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Twists and turns

At the end of the fourth day’s play in the 3rd Test between Australia and India, Australia looks set to square the series at 1-1 with one Test, in Sydney, to play. It has been many years since the Sydney Test (in recent times the final Test of a series) has been “live”.

Yet this match, as with all of the matches in the series, has had it’s turning points. The first match saw Australia go from 2/262 at the end of day one to all out for 323. India then took a healthy first innings lead before Australia hit back and could conceivably have set a sizable target for India. Or perhaps not. But rain killed that.

And the second Test could have had no more dramatic turn-around (well, except one a few years ago thanks to VVS and Dravid). Australia made and enormous 566 and had India reeling at 4-85, only to have another Dravid and Laxman moment and then to lose the match (mostly through bad batting on Day 4). Which brings us to the 3rd Test with India one up in the series.

At stumps on Boxing Day, Day one, I was glad that I did not have access to a computer or the internet. If I wrote an item, it would have been morose. India having a good series is all well and good but you have to draw the line somewhere. I want Steve Waugh to go out on a winning note and was looking forward to Sydney being the series decider.

But with India 4/329 after a magnificent 195 by Sehwag, and a rather toothless Australian attack, it seemed that India could close out the match, and the series. I was searching for headlines such as “When did the Australian attack last concede greater that 400 runs in three consecutive innings”?

But Saturday was a new day and the Australians could not have hoped for a better result. The Indians were dismissed by various means for just a further 37 runs, the last six wickets going down with a clatter, for just 16 runs. A total of 366 was competitive but momentum had shifted. The Indians must have held some regret in their hearts.

Australia carefully mounted a huge reply, and with the pitch behaving like Melbourne of the eighties (up and down bounce), a very large lead was necessary. The 192 run lead came courtesy of the amazing Ponting (257) with back to back double centuries and the man mountain, Matthew Hayden (136). Next best was extras who added a well made 39. And more drama for Steve Waugh: Having received the obligatory “standing O” from the MCG crowd, he was heading slowly back to the pavilion just two balls later. But at least he was not out – just retired hurt with a giant egg on his left elbow.

It is incredible to think that Ponting has made three double centuries this year, has scored more runs than any other Australian in a calendar year and has scored exactly 499 runs in two Tests – and he may well have the chance to make that more than 500 tomorrow.

The Indians put up a good fight in their second dig and at 4/253 looked like they might set Australia a difficult target but the end came quickly again. This time the last six fell for just 33 runs. The last four scored exactly five runs for the match between them – which is lame any way you look at it.

Brad Williams was impressive in going through the tail, taking three quick wickets, bowling with pace and accuracy.

Stumps were drawn with the fall of the final wicket and Australia will start a new innings tomorrow, looking for “just” 95 runs.

Across the Tasman, NZ are having another yo-yo affair with Pakistan. Batting first, having slumped to 2/1 and then 6/171, the Kiwis somehow managed to scrape together a healthy 366. It was mostly due to Jacob Oram’s 92 and 44 from the in form Vettori. The world’s fastest bowler (by a very long way), Shoaib Akhtar, had the fine figures of 5-48.

New Zealand then fired Pakistan out for 196 and were looking pretty at the half way point. Shoaib came back for an encore and took 6/30 (match figures of 11/78) and New Zealand was all out for 103. Five of the six were bowled or lbw and the big in swinging yorkers were knocking the kiwi lads over. Looking at Brett Lee’s “new” action, and the numbers from the speed camera, one wonders if we will ever see this sort of bowling from Brett Lee again. Is he a spent fuel rod?

The Pakis are now 3/246, requiring just another 28 runs for victory in the Test and the series.

Over in South Africa, the carnage is too great to detail, save to say that the Windies are going down by an innings a plenty. Scores are WI 264 & 5/186 v SthAf 9/658. Sarwan (95*) and Chanderpaul (21*) are fighting a rearguard but it’s a lost cause.

By 14:00 EST tomorrow, the India-Australia series should be level. The battle for the Gavaskar-Border trophy will be in the balance. Then roll on Sydney!

Spectacular Action

Things are pretty quiet in the lead up to Christmas but yesterday did provide a dramatic finish to the match between Tasmania and NSW at the SCG. All three fans at the ground expressed their delight and satisfaction with value for money.

The match finished a draw, with the scores tied!! Having dismissed Tasmania for 315 in the second dig, NSW needed 176 from just 22 overs. They made 175 (at a run rate of 7.95 per over) and missed out on the much needed points for outright. Match highlights were 5 first innings wickets to Brett Lee, 216 from Michael “Never to Play Test Cricket Again” Bevan in the NSW first innings and 157 from Shane Watson, continuing his fine season. Simon Katich was in the wickets again with four second innings successes. Steve Waugh did not play in the match.

Across the Tasman, just when it seemed that the match had been killed by rain, NZ have slumped to 7/68 – which has injected some unexpected life into the match. The Kiwis are 168 runs in front with 47 overs to play. If the Pakis can take the last three wickets quickly, they are in with a good chance of a victory on the back of a slog-fest.

Meanwhile at the WACA, Victoria have dished out a fearful hiding to WA, beating them by an innings and 158 runs (and the Victorian “innings” suffered just three losses). WA was without Langer, Martyn and Gilchrist (so I imagine that the Test stars were given this game off). The Victorian scorecard looked more like my Visa statement (but with less lines) with Elliot making 182, Moss 172 not out and Hussey (the other Hussey) 160 not out. Oh dear.

Most likely next release will be some time after Boxing Day.

Happy Christmas everyone.

The spinner who could bat a bit

No. Not Shane Warne. Daniel Vettori, of course.

Vettori is a bit like Warne, in that he is a fine bowler who can handle the bat and perhaps has harboured aspirations of a Test match century. Unlike Warne, he appears not to be a butthead.

When I went away for the week end and did not have internet access, NZ was 6/295. I was amazed to see last night that Pakistan were chasing 563. I guessed that Fleming must have made another 275 or so and was agog to see 137 not out next to the name of Daniel Vettori. Prior to the weekend, Vettori had made six Test half centuries with the only one progressing past 60 being 90 made against, dare I say it, lowly ranked Zimbabwe. He must have regarded that one as “the century that got away” (something that SK Warne knows about, by the way).

I believe that the innings was a fine effort – 137 from 170 balls. And 23 fours and one six would indicate that there was some entertainment for crowd. And even better, he was dropped three times in the one over.

So well played Daniel, you have given new hope to one of your blonde colleague across the Tasman.

On the Verge

With the Aussie bowlers falling like flies, and taking a hammering, most first class bowlers must consider themselves on the verge of Test selection.

I’m wondering if Matthew Nicholson might be close to of taking the Test stage again. He has returned to NSW, his home state, this year and has bowled well. It is often forgotten that Nicholson played a solitary Test almost exactly five years ago against England in Melbourne, performing creditably.

Nicholson is also a hard hitting batsman with a first class century to his name. He is obviously in the frame for the selectors as he is playing for Australia A against India. He took the opening wicket as India are 1/6 at stumps, chasing 5 d/311. Martin Love kept his hat in the ring with 94.

Another interesting selection was Cameron White, the other Victorian leg spinner, who was preferred to Nathan Hauritz.

Around the traps, all of the big eight Test nations are doing battle in series at present. NZ kicked off against Pakistan in Hamilton today. NZ are 6/295 at stumps with Stephen Fleming 125 not out, playing a lone hand.

Sri Lanka dismissed England for the obligatory, slow, ordinary mid-200 total. Just after lunch Sri Lanka are 1/88 with Jayasuria in full flight having made 53 from just 49 balls.

We all know the state of affairs between India and Australia.

The West Indies lost the first Test in South Africa by plenty, Brian Lara joining Ricky Ponting in making a double hundred in a losing effort. Lara moves back to the top of the PWC Batting ratings. Ponting, having made 242 managed to slide back one place as Dravid also moved up (to #2). I guess runs against India are not what they used to be! Tendulkar slipped out of the top 10 for the first time since Richie Benaud was a young man.

It is heartening for Aussie fans that Brett Lee has picked up 4-106 today against Tasmania. He had conceded 106 runs from just 21 overs while Bracken gave up just 47 runs from 29 overs but I’m sure Lee will take the wickets. He is a certainty for Melbourne. Gillespie has been ruled out for Melbourne, there will be no comeback for McGrath this series and I hear Warnie had a net session. Why, I don’t know.