Injuries, familiar problems stand between RCB and silverware

INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE, 2017

Injuries, familiar problems stand between RCB and silverware

MS Ramakrishnan • Last updated on Sun, 02 Apr, 2017, 09:57 PM

In Kohli and Rahul’s absence, AB de Villiers will have to shoulder much of the batting responsibility at the start of the season. © BCCI

Royal Challengers Bangalore are easily one of the most entertaining teams in the IPL. There’s a Virat Kohli-led enviable ensemble of batters on the field, well complemented by raucous supporters in the stands and millions on YouTube channel. It’s perfect… nearly. For, all that’s missing now, is silverware.

RCB’s batting unit has World Cup and World T20 winners, the No. 1 batsman of the format and even a proven IPL performer. And yet the team has failed to be crowned champions. But it’s also easy to see why they haven’t tasted glory – they’ve been a lopsided, batting-heavy line-up. Kohli left peers, opponents and every single pair of eyes on last year’s IPL, dumbstruck with his unmatched form with the bat. He amassed 973 runs, with four centuries, and single-handedly powered them to the final.

A brand, new edition of IPL, after a long home season, has opened a different, potentially debilitating challenges for RCB. Even their stronger batting suit will now have to be shouldered by different heads following injuries to Kohli and KL Rahul. The captain will be reassessed for participation after a couple of weeks while Rahul, behind only Kohli and de Villiers in the team’s batting charts last season, will give the whole season a miss.

The team were dealt a massive blow when Mitchell Starc – their most potent weapon in the bowling department – opted out of the tournament’s 2017 edition. This meant they had to go hammer and tongs at the auction for a top-class bowler. They showed that by going the distance with a whopping INR 12 crore bid in an intense four-way bidding war for England fast bowler Tymal Mills, who has earned the reputation of being a versatile fast bowler – a prerequisite for one plying his trade in T20s.

The team management seemed to have gone into the auction with a clear mindset, wanting to beef up their bowling battalion. The second most notable addition to the squad was Rajasthan’s left-arm seamer Aniket Choudhary, who was bought for INR 2 crore from a base price of 10 lakh. In fact, when the auctions were happening, Aniket, who bowls at a decent pace and swings the ball, was actually bowling to Virat Kohli in the nets to prepare India for the Starc test ahead of the four-match series against Australia.

RCB look a very good team on paper and with a lot of uncertainties over the reshuffling of squads for IPL-11 next year, they’d hope to give their 100 percent for the title this season, for it could be tough to assemble such a formidable unit.

One individual who’d desperate to perform well on the field is Chris Gayle, who had an average season in 2016. In fact, it was just the second season with RCB where Gayle did not record a triple-figure score, after 2014. He was no more a sure-shot selection in the playing XI despite his decorated T20 career, so much so that he was even left out of the eleven a few times last season. With Rahul ruled out, the need for Gayle to rekindle his best form becomes imperative.

The build up to IPL-10, however, has not been great for the left-hander, with quiet outings in the Bangladesh Premier League and the Pakistan Super League that followed. A good season is vital to Gayle’s future at RCB, especially with the aforementioned shuffling of squads in 2018.

Strengths

RCB’s batting line-up is undoubtedly the best in the tournament. Even with Kohli out for a couple of weeks at least, Gayle, AB de Villiers and Shane Watson should be able to pack enough in their punch to put bowling sides in trouble and turn games on their head.

Weaknesses

A no-brainer really. There is absolutely no doubt that accuracy with the ball, especially in the death overs, has been a major problem for RCB. Barring Starc, who could nail reverse-swinging yorkers at will, they haven’t managed to snap up any special talent. Their big-money buy Mills has the opportunity to rid RCB of their bowling woes.

Opportunities

Yuzvendra Chahal’s rise as a quality leg-spinner has been quite impressive with his RCB showing, so much so that he made the national selectors take note and even earned an India cap. This season, he plays a key role in their bowling plans and his consistency levels will be closely monitored.

Pawan Negi, their newest buy, had a forgettable outing last year after going for a massive bid of INR 8.5 crore from Delhi Daredevils in the 2016 auction. This time around, at RCB, he could well be named ahead of Iqbal Abdulla – their second-choice Indian spinner in 2016 – because of his potential to hit the ball long and clean.

Stuart Binny has not quite managed to be in the limelight at the international circuit since the emergence of Hardik Pandya. With RCB likely to have three front-line pacers, the Karnataka all-rounder gives them the extra medium-pace option with swing up front with the new ball, in addition to his big-hitting abilities with the bat. An excellent season could give him a great chance of knocking on the selectors’ doors once more, with India set to move out of their home comforts in the coming seasons.

Many eyes will be on Kedar Jadhav – the finisher. He gave India a lot of hope of fitting into the role in the middle-order during the ODIs against England and his ability to handle pressure situations is something the selectors would want to zoom in on during this season.

Threats

Yes, the Chinnaswamy stadium is a great place for fans to enjoy T20 cricket, but the bowlers are generally none-too-pleased. The reason, you ask? Short boundaries and a batsmen-friendly strip. No target is safe and the toss becomes far too vital. It is for this reason, the Chinnaswamy has never quite evolved into a fortress for the home side.

What the schedule holds

RCB would want to have a close eye on how they begin the season. Winning just two out of their first seven games put immense pressure on the team last year, although they won six games out of seven in the second half of the tournament and even managed a top-two finish.They have an even spread of home and away games and also finish off their two games against bogey team Sunrisers Hyderabad well in advance. They close out their season with two games and an away trip to Delhi. It is an itinerary that could have so easily been worse.

The team would be better served if the middle-order manages to stay in good touch through the league phase, should they progress beyond. Kohli and de Villiers batted out most of the overs last year – but the chances of the duo having such a dream season simultaneously yet again could be too much to ask for, even if the two are known to defy the law of averages and probabilities on a routine basis.

Ideal Starting XI: Chris Gayle, Shane Watson, AB de Villiers (stand-in captain), Mandeep Singh, Sarfaraz Khan, Kedar Jadhav, Stuart Binny, Pawan Negi/Iqbal Abdulla, Yuzvendra Chahal, Tymal Mills, Sreenath Arvind/Aniket Choudhary

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KKR’s batting needs to be top class: Gambhir

IPL 2017

KKR’s batting needs to be top class: Gambhir

Cricbuzz Staff • Last updated on Sun, 02 Apr, 2017, 09:08 PM

Gautam Gambhir came to the defense of Sunil Narine, who seems to have lost a bit of zing since remodelling his bowling action © BCCI

With the changing nature of the Eden Gardens surface, Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir reckons his team’s batting has to be top class in the upcoming season of the IPL.

“From a track that used to favour spinners, it now has good deal of pace and bounce in it. With that as a background, batting has to be top-class,” Gambhir told PTI on Sunday (April 2). “The rival team fast bowlers will come hard at us and we have to be ready for that.”

The core of the batting includes him, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav, Yusuf Pathan and Shakib Al Hasan. KKR even added domestic performer Ishank Jaggi to the side, but the likes of Uthappa and Suryakumar haven’t been in the best of touch. However, the biggest problem that KKR face this season is the absence of their lynchpin – Andre Russell, who has been ruled out of the season after being handed a one-year ban for violating anti-doping whereabouts regulations.

To fill the void, KKR paid a hefty sum to procure the services of Chris Woakes as a like-for-like replacement, but the English all-rounder is yet to prove his destructive prowess in Indian conditions. Gambhir believes while Russell’s absence is a big blow to the side’s balance, it is also an ideal opportunity for someone else to stand up and be counted.

“There are two ways to look at such situations in life,” Gambhir said. “Either we can see Russell’s absence as a challenge or look at it as an opportunity in bold letters. I as an individual, and KKR as a group, are looking it as an opportunity. Maybe a combination of Manish Pandey’s batting and Ankit Rajpoot’s bowling can get us what Russell did. Not only Woakes but the entire team can try to fill-in for Russell and for that you don’t necessarily need an all-rounder. May be some other pair can do this.”

KKR have depended heavily on their spin bowling in the recent seasons, but have opted to assemble one of their strongest fast-bowling attacks for the upcoming season.

“We had left-arm pacemen in Jaydev Unadkat and Pradeep Sangwan in the past and understand the value of this skill that Boult brings in. Boult, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Umesh Yadav, Ankit Rajpoot and Woakes. We have all bases covered when it comes to fast bowling.”

The left-handed opener also said that Sunil Narine, who has lost a bit of his magic touch after remodelling his bowling action, could be a threat again.

“I think we start judging people a little too soon. You can’t expect a golfer, who has changed his swing to be the same force from day one on the greens. I have changed my stance (to open chested) and it’s been close to two years now and I am still settling with it. Give Sunil some time and some space and he will show you his wares again,” Gambhir said.

© Cricbuzz

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After Bangalore Test, Australia’s DRS success rate has dropped considerably: Wriddhiman Saha

Saha had a rewarding season, as he scored 646 runs including three centuries in 14 Tests, besides accounting for 37 dismissals. Partha Paul Saha had a rewarding season, as he scored 646 runs including three centuries in 14 Tests, besides accounting for 37 dismissals. Partha Paul

A clean-shaven Wriddhiman Saha looked even leaner as he parked his Toyota Fortuner at the Cricket Association of Bengal portico and headed to the gym at the Eden Gardens. A long home season is over but an IPL with Kings XI Punjab beckons. Saha has grown immensely as a cricketer over the last eight-odd months — starting in the Caribbean— during which he scored 646 runs, including three centuries in 14 Tests and accounted for 37 dismissals. In an interview with The Indian Express, Saha spoke about his improvement as a cricketer, India’s unprecedented success and, of course, sledging. Excerpts:

How much has Wriddhiman Saha grown in stature in the dressing-room this season?

Apart from odd changes, it’s the same unit that has been playing for the past two-three seasons. The real team bonding happened after we lost the Galle Test (in 2015). We had a team meeting in the dressing room. That was basically the start of our journey as a group. We changed our approach and it set us on the winning path.

You side-stepped the question…

I never felt left out even at the time when I was a relative newcomer, when I replaced (MS) Dhoni bhai in Australia. You have to talk to others to know if I have grown in stature. From my perspective, our dressing room thrives in collectivity. Different players have different roles to perform, but we as a team share our ups and downs collectively. Everyone, including the reserves and support staff, gets equal importance.

Your friendship with your teammates must have grown stronger over the past few months…

We have always been good friends. During the series we spend our free time together. We take part in PlayStation football games together. I usually play with (Cheteshwar) Pujara, Virat (Kohli), Shikhar (Dhawan) when he was with the team, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul.

Grapevine has it that you get pretty excited, playing football on PlayStation…

Yeah, it’s very intense. No one likes to lose. It’s a great way to wind down after a hard day’s play on the field.

Do you insist on having Barcelona as your team?

No, we prefer rotation, although I’m always more comfortable with (Lionel) Messi in my team (laughs).

Pujara tried to pull your leg after you bagged the Man of the Match award against New Zealand at Eden Gardens.

It wasn’t after the Test. It was after we finished our second innings and I remained not out in both innings. He jokingly said, ‘Wriddhi ko Kolkata me out karna na mumkin hai (it’s impossible to get Wriddhiman out in Kolkata). That’s the beauty of our team. This is something which is a lot more than winning and losing matches. I have been with the team since Australia and I haven’t witnessed a single case of dressing room bust-up. There’s absolutely no clash of egos in this team.

Going back to Galle, then team director Ravi Shastri allowed every player let off steam after the defeat. How did it help?

It helped us play fearless cricket. Some were getting bogged down under pressure, getting overwhelmed by the situation and sacrificing their natural game in the process. The session helped change the mindset.

You spoke about a change in approach

We decided that we would be targeting some bowlers in a match. Take the attack to a particular bowler right from the outset to upset his rhythm. It’s about taking calculated risks and the approach paid off. We started our winning run after Galle.

Even after your batting success against West Indies and New Zealand there appeared to be an amount of uncertainty as you were ruled out after the second Test against England because of a hamstring injury. Your replacement, Parthiv Patel, did well with the bat. Every now and then people start talking about other keepers like Parthiv or Dinesh Karthik. How do you handle this?

I never consider myself No.1, No.2 or No.10. My job is to go out there and perform, and I try to do that. End of the story. Everybody tries to do his best to reach a certain level. As far as my injury was concerned, I never had any insecurity about it. The team management didn’t allow me to have one. Anil (Kumble) bhai went to the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, when I was doing my rehab and offered assurance.

Did you have any special fitness routine for a six-month long home season?

Our fitness trainer gave us a schedule, which we followed. As I had injured my hamstring, some specific hamstring exercises were given to strengthen the muscles and tendons. At the same time, I was told to be cautious about not overloading it.

The team had a session on the DRS before the first Test against New Zealand. But at times it felt like India didn’t quite have a grip on the technology. As a keeper, you had a important role to play. Did you ever feel iffy?

The brief was clear; I would offer my view along with the bowler and then the captain would take a call. There were times, when I was 100 per cent convinced and so was the bowler, but Virat wasn’t too sure. Then, there were times when Virat was convinced but I, (Ajinkya) Rahane from the first slip and the bowler weren’t less certain. I insisted on taking a referral against Moeen Ali in Vizag despite the fact that he was way down the track against Jayant Yadav. But eventually we went for a review and won the leg before appeal. In some cases I erred also. No team can have a 100 per cent grip on the DRS. There has to be a difference between real time action and slow motion replays. For Australia, their DRS success rate had been close to 80 per cent before the incident in Bangalore. I don’t know if they had been getting any external (dressing room) help. No one noticed. After Bangalore, however, their (DRS) success rate dropped considerably.

You are said to be a keeper who doesn’t keep up a constant flow of chatter from behind the stumps.

If you watch the matches and hear the recordings, you would know I talk the most on the field.

You are one player who keeps his emotions in check on the field. Do you open up in the change room?

I think it’s almost same in the dressing room as well.

Who is your best friend in the team?

Everyone is my best friend. And it’s same for all my team mates. Having a best friend in the team isn’t a good idea. It may lead to groupism. We are a unit.

Was it tough, confidence-wise, batting at No. 7 or 8?

It depends on the individual. It doesn’t affect me. The decision to promote R Ashwin in the batting order was taken in the West Indies. And make no mistake, he is a very good batsman with four Test hundreds under his belt. The team management did it to ensure we have specialist batters up until No. 7. I had no problems with that. Ashwin’s batting success augured very well for the team.

Batting with the tail-enders requires special skills. Do you feel comfortable?

I did it many times for my club and Bengal, batting with the tail. It has served my game well. We no longer shield the tail-enders in the Indian team. They all are capable batters and spend time in the nets to improve their batting. And it’s not just the survival, our tail-enders have the licence to punish the loose balls. The team management has given them confidence to optimise their batting potential.

India-Australia Test series have had a tendency to become acrimonious. But this time things get a little too stretched?

Sledging is a part of Australia’s game. We know that. We were prepared for that. They played well in the first Test and we didn’t play to our potential. If we had won in Pune, things could have been different. For Australia, the lead served as a confidence boost but it’s not that they had an exclusive right over sledging. We also got into a bit of a banter; not only this series, but also when we went Down Under. We did it in Sri Lanka as well.

How did Australia respond to counter sledging?

It upset them. I think our banters made Steve Smith over-attacking in the second innings at Dharamsala.

Who was the leader of the pack in the Indian team?

Everyone. Virat, Rahane, Pujara, Rahul.

What about you? Not even under your breath?

No, I don’t do it. . I just offer encouragement to my team mates; and just a few words here and there.

You appeared to have got involved in the Matthew Wade-Ravindra Jadeja argument at Dharamsala.

I just wanted to know what they had been talking about; exactly what happened.

Do you ever get angry even at home?

No. Maybe, sometimes they (family) get angry with me. But I keep calm (laughs).

You are one Indian batsman who sways away from a bouncer rather than ducking under it. Does it come naturally to you?

It’s natural. I rarely play the pull shot. I allow my body to react to the angles. As because you sometime have variable bounce on Indian pitches, swaying away allows you watch the ball till the end. Sometimes, against an in-swinging bouncer from wide of the crease, I prefer to duck.

For someone who had to play the waiting game for a long time, be it the Bengal Ranji team or the Indian team, how do you look at this upward mobility of your career?

I never felt frustrated. I always trained with the match intensity. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been ready when my time came. Now the focus is to serve the Indian team for long.

During the season, did you get any advice from Kumble about keeping on Indian pitches? He was always a difficult bowler to keep on turners.

I kept to Anil bhai once or twice at the nets. He (and also Virat) always tells me not to change my natural approach to keeping.

How challenging it is to keep to two world-class spinners on turning pitches?

Almost every ball is a challenge, which I really enjoy. Ravichandran Ashwin presents a lot of variety, making things exciting for the keeper. Jadeja is very accurate. Both are outstanding performers. But at the end of the day, a keeper’s job is to collect the ball.

Did Kuldeep Yadav have the mystery element to the keeper as well?

I have kept to many chinaman bowlers during my days at Siliguri (hometown) and also even after coming to Kolkata. Ultimately, it’s about picking it off the hand and following the seam. If you can do that, things will be easier.

Do you exchange signals with the spinners?

Not really. In the Bangalore Test, however, Matt Renshaw had been compulsively stepping out to Jadeja. So we planned about firing one down the leg side. Jadeja did it and I had a stumping.

Umesh Yadav’s progress has been heartening. What do you think he has changed to achieve consistency?

It’s experience. You are always wiser— hitting the right areas —after say 30 Tests rather than 10 . Umesh has now become a complete package. He has everything in his repertoire.

Mohammed Shami unfortunately is facing recurrent injury problems.

It’s not recurrent. Last time, he had injured the other knee. I batted against him at the nets (in Dharamsala). I think he is now fully fit for limited-overs matches. A good IPL season followed by the Champions Trophy (in England) will get him ready for the longer format.

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Source: http://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/after-bangalore-test-australias-drs-success-rate-has-dropped-considerably-wriddhiman-saha-4596887/

For KKR, floater Manish Pandey’s favoured slot is No. 3

IPL 2017

For KKR, floater Manish Pandey’s favoured slot is No. 3

• Last updated on Fri, 31 Mar, 2017, 07:14 AM Bagawati Prasad in Chennai

Pandey feels that his “strength” is to bat at No. 3 and will stick to his much preferred spot in IPL 2017. © BCCI

In his 12-match ODI career thus far, Manish Pandey has floated up and down the order according to the team’s needs. However, in the IPL he has been a force to reckon with at No. 3 for the Kolkata Knight Riders over the past three seasons.It was his blazing 94, at No 3, that helped KKR clinch the title against Kings XI Punjab in the final of the 2014 IPL. Even though Pandey believes he “will adjust” to the role of a finisher in ODIs, the 27-year-old clearly stated that his “strength” is to bat at No. 3 and will stick to his much preferred spot in the T20 extravaganza.

“I started as an opener there (KKR). But batting at No. 3 is my strength. I would love to open or bat at No. 3 which will give me enough time to play my strokes and be at the wicket for a while,” Pandey told TOI on Thursday (March 30). “We have enough finishers in our team such as Yusuf Pathan and a few others. They are specialists in finishing. I think I would to bat at No. 3.”

But when it comes to the Indian limited-overs team he is willing to adapt to the task that he has been entrusted with. “I would love to bat at No. 4 as I normally bat at that slot. Batting at No. 5 and 6 is not what I have done. But now I feel batting in those positions are slightly tougher because you don’t have enough time, you have to quickly judge the pace of the game and bat with someone like MS Dhoni to put some runs on the board. This is something new, it will take time, but I will adjust to the role of a finisher,” he added.

Pandey has come a long way since he joined the Gautam Gambhir-led side in 2014. He said former KKR player and now coach Jacques Kallis has had a “good influence” on his career. “Kallis is someone who doesn’t talk a lot. It’s important for a player like to me to go to him. He has always been a good influence on my game. He told me that I have many strokes and that it was important for me to stay at the wicket, take some time initially and then play my shots and that’s where my strength comes,” he added.

The right-hander, who shot to limelight scoring a hundred in the 2009 edition of the IPL, feels KKR has had a good role in his rise. “There were quite a few funny characters (Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Brad Hogg, Kuldeep Yadav) in the side and I really love to spend time with these guys. They are among the best bowlers in their respective countries. You get to play good bowlers, their variations and it does help you develop as a cricketer,” said Pandey.

© TNN

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Kane Williamson’s sublime touch, Quinton de Kock’s vital impact

SERIES REVIEW

Kane Williamson’s sublime touch, Quinton de Kock’s vital impact

Tristan Holme • Last updated on Wed, 29 Mar, 2017, 10:41 PM

Kane Williamson scored 309 runs at an average of 77.25 in the series © Getty

Rain 2, South Africa 1, New Zealand 0.

A series that could have been a mini-classic will now be remembered more for the weather, following its soggy conclusion on Wednesday (March 29). It meant that South Africa ultimately left with what they came for – a series victory in all formats – but will be thanking their lucky stars after the final-day washout in Hamilton.

While the closeness of the teams made for compelling viewing, the quality of the cricket was lacking at times – though it wasn’t helped by the slowness of the surfaces in Dunedin and Hamilton, or by the stop-start nature of proceedings. “We haven’t played particularly well this whole Test series,” admitted South Africa coach Russell Domingo. “Both sides probably felt they didn’t play to their potential.”

In truth, New Zealand might look back as the slightly happier side, given the way that they dealt with such a damaging injury list. Ross Taylor and Trent Boult missed the last two Tests, while Tim Southee was ruled out of the final one, leaving the hosts without three of their most senior quartet. To match an injury-free South Africa in the first Test, and outplay them in the third, was an impressive effort and they can look back on their summer as a whole with a feeling of pride.

South Africa can as well, having won four straight Test series – two of them being tricky away assignments. They have risen from seventh to second in the rankings as a result, but are still some way short of matching India – both in terms of rankings points, and probably in terms of overall quality on their team sheet as well.

New Zealand

Top Performer: Kane Williamson (309 runs at an average of 77.25)

Kane Williamson can look back on his first season in charge of New Zealand, which started with two Tests in Zimbabwe last July, with a great deal of pride. Over that time they have won six Tests, lost five and drawn three, with three of their defeats coming on a tough tour of India. They might not be the rockstar side that Brendon McCullum helped everyone fall in love with, but this remains a likable and entertaining team.

That is because they are increasingly being molded in Williamson’s image – and because he has carried them with his bat in times of need. In Taylor’s absence this series, it was no coincidence that New Zealand competed in the two matches that Williamson scored big hundreds in. Since taking over the captaincy, he has now scored 1079 runs with four hundreds at an average of almost 60.

His batting in the first and last Tests was sublime, a picture of simplicity and casual aggression. One shot in particular will live long in the memory: his swivel-pull for six off Morne Morkel shortly after reaching his hundred in Hamilton. Such was the control that it traveled perfectly square, despite the bowler’s pace.

The slowness of the pitch did help, and indeed the pace of the pitches in the series made it no surprise that the other batsman who flourished was Jeet Raval. A model of patience, the 28-year-old seemed to find his place in the international game during this series as he ground out three fifties, and totaled 256 runs at an average of 64.

Another player worth a mention was Neil Wagner, who reaffirmed what a workhorse he is in the absence of Boult and Southee, sending down 118 overs for 12 hard-earned wickets at an average of 32. He might not be a refined, flowing fast bowler but his ability to make something happen in ‘dead’ periods is something to cherish.

Biggest Disappointment: Neil Broom (32 runs at 10.66)

Called up for his debut in the wake of Taylor’s injury after a long wait, Broom failed to grab the opportunity, nicking off twice to good catches by Quinton de Kock in Wellington, before shouldering arms to a Kagiso Rabada in-ducker in Hamilton.

With Henry Nicholls making his maiden ton, Broom will miss out when Taylor returns. At the age of 33, he might not get many more opportunities to crack the Test side.

James Neesham also had a forgettable series, scoring just 26 runs in three innings and taking only two wickets. It was no great surprise when Colin de Grandhomme cracked the nod ahead of him for the third Test as the selectors created space for a second spinner.

Talking Point: What is New Zealand’s best side?

There are a couple of ways of looking at this.

One is that they have all their bases covered, with two seaming all-rounders, two or three spinners who can do a job (one of whom can bat but isn’t a big turner of the ball), and three frontline seamers. This allows them to mix and match for any conditions.

The other is that not enough of those players are of a high enough quality, meaning that each game leaves the selectors with a headache over how to come up with enough runs and wickets. For example, to include two spinners in Dunedin, they had to leave out their most experienced seamer because otherwise the lower-order batting would be too thin.

The best sides all have a fairly clear idea of who their best XI is, with no more than one change required to adapt to conditions (except in the case of injuries). A settled, balanced XI is the most likely to succeed in Test cricket. New Zealand don’t have that, and working out how to get to that point could be their biggest challenge going forward.

Quinton de Kock was clearly the difference between the two sides © Cricbuzz

South Africa

Top Performer: Quinton de Kock (210 runs at 52.50; 13 catches and 2 stumpings)

Undoubtedly the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world right now, and the difference between the two sides in this series. Without his rearguard innings in Wellington and Hamilton, South Africa would not have won the series, and could even have lost it.

There is so much to enjoy about de Kock’s batting – the fluidity, the attitude, the raw talent – that his keeping probably doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Both of his stumpings in the series were difficult chances that were made to look easy, while he made up a catching highlights reel for the series all on his own. Two of his one-handed grabs in the final Test were taken in spite of heavy strapping on a wounded finger.

Dean Elgar (265 runs) topped the run-scoring charts for South Africa, while Faf du Plessis topped the averages (198 runs at 66), but neither had the impact of de Kock. Elgar fell away after his superb outing in the first Test, but has at least given South Africa some stability at the top of the order as Stephen Cook goes through a lean run and uncertainty grows over who should open with the left-hander.

Among the bowlers, you would have got good odds on Keshav Maharaj being the highest wicket-taker in the series. His 15 wickets at an average of less than 20 were a real bonus for South Africa, and have settled any debate over who should fill the spin berth after several years of toying around with various options.

Biggest Disappointment: Stephen Cook (17 runs at 4.25)

After finishing 2016 on a high, with 176 runs in the first Test against Sri Lanka, 2017 has gone poorly for Cook with just 57 runs scored in seven innings. That can happen for an opener, particularly one batting in South Africa and New Zealand, but it is the nature of Cook’s dismissals that will have alarmed the selectors enough to drop him for the third Test in Hamilton.

After leaving a straight ball to be trapped lbw by Boult in the first innings in Dunedin, Cook’s next three dismissals were carbon copies of each other, as he nicked off outside off stump whilst showing no foot movement at all. As South Africa look to a Test series in England in July, that will be a major concern.

Nevertheless, canning Cook so soon does seem harsh. He has now played 11 Tests since making his Test debut against England last January, and averages 33 with three hundreds and two fifties.

It is worth remembering that he had been the standout candidate to open the batting for South Africa for a couple of years when he was finally picked, having racked up thousands of runs in domestic four-day cricket. As one of the best captains on the domestic circuit, he is also a good brain to have in the dressing room, and a calm presence.

Yet at the age of 34, his international career is in the balance. Fortunately he has the perfect opportunity to make a claim for his continued inclusion, having signed with Durham for the first half of the English county season. A good start there would convince the selectors that he should line up at Lord’s on July 6. Especially as the leading candidate to replace him, Colin Ackermann, is not available for selection after signing with Leicestershire as a non-overseas player. The 25-year-old Ackermann topped the Sunfoil Series run-scoring chart this season with 883 runs at the top of the order. Picking the other candidate, Aiden Markram, would be a bit of a risk given that he is only 22 and has just finished his first season of franchise cricket.

Talking Point: JP Duminy

What is to become of South Africa’s magnificently talented, infuriatingly inconsistent batsman? It is a decision that needs to be made before the England series, and it is a pivotal one.

Duminy made two major contributions to the South African cause this summer – the 141 at Perth that changed the course of the match (and arguably series) against Australia, and the freewheeling 155 against Sri Lanka at the Wanderers. Otherwise the pickings were thin, and his 104 runs in six innings in this series left him with a season aggregate of 36.80 from 11 Tests in his first full summer batting at No. 4.

Those are not disastrous numbers, but they are far from convincing and not good enough for a No. 4 in a team with high ambitions. They are hardly backed up by the argument that he offers something with the ball either, given that, aside from his four-for in Wellington, he took just one wicket all season. A top score of 34 in the one-day leg of this tour has also put his ODI place in the spotlight.

Duminy’s decision to sit out the Indian Premier League to have some down time suggests that he is worn out, but is a rest enough to improve his returns? After more than eight years of being in and out of the Test team, it is hard not to come to the conclusion that his inconsistency is in-built.

But do the selectors have the guts to make the hard call? Theunis de Bruyn had a forgettable debut in the unfamiliar position of opener, but has had a hugely impressive domestic career to date. He looks like a batsman with a big international future, so getting him into the team soon feels like a good move to make.

© Cricbuzz

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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.

© Cricbuzz

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