky Ponting's captaincy, for worrying about the opposition when he had enough issues on his plate such as team selection, consistently calling heads despite it not working out for two tests in a row, the field placements which meant Gambhir & Sehwag scored at will in the second test, prioritizing speeding up the over rate above breaking partnerships for the third time in the last 10 months, etc.

    For all the pre-series talk of 'new age cricket', in terms of %age of runs scored in of their runs in 1s, 2s & 3s, the numbers were 49% for Australia & 53% for India. Even better, India's run rate when it came to scoring 1s, 2s & 3s was 1.85 an over while Australia's was 1.46 an over. Both teams were even when it came to the run rate for boundaries and sixes - India's was 24.47 an over while Australia's was 24.37.

    Realistically, the only gains for Australia from this series have been, in descending order of an index (expectation + impact): Krejza, Hussey, Watson, Katich & Siddle. As a team, they have regressed. If it weren't for Clarke himself having a bad time, the knives would normally have been out for Ponting. Unless of course, the Aussie selectors want to take a bet on making Hussey captain. Australia's upcoming series against New Zealand & South Africa provide great opportunities for easing out Hayden from the opener's slot, given that Jaques & Marsh are waiting in the ranks. We could also see Andrew Symonds returning, thus giving Australia a better middle-order and an extra spin bowling option.

    Yet, it isn't a case of all being hunky-dory for India. The fact that they won without two of the bulwarks (Kumble & Dravid) performing is an indicator of the depth available and the good form that the rest of the players were in. Kumble has now retired, but questions will be asked about how hungry Rahul Dravid is to get his batting (and amazingly enough, his slip catching) sorted out before the tests against England.

    India's biggest gains from the series have been Dhoni's refreshing captaincy & his beginner's luck, the batting form of Gambhir, Sehwag, Tendulkar & Laxman, Ganguly & Kumble retiring with able replacements in the wings (Ganguly's middle order replacement is as yet undecided, with Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh & Suresh Raina being the contenders) and the pace bowling department whose bench strength (Sreesanth, Munaf, RP Singh) is fairly impressive.

    Australia losing this series doesn't mean they're not the best side. They obviously are, and do have the ability to stay there for a while. India have just reinforced the fact that they've caused Australia the most troubles over the past 8-10 years. It is going to be a fascinating battle between India, South Africa, England & Sri Lanka for the bragging rights to be called Australia's replacement if Australia do slip up majorly over the next year or two.

    The main problems though are with the BCCI. Sparse crowds & slow pitches do not help the cause of test cricket at all. India has hosted the highest number, and highest percentage, of drawn games in the last five years. Overall, I think the series mostly sucked, in the context of the quality of cricket played. The placid pitches meant the play was mostly defensive in nature, and most of the time that strategy didn't work.

    How much more interesting would this series have been had the pitches aided bowlers just a tad more than they eventually did? How much more enjoyable would the series have been for fans had they got access to (far flung) stadiums at reasonable rates without having to pay through their nose for five day tickets? Given that the bulk of the revenue for host associations in India comes from the sale of advertisement hoardings etc. at the stadium, they should just set rock-bottom prices to entice more spectators. It was ridiculous that when Tendulkar got past Lara and Sourav Ganguly made his last bow (only the Englishmen Billy Griffith & John Hampshire have scored a century in their debut innings and a duck in their last), there was just about enough of a crowd for it to be called a half-full (or is that half-empty?) house.

    Here are a few statistical indicators of how huge this series win is: Australia have lost only 4 series in the last decade. Australia's two worst test defeats in the last decade came in this series and this was the first time in nearly a quarter of a century that Australia failed to win a single test in a series of 4 or more matches.

    Update: I have this nagging feeling Australia have got away with it yet again with a fine of 20% for Ponting & 10% for the rest of the folks. This is the third time in 2008 that Australia is being fined for a slow over rate.

    It happened in the Perth test against India and then during the triangular one-day series game at Sydney.

    Penalties for over rates are level 1 offences. As per the 'Guidelines for Offences' section of the code of conduct, a repeat of a level 1 offence within 12 months would upgrade the new offense to a level 2 offence, which carries a penalty of 50-100% of the match fee and/or a 1 test/2 ODI ban. Has the ICC's database conveniently broken down again, like it did when Judge Hansen was not made aware of Harbhajan's history? The two penalties I mentioned above aren't even listed on the list of breaches & penalties in 2008 on the ICC's website. Go figure!

    It seems to me that Ponting was scared of a test/ODI ban and that's why he used part-timers to speed up the over rate. Turns out that Broad was either ignorant, ill-informed, or just plain incompetent and so he's not considered it to be a repeat offence. Henceforth, Ponting won't bother about a possible ban on account of a slow over rate, because he knows that the match referee will invariably look the other way.

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    Thus spake Jagadish @ 11:48 AM |
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    5 sledge(s):

    It was a very good series but it was quite obvious that Australia were lacking wicket takers. They had Mcgrath to claim early wickets and then Warne, to collect wickets when the opposition where looking comfortable. The Aussie team need to improve or will struggle agianst England. The Indian's had a good tour but I think that they won't beat England.
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    By Anonymous allrounder (11-Nov-2008, 4:50:00 PM)  

    Thanx a lot for the detailed analysis of the series.Well played India!

    By Anonymous Jhangora (11-Nov-2008, 5:25:00 PM)  

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    By Blogger Linq (11-Nov-2008, 8:54:00 PM)  

    Yuvraj no replacement for Ganguly.

    Let him play in ODI and T20.
    He is a very ordinary test player.

    By Blogger Tarun (12-Nov-2008, 9:01:00 AM)  

    I have just fininshed watching Aus beat Sth Africa in the 3rd test in sydney to lose the series 2-1. What must be of concern to the once mighty Australian team is their inability to take 20 wickets in a game, and while ever they cant do that they will keep slipping down the rankings and will encounter the problem of catching and overtaking the current No1 team who ever that might be.
    I believe only a miracle will stop SA claiming the title in the next series.
    Keep up the good work.

    By Anonymous Gonzo (07-Jan-2009, 5:31:00 PM)  


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