Really proud of the boys: Steve Smith

INDIA VS AUSTRALIA

Really proud of the boys: Steve Smith

Cricbuzz Staff • Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 05:01 PM

Steve Smith has said that he’s really proud of the way Australia performed in India © BCCI

Steve Smith, Australia captain, addressed the media at the end of the Dharamsala Test. Excerpts from the press conference:

What do you make of the series?

“Obviously right now, a bit of disappointment. We have fought very hard throughout this series and to fall over at the final hurdle hurts and the boys in the room are hurting. We have played a good style of cricket over here, we have competed in every Test match and for that I am really proud of the boys.

“We can take a lot out of the way we played, the plans we had and the way we’ve done it. But we just needed to do it a little bit longer at times and be a bit more consistent. We’ve certainly had our opportunities to win the games of cricket and we haven’t taken those opportunities against a quality opposition like India. They will get back in the game and make you pay. From that aspect it’s disappointing we haven’t been able to take advantage when we have been in front. Having said that I am really proud of the boys for the way we have competed this series.

On the collapses in the two innings

I’m not really sure at this present time, haven’t really had the time to think about it yet. That can certainly happen here in India, you can lose wickets in clumps. That’s what we talk about as a team, try and not do that. From that aspect it was disappointing that we did lose wickets in clumps. From being 1-130 to all out for 300 was a bit disappointing. That was an opportunity where we could’ve really driven the game, had we gone on to score 400-450 it could have been a different ball game. From that aspect it was disappointing that we weren’t able to take advantage of being 1 for 130.

On the team’s improvement

Absolutely. This team has grown so quickly. We are still a very young side, it wasn’t too long ago we were at Hobart and it was the end of the world. So I am proud of the way we have been able to turn things around and really compete in these conditions. I know coming over here, I’ve said it a few times, we were written off and we were going to lose 4-0, but the way we have been able to compete in each and every Test, it has been great to be part of. And a fantastic series played in a good style and credit has to go to India for winning 2-1.

Other players who have impressed most?

“Nathan Lyon, the way that he has been able to adapt and bowl the way we want him to bowl. He has got two 5-wicket hauls, both in the first innings of the game. He was able to change things up, when guys were sweeping him he was willing to throw the fast one in to stop them sweeping and make them defend, things like that. It’s good that these guys are thinking about the game and finding ways to have success in these conditions. It’s been a great learning curve for each and every one of the boys in the room. They are hurting right now, it’s always tough when you lose a series at the final hurdle but the guys are going to take so much out of this series. The way that we’ve played and what we’ve learned and the plans we’ve had, it’s been great. We just needed to do it for that little bit longer and win those key moments. It’s a really big stride for this team and a lot of individuals in the team as well.

Smith apologised for letting emotions get the better of him © Cricbuzz

Your performances?

I am sort of proud of my performances in this series. I set myself high standards and I wanted to lead from the front with my performances. I have sort of been very intense in my own little bubble and at times I have let my emotions and actions just falter a little bit throughout this series and I apologise for that. That’s a big stride for me moving forward and something I can really learn from and continue to grow as an individual and as a leader.

What have you learned from how India played?

They’ve played a pretty aggressive style of game at times and defensive at others and that’s something I have learned as well. You have to go with the flow at times in India, if you build pressure and get a wicket things can happen pretty quickly. I learned a lot about that in Sri Lanka in that series we had over there and here I learned a lot about the different tempos of the game and how to handle different situations. Similarly they play that sort of way as well. They hold and hold and wait for a little opening and once they get an opening then they go for the kill. I think that’s how they played this series.

Unhappy with the BCCI video?

Yeah, I was a little bit disappointed that the BCCI sieved through the archive to find a conversation out on the field that was happening between Matty (Wade) and Jadeja. It’s happened between both sides throughout this series, so the fact they’ve done that to us is a little bit disappointing. Usually what’s said on the field should stay on the field. It’s been a hard-fought series and guys are going to say things here and there, their emotions are going to be high. And so they should be in such a big series. So I was a little bit disappointed by the fact the BCCI did bring that out.

Always believed you’d be this close?

You’ve always got to believe and have faith in what you’re trying to do. For me, I’ve said all along it’s not been about results, it’s been about processes and making sure the plans and strategies are in place to have success here.

We’ve shown that we can do that, and we probably just have to do those for a little bit longer. But it’s been great to be in the series until day 4 on the fourth Test match. It’s been a fantastic series and one that I’ve really enjoyed being involved in. There’s been some great cricket played over the 4 Tests and it’s been fantastic to be involved in.

On Pat Cummins

He’s feeling pretty good within his body. I was really impressed with Patty Cummins. The pace he was able to generate, both here and in Ranchi on a relatively slow wicket was absolutely amazing. He puts in every single ball. The way he was able to bounce guys out in Ranchi was quite phenomenal to be honest. He’s obviously going to be a big player for us going forward. He’s had a pretty rough run with injuries and a pretty long layoff between Tests, 5 years or thereabouts. It’s been great for him to get his body right and get back playing Test cricket. He’s a really exciting prospect and I look forward to seeing him bowl in the future.

Two wickets today, did you think you had a chance?

You’ve always got to have that belief. We looked back to that first game and we bowled India out for 100 twice, so that was our message this morning, to have the belief and strange things happen, cricket’s a funny game and you never know. Right to the last ball, the guys believed that we could do the job and unfortunately today wasn’t our day. We were outplayed by India and they thoroughly deserve to win this series 2-1.

On the pitch in Dharamsala..

I don’t know if it was similar to Australia. There was probably a little bit more pace and bounce than the other wickets we’ve had… They still took a reasonable amount of inconsistent spin which is always difficult to play as well. If batters were willing to really apply themselves and get stuck in they could score runs. I thought it was a really good Test wicket. Probably the best one of the series in regards to how evenly contest it was between spinners, quicks and batters.

© Cricbuzz

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Holland’s career-best keeps Victoria on top

SHEFFIELD SHIELD, 2016-17

Holland’s career-best keeps Victoria on top

Cricbuzz Staff • Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 05:30 PM

Holland ended up with figures of 7 for 82. © Getty

Jon Holland’s career-best seven-wicket haul ensured Victoria maintained control over South Australia in the Sheffield Shield final at Traeger Park in Alice Springs. Holland’s haul helped bowl out the opposition for 287, handing his side a lead of 200. Without enforcing the follow-on, Victoria reached 38 for 2 at stumps, extending their lead to 238.

Resuming on 19 for 1 on Day 3, Jake Weatherhald (60) and Callum Ferguson (26) led South Australia’s fight, before Holland’s double strike in the space of two overs put the opposition on the backfoot. First Holland ended the 76-run second-wicket stand by removing Ferguson and then cleaning up captain Travis Head for a 11-ball duck.

Weatherhald and Jake Lehmann batted for eight overs before the latter was sent packing for 14, once again by Holland. New man Tom Cooper and half-centurion Weatherhald became Holland’s fourth and fifth victims of the day as the South Australia were reduced to 121 for 5.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Alex Carey (57 off 68) put on a stubborn fight in the company of No. 8 batsman Joe Mennie (36) to stop the rut and add a valuable partnership. They batted together for 16.1 overs, before Holland ended yet another blossoming partnership with Mennie’s scalp. Victoria were in for further frustration from the lower-order as Adam Zampa (31), Chadd Sayers (23 not out) and Daniel Worrell – the No. 9, 10 and 11 batsmen – dragged the innings further. That, however, wasn’t significant enough as Holland picked up two out of the last three wickets to finish with 7 for 82.

Despite bowling out South Australia for 287 and thus, taking a 200-run first-innings lead, Victoria opted to bat again. Despite the early dismissals of Marcus Harris and Rob Quiney, Victoria put themselves in a position of strength with a lead of 238 runs by the end of the day, largely thanks to Holland’s exceptional day in the field.

Brief scores: Victoria 487 & 38/2 lead South Australia 287 (Jake Weatherhald 60, Alex Carey 57; Jon Holland 7-82) by 238 runs.

© Cricbuzz

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Happy with the No.1 ranking but main challenge begins now: Kohli

AUSTRALIA TOUR OF INDIA, 2017

Happy with the No.1 ranking but main challenge begins now: Kohli

Cricbuzz Staff • Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 05:50 PM

Kohli was pleased with the way Rahane led the team. © BCCI

Indian captain Virat Kohli addressed the media on Tuesday (March 28) in Dharamsala after his side completed a 2-1 series win over Australia. He praised his teammates and the support staff following India’s dominant performances in the home season. Excerpts from the press conference:

13 matches, 10 wins, A lookback at the season to team and support staff:

It is a very proud moment. Playing good cricket all season, especially in the home season we dominated all of it. It was very important for a young side to do so and build a team for the future. So that we can give such performances consistently. That we did in this whole season and it was important how we responded to difficult situations. Support staff, management and everyone else was working hard on this aspect, so that in difficult moments and situations, we would be able to counter and come back in those moments. The credit goes to all of them, support staff role is not highlighted much but their contribution is nearly 40 percent, 60 for the team, because they handle the players’ mindset and their skills and working hard with them, giving good feedback to them, so these are important things. So this is a team effort, rather this is a squad effort because it involves everyone. Credit goes to everyone in this squad.

Finest hour as captain? Not as happy?

It has nothing to do with that. It is a classic case of understanding that this is not the end of anything. No need to get over excited with whatever we have done. We are very happy with no.1 ranking in the world, but our main challenge begins now. If we can conquer the overseas season, that’s when you will see a broader smile on my face when I sit down for the press conference. To understand where we are placed and the kind of cricket we have played, and where we stand as individuals at the end of season, it makes me very happy as a captain.

Pacers performances? Planned for future, overseas tours?

For sure, it is a very important aspect of our side. We have worked hard on the fitness levels of the guys over the past two years and it’s showing. When teams prepare only for your spinners and our fast bowlers come in and bowl those kind of spells, it can really shake the opposition and that’s exactly what these guys have been able to do. Important breakthroughs and main players most of the times, getting us those important breakthroughs after partnerships. Seizing the momentum for the team has been outstanding on part of the fast bowlers. I just wouldn’t say Shami and Umesh but Bhuvi given the opportunities has picked up five-fors. Ishant has been outstanding in West Indies, in Sri Lanka, whenever he has played as well. That’s probably been the one factor that has been the difference in our winning all these series compared to drawing a few or drawing a few games. We have been able to win more games than we have drawn or lost. That’s been probably one of the important factors in that.

No. 1 in West Indies, and how look at it now after all these games?

Ya, because it happened in a flash and we were just one point away from Pakistan at the second spot. That’s why I wasn’t too excited about it because it was a short term thing. But now I can sit down and be proud of what the guys have been able to achieve since then and different aspects have come up – lower-order contributions, spinners have been outstanding throughout, fast bowlers have been brilliant, the batsmen have stepped up on many occasions. Different people. Not just one or two guys, but everyone has contributed throughout the season. If you don’t have a team performance, you can’t be the No. 1 team in the world. As simple as that. If you want to win more Test games, you have to have complete team performances. It’s the main reason why we are sitting here as the No. 1 team in the world and we have quite a fair distance above the other teams. That makes me very proud as a captain and all the guys in the change room are very happy with what they have been able to achieve and ending the season on a high.

Plans for this series?

Nothing different from what we have done in the past. The focus was obviously to maintain our skills, our momentum that we gained throughout the season and execute that. I mentioned in the post match, credit to Australia, the way they have played in this series. They have really challenged us really hard and it tested the guys’ character to bounce back from difficult situations many a time. Specially Jinks, the way he captained in this game was really pleasing to see because it has just been four Test matches since he has come back from his injury and to step up, show that character and lead the side to a win, hats off to him as well. He has really taken the responsibility well and I was really, really happy to see him doing that. He was also very delighted to be taking that responsibility for the team. These kinds of series, these kind of matches, they build character for the guys. They become more individuals very sure of themselves, their games. And when you have 7-8 people in the side who are that sure of their abilities and their mindset, then you become a champion side and you keep that going for a long period of time. Nothing different from what we have done in the past, it was very similar but the resistance from the opposition was a lot more compared to the last few series that we have played. Credit goes to the way they played their cricket as well.

On playing Kuldeep

I spoke to Jinks before the game and he asked me what I feel. I said, this is your game, you have to be comfortable with playing four or five bowlers. He instantly said five bowlers because he understands the workloads of the guys throughout the whole season and to keep pushing two guys to take wickets for you regularly is unfair when the body is tired and it has taken a toll. So that fifth bowler, that was Anil bhai and Jinks and myself, we all had a discussion. Kuldeep was the X factor, they hand;t played him, they hadn’t see him much and he turned out to the difference in the game. I think from 130/1 to 300 all out in the same day can really demoralise the opposition. And I think it was a great call on Jinx and Anil Bhai’s part. Credit to him, he went in with five bowlers and the batsmen took up the responsibility as well. To win Test matches, you need some courage before you start, to take that little bit of risk and play five batsmen, which we done throughout the season on most occasions. It takes more responsibility out of you but that is what it is required of you playing at this level and it was his and Anil bhai’s decision eventually to go in with five bowlers and it was the right one in the end.

On what has changed for Umesh since 2014. Is he the best paceman since Zaheer?

I would put him and Shami together, at par. On pure pace, striking ability and making dents in the game, he would be at par with Shami. Obviously, you can’t compare them to Zak yet because Zak had done it for a longer period of time. But from 2014 to now, Umesh Yadav the only thing that has changed in him is his mindset. He was always a very fit guy, he probably used to bowl even quicker than he is now, but he has understood his game, become smarter. He used to bowl 145kmph regularly, now he is touching 140kmph now at odd times but he is very smart with what he wants to bowl in spells. That has been a really, really big difference in his game. Obviously when guys give confidence saying you are my strike bowler, they respond in that way. Then they are not thinking about getting hit for runs or any of that sort. It is a give and take, it takes a combination of lot of things, but 80% of the credit is Umesh’s for the way he has gone out there and executed it. You can take in all the advice but you have to go out there and do it eventually. Credit to him, the way he has taken his game to the next level, I am really happy for him.

On missing a Test after so many matches, sitting outside?

Well, I jerked my shoulder four times yesterday celebrating outside. So that’s how much energy I had and I couldn’t sit in the change room. So it is not nice. I don’t know how many Test matches I’ve played in a row (54), so if it was a strain injury it would have been different, but impact injury really gave me no options. And to start a game at 50% was not fair on the team. That’s the kind of person I have always been and I’ll continue to be. But yes it was difficult watching from the outside when you have been in the thick of things all the time for past so many years and seasons. But the most pleasing thing is when you see guys taking the responsibility in your absence and actually going out there to play one of the best ever Test matches that as a viewer you can see. I would call myself a viewer out there. I really enjoyed it. It was not easy to not play this game, but at the end of the day sitting here and having won the series, I have no complaints.

Five batsmen, responsibility on top 3

Well, massive. That’s very very important. Obviously Pujara has been very impressive in this series. But Vijay has been a consistent opener for a while. To look at KL, the way he has played in this series, he’s probably not in focus too much, but to get six 50-plus scores, for an opener to be that consistent is tremendous. He’ll want to convert them into big runs but the impact he has had in this series, not giving early wickets to Australia, has been very very pleasing. I’ve seen him from RCB, he had a great season for India and then he got injured. He was very down in that phase, he was really upset that he got injured at the wrong time. He had a good innings and then a few bad innings and then comes out and has a brilliant series, a big one. As I said these kind of series can build character and make individuals. This is one of those instances for KL. You’ll certainly remember him for a long time in years to come with the innings he will play. I think this is where he will make a start as an international recognised opener, probably one of the best openers India has had.

What made Australia the toughest opposition?

“I think they had the belief of making things happen in these conditions, that’s something that I sensed in their body language and the way they played their cricket. They believed they could win sessions and win situations and that was the most important thing, and the most challenging thing for us. Whereas teams really lose their morale once they lose a Test match in India, but they kept bouncing back and they had the desire to compete throughout. That’s why they are the number two side in the world. You expect that from Australia, once they get a sniff they put you under pressure. But the way we responded, I’m really proud of that as well. I would say their relentlessness and their desire to make things happen in these conditions was probably the reason why they kept giving us a great fight to the end of this Test match. So a lot of credit goes to them.”

Areas to improve

Our main focus was to build the fast bowling group, not for overseas conditions but to understand the importance of the breakthroughs they can give in the home season as well. Few of the guys have told me that the kind of fast bowling bunch that we have now gives a good chance to go outside India and put in good performances. I’m certainly very sure and positive about the fact that these guys can deliver away from home and give you machining performances. The fitness levels have gone up and relentlessness of their bowling, the consistency, has improved, and there is a lot more desire in all the guys to make things happen and be persistent for a long time. That’s something they have built, the credit goes to them completely. I’m sure they will be able to sustain this for longer periods when we go overseas, and not let the game drift away. Pretty excited about what lies ahead for us as a team.

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India retain ICC Test championship mace

NUMERO UNO

India retain ICC Test championship mace

Cricbuzz Staff • Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 05:51 PM

“Being presented with the Test championship mace last year was an exhilarating experience and the feeling is no different this time,” Kohli said. © BCCI

India retained the ICC Test Championship mace and pocketed a cash prize money of USD 1 million for ensuring they finish at the top of the Test rankings on the cut-off date of April 1, 2017 following their 2-1 series win against Australia.

The Virat Kohli-led side came into the final leg of its home season, needing at least one win against Australia to be assured of holding on to its top spot at the cut-off date. The ranking was sealed following India’s victory in Bengaluru and their lead at the top further fortified after the eight-wicket triumph in Dharamsala on Tuesday (March 28).

“Being presented with the Test championship mace last year was an exhilarating experience and the feeling is no different this time,” said Kohli, who received the mace from former India captain Sunil Gavaskar.

“I’d like to both congratulate and thank everyone who has been part of this success. This includes not only all the players who have been in the squad but also the team management and support staff, without whom we could not have done so well. It has not been an easy journey but all the hard work has been worth it. We have maintained our position with some really good cricket in recent months. The team has shown the tenacity to bounce back from difficult situations,” Kohli added.

The battle for the second spot in the rankings and a prize money of USD 500,000 is still up for grabs, with South Africa needing to atleast force a draw against New Zealand on the final day in Hamilton to hold on to their slot, failing which Australia will claim that honour.

On an individual front, star Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin bagged the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for being the ICC Cricketer of the Year for 2016. Ashwin, picked up 48 wickets and contributed 336 runs in eight Tests in the period between September 14, 2015 and September 20, 2016.

Meanwhile, India’s cricketers enjoyed more financial rewards for their successful home season, with the BCCI offering a cash bonus of INR 50 lakhs to each player. The head coach and the support staff will receive INR 25 lakhs and 15 lakhs respectively on a pro rata basis.

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India vs Australia, 4th Test, Australia tour of India, 2017

A series to remember Wonderful series. The cricket on field far better than the distractions off it. You’ll forget the silly controversy and remember the cricket. Eventually though, the better team won the series and everyone will agree with that. Tweet Share

Well done India! This is a reward for aggressive team selection. Big factor in the series to go in with five bowlers in Dharamsala Tweet Share

India regain the Border-Gavaskar Trophy This is a huge result. I expected 3-0 but Australia played with great heart. Tweet Share

Aggressive route Young KL Rahul taking on the bowling. This could actually end quite quickly. Tweet Share

India conquer the moving day! India’s batsmen have taken a couple of steps towards winning a match the bowlers presented to them on day 3 Tweet Share

India in the driver’s seat India should get these. Unless there is one last furious effort from Australia. India’s bowlers have been exceptional. Small targets are sometimes tricky and so you play them in small instalments. First instalment is to bat to close without loss. Tweet Share

Take a bow, Jadeja! Jadeja making a strong case for player of the series here. Tweet Share

Small but sufficient Those 32 runs are looking a lot more valuable than they did at lunch. Tweet Share

Series on the line After looking the home team in the eye for three and a half tests, Australia’s resolve is on trial here. And India’s patience. Tweet Share

Big breaks for India India’s wish list would have been to get 2 wickets before the deficit was erased. That those two are Warner & Smith is the icing on the cake Tweet Share

Crackerjacks When I started covering cricket I must confess I didn’t imagine I would see the last two balls Umesh bowled to Renshaw. Tweet Share

Handy lead for India 32 isn’t a huge lead but could come in very handy in a close game. Both sides will be okay with the session. Tweet Share

India put up a tough fight Fabulous session of cricket. India have withstood pace and denied wickets. With only four bowlers, batting should become easier Tweet Share

Serious Test for Rahul My favourite young batsman, Lokesh Rahul, being tested by high quality fast bowling from Hazlewood and, more dramatically, from Pat Cummins Tweet Share

Terrific fast bowling Imagining this Australian team if Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Pattinson were all fit! Tweet Share

Time for the batsmen to do the job Having lost the toss the bowlers have done really well. Now up to the batsmen to use the conditions. Tweet Share

Never be overdependent on someone! This total also gives you an idea of how deeply reliant the Aussies have become on the brilliance of Steve Smith Tweet Share

From 144/1 to 300 all-out Australia will be bitterly disappointed with 300 given the dominant position they were in at lunch. Top fightback by India on a good pitch. India’s fightback was led by a youngster who was really the 5th bowler. Very impressive from Kuldeep Yadav; especially the two he got bowled Tweet Share

Even the substitute can contribute Now that is the benefit of being a good fielder. You can only be a substitute but you can contribute to a wicket! – Shreyas Iyer Tweet Share

A grand beginning This is a fairy-tale debut for Kuldeep Yadav. Always something extra with the wrist spinner. And he can bat! Saw him as an U-19 cricketer a couple of years ago. (Rabada was there too!) Noticeably quicker off the wicket since. Tweet Share

A grand beginning This is a fairy-tale debut for Kuldeep Yadav. Always something extra with the wrist spinner. And he can bat! Tweet Share

Wheel turning Australia’s way? No Kohli, fine pitch, toss won, batsmen doing well, beautiful stadium, wonder what the tabloids in Oz will search for now…. Tweet Share

Owning the morning session By some distance, Australia’s session. In a decisive test, this is a wonderful start for the visitors. India need a strong post-lunch session. Dare I say this, India are looking a touch jaded. Effect of a looooong home season of test cricket? Tweet Share

Australia off to a great start The good teams try and take the game away as quickly as possible. Australia are doing that on a fine track in Dharmasala Tweet Share

Jadeja vs Smith The batting of Steve Smith and the bowling of Jadeja, the twin highlights of the series, now on show in Dharmasala. Tweet Share

Welcome India’s 33rd Test skipper People sometimes mistake Ajinkya Rahane’s polite, understated demeanour for softness. Don’t. Different from Kohli but as tough as anybody Tweet Share

Kohli’s magnificent home run In a video blog on Kohli towards the start of the season, I had hoped he reached a career average of 50. After zooming ahead, now just short Tweet Share
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Hamilton indication of South Africa finding their level

CRACKS IN ARMOUR

Hamilton indication of South Africa finding their level

Tristan Holme • Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 02:43 PM

Tuesday was the third time in four innings that South Africa have lost their first five wickets with less than 150. © AFP

It was around 6.30am on Tuesday (March 28) that South African cricket fans started doing the rain dance. The moves of this dance have become familiar to them over the past two years as the country has grappled with a debilitating drought, but this time motives are a little different. The Proteas, going into the last day of their Test series against New Zealand, could do with a few downpours in Hamilton to stave off a late-summer wilt.

The forecast for the fifth day of the third Test suggests that they may indeed receive some help from mother nature, but then weather predictions in New Zealand should not be taken as gospel. “The iPhone app had 100% thunderstorms all afternoon and we didn’t get any,” Jeetan Patel noted after day four.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, the events of the past few days in Hamilton should be taken to heart by South Africa, given the extent to which they have been outplayed by an opponent with some striking limitations. Granted New Zealand have been lifted by the magnificence of Kane Williamson, but the fact that he has proven himself to be the best player on either side at the moment confirms that this is a South African team lacking its usual star quality.

Since the two teams met in South Africa last August, the Proteas have had an excellent summer in both Tests and One-Day Internationals, with the Test series win in Australia the obvious highlight. But their overall performance in New Zealand is now beginning to show some cracks in their amour, and suggest that their previous opponents might have flattered them a little.

Tuesday was the third time in four innings that South Africa have lost their first five wickets with less than 150 on the board, and on two of those occasions their score was less than 80. All of that despite the absence of Trent Boult in both Tests, and Tim Southee in this one.

“We haven’t had good starts,” admitted assistant coach Adrian Birrell. “In New Zealand it has shown that the new ball is quite tricky. Once the ball gets old, it gets easier to bat. We haven’t had good starts and on the back of that we have struggled. But we also take great heart that we’ve been able to get decent totals by guys in the middle order really putting fantastic performances together.”

Quinton de Kock has come to the rescue twice, but it remains to be seen whether this second-innings collapse in Hamilton is one firefight too far for an overworked wicketkeeper-batsman with dodgy fingers who is understandably looking a little ragged. He has now been intricately involved in 214 of the 290 overs of this match, which has come at the end of a long summer in which he has played 28 international matches – 11 of them Tests.

Birrell’s observations about New Zealand conditions will also apply in England, leaving South Africa with some difficult questions to face ahead of that tour in July. The only defence the selectors might be able to offer for dropping Stephen Cook in Hamilton and replacing him with a debutant who is not an opening batsman could be that it is a one-off call for the final Test of the summer. Theunis de Bruyn is too promising a talent to waste by pushing him into uncomfortable positions – as was done with Stiaan van Zyl.

De Bruyn’s future also relates to JP Duminy, who has not turned a corner after all. On the back of his 155 against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers, Duminy made the case that his poor career average, which has forever been stuck in the low 30s, was due to “opportunities”, and that batting at No. 4 was allowing him to show his true colours. The 32-year-old has had some good moments this summer – his 141 at Perth the most notable – but an average of 36.80 from 11 Tests since August shows his inconsistency.

Notably, that is not the record of a No. 4 batsman in a team with ambitions of challenging for the No. 1 Test ranking. And that is really the point here – that while South Africa have shown an impressive group collective under Faf du Plessis’s leadership, without the star quality of AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn they are likely to find that step up to the highest level is beyond them.

De Villiers will not return to the Test side at least until the end of the year, while the days of Steyn producing lightning-quick spells to knock sides over on flat wickets are sadly over, given his age and the extent of his recent injuries. It was that sort of spell that South Africa were lacking as New Zealand batted for 162 overs in Hamilton over the past two days.

Meanwhile, Hashim Amla undoubtedly still has some big innings left in him, but his record suggests that his days of uber-consistency may be over as well. His average over the last two years is 36, while this summer he averaged 33 from 11 Tests with just one century.

That is not to say that this is a side in crisis. Kagiso Rabada is already an outstanding fast bowler and will only get better, Dean Elgar has bedded in, du Plessis looks like a captain who should have been appointed three years ago, and de Kock will surely be the finest wicketkeeper-batsman of his generation. South Africa started the summer in seventh place, and have reassembled their team even as they have returned to the top three.

But their performance in Hamilton suggests that they might just be finding their level.

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The tale of a series that reached near-stratospheric standards

EPIC CONTEST

The tale of a series that reached near-stratospheric standards

• Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 04:49 PM Vishaal Loganathan in Dharamsala

India’s performances show that they, if not indeed are, are close to unbeatable at home. © BCCI

Recall the India-Australia series of 2001. Now imagine the same with Twitter also available, where every armchair critic has a voice that can be directed at anyone. The four-Test India-Australia series of 2017 will go down in history as one of the finest ever just for its cricket alone. But add to it the masala of controversies, verbal duels and media wars, the benchmark set reached near-stratospheric standards.

There’s been enough said and written about the controversies, and not nearly enough about the cricket that was played.

Steve Smith’s side had come into the contest without the slightest chance given to them. An unfair proposition given that they boasted of the best Test batsman in the world, and the most skillful fast bowler. And where New Zealand, England and Bangladesh faltered, Australia stood firm to show that they were here to compete, and not simply add to the numbers that claimed India were unbeatable at home.

“I think they had the belief of making things happen in these conditions, that’s something that I sensed in their body language and the way they played their cricket,” said Virat Kohli, the Indian captain. “They believed they could win sessions and win situations and that was the most important thing, and the most challenging thing for us. Whereas teams really lose their morale once they lose a Test match in India, but they kept bouncing back and they had the desire to compete throughout. That’s why they are the number two side in the world.

“You expect that from Australia, once they get a sniff they put you under pressure. But the way we responded, I’m really proud of that as well. I would say their relentlessness and their desire to make things happen in these conditions was probably the reason why they kept giving us a great fight to the end of this Test match. So a lot of credit goes to them,” Kohli assessed of what made the Australians their biggest challenge this home stretch.

India’s performances show that they, if not indeed are, are close to unbeatable at home. There is always the chance of a blip, no matter how good a team is, but over the course of a few Tests, they are able to stamp their authority. Their ability to be behind the eight ball, and still come out on top, has stood out the most. At the end of a tiring home season, they relied heavily on that trait to beat an Australian team that was giving no inch.

India’s series was far from what they have been used to in recent times. They have been challenged on the odd occasion, but have mostly overturned that with an emphatic show soon after. They may have lost a day or a session, but the immediate aftermath has been one that is so dominant that the opposition has no way back.

But against Australia, whatever India hit them with, they found an equal reaction. They copped blow and got an equal one in return on most occasions. India, being the masters at home, however, were more consistent with their blows, while the Australians gradually got weaker. That was perhaps the difference between the two sides. They were evenly matches almost throughout, but India just had that little bit extra during the key moments.

Steve Smith felt the same, too.

“We have fought very hard throughout this series and to fall over at the final hurdle hurts and the boys in the room are hurting. We have played a good style of cricket over here, we have competed in every Test match and for that I am really proud of the boys,” he said.

“We can take a lot out of the way we played, the plans we had and the way we’ve done it. But we just needed to do it a little bit longer at times and be a bit more consistent. We’ve certainly had our opportunities to win the games of cricket and we haven’t taken those opportunities against a quality opposition like India. They will get back in the game and make you pay, from that aspect it’s disappointing we haven’t been able to take advantage when we have been in front. Having said that I am really proud of the boys for the way we have competed this series.”

India’s loss in Pune was a hammerblow. The side was flying high after yet another thumping display at home, having just beaten Bangladesh in a historic Test, and came into the series with their goals set on another emphatic display. Australia already looked resigned to defeat.

The match turned out to be a complete contrast. Australia stuck to their plans, while India’s came unstuck. They were bowled out for under 110 in both innings as the visitors romped home to an unexpected, but deserving, triumph. India had been used to seeing their opposition fall flat after such a defeat, but the hallmark of Virat Kohli’s side was that they refused to bow down.

In Bengaluru, India found themselves under lots of pressure. With chances of a series win slipping away, India worked up the energy to put in a performance of stunning intensity. Their pacers fought hard, and the spinners importuned every delivery. At the end, they came out trumps in a game that was one of the best in recent times.

This time Australia struck back hard. They put on 451 in Ranchi and reduced India to 328 for 6 in return. India ended with a massive 603 eventually. With the pitch not offering the bowlers much, both teams put their heart into trying to get their team to win. The end result was a draw, with Australia holding on on the final day through a determined display.

In Dharamsala, the match looked set to sway either way at the end of Day 2. Both teams were neck and neck, and at the most opportune time, India upped their game to take a commanding position. A little over a day later, India had their hands on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

Australia may have lost, but they certainly made everyone who’d brushed them off look like fools. India themselves were taken aback by the intensity of Australia’s displays – their pacers made life hell, their spinners were effective and the batsman executed their plans very well.

In the end, the result seems to be the right one. India were, just by enough, the better side over the course of the four Tests, but Australia were in no way far behind. It ended with India winning 2-1, but it might have well been the reverse if Australia had taken the important moments.

On the whole, it was the kind of cricket that fans would have loved to watch. Before the start of the season, Anil Kumble had said he hoped that the team would play the kind of cricket that the fans would throng the stadium to be a part of. An India-Australia series usually brings out the best in everyone because there is so much at stake.

The series was a fair testimony to both.

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India wrap up marathon home season with sensational win

END OF A SUPERB SEASON

India wrap up marathon home season with sensational win

• Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 11:25 AM Vishaal Loganathan in Dharamsala

Rahul gave India their victory and brought up his sixth fifty of the series. © BCCI

India wrapped up the four-match series against Australia and their marathon Test season of 17 Tests in fine fashion, as their batsmen chased down the target of 106 with eight wickets to spare on the fourth day in Dharamsala on Tuesday (March 28). KL Rahul laid the base for the win with a finely-crafted fifty while Ajinkya Rahane, in his first Test as captain, gave India a finishing touch that they would’ve have wanted with a brutal 28-ball 37, completing a fine turnaround after their crushing loss in Pune in the first Test.

As a result, India won the series 2-1, regaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and ending the season as the top-ranked Test team in the world in a season that ended with 12 wins, four draws and a solitary defeat – an amazing phase that they will look back with immense pride.

India had put in a splendid bowling effort on the third day to dismiss Australia for 137. Needing 106 to complete a series victory, Murali Vijay and Rahul held on to their wickets for more than 30 minues. Runs didn’t really flow during a tough initial phase, but India made decent progress with Rahul looking to press on.

Australia needed a barrage of wickets and quickly if they were to put India under pressure. Pat Cummins gave them an opening when he had Vijay feather an edge behind while on 8. Vijay should have been dismissed in Cummins’s previous over, his first of the day, but the Australians didn’t choose to review a caught behind appeal that had gone off the gloves.

In the next over from Cummins, Vijay’s defence took the edge through to the keeper and the umpire made the right decision. Cheteshwar Pujara’s knock lasted just five deliveries, ending in a comical run-out after a huge mix up. Glenn Maxwell hit the stumps direct from covers and India suddenly found themselves two down.

The captain, Rahane came out looking to score quick and put the pressure back on Australia. He opened his account with a solid straight drive for four, and followed that up with an equally impressive pull off Cummins. After the drinks break, Rahane stepped into Twenty20 mode. He slammed a brutal pull over midwicket for six, and then followed it up by stepping away from the stumps and whacking another one over covers. Any hopes the Australians had of a miraculous comeback when up in smoke with those shots.

Rahul gave India their victory and brought up his sixth fifty of the series with a flick for three off Steve O’Keefe and let out a huge roar, while Rahane calmly went up to the Australians to shake hands.

India will look back at the series with tremendous pride. For the first time this season, they found themselves playing catch up, and they responded in style. They did not really find themselves in the dominant scenarios that had come to define them, but yet, chasing the eight ball, they showed they are still close to impossible to beat.

For Australia, they will go back with their head held high. They were expected to have their socks knocked off, but competed in every single game and took the contest until the end. They had their chances in the final game too, but couldn’t find the killer instinct to put India to the sword. A fascinating series, full of controversy and outstanding cricket comes to an end. Perhaps, this is one during which cricket was truly the winner.

Brief scores: Australia 300 & 137 (Glenn Maxwell 45; Ravindra Jadeja 3-24, Umesh Yadav 3-29, R Ashwin 3-29) lost to India 332 & 106/2 (KL Rahul 51*) by eight wickets.

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Australia in Tests: Encouraging signs but few problems remain

INDIA VS AUSTRALIA

Australia in Tests: Encouraging signs but few problems remain

Tristan Lavalette • Last updated on Tue, 28 Mar, 2017, 03:20 PM

Australia had reason to be optimistic despite a disappointing defeat in Dharamsala © BCCI

In a major anti-climax for such a riveting content, the series finale ended in a fizzle with India romping to a convincing eight-wicket victory early on day four. After repeatedly picking themselves off the canvas, Australia had nothing left to give and their dreams of history ended in bitter disappointment.

In the immediate aftermath of a taxing series which concludes almost nonstop cricket since the middle of last year, Australia will feel hollow knowing they let slip a golden opportunity to achieve one of the greatest upsets in the country’s proud history. Had they won, the 2017 tour of India would have been forever linked with West Indies ’95 and England 1989 in reverence and feted as a gold standard achievement.

Steve Smith undoubtedly knew a series victory in this arduous locale against all the odds would lift his captaincy standing a notch and forever be a crowning achievement of his legacy no matter what transcribes from here.

Yet, despite being continually pesky, Australia gradually fell away after such a promising start to the series where they caught a seemingly overconfident and undoubtedly jaded Indian team napping. You feel Australia will forever rue the second Test as the one that got away, frustratingly unable to capitalise after bowling India out on the opening day for just 189.

An 87-run lead on the first innings wasn’t quite the knockout blow required and India, shaking from their stupor, clawed their way back into the series and generally dictated terms from there despite Australia’s refusal to roll over.

Something good is simmering within Australia but the series defeat and eventual drop off at the backend indicates they are still a flawed team. Encouragingly, Australia has the template to become a very good side and found several highly competent players since they regenerated after the debacle in Hobart last November.

They have pace stocks the envy of every other nation and Pat Cummins’s successful comeback – coupled with James Pattinson’s lower key return in the Sheffield Shield – ensures Australia are going to be very hard to beat in favourable conditions for quicks.

Australia have four genuinely talented quicks aged in their mid-20s and, if they all stay on the park, could emulate the West Indies’ iconic four-pronged pace attack of the 1980s. Not just a one-trick pony, they also possess reliable spinners Nathan Lyon and Stephen O’Keefe, who both starred at various stages in the series to showcase the team’s enviable all-round options with the ball.

Their formidable and versatile attack ensures Australia should always be competitive; Smith will have the confidence in his bowlers to take 20 wickets and consistently win Tests.

However, the batting remains a work in progress despite some encouraging signs in India. The batting suffered two costly calamities to effectively sink their dreams but were otherwise gritty and focused. They preached coach Darren Lehmann’s mantra of batting for the long haul but an over reliance on Smith, exacerbated by David Warner’s slump, cruelled Australia’s chances.

Pleasingly, they are building depth beyond Smith and Warner. Matt Renshaw, who celebrated his 21st birthday on March 28, is the type of nuggety and resolute opener Australia have long craved. There were question marks whether the youngster could succeed in unfamiliar conditions but Renshaw proved he belonged at Test level with a mature approach and, astoundingly, he looked more assured than his superstar partner Warner, who didn’t fire a shot to be Australia’s biggest disappointment.

Temperament and resoluteness are admired qualities but can only get one so far. Thus, Renshaw will need to iron out some inevitable kinks from his game, most notably playing away from his body which was exposed by India’s pacemen as the series wore on.

Peter Handscomb found the going predictably tougher after such a stellar initiation during the Australian summer but his unbeaten 72 to save the third Test proves he should become a middle-order mainstay.

Still, it feels Australia’s batting is still somewhat brittle and needs more depth if they want to become a consistent Test force. Shaun Marsh, the eternally maligned batsman, fought hard and combined with Handscomb to defy India’s push for victory in Ranchi. However, Marsh’s rollercoaster of a career has been littered with injuries and that scourge reared at the most inopportune moment with a back injury hampering the West Australian in the fourth Test and affecting his batting in the second innings when Australia desperately needed his experience to stabilise the dire situation.

Nearing 34 years of age, Marsh may not be part of Australia’s forward thinking as selectors are likely to recall Usman Khawaja, whose confidence would undoubtedly be rattled after watching on from the sidelines in India despite a dominant home summer.

Travis Head, the South Australian captain who was desperately unlucky to miss the squad, could also come into calculations after impressing in the shorter-formats for Australia. Glenn Maxwell made a memorable debut century in Ranchi and even top-scored amid the second innings spiral in Dharamsala but will be closely critiqued ahead of the looming Ashes later this year.

Perhaps the tour of India won’t quite be remembered indelibly by Australians but, still, the series could yet prove defining for this newfound team emerging from the rubbles of Hobart. Quite clearly, Smith’s side is taking shape and a return to the glory days of yesteryear – something that hasn’t happened for Australia since Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne retired a decade ago – feels imminent.

Australia now has a welcome breather from Test cricket with only a proposed tour of Bangladesh in August – subject to security clearance – before a home Ashes bout against England starting in November. Once the dust settles from this defeat, Australia will feel optimistic and bullish about the road ahead after such an encouraging performance in India.

However, despite the goodwill emanating, Australia has much work to do before they can enjoy a Test renaissance.

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