Australia Versus Pakistan – Second Test Preview

The Pakistan cricket team went into the series against Australia knowing that it was the best time to better their record in test cricket Down Under. The Aussies were still hurting from the humiliation at the hands of the Proteas and the team had undergone a considerable number of changes. The Baggy Greens though had not lost a test at the Gabba in like forever and Steven Smith’s boys were determined to keep that streak intact. What followed was surreal. After conceding a huge first innings lead (courtesy another batting collapse), the visitors seemed out of it when they were asked to score 490 in the 4th innings but as always, you can never know for sure with Pakistan. Asad Shafiq scored a magnificent 137 and along with the tail, threatened to complete what would have been one of the biggest coups ever in test cricket and but for a ferocious bouncer from Mitchell Starc, he might have very well done that. In the end, Australia won by 39 runs and though Pakistan can count it as a moral victory, they will need much more in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.

Australia have named an unchanged XI. Smith and Handscomb were among the runs in the first test but it’ll be David Warner who’ll be keenly watched. The swashbuckling opener has had an indifferent 2016 and will hope to end this year and start the next one on a personal high. Nic Maddinson has now failed to get going in 2 tests and will know that he cannot afford another failure. Their spearhead, Starc, will be playing his first Boxing Day Test and will look to continue his fine run. The MCG is a huge ground and the pitch is expected to offer a bit more to the bowlers. The batsmen will have to apply themselves in order to make meaningful contributions.

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Pakistan will know that the runs need to flow from the top of the order. Misbah, as usual, needs to take the onus on himself and make sure that his team doesn’t self-destruct as they often tend to do. Azhar and Younis will look to make bigger scores while the rest also have to consistently punch above their weights. Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz are certainties in the XI but Rahat Ali might just make way for Imran Khan who will provide variety to the pace attack. Though Pakistan fought back well last week, they are still the underdogs in this game and will need to consistently sustain the pressure on Australia to have any chance of ending the year on a high.

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Warner’s century gives Australia the series

Coming into the Chappell-Hadlee series, Australia were under enormous pressure. For a team which generally seeks to stamp its authority right from the word go, their recent performances have been extremely lackluster. When they donned the whites in Sri Lanka, they were humbled 3-0. Though the limited overs brought about a change in fortunes, they were in for a rude surprise in their next assignment against a high-quality Proteas side. South Africa, in their own backyard, blanked the Kangaroos 5-0 in the ODIs and then travelled Down Under to beat them 2-1 in the tests. The senior cricketers were misfiring and Steven Smith was feeling the heat. The Baggy Greens needed to reinvent themselves and firmly flex their muscle and this victory at Canberra, which gives them the series, is a step in regaining their much-acclaimed aura.

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The Kiwis came into the match knowing that a loss would take the Chappell-Hadlee trophy away from them. Williamson called it right and chose to field, hoping that his bowlers would do a much better job than last time. However, David Warner continued his rich vein of form in ODIs and danced his way to a superlative century. In the company of his captain, who was again in the runs with a quick 72, he put on 145 runs to take the stuffing out of the Kiwis’ attack. One would excuse Williamson if he had thought that his side had a chance to come back into the game after he latched on to Warner’s offering of de Grandhomme but Travis Head (57 of 32) and Mitchell Marsh (76* of 40) plundered runs at will to take their team to an imposing 378/5.

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In reply, New Zealand knew that Martin Guptill had to fire if they were to even come close to their Trans-Tasman rival’s score. The Kiwi opener threatened briefly but Pat Cummins got the better of him. Williamson and Neesham struck solid half-centuries but they were always significantly behind the asking rate. Hazlewood prized out Neesham and Cummins removed the Kiwi skipper to leave the visitors stuttering at 232-6. Starc (2-52) then combined with Cummins (4-41) to clean up the lower order and give the Aussies a much-required series win with a game to spare. New Zealand will be playing for pride in the last game at Melbourne.

Pride on the line at Newlands

Australia and South Africa are two powerhouses in the cricketing fraternity and thus, the expectations were sky high from the ongoing bilateral series. Going into the 5 match tour, Australia were ranked number and the Proteas were number 2 in this format and this only added to the expected extravaganza. What has transpired over the first four games is something truly astounding. The home side has toyed with the Aussies and is on the cusp of handing the Kangaroos their first whitewash in a 5 match bilateral ODI series.

The obvious shortcoming with Australia has been their below par bowling. Yes, they’ve been hampered with injuries to their key players but that’s no excuse for their lackluster performance. Quinton de Kock’s carnage at Centurion set the tone for the home side’s rampage. They made quick work of Australia’s 294 and the visitors never really recovered from that. Faf du Plessis’s historical century and Dumminy’s fireworks propelled SA to 361 in the second game. Australia were never in the chase as they lost by a huge margin of 142 runs. The third game in Durban was the only time when the team from Down Under showed their batting class as David Warner and Steve Smith struck brilliant centuries. Alas, a combination of mediocre bowling and unbelievable bludgeoning from David Miller gave an unassailable 3-0 lead to the Proteas. With the series in the bag, SA tested their bench in the fourth game which itself proved too much for their opposition. Abbot and Shamsi blew away the Australian batting and their batsmen romped home in style.

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Newlands will host the fifth and the final ODI. Australia, though having lost the series will be keen to avoid a whitewash and will be playing for pride. However, the outcome will be no different if they don’t pull up their socks and deliver on all fronts. They will have to be clinical in all departments to even harbor hopes of beating the home side whose confidence has rocketed. SA on the other hand will look to do what they’ve done throughout the series – thoroughly outclass their opponents. Though it is a dead rubber, there is a lot to play for at Newlands.

Carnage at Centurion

One of cricket’s most riveting rivalries was resumed in Centurion when the Kangaroos took on the Proteas in the first of their 5 ODIs. Australia and South Africa are two of the best cricketing sides and have produced many memorable moments on the field. This trend was expected to continue and a fierce battle was on the cards. South Africa were already without Mr.365, AB de Villiers and were dealt another blow when Hashim Amla was ruled out due to an illness. Faf du Plessis won the toss and asked his opponents to bat first.

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David Warner and Aaron Finch did what they do best, smash. Australia raced away to 64/1 from the first 10 overs. After Warner holed out to Phehlukwayo at mid-off, Finch followed a while later courtesy a good low catch from Parnell. Smith followed in the same over as Phehlukwayo trapped him plumb in front. Australia were suddenly in a spot of bother. Bailey and Mitchell Marsh resurrected the innings with a few lusty blows. Marsh looked set for a big score before Quinton de Kock pulled of a stunning catch to send him back to the pavilion for 31. Travis Head and Matthew Wade fell cheaply as Australia’s projected score kept plummeting. Bailey was playing well at one end, caressing the ball and finding the gaps with ease. Hastings gave him some good support as Australia inched towards the 300 mark and finally finished at 294/9 thanks mainly to Bailey’s 74 while Phehlukwayo finished with figures of 4/44 for the hosts.

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SA started their innings with QDK and Rossouw. de Kock was impressive right from the word go as he brought out his silky drives. By the end of the 8th over, they had romped to 62 with Rossouw contributing just 19. But he too got into his groove as South Africa began plundering runs from both ends. By the time Zampa got rid of Rossouw in the 18th over for 63, SA had already raced to 145 and QDK himself to 81. The visitors were staring down the barrel. de Kock switched from class to rage as she started bludgeoning everything towards deep midwicket. A pull over midwicket got him his century of just 74 balls. He grew in strength with every passing delivery and it seemed like he had taken the responsibility of hunting down Australia’s score all on himself. When he eventually fell for a magnificent 174, all that was left to do for Steven Smith was to run in from cover and congratulate the youngster for an outstanding performance. Miller and Behardien applied the finishing touches as the hosts romped home by 6 wickets and more than 13 overs to spare. The 2nd ODI will be played at Johannesburg on Sunday.

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A Test of Nerves – World T20 Preview

As India prepares to host the 2016 World T20, a lot of pop ups are doing the rounds. Teams are coming into the tournament with their recent form at completely different levels. Taking into account their common goal and the conditions on offer, let’s take a look at how the two groups stack up!

Group 1: Afghanistan, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies

Sri Lanka, the defending champions, go into the tournament on the back of a few below par performances. The departure of Mahela and Sangakkara has left a huge hole in the batting department and it will be upto Dilshan and Chandimal to do most of the scoring. They will also be banking a lot on Matthews and Malinga to keep their opponents under check. South Africa, unsurprisingly, have one of the stronger squads on paper. They will hope that the experience gained by their players during the IPL will hold them in good stead for the next month. AB de Villiers will be their default batting mainstay while a lot will also be expected from Imran Tahir on the slow, turning tracks. The West Indian extravaganza will be on full throttle as the likes of Gayle, Bravo, Sammy etc. will look to infuse their very own Caribbean flavor to this World Cup. They have enough firepower in all departments but as always, it will boil down to consistency and whether they can hold their ground during the cliffhangers.

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The Barmy Army have selected a good number of T20 specialists to make sure that their World Cup isn’t shunted in anyway. Eoin Morgan’s team will have to punch a bit above their weight if they want to live their fairytale but fuelled by the likes of Butler, Root, Ali and Stokes, they have what it takes to unleash total carnage. The Afghans have shown tremendous grit and skill while coasting into the main draw. Shahzad and Stanikzai have lit up the batting while Nabi has been excellent with both bat and ball. The bowling has been impressive but they will have to take it up a few notches to harbor dreams of winning even a single match.

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Group 2: Australia, Bangladesh, India, New Zealand, Pakistan

The hosts, on the back of an impressive run in T20I’s will start as firm favorites to progress from this group. India have looked ominous in recent times with series victories over Australia, SriLanka and of course, in the Asia Cup. Their star studded batting line up should relish the home conditions and with the return of Shami, the bowling has got that extra boost. With a billion hearts to please, they will want to continue the juggernaut and go all the way. Australia will want to shed their poor record in this format and will strive to be relentlessly bellicose. Warner has fit in beautifully at 4 and considering Watson’s bowling skills and his experience of playing in India, Smith might very well have to choose between Finch and Khawaja to open their innings. The squad definitely has what it takes to exude the Aussie swagger and will be desperate get their hands on the one major trophy that has eluded them.

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New Zealand, though without the charisma and bludgeoning skills of Brendon McCullum, have enough arsenal to blast through any side. Guptil and Williamson have had a dream run at the top. Munro and Anderson have been at their marauding best. Considering the pitches, their bowling might be a little susceptible to an onslaught but Southee and Co will be confident about adapting to the conditions and will want to bring out their ‘A’ game consistently. Pakistan’s batting remains a worry with only Shoaib Malik and Umar Akmal showing some positive signs. Bolstered by the return of Mohammad Amir, their bowling is up there with the very best and this, without a doubt, will be their stronger suit. Bangladesh have breezed through the qualifiers but they will face a whole new set of challenges against the big boys. Given their recent endeavors, the confidence levels will be on an all-time high. Though it is difficult to see Bangladesh and Pakistan moving further in the tournament, it will be very naive to rule anyone out in this format.

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The beauty about the next three weeks is that there is no script. Build ups and predictions count for nothing as on a given day, any team can go into beast mode. What this World Cup promises though is a bucket load of high quality cricket and entertainment. So grab a plate, pick a drink and sit back and enjoy what is going to be an amazing roller-coaster.