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Clinical New Zealand Outplay No. 1 Test side

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New Zealand won the second test against India taking the series 2-0 and claiming valuable points in the World Test Championship. Their performance with the ball clearly outplaying the visiting side who showed a bit more fight in the second game. Though it was their batting which in torturous condition did not show enough application that led to their downslide.

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Being put into bat, India started aggressively with Shaw who seemed to be taking his usual positive approach with a bit more caution. Agarwal though could not contribute trapped to a fullish inswinger from Bolt. Pujara then played his usual self, holding one end up as he set up a 50 run stand with Shaw who departed soon after at 54. Jamison claiming his first victim with a stunning one handed catch at second slip by Tom Latham. Kohli’s horrid run continued who failed to read the inswinger by Southee and then also took away a review to a plumb LBW decision. Southee who was on point with a pure exhibition of swing bowling dismissed Rahane cheaply as well.

Vihari and Pujara put up a rescue act both scoring fifties. With Jadeja and Pant both in the side for the extra batting cushion, did not live up to their potential as Jamieson ran through the lower order and claimed his second five-for of the series. A brief partnership between Bumrah and Shami took India to an about par score of 242 in the 1st innings. Despite three batsman scoring fifties, India would be disappointed with the total as none went on the make it count for the team. Credit for which needs to be given to the Kiwi bowlers who were clinical yet again with the ball.

With an all pace attack they were well prepared for the conditions and got the Indian batsman doubting their technique. At no point did the Kiwi pack of pacers let their guard down. Jamieson showing his potential at test cricket and a bright prospect he can be for his side.

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In response, New Zealand started steadily on a tricky wicket. The openers fought out day 1 ending it wicketless with 63 on board. From this stage, Indian bowlers would need to deliver a miracle to get their team back in the contest. Umesh dismissed Blundell in just the 3rd over of day 2, giving India the much needed momentum. Bumrah, Shami and Jadeja all struck consistently not allowing the home side to string together a partnership.

Williamson made a judgment error in playing a widish delivery, knicking it to Pant off Bumrah. Taylor playing a high risk shot off Jadeja was out for an excellent catch by Umesh running back at point. Jadeja then produced a magical delivery to dismiss De Grandhomme, showing his class as a bowler at test level. With 8 down for 177, India were back in the contest and looking for a healthy lead.

But yet again the contribution from Jamieson and Wagner reduced the deficit with a 50 run partnership which ended with a stunning catch from Jadeja to a flat pull shot by Wagner. By then the lead for India was slim who eventually dismissed the Kiwis with a slim lead of 7 runs.

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Eyes were back on the Indian batters who showed improved signs in the first innings. But the New Zealand bowlers were not going to let things be easy. Bolt in his first over got Agarwal out yet again trapped at the crease with an inswinging ball. Pujara did hold one end up but wickets continued to fall at the other. The Indian captain too failed to contribute falling in a fashion identical to that of the first innings, the bowler this time around being De Grandhomme.

With short ball strategy of Wagner or a treturous wicket, Rahane in a very uncharacteristic innings dragged a short ball onto his stumps. With Umesh Yadav sent in as nightwatchman, both him and Pujara could do little to counter the swing of Bolt who was getting immense swing into the right handers added to his round the wicket angle. India were in all sorts of trouble ending a 16 wicket day with just 97 runs ahead.

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Heading into the third and what turned out to be the last day of the game, India would have liked to show some resilience against a New Zealand bowling attack that has been relentless throughout the series. Southee and Bolt were on the mark taking just an couple of overs to dismiss India’s overnight batsman in Vihari and Pant. Despite some fight from Jadeja, India managed only 124 runs in their second innings.

This was certainly not going to be an uphill task for the Kiwi batters against a tired three men Indian pace attack who were not rested enough between their two innings. Umesh was rusty giving away boundaries as Latham and Blundell put up a 100 run stand. India did manage to claim 3 wickets as New Zealand made little of the chase winning the test by 7 wickets and taking the series 2-0.

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India were hurt by the lack of experience at the top of the innings. The opening pair gave little for India to fight and build a score of substance. The lack of runs from their captain too did not help them. On the bowling front, Bumrah’s come back to test cricket did not go smoothly either. After the Kiwi’s had worked him out well in the white ball series, it took Bumrah the second test to show signs of rhythm.

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But all credit goes to New Zealand who certainly claimed dominance at home. Their bowling unit were relentless giving India no breathing space. Bolt and Southee were strong to start each innings giving their side the early advantage. The change up in Jamieson and De Grandhomme gave little away. They made the best of the conditions on offer and rightfully outplayed India in all departments to claim 120 test championship points and the series. 

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Cricket

Future of the Cricket-ing Calendar

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Lockdown around the world has brought global sports to a stand still. There is no specific time given to when one can assume things to fall back to normal proceedings. With the uncertainty in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, the future of a busy sporting calendar is in great doubts.

Cricket has a number of ongoing and shortly upcoming world tournaments in progress. The world Test Championship, initiated post 2019 world cup is currently on going and midway as teams tussle for points heading into the final next year in June. The world T20 tournament is also scheduled in Australia later this year along with the new ODI league which would be the pathway for teams to qualify for the men’s 2023 ODI world cup – scheduled to start from May. All of these should be under re-scheduling considering the current crisis the world is facing.

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World Test Championship (WTC)

India currently occupy the top spot on the points table for the WTC. However, their 2-0 series loss to New Zealand, and with more away tours scheduled, a number of teams stand in contention to make it to the top two spots. With a large number of series cancelled or deferred, there will not be adequate time to accommodate all games in time for the finals scheduled for June 2021.

One possible option is to play the final with current WTC points table leaders, else a revised schedule needs to be considered to allow for some form of parity. Another consideration would be defer the final to ensure all teams play equal number of series to stand an equal chance to top the points table. Either solution would require careful consideration considering other tournament schedules and the second edition of the Test Championship.

2020 T20 World Cup Down under

Though ICC is not considering any change in the current scheduling of T20 World Cup in Australia and are optimistic in their approach, one would need to consider the worst-case scenario. A reschedule to hold the tournament later in the Australian summer would be difficult with a full length series against India scheduled between November to January 2021. Another option is to postpone the tournament to next year, which would also push the next edition of the tournament scheduled in India to be held in 2022. This could be a viable option considering there are no global tournaments scheduled for in 2022.

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Cricket World Cup Super League

Scheduled to begin in May this year and expected to go until March 2022, the ODI Super League would serve as a qualification pathway for the 2023 World Cup. With all top 13 teams participating in it, each team would play eight series over a two-year cycle on a home-and-away basis and gain rankings similar to the World Test Championship. This would add context to the stand alone bilateral ODI series. As a number of tours are cancelled, it is highly unlikely for the cycle to commence from May which could either result in the reduction in the total number or series between teams or to completely rule out the Super League. In such a scenario, the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup would need to be reworked.

Currently with no cut-off date set for the final verdict on the future schedules of these major tournaments, these will certainly be the major points of discussion in the ICC’s quarterly meeting scheduled in May. As we await optimistic news in our fight against COVID-19, the future of cricket is currently as fluid and uncertain as one can image it to be.  

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Grey Areas in Cricket: Front foot No-Ball

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A “Front foot No-ball” is in general terms referred to as the crossing of the line by the bowlers front foot at the point of release of the ball. If the bowler does not comply to the above, the umpire can rule the ball to be illegal and reward the batting team with an extra run and an extra delivery. Though this is not the only way in which an umpire rules a delivery illegal, the front foot no-ball has raised a number of arguments in recent times with the difficulty the rule causes. As cricket takes a pause in response to COVID-19, let us look into the No-Ball rule (front foot no-ball), the arguments it presents and some possible alternatives to overcome and provide a fair means to resolve this grey area in the sport.

Law 21.5 of the MCC rule book for “Fair delivery – the feet” describes No ball in the following manner:
21.5 For a delivery to be fair in respect of the feet, in the delivery stride
21.5.1 the bowler’s back foot must land within and not touching the return crease appertaining to his/her stated mode of delivery.
21.5.2 the bowler’s front foot must land with some part of the foot, whether grounded or raised
–       on the same side of the imaginary line joining the two middle stumps as the return crease described in 21.5.1, and
–       behind the popping crease.
If the bowler’s end umpire is not satisfied that all of these three conditions have been met, he/she shall call and signal No ball.”

The above law clearly reveals the complications and attention to detail an umpire needs to give prior to the ball reaching the batsman’s end. A result of which is the umpires often referring a no-ball decision much later after the outcome of the delivery has been dictated. This is mostly taken into consideration on the fall of a wicket which on a number of occasions has resulted in overturning of the decision as the bowler has overstepped the popping crease. A result of this is frustration of the bowler and fielding side who have done much of the hard work in dismissing the batsman.

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So why is it that only at a dismissal is a no-ball being referred to the TV umpire? Perhaps one can argue that the front foot no-ball is a major factor determining the dismissal of the batsman. On the contrary, if the clarity of the no-ball was provided earlier on any regular delivery, the bowler could make the necessary adjustment prior to any dismissals being taken place. This instance was recently used in the limited overs series in India by the BCCI where every delivery was being supervised by the TV umpire in judging the front foot call. Certainly, proving to be a fair means to conclude, this method can certainly be adopted in the long run particularly with technology becoming a vital part of the game and its decision making.

Some traditionalist of the game argue regarding the use of this technology and taking the power away from the on-field umpire. They also state that additional time will be taken from the game in making this call on the front foot by the TV umpire. These arguments though do not make a strong case for themselves. Technology here is being used to aid the umpire and relieve them of certain duties to help them make better calls and decision at the striker’s end. Additionally, although the regular check by the TV umpires may cause a marginally longer time between deliveries, all playing teams and fans would certainly agree to this approach.

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Furthermore, there is also the argument that the on-field calls on no-balls allows the batsman the decision to change their shot as there is no fear of a dismissal. Most current batsman would contradict it as there is very little time for them to make a change in their shot after an on-field call. This is certainly true for a fast bowler but the adjustment is possible to be made for a slower bowler. However, with a free hit on offer on the next delivery, a batsman would care less to focus on an on-field call to change the shot in a split second.

Technology clearly providing a number of benefits that can be put into practice without any change in the law. For the sake of the argument, even if we do consider prioritizing the on-field call, the practical solution in that case would be an amendment in the law.

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In all of the above instance, we certainly are forgetting the position of the backfoot in the no-ball decision. With bowlers making use of the angle to create opportunities to dismiss batsman, they often do violate and get very close to the sideline on their delivery stride, which is often neglected. Also, the front foot is not clearly visible on most occasions to the umpires with the bowlers body blocking their vision. The amendment in this case to control both the above factors is to dictate the no-ball with regards to the back foot of the bowler. A number of experts have given this suggestion which clearly has a number of positives. At a delivery stride, the bowlers back foot lands first and is also clearly visible to the umpire. Though just a fraction of a second, it would give the umpire that little time to shift his attention from the no-ball call to see what happens at the strikers end. By allowing the call to be made early, the change also gives batsman that little advantage to capitalize on the no ball.

The change in law of the backfoot no-ball call certainly aids the decision making in several ways. This along with the available technology should certainly be used to make the playing field fair and balance the competition between bat and ball. With technology already in use for front foot calls, and with IPL dedicating a separate TV umpire for this in its 2020 season (currently on hold due to COVID-19 pandemic), cricket is certainly finding ways to address this Grey area in the sport. 

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Hurt India brace for upbeat South Africa

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India will host South Africa for a 3 match ODI series starting at Dharamsala. Both teams come on the back of contrasting performances in the format. With a young South African side winning three consecutive games against Australia at home, they certainly have the confidence to compete a strong Indian side at home. India, on the back of three consecutive losses away to New Zealand will seek respite in the comback of their more regular stars to the side.

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South Africa had a nightmare-ish last 12 months, particularly in the white ball formats. With retirement, injury and management shakeup, the side they have put together now shows promise. The clean sweep series victory to a strong Aussie set up will certainly assure that they belong at the international stage. Though for this young side, these Indian conditions will certainly be foreign. With Faf back in the side and form of the more experienced players in Klaasen and Miller will be cruitial for them to stage dominance over a strong Indian side at home. The young members will need to be led well, not just by the experienced players but also their captain who has certainly enjoyed facing the Indian attack in his career.

For India, the return of Hardik Pandya seems to be the center of focus with the balance he provides to the team. With strong batting performances in a domestic T20 series, he has not obtained enough game time particularly with the ball and how the body will take to bowling longer spells. Jadeja’s presence as the spin all rounder will aid India and lift the load of a full 10 over spell from Pandya. The other major return for India is at the top of the order in Shikhar Dhawan. The lack of top order performances in the New Zealand series certainly hurt India. Shikhar’s presence will add some experience and India will be hoping for him to pick up from the form he left off prior to injury. Bhuvaneshawar Kumar also makes it to the side post injury and should most likely be featuring in all games. He will be in need for match practice who with Bumrah need to rise to the performance they were producing nearly a year ago.

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The return of Pandya puts a number of questions on the team selection for India. Though a happy headace to have, India will be looking to achieve a form on consistency in the playing combination to ensure clarity of roles. With the side backing Iyre and Rahul at 4 and 5, Shaw will retain his place along with Shikhar at the top of the line-up. Pandya will be coming in at the expense of Manish Pandey who once again will need to site out despite strong performances and showing maturity to finish games. Jadeja will also keep his place in the side adding to valuable overs and batting depth coming in at 7. Bhuvaneshwar, Bumrah, Saini and Chahl should form the last 4 members in the first game.

South Africa on the other hand do not have as many headaces. Both Maharaj and Shamsi have bowled well to be in the side as lead spinners. Ngigi’s form with the ball will certainly make him the leader of the attack along with the pace of Nortje and all round capabilities of Phehlukwayo. The middle order will be where the bulk of the exprience lies for the Proteas with Faf, Klaasen and Miller. Bavuma’s injury scare could result in Malan parterning his captain at the top with Smut’s part time spin edging him in the side over van der Dussen.

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