The Windies find Hope

The West Indies have levelled the three Test series with England, having won the 2nd Test at Leeds. This was a dramatic turn around after they lost the first Test by a whopping innings and 209 runs. The West Indies led by 169 on the first innings but batting last, still needed a challenging 322 for victory. Player of the match was 23 year old, Shai Hope, playing in his 12th Test match. He scored a century in both innings (147 and 118*), was not out in the second innings and fittingly, scored the winning runs.

I remember an old joke at school. Primary school. A long time ago. It went something like this: The USA has Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Stevie Wonder. Australia has no cash, no hope and there is no wonder. West Indies cricket has been a little like that for almost 20 years so it’s nice that they finally have Hope. In fact, Shai’s older brother, Kyle, also played in the match so the Windies were going for a double dose of hope. But he hasn’t done much in his two matches.

Having made a great start to the match by dismissing England for 258, the Windies made 427 mostly thanks to Shai Hope and Kraigg Brathwaite (134). England was able to make what I thought, and was proven to be, a sporting declaration on the back of a 114 run 8th wicket partnership. In fact, at seven down, England was only 158 in the lead and the West Indies were in control but it looked like the tail had stolen the match for England.

However on the final day, Brathwaite (95) and Hope set to work again to win the match by five wickets. It’s a shame that Brathwaite didn’t complete the double as well, as two players for the same team scoring a century in each innings of a Test is a rare thing indeed.

The third and deciding Test starts on Thursday, 7 September at Lord’s.

Will of Iron

If there was any need of proof, Steve Smith’s latest innings has confirmed he has a cast iron, steely resolve to win. I don’t think he cracked a smile during his unbeaten 178. Celebrations were very subdued when he reached the century. He even kept a straight face during his very funny dance-come-wrestle with Saha. Kohli is made of similar competitive mettle but I feel he may have made a tactical error in calling Steve Smith a cheat.

It has been clear from the start of this series that Australia has a calm resolve to win. The series may be in the balance but Australia has exceeded all of my expectation. The first Test was a landslide and in the second, the teams were separated by just one partnership. I attribute much of this to Smith. As his own stocks continue to rise, he continues to build a young team around him.

Smith is not the first competitive Australian captain. In fact, he’s just the most recent in a long line. But amongst the determination and at times, churlish outbursts, I find something very boyish and appealing about him. It is true that he doesn’t react to disappointment well, at times. A dropped catch (especially if he was the fieldsman) or a careless, unlucky or unjust dismissal at a critical time can reveal some interesting and immature behaviour. But I don’t mind that in some ways and in small doses. Smith is honest and forthright. These outbursts usually don’t last long, are sometimes followed by an apology and somehow avoid being ugly. It somehow seems different to Ricky Ponting giving Duncan Fletcher a gob full has he walked off the field at Trent Bridge in 2005.

It was quite unbelievable when Smith looked to the Australian dressing room for advice on asking for a referral. It’s clearly against the rules but in the moment of desperation, Smith overlooked this. The umpires were decisive and quickly sent Smith on his way, leaving Kohli behaving like a pork chop. Smith was quick to own that he had a “brain fade”. In the aftermath, Kohli went even further and suggested Australia did this more often and did it twice while he was at the crease.

There was tension over those remarks in the lead-up to the third Test. Smith affirmed he was in the wrong – once – but denied further wrong doing and rightly asked Kohli to be specific. That is, to substantiate his slander with evidence. The media also picked up in this and questioned Kohli at length. Kohli ducked and weaved, refused to elaborate and only reiterated his claim. I don’t know why you would want to add moral high ground to Steve Smith’s already strong drive to win.

I don’t know if Australia can win this match or the series. Commonsense would tend to indicate not but it looks like the captain is going to take them close.

Australia race towards a consolation victory

My daughter, Maddie and I were discussing the unexpected turn of events in Pune, India yesterday. Who would have thought that Australia could have ended the day almost 300 runs in front, still with six wickets in hand? Who would have guessed India could capitulate for 105 and that SOK would be the destroyer? It reminded me of a couple of other Tests, and series, which Maddie and I also discussed. I suggested that while I was thrilled at the current standing, I didn’t expect it to continue. Maddie suggested that consolation victories are usually dead rubbers but maybe Australia was having theirs now, at the start of the series.

To recap, Australia scraped to 260 thanks to a last wicket partnership of 55 and swashbuckling 61 from Mitchell Starc. India slumped to all out for 105, losing the last seven wickets for 11 runs. Kohli made a two ball duck, his first Test gozza in India. Australia was a whopping 145 runs in front on the first innings in a low scoring match. It was at that point that I paused to reflect.

I remembered the first Test in Chennai back in March 1998. India batted first and was unexpectedly rolled for just 257 and Tendulkar was mastered by Warne for 4. Australia made 328, led by 71 on the first inning and was boyant.

The other, more recent match was in Capetown, November 2011. There were startling similarities. Australia put together 284 led by a marvellous 151 from Michael Clarke. South Africa was ripped out for 96 runs, losing the last seven wickets for 23 runs. Shane Watson was the unexpected wrecker, taking 5/17. You would think that was an unassailable position with South Africa batting last. Wrong.

Australia lost both of those Test matches. In the first throwback, India regathered, made a good second innings and set Australia a target they couldn’t come close to, batting last. They then dominated for most of the rest of the series before a collapse in their final innings of the series gave Australia a consolation victory.

Most of you would know that in Cape Town, Australia could manage just 47 in the second innings and South Africa won easily in the end – by eight wickets.

I think Australia will win this match because they have done enough already in their second innings. I doubt they will polish of India so easily again in this series. India’s demise surely must have been largely due to complacency at best and arrogance at worst. But a lot of credit must go to Australia.

I like the new look team. I like that the selectors have given Smith a chance to build his own team with young men. I didn’t rate them any sort of chance in India. They had played well to win four in a row but I didn’t expect that to continue. Adding Renshaw and Handscomb to Smith and Warner gives Australia a chance to have a strong batting nucleus. If the selectors can start thinking straight about Khawaja and include him in the team, that will help even more.

Smith has immense resolve and I think he has some young guys who will follow his lead. I don’t know if Steve O’Keefe is going to have a great tour of India, let alone a Test career but he deserves to enjoy his 6/35 yesterday and I hope they are match winning figures, and that he adds to his haul.

I don’t know if the selectors have it right with the Marshes but I’ll leave that for now save to say a Test number six with a batting average of 23. Really?

Just to remind you all about Khawaja, he was dropped in Sri Lanka mid-last year after two bad Tests. Bad Tests for him and bad for the team. Perhaps there is a perception that he is weak against spin. To counter that, his overall average is almost 48. In six Tests last summer, he scored 581 runs at 52.81. These are his scores v Saf: 4, 97, 4, 64, 145, 0 ; v Pak: 4, 74, 97, 13, 79.  That is too many single figure scores but he had an innings of over 60 in every single match. Further, since his return to the team in November 2015 (little over 12 months ago), he has scored 5 centuries in 14 Test and a couple of 97s. Granted some of the opposition has been weak but you can only score runs against the opposition you are given. Khawaja is a prodigious talent and his results demand that he should be in the team.