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New Zealand need a miracle to prevent one-sided Adelaide Test - Suneer Chowdhary Column
by Suneer Chowdhary
Nov 25, 2008
Even as Team India's endeavour to prove that the series win against Australia was no flash in the pan, and in turn England's ODI whitewash against South Africa was, Australia huffed and puffed to a first test win against their neighbours, New Zealand. Any other result could have been the start - or the continuing, if one takes into account the Border-Gavaskar fiasco - of a disaster for the champion team. In fact, at the end of the first day at Gabba, the Aussies did look a plane that had run into a storm and developed a snag at the same time.

That the Aussies won had in part to do with the return of form of Stuart Clark, and partially due to the virtually non-existent Kiwi batting line-up. With the pitch not the best one for batting, but full of action on all four days, the visitors struggled to come to grips with the swinging red cherry. Even when the wicket had eased out a little, the bounce proved to be New Zealand's nemesis-in-chief and they capitulated twice over to hand over the match to the hosts on a platter.

It was not as if the Kiwis did not have anything to rejoice about. Tim Southee impressed in the first essay, when the ball nipped around a bit, while Ian O'Brien got a couple in each of his attempts. However, when the assistance wasn't a lot more forthcoming and the pitch flattened out - in the second inning - they found the going difficult. That is the bane of most Kiwi swing bowlers of this day and age, as they are born and bred on grasslands of pitches where the ball keeps nipping around right through three or four days. Making an adjustment on those which do not offer too much help makes life doubly difficult for these bowlers, especially when most of them are greenhorns in international cricket, still learning the tricks of the trade.

Chris Martin's bowling average at home is a more-than-reasonable 29 runs per wicket, where as it escalates to around 35 at away venues. In fact the problem is not too dissimilar from that of the Indian spinners sometime back when they would find it impossible to run through the oppositions away.

With the second test match to be venued at the Adelaide, which is a rather flatter track than the one at Gabba, it would be expecting too much out of the Kiwi medium pacers to deliver the knock-out punch. One man's loss could very well be another one's gain, as, on a track like this, the spinning duo of Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel should come into the equation. Vettori would relish bowling here, especially after a track on which he barely had a say. But more importantly, John Bracewell, coaching for the one last time before Andy Moles takes over the team, shouldn't hesitate in bringing in Patel in place of one of the quickies.

What would concern the Kiwis would be their batting, which had twice struggled to come to grips with the conditions. Daniel Flynn hung around for longer than most of his other team-mates, but apart from him, Ross Taylor's second inning half century was the only bright light of visitors' stint with the willow. Bracewell may have backed his beleaguered batsmen, but the fact of the matter is that they had even struggled against a relatively docile bowling of Bangladesh in their last series there. Brendon McCullum has been battling a foot injury - and a lack of runs - but the Kiwis would so dearly want him to recapture his sizzling form again, as looks to be the only batsman who could take the attack to the Australians.

From the Aussie perspective, Mitchell Johnson has the ability to be both, the stock and the shock bowler. His relentless capability to bowl long spells with a Courtney Walsh like athleticism and to get bounce even on the most docile of tracks will augur well for him and the Aussie team. With Brett Lee's form the way it is, Johnson seems to be the only certainty in the bowling line-up. Lee continues to struggle, and in the recent past, if one does play out the first couple of overs from him, life as a batsman, is a much easier proposition.

Talking of uncertainties, Watson has been dropped and Jason Krejza been called in. In fact, with his inclusion, the Aussies would have changed their starting eleven for the - and unbelievably so - 11th successive test match! So, whether it is injuries, retirements, extra doses of the booze or plain lack of confidence on the pool of players, this would be an unprecedented record of sorts against a team that has prided itself on its consistency and self-belief. And with Andrew 'I-can-never-be-called-a-saint' Symonds been embroiled in another squabble of the drink-and-dive-into-trouble fame, the Kiwis would be buoyed a little. The tourists' joy would be bubbling over even further with Ponting's another skirmish with horrifying over-rates, knowing very well that if they could apply enough pressure on the Aussie captain in the face of another transgression, it could be advantage New Zealand.

For once, one can safely say that the Aussie batting performance was an aberration, simply because of the overhead conditions. So, while scores of 214 and 268 may not sound too humongous, they were par for the course on that pitch. The good news, of course, was the form of Simon Katich and Michael Clarke, both of whom battled hard in either innings to get their team out of trouble at crucial junctures. The one big worry though for the Aussie team would be the form of Matthew Hayden, which has not been up to the scratch ever since he made his comeback after missing out on the Caribbean tour. In fact, one of the only reasons that the Aussies would hope that his willow does as much talking as his mouth is because of the lack of suitable personnel to replace him. Yet, time may be running out for the burly Queenslander.

Or should I say, for both the Queenslanders?
 
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