IN FOCUS- The Ashes (England in Australia) 2013-14 : Preview

  Yet another Ashes series is upon us, with the last one having ended just less than three months ago. In the first leg in England, the Australians were found wanting on many counts, but will they rise to the occasion at home and prevent England from winning their fourth successive Ashes rubber?

England-v-Australia1

The Matches and the Grounds

  The latest edition of the 131 year-old epic will commence with the opening Test at the Gabba in Brisbane from November 21-25. Then come the next two matches, separated by a three-day gap – the Adelaide Oval will play host to the second Test from December 5-9 while the third Test will be played at the WACA in Perth from December 13-17. Following them will be the traditional Boxing Day fixture from December 26-30 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with a record crowd expected. The series will spill into the New Year with the final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground from January 3-7.

  England have not won in Brisbane since 1986-87. At Perth, they have been beaten in each of their last six Tests. It is Melbourne and Sydney where they enjoy the most – four wins and four losses in their last eight Tests at the former; two wins and two losses in their last seven Tests at the latter. In their victorious 2010-11 campaign, England scored big wins at Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Australia’s favourite Ashes ground in recent times has been Perth, but their record there against other teams has been dented of late, courtesy of three losses in the past six Tests (twice to South Africa, once to India).

The Teams and the Captains

  Australia (first Test) – Michael Clarke (c), Brad Haddin, Chris Rogers, David Warner, Steve Smith, Shane Watson, George Bailey, James Faulkner, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Lyon, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris.

  The Australians have so far named their squad only for the opening Test. Left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson has made a return to the squad following some impressive spells in recent one-day internationals. Another player who has won a place in the squad on the back of ODI form is George Bailey, who scored at will in India last month. Bailey is expected to make his debut at the Gabba. Australia’s biggest plus point is their pace attack, with Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris spearheading the pack, with Johnson and James Faulkner to follow. Harris was Australia’s best performer in the Ashes in England, and his team will pray for him to be fit throughout the summer. Michael Clarke’s captaincy has often been praised for being innovative and attacking, but given Australia’s record of zero wins and seven defeats in the last nine Tests, he and his team will have to desperately seek new ideas.

  England – Alastair Cook (c), Matt Prior, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Bairstow, Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Ben Stokes, Greame Swann, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Monty Panesar, Boyd Rankin, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett.

  England have come fully prepared with a 17-man squad, which includes three potential Test debutants. Their top-order did not quite live up to expectations in the home Ashes, but Ian Bell’s outstanding form camouflaged the flaws. The trio of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott will be looking to fire, and if they do repeat their form of 2010-11, Australia will be in for a tough season ahead. Nick Compton and Graham Onions have been surprisingly ignored, but the recent form of Michael Carberry has been encouraging. The bowling stocks look very strong, with as many as four men vying for the third pace bowling spot. The presence of Monty Panesar should be interesting as well. Captain Cook was not in good touch in the home Ashes, but he only needs to look back at his last tour of Australia for motivation. His captaincy has been seen as defensive and cautious, but as long as he gets the job done, I am certain it will make no difference to English fans.

England v India 'A' - Day Two   England captain Alastair Cook will be hungry for runs Down Under, even as his team seeks its fourth Ashes series win on the trot (source – metro.co.uk)

Head To Head and Recent Record

  The game’s oldest rivalry has seen 331 fixtures (316 in Ashes Tests) played so far since 1876-77, with Australia winning 133 times and England 105, 93 Tests being drawn. In Australia, the two nations have played each other 170 times, with the hosts winning 86 times to England’s 57, 27 Tests being drawn. Out of 67 Ashes series played till date, each team has one exactly the same number, i.e 31 series each. In the latest Ashes duel in England in 2013, the hosts won 3-0, while the most recent series in Australia was in 2010-11, when England won 3-1 – a historic first series win Down Under in 24 years. Australia’s last series win came at home in 2006-07, when they won 5-0.

Form Book and Ranking

  Australia’s recent dismal performances and Pakistan’s drawn series against South Africa has meant that the Baggy Greens have slipped to 5th in the Test rankings. Their last Test win came nine matches ago, when they beat Sri Lanka at Sydney last summer en route to a 3-0 whitewash. Since then, they were blanked 4-0 by India at home followed by the 3-0 defeat in the away Ashes. They were impressive in the last home season, with the success over Sri Lanka being preceded by a hard-fought three-Test series with South Africa, which they lost 1-0. But their recent overseas form has been quite abysmal.

  England went down to the third spot in the Test rankings after being overtaken by India following the latter’s rout of the West Indies at home. However, England do remain as the second-best Test team in the world at the moment, having been undefeated in their last 13 Tests, winning 7 of them. They won five out of seven home Tests in 2013 (2-0 against New Zealand, 3-0 in the Ashes). As far as overseas Tests are concerned, they were held 0-0 (3 matches) by New Zealand in their latest such series. Before that, they experienced a rare series victory in India, winning the four-Test series 2-1. Their last overseas series defeat was against Pakistan in the UAE in 2011-12, when they were blanked 3-0.

Players To Watch Out For

  It can be said that England captain Alastair Cook is in the prime of his career. He will be playing his 100th Test at Perth, and is likely to go down in history as one of the best modern-day Test batsmen. Having been in ordinary form in the home Ashes (averaging 27.7 in 10 innings with three fifties), Cook could not have hoped for a better place than Australia to regain his touch. In the 2010-11 series, Cook was unstoppable and ended up with a staggering 766 runs (321 more than any other Englishman) in seven innings at 127.66 with three hundreds. He had a great start to his stint as captain with the series win in India, and will look to continue his unbeaten run, at the same time aiming to get some ‘daddy hundreds’. A batsman of his ability is sure to bounce back to form sooner than later, and the hosts could bear the brunt yet again.

art-ryan_harris-420x0   Right-arm fast bowler Ryan Harris will be the biggest threat to England, and the hosts will hope that he is fit enough to last the summer (source – smh.com.au)

  Ryan Harris stood out among the Australian pace bowlers during the Ashes in England, picking up 24 wickets in just four Tests. At the age of 34, he is not getting any younger and given his fitness issues, might not have a good number of years left in him. Assuming that he remains fit throughout the summer, there would no bigger threat than him to the Englishmen. It should be remembered that he took 9 wickets in the Perth Test of 2010-11, and if the likes of Siddle and Johnson fire as well, we will have a cracking contest on the cards. It is a pity that a bowler of Harris’ talent has played just 16 Tests till date (71 wickets at 22.26), and the more we get to see of him, the better it is for the Australian team and neutral cricket followers alike.

Prediction

  The last time England won at least four Ashes series in a row was 123 years ago, when they won seven series successively from 1884 to 1890. While they will be chasing glory and history, Australia will be seeking redemption in familiar environs. I predict this series to be closer than the one which ended three months back. My prediction is either a 2-1 win for England or a 2-2 draw. Indeed, a draw has been long overdue – the last drawn Ashes series was way back in 1972.

  Looking forward to an exciting six weeks.

Advertisements

IN FOCUS – West Indies in India Test series 2013-14 : Preview

  This short two-Test series was scheduled out of the blue a couple of months ago, presumably to allow Sachin Tendulkar, India’s most famous cricket icon, to enjoy a home farewell. Tendulkar will call it a day after a stellar 24-year career, with the second game of this series being the legend’s 200th and last Test. However, notwithstanding the hype surrounding his retirement, it is to be remembered that a Test series is to be played by two teams of eleven each.

images (25)

The Matches

  Two of India’s most popular grounds have been allotted Tests for the series. Eden Gardens in Kolkata will play host to the first Test from November 6-10, while the second Test will be contested at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Tendulkar’s hometown, from November 14-18. The Windies have played nine times at the Eden, winning thrice and losing twice. At the Wankhede, they have played seven times, winning once and losing twice. Both these venues hosted Tests when the West Indies last toured India in 2011-12 – the Kolkata Test was won by the hosts while the Mumbai Test was a draw with the scores level.

Head To Head and Recent Record

  Test match history between these two sides stretches back to 1948-49 when the West Indies toured India. Since then, they have played each other in 88 Tests in total, the record reading 14 wins for India, 30 wins for the West Indies and 44 draws. In India too the Windies hold an edge – the head-to-head record being  9 wins for India, 14 wins for the West Indies and 20 draws in 43 Tests. The latest series between the two teams was played in India in 2011-12 where the hosts won the three-Test series 2-0. Prior to that in 2011, India won a three-Test series in the Caribbean by a margin of 1-0. The last time the West Indies won a series against India was at home in 2002, when they won a five-Test series 2-1. The last time they won a Test in India was in 1994-95 while their last series win in India came during their heydays in 1983-84.

Form Book and Ranking

  India partially recovered from the double jolt of eight successive overseas losses in England and Australia in 2011-12 followed by a rare home defeat to England in 2012-13 by hammering the visiting Australians 4-0 in a four-Test series late last season. While their last ten away Tests have yielded zero wins and eight losses, the corresponding number for their last ten home Tests is a relatively much impressive seven wins (two against New Zealand, one against England and four against Australia) and two losses, both coming against England. The whitewash of Australia helped M.S Dhoni’s side to climb back to the second spot in the Test rankings, a position they currently share with England (both at 116 rating points).

  Darren Sammy’s West Indies have shown signs of improvement of late and though they currently occupy the sixth place on the table, they are only four points behind 4th-placed Pakistan and just two points behind 5th-placed Australia. The Windies are in the midst of a rare streak of wins – they have won all of their last six Tests – two each at home against New Zealand and Zimbabwe with two wins in Bangladesh in between. However, their record against top teams overseas has been utterly disappointing indeed – one would have to go back to 1994-95 for their last away series win (except Zimbabwe and Bangladesh), when they won in New Zealand. Their last away series against a higher-ranked nation was in 2012 when they lost a three-Test series in England by 2-0.

Players To Watch Out For

bhuvneshwar_bcci India’s new pace spearhead Bhuvaneshwar Kumar will look to continue his impressive beginning in international cricket against the West Indians (source – ibnlive.in.com)

  Spin is expected to dominate both the Tests, but the importance of fast and medium-fast bowlers, especially with the old ball, has often been underlined in sub-continental conditions. In this regard, India have the promising young right-arm medium pace bowler Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Kumar debuted in the home series against Australia late last season and was impressive in conditions not conducive to pace bowlers – his six wickets in four games does not seem anything special, but he regularly unsettled the top-order with his commendable accuracy and decent swing. After just one series, he has become India’s first-choice pace bowler, and the fact that he was the only Indian bowler not to be pummelled on the batting beauties in the recent ODI series against Australia means that he can hold his own in any situation. India will be expecting a few early strikes from him.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul West Indies’ tireless legend Shivnarine Chanderpaul loves playing against India, and he will be the wicket the hosts will yearn for the most (source – theguardian.com)

  The West Indian batting line-up seems to be stronger in terms of experience than the last time they toured India, and as always the fulcrum which supports it is the evergreen Shivnarine Chanderpaul. In the Mumbai Test, the spotlight will be on Tendulkar, but let not be forgotten that ‘Chanders’ will be playing his 150th Test there. Even at the age of 39, his hunger for runs has remained intact – he has scored three hundreds in his last five Test innings and was in good nick for Derbyshire in the County Championship, not to mention a century in West Indies’ just-concluded three-day tour game. Chanderpaul is the fourth-highest run getter against India in Tests, having made 2038 runs (7 hundreds) at 65.74 in 23 matches against them, and it should be no surprise if he makes merry this time around as well. After the retirement of Tendulkar (debut 1989-90), Chanderpaul (debut 1993-94) will become the player with the earliest debut among current players.

Prediction

  I am expecting a hard-fought series, with spinners from both sides expected to play a significant role. The visitors look confident and they should certainly not be taken lightly by India in the frenzy of Tendulkar’s farewell. My prediction – a 1-1 draw. Yet again, the need for a third Test to complete the series will be felt.