Dead Game

When I left the house this morning, just after Dhoni had failed to declare at lunch for no obvious reason apart from allowing his two batsmen to chase hundreds, I had a feeling that the second Test was heading down the pan.

It clearly did exactly that, and, as so often, Andrew Miller sums things up very well here.

Regardless of Dhoni's tactics, which will (or should) have put his previously unquestioned reputation as an innovative captain at risk for a few days at least, the fact is that two Test 'series' stink, and I hope to God they don't catch on.

I'm going away for Christmas tomorrow, and I'll be keeping a close eye on events in the southern hemisphere. See you in 2009.


As Far As You Can Get

When I last posted, at lunchtime on Friday, it looked, as I wrote, as though all the problems in Perth were South Africa's. Three days on and it's Australia who have a bit more to think about.

I'm unconvinced that there's anything terminal about Australia's relative decline, but, with Lee struggling and Siddle and Krejza about as far from what's required as you can get, they're certainly 'coming back to the pack' at a rate of knots. The batting looks stronger, but Hayden will need runs soon if he's going to make it to England, and, if he doesn't, a further foundation stone of the great era will have gone.

At the moment next summer's Ashes rubber is looking a more enticing prospect by the day. With Australia weakening and England plodding along as they do (but with the prospect of two confidence-boosting series against the West Indies to come), it could be the most closely-fought series between the two sides since 1972.

As for South Africa, well, in the end, they did it at a canter. The signs are that de Villiers is now fulfilling his immense promise and it was great to see him partnered by the debutant JP Duminy, who played a cool and confident role in the chase.

Incidentally, I once saw Duminy acting as twelfth man for Devon at Bovey Tracey.

Which is about as far from the WACA as you can get.


Mitchell Johnson, I Presume?

With India grinding their way through a truncated, gloomy, opening day in Mohali, one's attention has tended to wander in the direction of Perth, where Australia hold the upper hand after three days, largely thanks to Mitchell Johnson's 8-61.

Until quite recently I was dubious about Johnson. A lot of people have dredged up Dennis Lillee's comment about him being a 'once-in-a-generation bowler', and, when I first saw him, I came to the conclusion that Lillee must have been talking about a pretty short generation. However, despite an action which has a slightly staccato, mechanical, look to it, he's starting to get good players out on decent tracks, and that surely, must be a sign that he has something.

It's easy to see why too; he bowls a tight line at high pace, gets good seam movement and has apparently been working on his aggression. With Lee's form waxing and waning and his inability to take really big-wicket hauls (he's never taken more than five wickets in a Test innings and is playing in his 75th Test) it's looking more and more as though Johnson's going to be leading his country's attack come the Ashes.

While the average English track won't offer him the type of pace he thrives on at home, he's shown that he can get plenty of movement with minimal assistance. If he gets England on a seaming track somewhere he could cause some distinct problems.

For the moment, though, 322 behind, the problems are all South Africa's.


One for the Annals

With the relationship between Indian and British time and the fact that I have to work for a living (and haven't found a way of watching cricket while I do so), I didn't manage to see what happened in Chennai until last night.

Of course it was utterly brilliant, even though I knew the result, and like Samir here, I thought one of the nicest and really most touching moments of the whole epic came at the end when Tendulkar stopped to shake the hands of the groundstaff. No triumphalism, just celebration, thoughts of the Mumbai victims and an innings for the annals.

But in many ways I thought Yuvraj's contribution was the most interesting, if not the most significant. Okay, Viru laid the foundations like only he can (and left me wondering just what the hell standing in the gully to him is like) and Sachin steered the ship home, but Yuvraj, with a relatively ordinary Test record and plenty to prove, appeared immune to England's attempts to disrupt his focus and produced plenty of his signature shots, played with a style, grace and verve which few can match. It remains to be seen whether he can kick on - and even I, an unashamed devotee, have my doubts - but, if he doesn't, he'll always be able to say he played a vital role in one of the great Test run-chases.

This was a game which could very easily not have happened. That it did, that it turned out to be a great match, and that England played such an important part in it, is something to be truly thankful for.

One final thought: When I was growing up, 18 or 20 Test centuries was regarded as outstanding. Now we have someone with 41, from 19 years at the crease.

Not bad.


Off the Rocks

Of course, the other thing that unequivocally went right for England was the return to form of Paul Collingwood, who seems to be making a habit of rescuing his career just at the point when it seems to have hit the rocks. We should, of course, no longer be surprised. The tougher the situation, the better he tends to play.

Which is far more than can be said for Ian Bell, a batsman whom I've had a lot of faith in (perhaps too much ), but who's stretched it to breaking point. Owais Shah deserves an opportunity in Mohali, but, somehow, I'll be surprised if he gets it.


Despite their defeat - and the questions which will have to be asked of certain members of the attack, Monty very much included - England can take at least one very big consolation out of the first Test - the return of Andrew Strauss to something approaching prime form.

Strauss's form has been affected by various issues over the last couple of years. He was disappointed not to be chosen to lead the side to Australia in 2006 and I've always felt that the loss of his original opening partner, Marcus Trescothick, led to some confusion in Strauss's mind about the type of role that he was required to play without the scoreboard-ticking assurance of a really attacking player at the other end. And then there's the fact that the analysts of the international circuit - and their bowlers - got to work on his technique, identifying and exploiting a weakness around the off-stump, especially when driving.

Despite his centuries at Napier and Old Trafford earlier this year, this was the first time in a long time that I've felt as though he was back to something like his best. He's changed, though - the spinners are almost exclusively played off the back foot and the loose drive is eschewed in favour of the type of judicious leave which can break bowlers' hearts - and his batting looks all the better for it.

His twin centuries in Chennai were the work of an experienced, skilful and mentally resourceful international opener, and, at 31, he hopefully has several more years in the side ahead of him. starting in Mohali later in the week.


Loud and Long

It's a little worrying that we're now twelve days into December and this is my first post of the month. Time was I'd be into double figures by now, but there are reasons. For one, I haven't had internet access at home for several weeks (which I'm actually quite enjoying and which may be why I haven't got round to getting the problem fixed) and so have had to do all my blogging at work, and just recently I haven't been at work all that much, having spent a very enjoyable few days in Paris, taking in the sights and the titanic Heineken Cup game between Stade Francais and Harlequins last Saturday.

Before I went away I was very doubtful about England's Tests in India even taking place, and I certainly didn't expect to be writing after the second day of the first of them about England being in a very strong position. But I am, and they are.

There are reasons for that too, including a cool century by Andrew Strauss, some equally well-judged lower-order batting from Matt Prior and an eventful maiden Test over from Graeme Swann, who I, for one, am pleased to see in the side.

At 29, time is against his chances of developing a long career in the five-day game. His bowling style (slightly old-fashioned orthodox off-spin) doesn't help either, but he's always impressed me as a confident, humourous, open and articulate character who bowls in a more attacking vein than many a similar English bowler.

He also appeals loud and long, as Daryl Harper will testify. The two lbw decisions which Adelaide's finest gave were far from being stone dead (especially Dravid's) but my initial impression was that both were well worth a shout and the vehemence of Swann's representations may just have done the trick.

This was highlighted by Nasser Hussain on Sky, who said something along the lines of 'you've got to work your umpires', which was a bit less controversial than what he may have been thinking, which may not have been dissimilar to 'Darryl Harper's an inconsistent, occasionally weak and often downright poor umpire who's only stayed on the Elite Panel as a result of some typically mad ICC decison-making'. Well, to be fair to Nasser, that's just what I think, and those two decisions were far from being among Harper's worst, but if you can make sure he knows what you think you've always got a chance.

Going into day three, England have a decent chance too.

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