REVIEW – 2013 year-end recap (Test cricket)

  Test cricket continued to hold its own in the year 2013 in spite of another onslaught of irrelevant limited-overs games and the disappointment of at least three Test series cancelled for various reasons. A total of 43 completed Tests were played in the year, of which 33 ended in a result.

Teams Overview

  South Africa were undoubtedly the leading Test team yet again, further cementing their place at the top with a home win against a determined India. Earlier in the year, they blanked both New Zealand and Pakistan at home before drawing against Pakistan in the return series. The Proteas have been undefeated in their last 14 series and have lost just one of their last 25 series.

  India were unbeatable at home, registering wins against Australia and the West Indies before losing in South Africa, and now have gone 12 overseas Tests without a win, of which 9 are losses. England escaped with a last-gasp draw in New Zealand before beating them at home in the return series and also beat Australia at home to win the Ashes for the third successive time. But their ongoing tour of Australia has been a disaster – they surrendered the urn in the first three games and are currently 4-0 down, staring at a whitewash.

zz098038-861cb6a0-6ddb-11e3-a184-cfa98bc96cc6   South Africa’s legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis retired from Tests after a great 18-year career. He scored 115 in his last innings (source – dailytelegraph.com.au)

  Pakistan began the year by losing poorly in South Africa and then were held on to an upset draw in Zimbabwe. They however bounced back a bit to hold South Africa to a draw in the return series in the UAE. Australia were woeful overseas and ruthless at home. They started the year by completing a sweep of Sri Lanka at home. Then a miserable defeat in India was followed by the Ashes loss in England. But in a sensational turnaround, they have annihilated England in the ongoing Ashes at home and have ended the year on a high.

  Sri Lanka were guilty of filling in pointless limited-overs games at the expense of important Test fixtures, and played just three Test matches in the year. They lost the concluding game in Australia to be whitewashed before managing a scratchy win at home over Bangladesh. West Indies’ positives of 2012 were nullified by a forgettable year. After an easy home win over Zimbabwe, they suffered painful defeats overseas to India and New Zealand, stretching their barren away record further.

  New Zealand had a mixed year – they were thrashed in South Africa, held England to a commendable draw at home, lost tamely in England, could only manage a draw in Bangladesh and ended the year with a convincing home victory against the West Indies. Zimbabwe gave their best despite all the off-field woes. They were rolled over in the Caribbean, but competed bravely at home, recording drawn series against Bangladesh and Pakistan, managing memorable Test wins over both the teams. Bangladesh again had a few fixtures, but showed signs of improvement. They went down fighting in Sri Lanka, drew in Zimbabwe after coming from behind and were neck-to-neck with New Zealand in a draw at home.

Highlights and Records

– World champions South Africa now have gone 14 series without a defeat, of which eight are wins. Incredibly, they have lost just one out of their last 25 series since 2006-07 and not lost an overseas series since 2006.

– The year saw many high-profile retirements. Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar quit in November after a record-breaking 24-year career, while South African great Jacques Kallis played his last Test in December, scoring a match-winning hundred to become the 32nd player to make a century in his last Test. Earlier in the year, Australia’s Michael Hussey too called it a day, while England’s Greame Swann surprisingly decided he had had enough in December. Others who announced their retirements were Tillekaratne Dilshan (Sri Lanka), Ajit Agarkar (India) and Matthew Hoggard (England).

– Australian captain Michael Clarke, as he had done in 2012 too, finished as the year’s highest run-getter with 1095 runs in 13 Tests. The only other batsman with more than 1000 runs was Ian Bell of England (1005 in 14 Tests). The leading wicket-taker was Stuart Broad of England with 62 in 14 Tests, followed by his countryman James Anderson (52 in 14). However the best bowler on display was South Africa’s Dale Steyn, who picked up 51 wickets in just 9 Tests to finish third.

– New Zealand’s total of 45 against South Africa at Cape Town in January was the lowest Test total in nearly 39 years since India were dismissed for 42 against England in 1974. New Zealand lasted just 19.2 overs, which is their shortest ever completed total.

– Pakistan recorded their lowest ever Test total when they were dismissed for 49 against South Africa at Johannesburg in February. Their earlier lowest was 53 scored against Australia at Sharjah in 2002-03.

– India managed a whitewash series win against Australia for the first time, when they won 4-0 at home in March. This series loss for Australia meant that they have now gone 11 Tests in India without a win stretching back to 2004-05, losing 9 of them.

Sohag-Gazi_2700888b  Sohag Gazi of Bangladesh became the first man to score a century and take a hat-trick in the same Test, against New Zealand at Chittagong (source – telegraph.co.uk)

– Sohag Gazi of Bangladesh became the first man in Test history to score a hundred and take a hat-trick in the same Test. Gazi achieved the feat by first scoring 101* and then taking the hat-trick en-route to 6/77 against New Zealand at Chittagong in October.

– Zimbabwe secured their first win against a higher-ranked team since 2001 when they beat Pakistan by 24 runs at Harare in September. This was their 11th Test win in 93 matches and the 5th against a higher-ranked nation. In April, Zimbabwe recorded their biggest ever win by runs when they beat Bangladesh by 335 runs at Harare.

– Bangladesh achieved their highest Test total when they racked up 638 against Sri Lanka at Galle in March, obliterating the 556 they made against the West Indies last year. During this feat, Mushfiqur Rahim recorded the highest Test score by a Bangladeshi (200), breaking Mohammed Ashraful’s knock of 190 in the same innings. Ashraful in turn broke his own record of 158* made against India in 2004-05.

– Australia’s Ashton Agar scored a sensational 98 on his Test debut while batting at No.11 against England at Nottingham in July. Agar’s score became the highest by a No.11 in Tests, ahead of West Indian Tino Best’s 95 made last year against England. In the same innings, Agar put on 163 with Phil Hughes for the tenth wicket, which is now the highest last-wicket stand in Test history. The previous record was 151, achieved twice.

– MS Dhoni broke Sourav Ganguly’s record of 49 Tests as Indian captain when he captained for the 50th time against South Africa at Johannesburg in December. Dhoni also broke Ganguly’s record of 21 wins as Indian captain when he won for a 22nd time against Australia at Hyderabad in March.

– Shikhar Dhawan’s 187 against Australia at Mohali in March became the highest score on debut by an Indian batsman and the sixth-highest overall. He broke the Indian record of Gundappa Viswanath, who made 137 against Australia in 1969-70. During the same innings, Dhawan scored the fastest hundred on debut (85 balls), moving ahead of Dwayne Smith of West Indies, who took 93 balls against South Africa in 2003-04.

– India’s Sachin Tendulkar became the first man to play 200 Tests, achieving the feat when he played his last Test against the West Indies at Mumbai in November. In the same match, West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul became only the seventh man to feature in at least 150 Tests.

dalesteyn-375225   The fiery Dale Steyn may have finished as the third highest wicket-taker of the year, but he was certainly the best bowler, taking 51 wickets in 9 Tests (source – express.co.uk)

– South Africa’s Dale Steyn became the joint-second fastest bowler to reach 350 wickets, taking 69 Tests. Meanwhile, India’s Ravichandran Ashwin became the fastest bowler in 86 years and the 5th-fastest overall to reach 100 wickets, achieving the feat in 18 Tests.

My Top Three..

Tests of the year – 1) South Africa v India, Johannesburg (drawn); 2) Zimbabwe v Pakistan, Harare (Zimbabwe by 24 runs); 3) New Zealand v England, Auckland (drawn)

Innings of the year – 1) Faf du Plessis 134 v India, Johannesburg; 2) 218 – Darren Bravo v New Zealand, Dunedin; 3) 153 – Cheteshwar Pujara v South Africa, Johannesburg

Spells of the year – 1) Mitchell Johnson 7/40 v England, Adelaide; 2) Dale Steyn 6/100 v India, Durban; 3) Dale Steyn 6/8 v Pakistan, Johannesburg

My Test Team of 2013

Greame Smith (captain, South Africa), Cheteshwar Pujara (India), Ross Taylor (New Zealand), Michael Clarke (Australia),  Ian Bell (England), AB de Villiers (wicketkeeper,South Africa), Vernon Philander (South Africa), Stuart Broad (England), Dale Steyn (South Africa), Saeed Ajmal (Pakistan), Trent Boult (New Zealand)

  Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous new year.

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REVIEW – 2013 year-end recap (A colossus named Sachin Tendulkar)

  The year 2013 has seen quite a few high-profile retirements from Test cricket, but none was as celebrated as Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell. The master batsman, regarded by many as the greatest of all, called time on a glorious 24-year career during which he represented India in a record 200 Test matches, breaking most of the major batting records on the way, including those of most runs and most centuries.

  There have been better batsmen and better cricketers than Tendulkar, but no one else in the history of Test cricket has come close to the diminutive Mumbaikar as far is reverence is concerned. Tendulkar was not just loved and admired, he was worshipped and glorified to such an extent that sometimes it made rational people wonder whether cricket is a team game after all. Such was the genuine affection that a vast legion of fans (not to mention many more ‘worshippers’) across India showered on him throughout his career, and it showed in the emotional swansong that India’s most famous sportsperson received in his last two Test matches.

  Tendulkar had later revealed that the reason he wanted to play his last match at home was that his mother had never seen him play live, and that she would be able to watch his son at least once if Mumbai were to host his 200th Test. The BCCI could not refuse such a request, and allotted the two Tests against the West Indies to Kolkata and Mumbai, two of the most cricket-mad centres in the country. The series itself was arranged out of the blue in September and the reason cited for its sudden addition was that India needed to have some Test cricket at home in the season.

image_20121107085208   The making of a legend – 16 year-old Tendulkar announces himself during his first series, against Pakistan in 1989-90 (source – cricketcountry.com)

  As it transpired, the two Tests put together barely lasted the duration of one as the disinterested and below-par West Indians got beaten by an innings under three days on both occasion. But that scarcely mattered during that fortnight or so between November 6-16, because all eyes were on one and only one person alone.

  It did not come as much of a surprise when Tendulkar made public his decision to quit. Having retired from one-day cricket last year, he was seldom in good form for a good part of the last three years. Seemingly he aimed for one last record, i.e playing 200 Tests, before walking into the sunset. He had last scored a Test century in January 2011, and many followers of the game rightly began to believe that his reputation was coming in the way of a deserving young batsman, and that his retirement should have come quite some time back.

  I personally feel the right time for him to quit was, at the most, after the 2012-13 home defeat to England. But then who are we to decide that! On current form, Tendulkar would have failed to score big in his final two outings; yet everyone prayed for a century at the Wankhede. He almost granted their wish – scoring a free-flowing 74 before being caught in the slips, silencing the crowd for one last time.

  For two-and-a-half decades, Tendulkar was expected to score runs every time he strode out to the wicket. But people used to forget that like everyone else, he was always a mere mortal. Calling him God, fasting for him, putting him way above the game were some of the ways in which people used to show their affection. However ridiculous it seemed, such was the stature in which Tendulkar was held throughout his career. It was the Indian masses’ way of admiring a once-in-a-generation talent, who has left the cricket world awestruck ever since he debuted at the tender age of 16 against Pakistan in 1989-90. And the amazing thing is that Tendulkar himself scarcely showed that he was affected by the undue pressure and the exaggerated hysteria. Instead, he just kept on collecting runs like a run-machine, punishing great bowlers and mere trundlers alike.

07_Sachin-Tendulkar-Wankhede-Stadium  One last time – Tendulkar walks out to massive reception for his last innings at the Wankhede last month. He scored 74, delighting his home crowd (source – firstpost.com)

  The advent of Tendulkar in the Indian team came at a time when India were considered as worthy Test opposition only in home conditions. He was the first of a golden Indian batting line-up which would serve India with great distinction in overseas encounters in the 2000’s. As a 17 year-old, he scored a match-saving 119* at Edgbaston in 1990 – his first of a record 51 Test hundreds – and an 18 year-old made memorable centuries at Sydney and Perth in the 1991-92 series, which India lost 4-0. He had made the world notice of his abilities almost immediately, and everyone knew that someone special would be entertaining them for the next two decades. Even Don Bradman, the greatest batsman ever, saw himself in the way Tendulkar batted.

  It is extremely difficult to pick a single memory of Tendulkar – there were countless of them, and he left an impression with his stirring farewell speech as well!. Notable innings that stand out include the masterly 136 which ended in painful defeat against Pakistan at Chennai in 1998-99, the monumental 241 at Sydney in 2003-04, the above-mentioned 119* at Old Trafford, the ‘gave- Shane Warne-the-nightmares’ 155 at Chennai in 1997-98 and the classy 146 that he scored off a rampaging Dale Steyn at Cape Town in 2010-11, when he was three months short of turning 38.

  Statistically, Tendulkar’s records (mentioned below) are many a notch above the rest. But then he has played for nearly a quarter century, so he was bound to accumulate such numbers. However, to counter that, one can say that from right the 16 year-old schoolboy to 40 year-old senior statesman, he has kept himself amazingly fit and the factors that have made him a phenomenon are not just his statistics, but also the way he achieved them. His longevity and attachment to the game were second to none. 

zsachin_tendulkar-420x0 (1)   The great Tendulkar’s last Test century was also one of his best – a classy 146 against South Africa in Cape Town in 2010-11 (source – smh.com.au)

  The man was all humility, grace and dignity on the field – which has become a rare thing in the current scenario. He just loved to bat on and on, as the stories from his childhood testify. He may not have been India’s best bet in a do-or-die situation, but the fact remains that he was the batsman who was the most pleasing to watch when at his best – the packed crowds whenever he batted and the lack thereof when he got out is enough evidence.

  Among modern-day batsmen, no one could have played the straight drive or the upper-cut better than Tendulkar. These two strokes are probably the ones which define him the most. There have been equally effective batsmen who have been Tendulkar’s contemporaries, but he was the one for whom people paid to watch for sheer artistic pleasure and satisfaction. He was so dear to the average citizen, that the mood of the nation often depended upon how many runs Tendulkar scored, especially in the 1990’s. Moreover, he has become a role model for thousands of people across India and beyond.

  Tendulkar is a living example of an immensely talented person making it big through sheer hard work and determination. Whenever he was deemed to have been out of form, he bounced back with renewed vigour, underlining his insatiable hunger for playing for the country. It was understandable when he shed tears like a child before acknowledging the emotional crowd that had gathered at the Wankhede to watch him in whites for one last time. It was one of the most poignant sporting farewells ever seen.

Tendulkar in numbers:-

Tests (1989-2013) – 200 matches (world record), 329 innings, 15921 runs (world record) @ 53.78, 51 hundreds (world record), 68 fifties (world record), best of 248*, 115 catches, 46 wickets

All First-class (1988-2013) – 310 matches, 490 innings, 25396 runs @ 57.84, 81 hundreds, 116 fifties, best of 248*, 186 catches, 71 wickets

Thanks for the memories, Sachin Tendulkar.

IN FOCUS – Pakistan v Sri Lanka (in UAE) Test series 2013-14 : Preview

  Pakistan and Sri Lanka have more often than not produced some hard-fought cricket in contests against each other in recent times. The upcoming series will be the third instance in three years of the two Asian teams taking on each other in a three-Test series. Sri Lanka are finally playing Test cricket after a long period which consisted of an overdose of forgettable limited-overs games.

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The Matches and the Grounds

  The series will consist of three back-to-back Tests at three different venues in the UAE, which has been Pakistan’s home ground for the last five years. The first Test will be played from New Year’s Eve, i.e December 31 to January 4 at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Dubai’s International Cricket Stadium will host the second Test from January 8-12. The concluding Test will be played from January 16-20 at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

  Pakistan have yet to be defeated in four Tests at Abu Dhabi where they have won twice and drawn twice, the latest instance being their win over South Africa two months ago. At Dubai, Pakistan have three wins and one loss from five Tests, their only defeat coming against South Africa last month. Their record at Sharjah is mixed with two wins and defeats each from five games. Sri Lanka have played once at each of the venues, all in the 2011-12 series against Pakistan. They had lost at Dubai and drawn at the other two venues.

The Teams and the Captains

  Pakistan – Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Khurram Manzoor, Shan Masood, Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Younis Khan, Adnan Akmal, Junaid Khan, Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Rahat Ali, Mohammad Talha.

  Pakistan’s main strength in the Gulf conditions will of course be their spin duo of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. A notable omission from the squad is the left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar, who was quite impressive against South Africa in October. Mohammed Hafeez returns to the side riding on his rich vein of form in the just-concluded ODI series over Sri Lanka. Another key comeback man is fast bowler Umar Gul  who last played a Test in February. Mohammed Talha, a fast bowler, has earned a call-up more than four years after playing his only Test. Hafeez’s return will mean that competition for the opening slot will tighten, what with the assured new pair of Shan Masood and Khurram Manzoor at the top. The first-choice pacers are expected to be Junaid Khan and Gul.

  Captain Misbah ul-Haq, aged 39, has been a tireless performer for his country in all the formats over the last year or so. With the Pakistan top order often prone to catastrophic collapses, his own form as well as that of his fellow senior Younis Khan’s will be vital to his team’s fortunes. His hunger for runs has not diminished – rather it has been the opposite – as an average of 72.5 in his last four Tests suggests. Misbah is yet to lose a Test to Sri Lanka as captain.

Misbah-ul Haq  Pakistan captain Misbah ul-Haq will be looking to secure a first series win in two years for his side when they lock horns with Sri Lanka (source – khelnama.com)

  Sri Lanka –  Angelo Mathews (captain), Dinesh Chandimal, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Kaushal Silva, Dimuth Karunaratne, Lahiru Thirimanne, Prasanna Jayawardene, Nuwan Kulasekara, Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga, Nuwan Pradeep, Sachithra Senanayake, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Vishwa Fernando.

  The Sri Lankans have named three uncapped players in their 16-man squad – left-arm seamer Vishwa Fernando and off-spinners Sachitra Senanayake and Dilruwan Perera. Tillekaratne Dilshan’s retirement has paved the way for Kaushal Silva to prove himself in Test cricket – he is expected to open with Dimuth Karunaratne. The seasoned campaigners include Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Prasanna Jayawardene, who returns as wicket-keeper. Though left-arm spinner Rangana Herath is a top-class bowler, the pace bowling stocks appear to be thin, with Nuwan Kulasekara being the spearhead of an inexperienced attack.

  Sri Lanka are undergoing an inevitable transition phase, and the successors to Sangakkara and Jayawardene are tipped to be Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne. Skipper Angelo Matthews will have a huge challenge over the next few years as his team is likely to see many more changes. His own form with the bat has been patchy of late with a recurring failure to convert good starts. Sri Lanka’s poor overseas record coupled with their indifference towards Test cricket will make the job all the more tougher.

Head To Head and Recent Record

  In more than 30 years since playing each other for the first time, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have contested 43 Tests in all, with Pakistan winning 16, Sri Lanka winning 10 and 17 being drawn. Sri Lanka’s record against Pakistan away from home reads six wins and ten defeats in 25 Tests. In the UAE, the two teams have played thrice – all coming in the 2011-12 series, which was won 1-0 by Pakistan. The latest series was played in 2012 in Sri Lanka, where the hosts won a three-Test series 1-0. The last time Sri Lanka won an away Test over Pakistan was in 2004-05. The last time Sri Lanka won an away series against Pakistan was in 1999-00 (winning a three-Test series 2-1), which also happens to be their last away series win against a ‘top eight’ nation.

Form Book and Ranking

  Pakistan are currently ranked 4th in the Test rankings, a good 14 points behind 3rd-placed England. They last played against South Africa in the UAE in October, where they performed commendably to hold the world champions to a 1-1 draw in the two-Test series. Prior to that however, they had an ordinary two-Test series in Zimbabwe which also ended in a 1-1 draw, which in turn came after a 3-0 whitewash defeat in South Africa in February. Their last series win came in 2011-12 when they blanked England 3-0. Pakistan have yet to lose a series in the UAE after it became their new home ground, where they enjoy a record of two series wins and two draws since 2010-11.

  Sri Lanka have themselves to blame for the lack of Test fixtures of late. They cancelled series in the West Indies and at home against South Africa at the start of the season for the sake of one-day cricket. Their latest Test assignment was at home against Bangladesh in March, a two-Test series which they won 1-0. Their last series against a higher-ranked team was a year ago in Australia, where they were blanked 3-0. Indeed, their overseas record has been extremely worrisome for a long time – they have failed to win an away series against a ‘top eight’ nation since 1999-00. Also, they have managed to win only one of their last four home series against top opposition. They are currently ranked 6th in the Test rankings.

Players To Watch Out For

  Azhar Ali is no doubt one of the better batsmen to have played for Pakistan in the last few years, and he has shown that he has the required temperament to handle difficult situations. However in his last six innings, he has averaged only 9.83 and there could be no better opponent than Sri Lanka for him to come back into form. Ali averaged 65.75 in the 2011-12 home series against Sri Lanka and then 60.00 in the 2012 series in Sri Lanka, and has scored three of his four Test hundreds against them. The 28 year-old right hander looks to have a long career with Pakistan and should be persisted with in spite of the past few poor performances.

Rangana-Herath-007   Sri Lanka’s ace bowler Rangana Herath will don the whites after nine months and will relish the opportunity of bowling on the slow UAE tracks (source – theguardian.com)

  Ever since the great Muttiah Muralitharan retired in 2010, the burden of heading Sri Lanka’s bowling has fallen on the under-rated Rangana Herath. And the 35 year-old left-arm spinner has fully lived up to expectations, both at home and away. Being a Test specialist, he will certainly relish the opportunity to bowl on the slow tracks expected to be rolled out. He had topped the wicket-taking charts in 2012 with 60 scalps, and would have been near the top in 2013 as well had it not been for Sri Lanka’s Test-culling. He took 12 wickets in his most recent Test, against Bangladesh.

Prediction

  Pakistan have always been a tough nut to crack in the UAE, and Sri Lanka will have their task cut out after a long lay-off from Test cricket. Moreover, Pakistan’s relative all-round strength gives them a definite edge. I expect the hosts to win by a margin of either 2-0 or 1-0.

REVIEW – 2013 year-end recap (Women’s cricket)

  The year 2013 saw 56 one-day internationals – thanks to the tenth Women’s World Cup – and also 37 Twenty20 internationals, a format which is becoming a staple of the women’s game. Only one Women’s Test was played. Let us look at the highlights and moments of women’s cricket in 2013:-

– The tenth ICC Women’s World Cup took place in India at five venues across Mumbai and Cuttack from January 31 to February 17. Australia won its sixth title, defeating the West Indies by 114 runs in the final. Batting first, Australia were helped to 259/5 by Jess Cameron (75) before Ellyse Perry took 3/19 to condemn West Indies to 145 all out. The rest of the positions (3rd to 8th) were England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, South Africa, India and Pakistan in that order. New Zealand’s Suzie Bates was the top run-scorer with 407, while Australia’s Megan Schutt took 15 wickets to finish as the highest wicket-taker.The West Indies made it to their maiden final.

art-cricket-201-620x349    Australia won their 6th World Cup title, defeating West Indies by 114 runs in the final played at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai (source – smh.com.au)

The leading run-scorer of the year in both Women’s ODI’s and T20I’s was Stefanie Taylor of the West Indies (707 in 21 matches and 313 in 9 matches respectively). Taylor was also the leading ODI wicket-taker (32 in 21 matches) while the leading T20I wicket-taker was her countrywoman Shanel Daley (18 in 11 matches).

– A unique concept to decide the winners of the ‘Women’s Ashes’ was introduced, with the first such series being played in England in August. The Ashes consisted of a single Test, three ODI’s and three T20I’s. The winner of the Test got 6 points while the winners of each of the limited-overs games got 2 points each. As it happened, the only Test was drawn. England then went on to win the ODI’s 2-1 and the T20I’s 3-0 to claim the Ashes by 12 points to 4.

– The only Test played at Wormsley between England and Australia was only the 134th Women’s Test of all time and the first since 2010-11, when the same two teams had played a one-off Test at Sydney.

zxy_69579322_women_celeb_pa (1)  England won the 2013 Women’s Ashes by 12 points to 4. It was the first time that the Ashes were played across all three formats (source – bbc.co.uk)

– West Indies achieved their highest ever ODI total when they made 368/8 against Sri Lanka in Mumbai. Their victory margin of 209 in that match is also their highest.

– Sri Lanka had a memorable World Cup – they beat both England and India for the first time in ODI’s. They beat England by 1 wicket and India by 138 runs in Mumbai.

– The West Indies won their first bilateral series over New Zealand in October, winning the three-match series 2-1 in the Caribbean.

– Bangladesh played bilateral series in South Africa and India for the first time, playing a three-match ODI series and T20I series against each. Bangladesh lost all four series 3-0.

– Stefanie Taylor’s 171 for West Indies against Sri Lanka in Mumbai became the third highest individual score in Women’s ODI’s and also the highest by a West Indian.

– Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Ireland were the three teams who qualified for the 2014 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, after finishing in the top three in the eight-team qualifying tournament held in Ireland in July and August. The final between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was shared, while Ireland clinched third place by pipping the Netherlands by 2 runs.

– Pakistan claimed their first ever victory over England in any form of the game when they won by 1 run in the second T20 international at Loughborough in July.

– Lydia Greenway’s unbeaten 80 against Australia at Southampton in August became the highest individual score by an Englishwoman in T20I’s. Incidentally, she broke the record of Sarah Taylor, who made 77 against the same opponents at Chelmsford just two days before.

– The fourth instance of a tied Women’s T20I match was recorded at Bridgetown in October, when the West Indies and England both ended on 118/7. The West Indies won the super-over.

6297240   Australian all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar called it a day after a successful 12-year international career (source – stuff.co.nz)

– Australia’s 34 year-old all-rounder Lisa Sthalekar retired from international cricket following the World Cup in February. She played in 8 Tests (416 runs, 23 wickets), 125 ODI’s (2728 runs, 146 wickets) and 54 T20I’s (769 runs, 60 wickets) since making her debut in 2001. She is the third-highest Women’s ODI wicket-taker and the fourth-highest Women’s T20I wicket-taker of all time.

REVIEW – A recap of a memorable year for Ireland

  Whenever Ireland begin to play Test cricket, and that day should not be far, they will look back at 2013 as a watershed year in their cricket history. Ireland, under the able leadership of William Porterfield and coach Phil Simmons, proved enough throughout the year as to why they should be given Test status before it is too late. Here is a look at the highlights and moments of a memorable year:-

Ireland-Cricket-Treble  The Ireland team proudly pose with the three ICC trophies they clinched in the year 2013 upon arrival from the UAE (source – sportforbusiness.com)

Qualifying for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup and winning the ICC World Cricket League

  The World Cups of 2007 and 2011 were the tournaments which provided some outstanding Irish performances, and one can safely say that they will do even better come the 2015 edition in the Antipodes. Ireland became the first Associate to qualify for the World Cup when they tied an ODI with the Netherlands in July. Not surprisingly, they went on to win the ICC World Cricket League 2011-13 with a tally of 24 points and a 11-1 win/loss record.

  Ireland have been placed in Group B for the 2015 World Cup, along with India, Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies, Zimbabwe and an undecided Associate. On current form, dreams of clinching a quarterfinal berth do not seem too far-fetched. I expect them to beat at least one of the four powerhouses in their group. 

Regaining the ICC Intercontinental Cup

  After failing to reach the final of the 2009-10 ICC Intercontinental Cup, Ireland won their fourth title in style by defeating holders Afghanistan by 122 runs in the final of the 2011-13 edition played in Dubai in December. After ending the league phase as table-toppers with 116 points (5 wins and 2 draws from 7 matches), Ireland were given a tough time by the Afghans in the final of the premier Associate first-class competition. But the sheer spirit of the Irish won them crucial moments in the game. 

  The game was a true ‘test’ in everything but name. John Mooney, with a career-best ten wickets, was the star of the final, while Ed Joyce, Niall O’Brien, George Dockrell and John Anderson also played key parts. It was a fitting farewell for Trent Johnston, who played his last match for Ireland. With this, Ireland completed a historic treble of ICC titles in 2013, following their WCL and T20 Qualifiers wins.

Qualifying for the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 and winning the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers

  In November, courtesy some stellar big-hitting by Paul Stirling and Trent Johnston (in his last international game) Ireland thumped Afghanistan by 68 runs in the high-scoring final of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers at Abu Dhabi, thereby retaining the title they had won in 2012. Ireland managed to qualify for the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh much before the final, by virtue of topping their group. In the semi-finals, the boys in green brushed aside hosts UAE by 62 runs.

  Moreover, they were the only team out of sixteen who managed to stay unbeaten throughout the tournament, a rare feat in this fickle format. Unfortunately, in spite of this magnificent victory, Ireland do not yet qualify for the tournament ‘proper’. In order to do that, they first need to top a group consisting of Zimbabwe, UAE and the Netherlands besides themselves to win a berth alongside England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka. Typical ICC.

Initiation of the Inter-provincial Championships

192343 (1)    Leinster Lightning players during a three-day Inter-provincial fixture. The first season of the Inter-pros was a success (source – barrychambers/cricketeurope)

  Ireland took a big step in their quest of becoming a Test nation when in May, they introduced a three-team domestic tournament for all three formats (three-day, 50-overs and 20-overs). Leinster Lightning, Northern Knights and North West Warriors were the three teams in the fray. In all the three competitions, each team got to play four games – twice against each other – in a league phase to decide the winners. The star-studded Lightning were the most dominant in the three-day format and won it with ease, and also won the T20 format.

  However, their clean sweep was averted by the Knights, who won the 50-overs competition in a tense last round. In its first season, the Inter-pros threw up some serious talent, with the likes of Eddie Richardson, James Shannon and Stuart Thompson getting international call-ups as well. The three-day tournament should be able to achieve first-class status within a couple of years.

Ireland Women qualify for the World Twenty20

  Ireland Women underlined their progress by qualifying for the 2014 ICC Women’s World Twenty20 in Bangladesh. This will be their first appearance in the world event, and they have been placed in Group A along with defending champions Australia, heavyweights New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa. Needing to be in the top three in the eight-team qualifying tournament held in Ireland in July (Pakistan and Sri Lanka being the top two teams), the women managed to qualify by the skin of their teeth after edging out the Netherlands by just 2 runs in a nerve-wracking third-place playoff at Dublin. The notable performers were opener Clare Shillington, right-arm bowler Kim Garth and skipper Isobel Joyce.

Golden opportunity missed against Pakistan

  Ireland came agonisingly close to winning their first ever ODI series win over a Test nation before eventually losing a closely-fought two-match series 1-0 to Pakistan in May. Both the games were played at Clontarf in Dublin. In the first game, Ireland were set a challenging revised target of 276 in 47 overs after Pakistan posted 266/5 in 47 overs. Paul Stirling made an excellent 103 – his second successive ODI ton against Pakistan – while Kevin O’Brien unleashed an array of fours and sixes in his 47-ball unbeaten 84 as Ireland tied the contest off the last ball. Needing 5 off the final ball, O’Brien clouted the wily Saeed Ajmal for four to bring up the tie.

  In the second game, Ireland had themselves to blame to squander a winning position. After Ed Joyce’s 116 had guided the hosts to 229/9, the Irish pacemen reduced Pakistan to 17/4, which then became 133/7. The inexperience of Ireland however allowed Kamran Akmal and Wahab Riaz to add 93 for the 8th wicket, culminating in a heart-breaking 2-wicket defeat with 8 balls left.

Fortress Malahide makes its debut

  On 3rd September, the match touted be the ‘biggest game of cricket on Irish soil’ took place. Ireland’s amazing progress in the game was highlighted by the presence of 10,000 supporters who thronged the new ‘The Village’ ground at Malahide in Dublin to witness England take on the hosts in their biennial RSA Challenge fixture. Fortunately, the day was blessed by sunshine and a full game was possible. Unfortunately, Ireland were denied a memorable victory because of the performances of two of their own countrymen, which seemed so wrong and unfair.

zx_69628905_malahide  A record crowd of 10,000 turned up at Malahide to watch Ireland take on England. Ireland impressed a global audience of what it is capable of (source – bbc.co.uk)

  Irish captain William Porterfield first struck a masterly 112 to help his team to 269/7 after being put in by England’s Irishman captain Eoin Morgan. Boyd Rankin, another Irishman, took 4/46. In reply, Tim Murtagh and Trent Johnston rattled the English top-order to have them reeling at 48/4, but Morgan and Ravi Bopara struck unbeaten hundreds in a galloping stand of 226* to help England win by 6 wickets. Ireland’s fans had reason to feel proud, but also to feel betrayed.

So long, Trent Johnston

  2013 saw the retirement of Ireland’s evergreen legend Trent Johnston, who announced in July that he would quit the game in December. The 39 year-old former Irish captain’s last international match was the World T20 Qualifiers final and he made it memorable by first making 62 off 32 balls and then taking 3/34 to guide his side to an easy win and also earn himself the Man of the Match award. His last overall game wearing the Shamrock was the Intercontinental Cup final, and his team gave him an apt swansong by lifting the trophy and securing the coveted treble of ICC trophies.

  Since 2004, the all-rounder played 198 times in all cricket for Ireland. In 67 ODI’s, he scored 743 runs and took 66 wickets. In 30 T20I’s, he scored 249 runs and took 32 wickets. In 33 first-class matches, he scored 703 runs and took 103 wickets. He was the captain during Ireland’s 2007 world Cup campaign, which paved the way for future successes for the team. A true team man till the very end, Johnston’s commitment and dedication can be a lesson to all aspiring Irish cricketers.

What 2014 has in store

  Ireland will return to Sabina Park in Kingston – the place of their famous win over Pakistan in 2007 –  in February to face the West Indies in a one-off ODI and two T20 internationals. The team will also play in the regional 50-overs competition in the Caribbean.The Ireland ‘A’ side will tour Sri Lanka in January to play with local sides. March will see the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh, and Ireland’s do-or-die game against Zimbabwe in order to get into the second round is fittingly on St. Patrick’s Day, i.e 17th March. Ireland Women will be playing their first World T20 at around the same time.

  It is high time Ireland get to play more fixtures in the ODI format against top teams. With the 2015 World Cup getting closer, experience and exposure is the need of the hour. Hopefully, Ireland will host a few full-members in the coming home season. No longer can the team survive on playing only Associates and a few sporadic fixtures here and there against full members.  Sometimes it seems as if the ‘established’ nations are apprehensive of losing to Ireland, and thereby avoid playing them. It is time to seriously include Ireland into the international calendar.

  Three cheers to Ireland for completing a fantastic year!

VIEWPOINT – An Ashes turnaround like no other

  Not even the staunchest supporters of the Baggy Greens would have imagined that the 2013-14 Ashes would be decided in favour of their team in the first three Tests itself. It has all happened so suddenly – England, who came Down Under on the back of three successive Ashes triumphs, were made to eat humble pie in a defeat reminiscent of their 1990’s travails.

  It is difficult to pinpoint what went so wrong with the Englishmen. Rather, it has been the Australians who have devoured their rivals with a renewed hunger seen after a long time. England’s weaknesses notwithstanding, Michael Clarke’s men have to be given full credit for scripting probably the most amazing turnaround in Ashes history. The painful memories of the 2010-11 defeat – when they lost a home Ashes for the first time in 24 years – have been well and truly consigned to the dustbin of history.

Australia-Ashes-Win-Celebration-628       The smiles are back, the beer is flowing again. The Australians rejoice their regaining of the Ashes after 7 years (source – triplem.com.au)

  At the start of the first leg of an unusual back-to-back Ashes season in England back in July, Australia were in doldrums. They could not have expected a worse build-up to the series – their coach Mickey Arthur was sacked before the first ball was bowled, they had just come off a humiliating 4-0 whitewash defeat in India, there were reports of in-fighting within the team and the many soothsayers had already given their points of view. The legendary Ian Botham loudly proclaimed that he was confident of a 10-0 victory for England over both the series. Australian experts themselves showed scarce belief in their own team, with most of them writing them off much in advance. But then, Australia finally looked like doing something sensible when they appointed Darren Lehmann, a man who totally understood the Australian cricket culture, as their new coach.

  A controversial Test at Trent Bridge ended in a 14-run win for the hosts, but Australia had showed they were no pushovers. As the series progressed, England were found wanting on quite a few fronts, and were generally bailed out by the heroics of Ian Bell (hundreds in all three wins) or Stuart Broad (who took 6/50 in the fourth Test to seal the Ashes). England won 3-0, but the story could well have been different. Except for the 347-run thrashing at Lord’s, every other game had a possibility of an Australian win at some point.

  Yet, to many, England came to Australia in early November as firm favourites to clinch a fourth Ashes series in a row. The selection was criticised a bit – Nick Compton was ignored again, Graham Onions overlooked in spite of being in top form for Durham, Steve Finn was retained and Boyd Rankin too got a place in the 17-man squad. Nevertheless, the seasoned campaigners had every reason to believe that they could vanquish the Aussies again – Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Greame Swann, Stuart Broad and James Anderson seemed like enough ammunition. Surely, all of these could not fail collectively at the same time?

mitch_2763083b    The menacing bowling of the resurgent Mitchell Johnson has been the single biggest factor in England’s sudden capitulation (source – telegraph.co.uk)

  As the opening day at the Gabba arrived, Australia’s top-order came a cropper again, with Stuart Broad – much-maligned for not walking at a crucial juncture in the Trent Bridge Test – reducing the hosts to 132/6. No one could have foreseen that this was going to be the only day (so far) in the series where England could have said to have an upper hand. From Day 2, it all began to go downhill. England’s batsmen ran into Mitchell Johnson. Yes, the same Johnson of ‘He bowls to the left, He bowls to the right, That Mitchell Johnson, His bowling is shite’ fame. Having been recalled to the Test team after a string of quality spells in the ODI’s in India, Johnson’s spell on the second day at the Gabba sowed the seeds of apprehension in the English batsmen’s minds.

  His 4/61 might not have looked sensational, but the way he bowled set the tone for what was to come. Set 561 to win, England folded for 179 with Johnson taking 5 more for 42. Ahead of the second Test, Trott headed back home due to stress issues, dealing a blow to the tourists’ already-low morale. The low point certainly came in the second Test at Adelaide, where Johnson embarrassed the Ashes holders with a ruthless display of fast bowling on a supposed belter. His 7/40 in the first innings was surely one of the best spells in recent times. Yet another big defeat, this time by 218 runs. It looked as if England had altogether given up on fighting back. Indeed, history too was against them, as no team had come back to win a 5-Test series after being two down since 1936-37.

   Australia arrived at the WACA smelling blood and another thrashing loomed large for England on what is known to be the world’s bounciest pitch. Though the pitch did not behave the way it was expected to, the pattern of play as it unfolded was almost the same. After squandering a chance to shut out Australia on the first day, when the hosts were 143/5, England gifted the game away on Days 2 and 3 – first with a below-par bowling performance which allowed Australia to reach 385 (Steven Smith getting a fine hundred), and then collapsing from 190/4 to 251 all out. David Warner and Shane Watson then further buried the beleaguered visitors, reeling off hundreds at breakneck speed, sharing 28 fours and 7 sixes between them. As if this was not enough, England’s pace spearhead Anderson was clobbered for a record-equalling 28 off an over by three-Test old George Bailey. The humiliation was complete. 

  England then stared at their third successive 500+ target, and the margin of defeat was reduced to 150 thanks only to young Ben Stokes who made England’s first century of the series. Johnson meanwhile swelled his series wicket tally to 23, with Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris supporting him greatly. England’s sorry surrender was perhaps best typified by the the look on captain Alastair Cook’s face when he was cleaned up by a beauty from Harris off the very first ball of the chase at Perth. Cook, who was in supreme form in the 2010-11 Ashes, has averaged just 25.66 in this series so far and has failed to lead his side by example. That is not to say that the others have stood up – England’s best run scorer thus far has been Ian Bell with 190 runs. Pietersen averages 27.5, Prior 17.83. It has been a collective catastrophe. 

Alastair Cook is bowled by Ryan Harris   The contrast in emotions says it all – a sullen Cook walks back after being castled by Harris off the first ball of the chase at Perth (source – theguardian.com)

  Contrast that with the Australian numbers in the three Tests – four of them have scored more than 200 runs, with Warner – much maligned in England for his off-field controversies – topping the charts with 457 at 91.40. Skipper Clarke and the ever-dependable wicketkeeper Brad Haddin have made 331 and 325 respectively. The difference in the teams’ bowling has been even starker – England’s two bowling aces Anderson and Swann have each picked just 7 wickets at averages of 58.42 and 80 respectively. The only saving grace has been Stuart Broad, who has taken 14 scalps at 25.21, and is at the moment second in the list behind the outstanding Johnson. Nathan Lyon has out-bowled Swann by a distance, and has done enough to be retained as Australia’s first-choice spinner in the future.

  As I write this, news of Greame Swann’s  immediate retirement – from all international and first-class cricket – has come in. The 34 year-old has called it a day citing his inability to bowl in the five-day game any longer. His final career statistics are 255 wickets at 29.96 in 60 Tests. The big dilemma for England will be to find a decent spinner to replace the void. Monty Panesar has been unimpressive of late, and so has been Simon Kerrigan. With Trott too unlikely to return, England have lost two of their most consistent performers of the last five years on this doomed tour.

  On the other hand, besides their excellent bowling feats, Australia have found batting saviours at vital points in all three Tests. At Brisbane, Haddin and Johnson steered the team to safety after the opening day collapse before the Aussie bowlers ran riot. At Adelaide, Clarke and Haddin put on 200 for the 5th wicket to put the first-innings total beyond England’s reach. At Perth, it was Smith and again, Haddin, who made England pay for a poor fielding performance on the first day. As it seems to me, Australia’s worst is clearly behind them and their three-Test tour to South Africa in March will be a great battle to watch.

  The Ashes might be sealed, but the traditional Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests are still to be played. The last time Australia held the urn was in 2006-07, when they won 5-0 and when they were world-beaters. A similarly comprehensive series victory cannot be ruled out if the first three Tests are any evidence. It is up to England whether they wish to show any vestige of a fight and salvage some pride. 

  Meanwhile, a certain Glenn McGrath has (again) predicted the final scoreline. No prizes for guessing what it is. 

IN FOCUS – India in South Africa Test series 2013-14 : Preview

  We might never know the exact reason for the severe shortening of this series – but what we do know is that scheduling just two Tests between the top two nations (as per the rankings) is akin to disrespecting Test cricket and its loyalists. On the brighter side, at least one can look forward to something, since the tour came close to be called off altogether.

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The Matches and the Grounds

  The series will consist of two back-to-back Test matches at two of the traditional venues in the country (Newlands in Cape Town had to miss out on its New Year Test unfortunately). The first Test will be played at the Wanderers in Johannesburg from December 18-22, while Kingsmead in Durban will play host to the Boxing Day Test from December 26-30. The Boxing Day Test thankfully returns to Kingsmead, after it was scrapped in favour of a T20 match last season.

  Interestingly, South Africa have yet to win a Test against India at Johannesburg, having drawn the Tests in 1992-93 and 1996-97, and suffering a surprise defeat in 2006-07, which was India’s first win on South African soil. At Durban, South Africa have three wins and one defeat from five Tests against India, the latest instance being the defeat in 2010-11. However, South Africa’s recent results at Durban have been poor – they have lost each of their last four Tests there, with their last victory coming in 2007-08. At Johannesburg, the hosts have won thrice and lost twice in their last five Tests.

The Teams and the Captains

  South Africa – Graeme Smith (captain), Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Dean Elgar, Imran Tahir, Jacques Kallis, Rory Kleinveldt, Morne Morkel, Alviro Petersen, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Thami Tsolekile.

  The Proteas have named an unchanged squad from their last Test assignment, which was the 1-1 draw against Pakistan in the UAE. However, the presence of two spinners in the team is quite unwanted, especially since the hosts are expected to unleash their world-class pace trio of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel on the Indian batsmen, who have already been given a taste of what will be in store during their meek surrender in the three-match ODI series. Having said that, Imran Tahir does tend to add variety to the attack.

  The batting line-up is equally star-studded, with as many as four world-class batsmen – skipper Greame Smith, Hashim Amla (the best batsman in the world at the moment in my opinion), Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers – among the top seven. Record-breaking captain Smith will be looking to prove a point through his solid batting after being dropped from the ODI side.

647001-dale-steyn  The fiery Dale Steyn has challenged the Indian batsmen, but the big problem for them is that he likes to back up his talk with some scintillating pace bowling (source – news.com.au)

  India – MS Dhoni (captain), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ambati Rayudu, Wriddhiman Saha, Ishant Sharma, Pragyan Ojha

  There are as many as 17 members in the Indian squad, who will be desperate to reverse a woeful recent overseas record, although it is easier said than done. The inclusion of experienced left-arm pace bowler Zaheer Khan is interesting, given that he was removed from the BCCI contracts list last month. His battle against his ‘bunny’ Smith (who has been dismissed six times in Tests by him) is likely to be one of the few balanced sub-plots in a series where the dice is heavily loaded in favour of the home side. Among the batsmen, I expect Pujara to be among the runs. 

  The BCCI has failed to learn from its past mistakes as far as scheduling overseas is concerned, and this time even the sole two-day warm-up match has been washed out. Thus, the Indians will, not for the first time, go into an away Test rubber without really adjusting to the conditions, let alone having match practice. After having ruled at home, India’s crop of batsmen are set to face their fiercest test yet, and the bowlers will also need to step up after a poor ODI series. In the first Test, captain Dhoni will become the first Indian and the 14th overall to captain in 50 Tests, but even he knows that only when his team start winning overseas will he be known as an effective leader.

Head To Head and Recent Record

  India played South Africa for the first time in 1992-93, when the latter were re-admitted to the international fold. Since then, the two teams have palyed each other 27 times, with the record being 12 South African wins, 7 Indian wins and 8 draws. In matches in South Africa, the hosts have won 7, lost 2 and drawn 6 of the 15 Tests played. The most recent series between the two sides was in South Africa in 2010-11, when the well-fought three-Test series was drawn 1-1. The last time South Africa won a series against India was at home in 2006-07, when they won a three-Test series 2-1. India’s last series win against South Africa was in India in 2004-05, when they won a two-Test series 1-0. India have never won a Test series in South Africa. The last three series between the two nations have all ended in 1-1 draws (2007-08, 2009-10 and 2010-11).

Form Book and Ranking

  There is not the slightest of doubt that top-ranked South Africa is by far the best Test team in the world today. Their tally of 131 is a good 12 points more than second-placed India according to the ICC rankings. The Proteas have been unbeaten overseas since 2006 – an amazing record considering the increasing role that home advantage is playing in Test cricket. They have also not lost a series since 2008-09 – since then, their record reads seven wins and six draws in 13 rubbers. Their latest series was a two-Test affair against Pakistan in the UAE, which they drew 1-1 after losing the first Test. Prior to that, they blanked New Zealand 2-0 and Pakistan 3-0 at home last season. They have won each of their last six home Tests, while also managing to beat England and Australia away in 2012 and 2012-13 .

  Like South Africa, India too have won their last six home Tests, consisting of a 4-0 rout of Australia in March and a 2-0 win over a severely disinterested West Indies last month. However, unlike South Africa, the story is quite the opposite when it comes to away Tests. They have lost each of their last eight away matches (4-0 each in England and Australia in 2011 and 2011-12) and South Africa will be their first overseas assignment in two years. Prior to the home wins over Australia and the West Indies, India lost at home to England. It would be true to say that India’s second place in the rankings is mostly due to their home wins, for their last overseas Test win came at Kingston during the tour to the Caribbean in 2011 which was a good ten games back.

Players To Watch Out For

  Dale Steyn is no ordinary bowler. A record of 340 wickets in 67 Tests at an average of 22.65 and a strike rate of 41.40 is testimony to the fact that he is in a different league altogether. His record against India – 53 wickets in 10 Tests at 19.00 – coupled with the sheer inexperience of the visiting batsmen means that India might be in for trouble. Backed by the accurate Philander and the tall Morkel, expect Steyn to be at his fiery best, especially if his recent form in the ODI series is any indication. His ability to move the ball away from the right-handers at will, and that too at a serious speed – not to mention the swing and reverse-swing – will ensure that India’s next-generation batsmen will be constantly on their toes.

mohammed-shami-300-debut     Mohammed Shami seems to have great potential, and he will be hoping to make an impression on his first overseas tour (source – ndtv.com)

  India’s best possible answer to Steyn and Co. could well be someone who is just two Tests old. Though Zaheer Khan’s experience is a great asset, it will Mohammed Shami who will be the one to watch out for. Shami made short work of the touring West Indians in his debut series, but the South African tour is something entirely different. He gave glimpses of his ability during the forgettable ODI series, and there is no reason why he cannot replicate that in the longer version. Against a solid batting line-up, this is as tough a challenge a talented youngster like Shami could have asked for. If he gives his best, and if Zaheer too comes good, then the contest might be closer than what is expected.

Prediction

  In their last two tours of South Africa, India had bounced back from demoralising defeats (ODI sweep in 2006-07 and an innings loss in 2010-11) to conjure two memorable  Test wins in the rainbow nation. However, this time, there is a stark contrast in the batting experience compared to those two sides. Add to that BCCI’s inept scheduling and South Africa’s depth and prowess, and it is difficult to expect anything else but a 2-0 win for the hosts.