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Kiwi Bowlers outshine India’s to secure 1st Test Win

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New Zealand’s pack of fast bowlers were too hot to handle for the Indian batters who secured them the win in the 1st test of the two match series. This also handed India their first loss in the world Test Championship. A comprehensive win by 10 wickets on the 4th morning of the test was set up by a number of strong performances by the home side.

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On the contrary, India had a number questions and were just not able to capitalize on the important moments unlike the home team, which did not allow them to win any of the sessions leading to this defeat. Though the defeat looks heavy at first, India need not be too hard with themselves and look to address small issues heading into the 2nd Test.

Amongst those would be to address the overall batting performance. In the 1st test, Indian batters did not put enough total on the board to give their bowlers a chance. With the inexperience at the top, the captain hopes that Shaw will learn from his mistakes and be more cautious in his approach specially in these swinging foreign conditions. India will need a stronger platform from the openers if they are to post bigger targets and challenge the Kiwis.

Mayank and Pujara did bat time with 126 and 180 balls between them in both innings with the former being the only 50+ score for India across the test. This did show some resistance for a brief moment but was just not enough. Virat Kohli’s failure in both innings did not help India’s cause either with a proper set plan of the short ball and the swinging fourth stump line attack set by New Zealand.

Rahane was caught amidst the storm in both innings, walking in at 40 for 3 in the 1st innings and at 96 for 3 in the 2nd when India were recovering from a heavy first innings deficit. He did provide some resistance but disciplined bowling from the home side did not allow him to dominate and bring his side back into the contest.

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For Vihari and Pant, who where both making it back to the test side after sitting out the Indian home test season, this was an outing they would want to forget and start fresh. Though both provided resistance, the unfortunate run out of Pant in the first innings and him being left to score with the tail in the second did not help his cause. One cannot be too hard on them for the lack of performance in this test. India were also hurt by the contribution of the lower order, likes of Ashwin, Ishant and Shami who on the contrary were out played with the bat by their opposition.

At the bowling front for India, the pace trio just seemed to be a bit off colour. They were unable to find the swing that Southee and Bolt were able to consistently get as late as day 3 into the game. Indian seamers just did not pitch the ball up full enough. In New Zealand conditions, one just needs to push the ball further fuller than the traditional good length to extract the movement from the slow nature of the pitch.

Ishant Sharma’s spell in the first innings ensured India had a foot in the door and gave them a chance of making a comeback in the game. Despite getting a five-for, India struggled to wipe out the lower order quickly to restrict the lead of the home side with a familiar wagging of the tale. New Zealand were ahead by only 60 runs when the 7th wicket fell. Contributions then from de Grandhomme, Jamieson and Bolt got them a lead of 183 making it an uphill task for the away side to climb themselves out from.

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For New Zealand, one has to admire the bowling quality they possess in Bolt and Southee. Even the young Kyle Jamieson proved too tough to handle for the Indian batters. With 9 wickets in the game Southee showed the pure class he has with the red ball in hand and thus claiming the man of the match award for his performance.

He regularly tested the Indian batsman drawing them forward with his outswingers. The variation ball was the scrambled seam delivers which would nick back into the right handers either hitting the pad or the wicket. In the 2nd innings, both Southee and Bolt were on track for their five-fors. A quality bowling performance gave little for the Indian batsman to outshine and certainly needs to be credited for the win in the first Test.

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With the bat, the home side showed the template that needs to be followed to counter the conditions on offer. The openers fought through the new ball before the pure class of Kane Williamson was on display. His 89 run was the leading score by an individual batsman in an innings in this test. Ross Taylor playing his 100th Test provided enough support and ensured that the team gets the lead from India’s first innings score.

The contribution from the lower and order was a bonus that ensured the home team was in the driving seat on their way to a strong win. Though little will worry the home team after a dominating performance, the return of Neil Wagner causes a happy headache as far as the bowling combination is concerned. They could opt an all out pace attack and drop Ajaz Patel or sit out the tall Jamieson. Either way, the return of Neil Wagner will add more difficulty to the opposition with the form and consistency he provides.

For India, they were purely outplayed by a strong performance from the Kiwis. They will not want to be too hard on themselves with the loss and look to capitalize on the important moments and win sessions. The bowlers will learn from the outing in the first game and improve on their performance. If batting is a worry, India may swap Ashwin for Jadeja who can hold one end with the ball, is electric on the field and also a much more handy bat.

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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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