Friday, 13 January 2012

Australia vs India - 3rd Test, Day 1.

As this is the first in a new blog series, I feel it would be apt to introduce to the first cricketing book I read, and also to discuss its relevance to the day’s play – or, more precisely, the day’s player. I will get to the meat and bones of the Test match itself in due course, but a brief anecdote rarely does harm to an article, and I hope to begin many of my entries which such a ramble as the one you are about to read.

The book was a signed copy of SIR VIV, the autobiography of the incomparable I.V.A. Richards, and I was 7 years old. I’d discovered cricket the summer before, and had met my hero Allan Donald only weeks previously. I was now to discover the power of a good cricketing book. Sitting on my father’s knee (clich├ęd, isn’t it?), he read me the introduction, about how Sir Viv went in at the unusual position of 4 to clinch a chase on the final evening of a Test against India. In detail, he walked through his match preparation, the reasons behind his swagger to the wicket and helmet-less attire, as well as his in-your-face attitude towards any bowler who dared face him. Needless to say, I was transfixed.

I came to learn that Richards was an anomaly, a true free radical in an era of bowling dominance. He was one of a select few that truly mastered the ferocity of Lillee and Thompson, the trickery of Bedi and Wadir, the unerring accuracy of Hadlee and Dev. Of course, he never had to face the WIndies attack, but one gets the feeling that even Joel Garner and Michael Holding could not have forced Sir Viv to don a helmet.

We are beginning to see a new era of similar bowling dominance. England, at the present, are nothing short of dominant in that department. Anderson, Broad, Tremlett, Finn and Bresnan could walk into most Test sides (though not all). The arrival of Vernon Philander has added another string to South Africa’s already-potent bow; even India, infamous for their pace-bowling impotence, have begun to show us glimpses of the young quicks they have on offer.

Not that that mattered today. David Warner sent a message to all the world’s attacks that a T20 bludgeoner turned Test opener could not only hold a side together as he had against New Zealand, but also put poor bowling to the sword. He played few risky shots, but took advantage of Dhoni’s indecisive captaincy to truly take the game away from India after a poor performance from their aging middle-order. Ably supported by his hirsute opening partner Eddie Cowan, who is asking serious questions about where Shane Watson will slot in having recovered from injury, Warner never gave the Indian bowlers a sniff.

As is so often the case with super-fast hundreds, it was a case of an attacking batsman toying clinically with a morale-less and battered bowling attack. Sir Viv took his against an England side that was already 4-0 down and suffering, while Adam Gilchrist saw a tired Monty Panesar bowling in to the wind at the WACA and went after him. I’m afraid my cricketing knowledge doesn’t extend to the circumstances under which Jack Gregory scored the ton that Warner equals today, but I shall assume that they were not dissimilar to today.

The question that India must ask themselves now is “where from here?”. I could write another whole article (and many others have) about the problems facing Indian cricket, but Dhoni and co. must focus on the ones at hand. A more defensive field setting must the order of the day, with more men on the boundaries, and instructions to the bowlers along the lines of “For God’s Sake, pitch it up.” If they can dismiss Warner and Cowan for not too many more, ensuring that Clarke and Ponting do not become entrenched is key. Then, if they get this far, they must go for the jugular once the tail are in. Full-pitched, straight bowling accompanied by attacking fields are the only way the ensure that Australia do not turn an impressive total into an insurmountable one.

But this is all conjecture. It could be the case that Warner simply strides onwards and upwards tomorrow, regardless of where Dhoni puts his fieldsmen, or where India bowl. And this is where his similarity to the great I.V.A. is most apparent. For Sir Viv, there were times when the bowling simply became irrelevant, as if it only existed for the purpose of allowing him to hit another six. David Warner is not Viv Richards. David Warner will never be Viv Richards, for the simple reason that there can never be another Viv Richards. But today, for 69 balls, he batted a little bit like him. And the world’s bowlers trembled.

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