Mar 222017
 

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Nov 252016
 
India get a grip on their spin issues

India v England, 3rd Test, Mohali November 25, 2016

India have looked comfortable batting against England’s spinners, which is down to hard work, the captain’s example and a little help from the coach

Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay have been successful in negating the spin India has faced in the recent past © Associated Press

At an optional practice session on Friday, Ravindra Jadeja took first strike against the spinners. He treated them with roughly the same kindness Daffy Duck is used to.

Considering how all their best-laid plans backfired – tossed-up deliveries were biffed straight, quicker ones cut away and even the good-length balls were turned into half-volleys and dispatched – it was entirely disappointing that none of the bowlers accused Jadeja of being “dithpicable”.

Then a 46-year-old man took the ball and bounded up to the crease. Oh boy. Where was this going to go? Slog-sweep to midwicket? Over the training area at the back and into main ground?

Jadeja planted his front foot forward, but realised he couldn’t reach the pitch and was forced to defend. Eight years after his retirement, it still wasn’t easy to play Anil Kumble.

The sequence continued. Jadeja attacked the rest, but he had to be watchful against his coach, slowly building up to a back-foot punch along the ground through the covers. Kumble had basically grabbed Jadeja by the ear and led him into a tutorial on how to play quality spin.

Not that he is a bad one, mind you. Jadeja plays a lot of his first-class cricket on rank turners. He had been one of India’s most important contributors in the last home season, when they played on pitches that spun from day one. His lower-order runs against South Africa were often vital in securing leads. Now he was in Mohali again – scene of his Man-of-the-Match winning comeback from a shoulder injury.

It was here also that Virat Kohli admitted to the team’s problems against slow bowling, after they lost four wickets to the genial left-arm spin of Dean Elgar. Before that they had lost a Test to the genius left-arm spin of Rangana Herath.

Kohli took pains to say the issue wasn’t technical. He felt India were giving away too many wickets in clumps. He would be pleased to know, then, that only one of England’s three slow bowlers – Adil Rashid – has a strike-rate under 50 on this tour.

Kohli himself has played a big part in that. He has read them out of the hand, tried to play late and off the back foot, trusting the slowness of the pitches and the quickness of his wrists. Even balls that stay low haven’t been spared from his wrath and barring the time he was hit-wicket in Rajkot, his methods have been flawless. His stats against spin from this series are: 83 singles, 19 twos, one threes and 15 fours that make up 185 runs in 332 deliveries.

Moeen Ali got a lot of wickets against India in 2014 but his time he has been made to work a lot harder because Kohli and company have learnt to rate him better

Cheteshwar Pujara has been even better. He has been collecting four runs per over of spin and averages 163 against it. A lot of those numbers are a result of his confidence in playing a spinner. He loves coming down the track, so much that he wouldn’t think twice about doing so for a whole over. He did so quite early against Kumble in the nets on Friday, unleashing an on-drive against the turn, all along the ground. And he’s no slouch on the back foot either, as the bowler finds out when he makes the adjustment and flattens his trajectory. It is because of his vast range of shots versus spin that Pujara is often happy to defend or take blows from the fast bowlers. He knows he can prosper later.

M Vijay is quite similar, only he takes the aerial route, and tends not to give any warning of those intentions. His hundred in Rajkot was replete with such shots that caught the slow bowler off guard. R Ashwin has become a rock-solid No. 6 at home and he has tackled spin off the back foot with the late cut as his cheat code. None of these strengths are new though. They are just being used a little better and some of the credit for that must go to Kumble. India were bound to improve their batting on turning pitches with one of the greatest spinners in the history of the game in charge.

The one area that they clearly have done better is in making sure they are set before dominating a spinner. Moeen Ali, at home in 2014, got a lot of wickets with the Indians going after him blindly. This time, he has been made to work a lot harder because Kohli and company have learnt to rate him better.

“Not taking anything away from Moeen, I think he is a pretty terrific bowler,” Kohli said. “He makes an impact in England as well, so he understands which lines and lengths to bowl, what speed to bowl at. Even Adil, I payed against him at the Under-19 level and I told him in Rajkot I was surprised he didn’t make it to the England squad in the next two years. When we played back in 2006 he was that good even then.

“So we understand the quality these guys bring to the table for England. Not everyone plays for England in Test matches. We respect that but at the same time, we understand and we believe that we are good enough to counter that. You saw in Rajkot, they put us under pressure with their quality and we respect that and we are still going to find ways to keep countering what they throw at us.”

The surfaces India have played on this season have been considerably less extreme and that helped the batsmen as well. But the self-belief that India’s captain spoke about may just have a lot more to do with it.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Nov 252016
 
Rescheduled matches to delay Ranji knockouts

Ranji Trophy 2016-17 November 25, 2016

Smog saw two league matches being postponed, which will now be held from December 24 to 28 © Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The knockout matches of the Ranji Trophy have been rescheduled to accommodate the two league fixtures in Delhi which were postponed due to pollution and smog. The quarter-finals, initially scheduled to begin on December 17, will now be held from December 24 to 28.

The semi-finals were moved from December 27 to January 3, while the final, originally set to be played from January 7, will now take place from January 12 to 16. The BCCI also announced that the Irani Cup, to be played between the Ranji winners and Rest of India, will be held from January 22 to 26.

The two postponed league matches – the Group A clash between Gujarat and Bengal and the Group C fixture between Hyderabad and Tripura – will now be played from December 15 to 18 in Visakhapatnam and Kolkata respectively.

Both the fifth-round games, originally scheduled to be played at Feroz Shah Kotla and the Karnail Singh Stadium respectively, were called off without a ball being bowled. The players had complained of burning eyes on the opening day, and play was called off on the second afternoon after there was no improvement in the air quality. The smog was believed to be an after-effect of Diwali fireworks, as well as the burning of paddy stubble in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana.

The BCCI had then announced that the matches would be played after the league phase, and shifted games out of Delhi in the next round. The Group B fixture between Assam and Odisha, originally scheduled at the Karnail Singh Stadium, was shifted to Hyderabad, while the Hyderabad-Services game in Group C was moved from Feroz Shah Kotla to Mumbai.

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun

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Nov 252016
 
Magical Delivery! Kagiso Rabada sends off Nic Maddinson in style, with bit of sledging — VIDEO

New Delhi: The ongoing Australia-South Africa has seen the best and worst of Test cricket. But on day 2 of third Test at Adelaide, prodigious fast bowler Kagiso Rabada added his flair to the contest with a virtually unplayable delivery and a bit of sledging.

The 21-year-old produced a perfect yorker in the 90th over of the Australian innings, and uprooted the middle stump of Nic Maddinson. Rabada, an otherwise quiet character, enjoyed himself with a bit of sledging even as his team-mates found the proceeding entertaining with their youngest member taking on the Aussies.

Here’s the video:

After Proteas skipper Faf du Plessis surprised Australia with an early declaration yesterday, the hosts responded in style with Usman Khawaja batting through the day. The opener first stitched a 137-runs stand with skipper Steven Smith, then followed it up a 99-runs stand with debutant Peter Handscomb to put the visitors under pressure.

And here’s the boss talking, sometime back

Towards the close of day’s play today,  South Africans have wrested back some momentum, and their defining moment was that dismissal of another debutant Maddison.

Nov 252016
 
Horses-for-courses approach conscious decision - Kohli

India v England, 3rd Test, Mohali November 25, 2016

Virat Kohli’s men have enjoyed the challenge of batting in unfamiliar positions © Associated Press

Virat Kohli will captain his 20th Test match on Saturday and he is yet to field the same XI in consecutive games. Sometimes that choice has been taken away from him – Mohali being the latest example where India’s first-choice wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha will not be available due to injury.

Other times the changes were tactical. The inclusion of Bhuvneshwar Kumar in St Lucia and Kolkata earlier this year on pitches that looked like they would seam is one such instance. There was also the Cheteshwar Pujara v Rohit Sharma debate that dominated the 2015-16 season. Both, India’s players and the management appear to be comfortable with such an environment, where a change in conditions could mean someone’s skills become surplus to the team’s cause.

Kohli explained the horses-for-courses approach was a conscious decision. “This is something that we made pretty clear when we lost the game in Galle [against Sri Lanka in 2015]. After that we had a pretty clear chat that we are going to play people that we think are suitable for different venues.

“Even the batting order changes; I have gone up and down the order as well and other batsmen are keen to do it as well. I think it sends the message across, that the eventual motive is for the team to win.”

While he has always wanted to bat higher, R Ashwin’s success at No. 6 also falls into the category of India’s players taking up the challenge of unfamiliar batting positions.

Pujara made a century as a makeshift opener in seamer-friendly conditions at the SSC in Colombo last year. Ajinkya Rahane made one at No. 3 on a different ground in the same city. Kohli did the same in the Caribbean, moving to one drop after making a double-century at No. 4. Each of them adjusted because India wanted Rohit in their XI.

Still, there is an argument that players might prefer a little job security. Kohli appreciated that his men were willing to look past that.

“Every player needs to buy into the idea and it makes it easier as captain and the management if players agree to it – and they have,” Kohli said. “They have been pretty good with it and that’s why if you see someone stepping in for a game or two, they take it as an opportunity and have actually given match-winning performances.

“It’s not like they are taking the pressure off not knowing whether they will play the next game. It’s all about focussing on that particular game and staying in the present and it has been really wonderful to see it and we just want to carry that forward.”

Parthiv Patel is in such a situation. Coming back into Test cricket for the first time in eight years, he may only play for India till Saha recovers from his thigh strain. At the moment, that is only one match.

“Parthiv understands the situation he’s in,” Kohli said. “I’m pretty glad he respects that and he’s still looking forward to the opportunity and try to make a mark. He knows when we plan to take two wicketkeepers away. This is the opportunity.”

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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