VIEWPOINT – Is there a bigger dampener than a two-Test series?

  “As the ICC has increased the number of T20 Internationals that countries can play against each other, the number of two-Test series are becoming more common, which I would rather not happen at all because they are a nothingness of a nothing”.

  This is what the great former Indian batsman Rahul Dravid said during his enlightening speech at the  ESPN-Cricinfo For Cricket Summit in London in August 2013. However, most of the cricket boards are increasingly moving in the opposite direction, much to the chagrin of Test match lovers around the world. The fact that Dravid’s sentiment has fallen on deaf ears is proved by the number of two-Test series in the last cricket season.

  The 2013-14 season (April 2013 to March 2014) saw fourteen Test series played, of which two were Ashes. Of the remaining twelve, as many as nine series consisted of just two Tests. One will never come to know how the series between Zimbabwe and Pakistan or the one between Pakistan and South Africa in the UAE – both of which ended in a 1-1 stalemate – might have ended, because there was no third Test to look forward to. Would Zimbabwe have upset Pakistan to claim a rare series victory? Would Pakistan have toppled South Africa in what would have been an exciting decider? The abrupt ends to these series left many a cricket follower frustrated.

  Thankfully, one of the three series in 2013-14 which consisted of three Tests was the Australian tour of South Africa. The Baggy Greens triumphed on a classic last day of the third Test in Cape Town to inflict a first series defeat on South Africa in five years, and also keep their undefeated record (since South Africa’s re-admission) in the Rainbow Nation intact.

zamlas     The 2011-12 Australian tour of South Africa consisted of only two Test matches, depriving cricket followers of a potential exciting decider (source – abc.net.au)

  Imagine for a moment if this series, like the one in 2011-12, had consisted of just two Test matches. Mitchell Johnson’s fiery spells at Centurion and Dale Steyn’s magic at Port Elizabeth would have amounted to little. The third Test added context and relevance to the series, and the result was there for all to see. Another case in point was the recently-concluded series between the West Indies and New Zealand in the Caribbean. Had this series also been a two-Test affair – like the one in 2012 – it would have resulted in yet another annoying 1-1 scoreline.

  Regarding the 2011-12 series between South Africa and Australia, Steyn had then remarked, “I go on holiday for longer than that series is going to last.” The champion fast bowler hit the nail on the head. After South Africa romped to victory in the bizarre ’47 all out’ match in Cape Town, Australia drew level with a thrilling chase in Johannesburg. Perfect setting for a mouth-watering decider. Unfortunately, the third Test existed only in the realm of fantasy for cricket connoisseurs and players alike. Watching the two captains hold a shared trophy after a two-Test series is pretty depressing. The two teams trade a punch each, then what?

  Also during 2011-12, we saw how New Zealand edged out Australia in Hobart after going down tamely in Brisbane. This left the enthralled fans asking for more but instead what they got was an empty feeling of discontent. Australia and Pakistan last played a Test against each other back in 2010, yet the forthcoming series in the UAE in October will have only two Tests.

  Two-Test series can never provide the necessary build-up to a Test series. The series is over even before the teams are getting into the groove. If a team wins the first Test, the other team has already missed the opportunity of winning the series. On many occasions, a team losing the first Test has come back to win the series – in recent memory, India v Australia in 2000-01 and South Africa v India in 2006-07 come to mind. Two-Test series rob the game of this charm of watching a team fight back after being one down.

zumartgul      Pakistani players after drawing the two-Test series with Australia in England in 2010. The next series between the two sides in October 2014 also has only two Tests (source – wn.com)

  Players like Dravid and Steyn are class acts and over their careers, have yearned to win Test matches for their countries with their performances. But a two-Test series often breeds a defensive mindset – for instance, when South Africa shut shop during what would have been a world record chase against India in Johannesburg last December. I believe they would have at least made a bold effort to go for glory had it been a three-Test series.

  No one likes a two-Test series, except for the unsatiated administrators who care two hoots for anything but quick cash. It is akin to a farce and demeans the tradition of Test match cricket. Scrapping a third Test to accommodate a meaningless limited-overs series has become quite a norm today. Nowadays we see two back-to-back Tests scheduled as if a favour is being done on us Test cricket lovers. Earlier, all cricket tours used to be centered around the Test series. Today, the token two-Test series is a damning indictment which clearly shows where the priorities of the administrators lie.

  Over the last few years, we have seen a two-Test Wisden Trophy (in 2009) and a two-Test Border-Gavaskar Trophy (in 2010-11) for the first time. As of now, the only head-to-head fixture that has never had a series of less than three Tests is Australia v West Indies. But even that is likely to change, as Australia are scheduled to pay a two-Test visit to the Caribbean next year. With this, the Frank Worrell Trophy nearly loses its meaning and it is an insult to the great man himself, who had undoubtedly envisaged a rich Test match future between the two sides after the historic 1960-61 series.

  It is a fact that Test cricket is a very expensive sport to sustain. But that is no excuse for not having that much-needed extra Test in a series. Ticket sales are dropping, the public is moving towards T20. Rather than sit and do something about this worrying trend, cricket boards show ignorance and instead callously cancel previously-scheduled Tests, and at times, entire series. And then in a most hypocritical manner, they talk about the ‘primacy’ of Test cricket.

  A minimum of three Tests is absolutely essential, no matter which teams are playing. Anything less than that is sacrilegious.

Specials – Northern Ireland’s Commonwealth moment

  Cricket has been part of the Commonwealth Games only once, i.e in 1998 in Kuala Lampur, the Malaysian capital. Sixteen countries took part in the event, consisting of 50-over-a-side List A matches. Among the teams was Northern Ireland, who qualified by virtue of being a Commonwealth nation.

   The Ireland cricket team has always been an all-Ireland outfit as in rugby, but since the Republic of Ireland is not a Commonwealth nation, Northern Ireland played as a separate team. Led by Bready wicket-keeper Alan Rutherford, the Northern Irishmen were clubbed in Group C along with eventual gold medallists South Africa, Barbados and Bangladesh.

  The team was coached by M.V ‘Bobby’ Narasimha Rao, an all-rounder who played four Tests for India in the late seventies and later also represented Ireland in domestic cricket. The squad included two future Irish internationals, namely Kyle McCallan and Peter Gillespie. First up for Northern Ireland were the South Africans.

  Northern Ireland had crawled to 89/5 in 38.1 overs when rain intervened. Neil Carson and Derek Heasley had stitched an unbeaten sixth-wicket stand of 41 runs after a top-order collapse. The Duckworth/Lewis target for South Africa was 131 in 38 overs.

  Northern Ireland would have fancied their chances when fast bowlers Ryan Eagleson (who once played for Derbyshire) and Gordon Cooke stunned the South African top-order to reduce them to 23/4. It became 57/5 when Paul McCrum removed Jacques Kallis.

  However, Dale Benkenstein scored an unbeaten 44 and his partnership of 58 with Shaun Pollock for the sixth wicket made the difference. Eagleson (3/28) came back to dismiss Pollock, but South Africa reached 133/6 to win by four wickets with 38 balls to spare.

  In their second match, Northern Ireland were completely outclassed by Barbados. After electing to field, the Northern Irishmen watched helplessly as West Indian international opener and Barbadian captain Philo Wallace (92) put on 144 for the first wicket with fellow international opener Sherwin Campbell (60).

  Number three Adrian Griffith continued the domination by scoring 66 and shared a 73-run stand for the fourth wicket with Mark Lavine (44*). Barbados piled up a hefty total of 296/5. Off-break bowler John ‘Dekker’ Curry – who is an uncle of the current Ireland ‘A’ batsman Chris Dougherty – was the pick of the bowlers with 2/42.

  Northern Ireland crashed to 17/3 in reply, and from that point onwards, lost interest in the chase. They scrapped to a measly 120/7 in 50 overs to go down by 176 runs. Stephen Smyth made a fighting 58 from number three.

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          Fast bowler Gordon Cooke returned figures of 5/35 to help Northern Ireland trounce Bangladesh in the 1998 Commonwealth Games (source – espncricinfo.com)

   The third and final game was against Bangladesh at the Royal Selangor Club. Like Northern Ireland, Bangladesh too were beaten in their first two games and hence this match was all about avoiding the bottom place in the group. After being put in to bat, Northern Ireland lost wickets at regular intervals and were struggling at 67/5 when McCallan came to the crease.

  A 41-run stand for the sixth wicket between McCallan and Andrew Patterson revived the innings. A further 39 runs were added for the eighth wicket between McCallan – who scored an unbeaten 53 – and Cooke. The final total was 177 in 49.3 overs.

  Even though Bangladesh were at full strength and were to become a Test nation in two years, their brittle batting gave Northern Ireland a good chance to bow out on a high. The Northern Irish bowlers grabbed that chance with both hands as Bangladesh began their chase in an utterly disastrous manner.

  Cooke and Eagleson bowled splendidly to reduce Bangladesh from 3/0 to 4/4 and then 13/5. Only Khaled Mahmud, with 27 from number eight, showed any resistance as wickets fell in a heap. The entire innings lasted just 21 overs as Bangladesh were bundled out for a woeful 63.

  Cooke was the star of the show with a haul of 5/35 – the second-best figures of the event – while Eagleson took 3/15. McCallan added one wicket to his crucial 53 before Curry snapped up the final wicket to ensure a convincing victory by 114 runs. 

  Of this squad, McCallan and Gillespie were part of the Ireland team that created history in the 2007 World Cup, with McCallan taking two wickets each in the tie against Zimbabwe as also the wins against Pakistan and Bangladesh. Cooke played his last game for Ireland in the 2005 ICC Trophy final, while Eagleson called it quits the year before that.

  Earlier in 1998, a few members of this squad were part of the Ireland side which played the touring South Africans in two 50-over matches, Cooke taking 4/60 in the first of them.

  These happen to be the only matches against international opposition that Northern Ireland have played as a separate team.

Match Scorecard

SPECIALS – Cricket’s tryst with the Commonwealth Games

  The 20th Commonwealth Games are underway in Glasgow with the best sporting talent from Commonwealth nations in action.

  Cricket – one of the lasting legacies of the British empire – continues to stay away from the quadrennial event, even though almost all the cricketing nations are members of the Commonwealth.

  However, cricket did make a one-off appearance at the Games, back in 1998 in Kuala Lampur. Interestingly, the games were not considered to be of international standard – they were allotted only List A status. This in spite of quite a few top players of that time taking part in the event.

  Sixteen nations were divided into four groups to decide the semi-finalists. Since only sovereign Commonwealth countries were permitted, the West Indies saw themselves divided into three teams, namely Jamaica, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda. Ironically, England were conspicuous by their absence – the denouement of the county championship was of greater importance to them. Every other Test nation took part. Besides the regular underdogs, Malaysia too were there due to being hosts.

South Africa celebrate gold    The victorious South African team after winning the gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games (source – sportskeeda.com)

  The groups read as follows:- Group A – Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, Malaysia; Group B – Australia, India, Antigua and Barbuda, Canada; Group C – South Africa, Barbados, Bangladesh, Northern Ireland; Group D – Pakistan, New Zealand, Kenya, Scotland.

  Most of the countries sent a mix of leading and little-known names. Australia, with the likes of Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Bevan, were perhaps the strongest side and had the bulk of the squad that was to win the World Cup in England the following year. India had Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble in their ranks. New Zealand had Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle; South Africa had Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher. Zimbabwe had the services of Andy and Grant Flower while Curtly Ambrose turned out for his native Antigua and Barbuda.

  The event was contested between September 9 to September 19, 1998 and was played across six venues in Kuala Lampur. Most of the matches were characterised by low scores and run-making was often a difficult task. Played in the 50-over format, the competition in the event was expected to be among the top teams and so it happened. The group stage saw Sri Lanka, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand as the stand-out teams. This quartet easily qualified for the semi-finals by remaining unbeaten in their groups.

  Australia signalled their intent to win the gold medal in cricket (sounds strange, doesn’t it?) by routing Canada for 60, Antigua and Barbuda for 99 and India for 109 en route to three big wins. Fast bowler Damien Fleming – who ended up as the top wicket-taker with 14 – and left-armer Brad Young (who scalped 4/23 against India) were the best performing bowlers, with Fleming’s 5/24 against the Antiguans being the best figures of the event. Captain Steve Waugh scored 100* against India, one of the only three hundreds in the tournament.

  Sri Lanka and New Zealand were equally dominant. The Lankans were spearheaded by opener Avishka Gunawardene, who was the tournament’s highest run scorer with 234, including a 107 against Jamaica, which was the tournament’s highest individual score. New Zealand were led well by their captain Fleming, who scored 102 against Scotland. Zimbabwe (who made the only score of above 300, i.e 309/5 against Malaysia) threatened to knock out Sri Lanka, but a thrilling one-wicket win saw the Islanders sneak into the final four. South Africa had to see off a spirited challenge from Barbados before making the semi-finals. Northern Ireland had the satisfaction of beating Bangladesh, who were bowled out for just 63. Canada’s 45 all out against India was the lowest total.

  The first semi-final saw South Africa record a nail-biting one-wicket win against Sri Lanka. After being bowled out for 130 thanks to Nicky Boje’s 4/16, Sri Lanka had the Proteas on the mat at 96/9, but an unbeaten 35-run last-wicket stand between Boje and Alan Dawson sealed the match. The second semi-final was a completely one-sided affair. The clinical Australians shot their rivals New Zealand for a mere 58 in 26.4 overs. No batsman crossed twenty as Young recorded stunning figures of 4-2-4-4, aided by Fleming’s 3/23. To complete the humiliation, Australia chased down the total in just 10.5 overs to win by nine wickets. New Zealand salvaged some pride by beating Sri Lanka by 51 runs in the third-place game to win the bronze medal.

zstevey     Australian captain Steve Waugh hits out during his unbeaten 90 in the final. The knock went in vain as South Africa won by four wickets (source – sport24.co.za)

  So Australia and South Africa – the two strongest sides on paper – made to the final. After losing the toss, Steve Waugh showed his worth yet again with an unbeaten 90 even as wickets fell around him. He rescued Australia from 58/4 to an eventual 183 in 49.3 overs. Captain Pollock was the wrecker-in-chief with 4/19. In reply, the South African openers Andrew Hudson and Mike Rindel (who made 67) put together 73 in just 12.1 overs. Darren Lehmann (3/14) picked up a few late wickets with his part-time spin, but it hardly deterred South Africa, who reached 184/6 with four overs to spare, thus winning the gold medal.

  A month later, South Africa, under Hansie Cronje, won the inaugural Champions Trophy and were favourites in the 1999 World Cup until they were knocked out in the heartbreaking tied semi-final against Australia.

  Is there any scope for cricket to make a comeback in the Commonwealth Games in the near future? A proposal for its inclusion for the 2018 event has been rejected, which means there is no keenness involved. If at all cricket is to return to the Games, Twenty20 seems to be the only viable format. The Asian Games introduced T20 cricket in 2010, but big bullies India refused to participate.

  The big question is, should cricket spread out through T20 by partaking in such events or should it maintain its own unique charm?

VIEWPOINT – Time to revive the trans-Tasman rivalry

  It is quite a shame that Australia and New Zealand have played each other in only 52 Test matches since the inaugural one-off Test at Wellington in 1945-46. Despite their healthy rivalry, Test match fixtures between the two nations have been disappointingly infrequent.

  That Test in 1945-46 played a part in Australia refusing to play their less-fancied neighbours from across the Tasman Sea. The game got over within two days, with New Zealand being shot out twice (for 42 and 54) on the second day. It took 28 years for the Australians to change their mind, and back-to-back series were contested in 1973-74. New Zealand managed to draw the home leg, courtesy a maiden five-wicket win at Christchurch.

  The rivalry was at its fiercest in the eighties. The start of that decade saw the infamous underarm controversy – in a World Series 50-overs final – which snowballed to such an extent that it threatened diplomatic relations between Australia and New Zealand. It would not be wrong to say that this incident galvanised New Zealand into a combative unit whenever they faced the Aussies.

  Since then until the end of that decade, New Zealand won five and lost three of the 14 Tests they played against Australia. It was a glorious period for the Kiwis, with the 1985-86 series win in Australia being their sweetest and probably, most vindictive success. Spearheaded by the legendary Richard Hadlee, New Zealand transformed into a top side and fittingly reserved their best for Australia.

  Even during Australia’s dominant Steve Waugh era, New Zealand were one of the few sides who stood up to them on their own turf. A 0-0 scoreline in 2001-02 – the same season when South Africa were crushed in Australia – reflects their spirited performance. While New Zealand have never returned to their eighties heydays, they managed to level the most recent series between the two teams in 2011-12 with a thrilling win at Hobart.

  That series in 2011-12 consisted of just two Test matches, depriving Test cricket lovers of a mouth-watering decider. The last time the two teams played each other in a three-Test series was in 2004-05. Their last three-Test series in New Zealand was back in 1985-86. In the last fifteen years, Australia have played New Zealand just 17 times. The corresponding figure for Australia’s Tests against England and India are 40 and 32 respectively. Since the last Trans-Tasman series and until the next, Australia will have played England 15 times and India 12 times.

Australia v New Zealand - Second Test: Day 2   Action from Day 2 of the second Test between Australia and New Zealand at Hobart in 2011-12 – the last time the two nations faced each other in a Test (source – supersport.com)

  Why this apathy towards Trans-Tasman Test matches? Cricket is missing out on a potentially great rivalry because of the commercial interests of forever-unsatisfied administrators and broadcasters. Australia have become so obsessed with playing England and India that they have failed to realise that the Black Caps provide for great opponents and some fantastic cricket. In 2011-12, it was New Zealand who drew in Australia despite getting just two Tests. In the same season, an over-rated India were thrashed 4-0. They say Trans-Tasman Tests do not bring in much revenue. I fail to understand why – the simple answer is effective marketing of the games. Building up the hype as in the Ashes will go a long way in attracting spectators.

  Regional sporting rivalries tend to churn out some of the most memorable moments. At the moment, Australia and New Zealand have a great opportunity to lend much-needed flavour to Test cricket. Australia are, at least according to the ICC, the best team in the world. New Zealand are a team on the upswing with three successive series wins under their belt. Now is the time to decide on a proper Trans-Transman Trophy. Just like the Ashes, one home and one away series in every four-year cycle is a must, with at least three Tests played in each series. Two-Test series are akin to sacrilege, and should be done away with.

  As of today, Australia and New Zealand both possess attacking captains, excellent pace bowling resources and a steady line of impressive batting talents. Michael Clarke being pitted against Brendon McCullum. Mitchell Johnson testing Kane Williamson. David Warner being challenged by Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? That is what Test cricket needs – novelty. While bringing in new nations is asking for too much, efforts should at least be made to revive existing rivalries. And Australia v New Zealand is too precious a fixture to be lost.

  I, for one, am a big fan of Trans-Tasman Tests; it always makes for great viewing. And I am certain that most fans from both Australia and New Zealand share the same sentiment. Thankfully, in 2015-16, the two teams are scheduled – at least for now – to meet each other in back-to-back series at home and away. There is also the prospect of Test cricket under lights during New Zealand’s tour of Australia. In all probability, both teams will carry on with their current form over the next year or so, and thus these series will be much-awaited by the players and viewers alike.

  History may suggest that the Trans-Tasman rivalry has been fairly one-sided over the years. But not everything should be judged by numbers of the past. Introducing a structured Trans-Transman Trophy would be of great benefit to Test cricket as a whole, and this is no exaggeration.

  The ball is Cricket Australia’s court.

IN FOCUS – South Africa in Sri Lanka Test series 2014 : Preview

  This two-Test series was originally scheduled to be held last year, but was postponed to accommodate more ODIs and irrelevant domestic T20 games. This is South Africa’s first Test series in Sri Lanka since 2006 and hence a much awaited one. A third Test would have been ideal, but yet again three ODIs were chosen instead of an extra Test.

zslsa

The Matches and the Grounds

  The first Test will be played at the Galle International Stadium from July 16-20 while the second and final Test will be played at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo from July 24-28. In their last five Tests at Galle, Sri Lanka have won three and lost one, with the latest game being a high-scoring draw against Bangladesh in 2012-13. In their last five Tests at the SSC, which is known for its batsman-friendly pitch, Sri Lanka have won once and drawn four times. The hosts have not lost a game at the SSC since 2003-04 when they lost to Australia. South Africa have played twice at Galle, with one loss and one draw, and four times at the SSC, with one win, a draw and two heavy defeats on each of their last two tours (2004 and 2006) to the island nation.

The Teams and the Captains

  Sri Lanka – Angelo Mathews (captain), Lahiru Thirimanne (vice-capt), Upul Tharanga, Kaushal Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Dinesh Chandimal (wk), Kithuruwan Vithanage, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera, Ajantha Mendis, Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga, Dhammika Prasad, Chanaka Welagedara.

  Sri Lanka are on a high after achieving a historic series win in England just three weeks ago. There are four changes from the squad that beat England – fast bowlers Nuwan Pradeep and Nuwan Kulasekara, specialist wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene and opener Dimuth Karunaratne make way for opener Upul Tharanga, middle-order batsman Kithuruwan Vithanage, spinner Ajantha Mendis and fast bowler Suranga Lakmal.

  Tharanga returns to the Test squad riding on his impressive first-class form; he last played in whites back in 2007-08. Mendis will join his fellow spinners Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera to form a three-pronged attack, though only two might play. The focus will be on Mahela Jayawardene, who will play the first two of his last four Tests for his country. Dinesh Chandimal will be the likely new wicketkeeper. The impressive pace duo of Shaminda Eranga and Dhammika Prasad will look to continue from where they left in England.

  Angelo Mathews showed the world his captaincy and batting skills on the tour of England. He has been in red-hot form since becoming captain, and his century at Headingley last month was one of the best match-winning knocks in recent times. He even contributed substantially with the ball. Under his leadership, Sri Lanka have the ability to become one of the top Test nations in the near future. As a geunine all-rounder, he adds a lot of depth to his team and so far has fulfilled his role of captain with aplomb. He will be looking to hand South Africa their third successive series defeat on Sri Lankan soil.

  South Africa – Hashim Amla (captain), Alviro Petersen, Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers (wk), JP Duminy, Stiaan van Zyl, Wayne Parnell, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel, Dale Steyn, Imran Tahir, Kyle Abbott, Quinton de Kock, Dane Piedt.

zhashim   The highly dependable number three Hashim Amla will start off his tenure as South African captain with a challenging series in Sri Lanka (source – skysports.com)

  South Africa begin an interesting era with a new captain at the helm. Two cricketing giants of South Africa’s post-Apartheid era – Jacques Kallis and Greame Smith – both retired in the last home season, thus leaving a huge void in the team. South Africa lost a series for the first time in five years when they went down to Australia at home four months ago.

  New captain Hashim Amla, ‘Faf’ du Plessis and the outstanding A.B de Villiers are now the three lynchpins of the batting line-up. Dean Elgar and J.P Duminy will also be expected to contribute consistently to the team. There are two potential debutants in batsman Stiaan van Zyl and off-spinner Dane Piedt. The main spin option is leg-spinner Imran Tahir. Dale Steyn will always remain a threat, irrespective of the conditions on offer. Young Quinton de Kock will don the gloves as de Villiers has a hamstring problem.

  Hashim Amla’s appointment as captain is historically significant, as he will become the first permanent non-white player to lead the Proteas in a Test match. One of the most trusted performers of the Smith era, Amla is a highly likeable man who has earned the respect of the cricketing world through his pleasing performances with the bat on the field and his humility and grace off it. The responsibility of captaining South Africa means that one will get to see a hitherto-unknown facet of Amla’s disposition, that of leadership. His batting ability is unquestionable, and judging by his calmness and work ethic, I expect him to become a potent captain.

Head to Head and Recent Record

  Contests between Sri Lanka and South Africa have been infrequent ever since the two sides first met in a Test in 1993. Only 20 Tests have been played in more than two decades, with South Africa winning ten of them and five each resulting in Sri Lankan wins and draws. In Sri Lanka, ten matches have been played with the hosts winning four to South Africa’s two. The most recent series between the two teams was played in South Africa in 2011-12, when the Proteas won a three-Test series 2-1.

  The last time they faced off in Sri Lanka was in a two-Test series in 2006, which was won 2-0 by Sri Lanka. Incredibly, this was the last overseas series defeat for South Africa – they have not been beaten in an away series for nearly eight years. The last time South Africa won an overseas series was in Australia in 2012-13. The last – and only – time South Africa won a series in Sri Lanka was in 1993, when they clinched a three-Test series 1-0.

Form Book and Ranking

  Sri Lanka – currently ranked 6th, just four points behind England – enjoyed one of their greatest moments ever when they completed a thrilling 1-0 series win in England in their most recent Test series. Prior to that,over the last year and a half, the Lions had played little Test cricket and that too only in the sub-continent, recording home and away wins against Bangladesh with a 1-1 draw against Pakistan in the UAE in between. Their last series defeat was to Australia away in 2012-13, while their last home series defeat was in 2011, also against Australia.

  South Africa’s last home season was a mixed bag – a 1-0 win against India offset by a 2-1 defeat to Australia, which ensured that they surrendered their long-held number one ranking to the Aussies. Their last overseas series was against Pakistan in the UAE last October, which was drawn 1-1. Though South Africa are ranked second, they have the same points (123) as Australia, and a win against Sri Lanka will deservedly put them back on top.

Players To Watch Out For

Sri Lanka's Jayawardene celebrates after scoring a century in Colombo    Mahela Jayawardene has only four Tests left in his illustrious career, and he will be batting at his favourite venues in the first two of them against South Africa (source – rediff.com)

  Mahela Jayawardene, one of the classiest modern-day batsmen, recently announced that Sri Lanka’s next four Tests (all at home, two each against South Africa and Pakistan) would be his last. The 37 year-old will be playing at his two favourite grounds against South Africa – he has scored 2698 runs at 77.08 at the SSC and 2284 runs at 76.13 in Galle, and thus holds the top two positions in the list of most Test runs by a player on a single ground.

  Amla, de Villiers and Steyn – the three who were also part of the 2006 tour – must have painful memories of Jayawardene’s 374 and his epic world record partnership of 624 with his best mate Kumar Sangakkara at the SSC back then. He has been in good touch since the beginning of 2014, having averaged 143 in Bangladesh and 43.5 in England. Though Sangakkara – who is in the form of his life – will be the prized wicket, Jayawardene will surely look to make the most of the final stage of his stellar seventeen-year career.

  South Africa’s new skipper Hashim Amla averaged only 17.25 on his only tour of Sri Lanka in 2006, but since then he has grown into one of the world’s best batsmen. With the retirements of Smith and Kallis, his role as a top-order batsman becomes extremely crucial. He likes playing in the sub-continent, and if his form in the just-concluded ODI series (258 runs in three innings with two hundreds) is anything to go by, the Sri Lankan bowlers will have to toil hard to scalp his wicket. Given his appetite for scoring big, one can expect Amla to begin his tenure as captain with a typically solid display with the bat.

Prediction

  A really tough one to predict. There is also the possibility of rain during the series which may result in at least one draw, most likely at the SSC. South Africa have had an incomparable overseas record in the past eight years and will look to maintain that, but Sri Lanka are the more settled side. So, Sri Lanka to edge out South Africa by a margin of 1-0.

Specials – H.D Kanga: A stalwart of Indian cricket

  India played its first Test match only in 1932, but prior to that there were quite a few Parsi cricketers who might have fancied a spot in the national team and were unlucky not to play Test cricket. In this post, we will look at the life and career of Dr. Hormasji Dorabji Kanga.

  Dr. H.D Kanga was born on April 9, 1880 in erstwhile Bombay (now Mumbai). His first-class career spanned between 1899 and 1922. He was widely known as a dependable batsman with a textbook technique and also as an effective medium pace bowler. Besides his unquestionable cricket skills, Kanga was also a qualified medical practitioner, having completed his studies in England. While in England, he often used to play cricket for the Hampstead club. His early days in the game coincided with the period in which Indian domestic matches were yearning for first-class status. Thus he was one of the earliest cricketing stars who played first-class cricket in India.

   A majority of Kanga’s 43 first-class matches were played for the Parsis in the Bombay Presidency (later Triangular and Quadrangular) tournaments. His biggest achievement was that of becoming the first ever Indian to score a double-century in a first-class match. This feat came in the 1905-06 Bombay Presidency match played between the Parsis and the Europeans at the Deccan Gymkhana ground in Poona. Opening the batting, Kanga scored a brilliant 233 – which remains his career-best score – as the Parsis piled up 503 after batting first. The Europeans buckled under the huge mountain of runs and were bowled out for 137 and 140 to lose by an innings and 226 runs. In his 43 matches, he scored 1905 runs at an average of 26.83 with three hundreds and five fifties.

   As mentioned above, Kanga was also a handy bowler. In his career, he picked up 37 wickets at an average of 20.56. Eight of those wickets came in a single innings in the 1913-14 Bombay Presidency match, again played in Poona. After the Parsis scored 249 (Kanga top-scoring with 71), the Europeans were bowled out for a mere 36 runs in their first innings. Kanga was nearly unplayable on that occasion, and he recorded astonishing figures of 8/14. The Europeans crashed to defeat by an innings and 29 runs. Earlier in the 1912 Quadrangular final in Bombay, he scored a classy 150 against the Muslims – who were playing in the tournament for the first time – as the Parsis won the title with an easy victory by an innings and 177 runs.           zkanga     Dr H.D Kanga was one of the great Parsi cricketers of the early 20th century. He was the first Indian to score a first-class double hundred (source – mumbaicricket.com)

  In 1911, Kanga was part of the historic All-India team that toured England. During that tour, he turned out to be one of the most consistent batsmen, with a tally of 617 runs in 12 first-class matches at an average of 28.04. His best score was a match-winning 163 against Leicestershire. In that game, he opened the batting with fellow Parsi Rustomji Meherhomji and the duo shared a 178-run partnership. This innings helped the Indians to cruise to a seven-wicket victory. This was the period when Kanga was at his peak, but even nearly a decade later, he displayed the same tenacity in the final of the 1920-21 Quadrangular final against the Hindus at the Bombay Gymkhana ground. Kanga at that time was 40 years old, but helped to draw the match for his team with a gritty effort.

    The Hindus scored 428 in their first innings, to which the Parsis replied with only 214. Kanga had badly sprained his ankle and was not expected to bat in the second innings. Following on, the Parsis were in dire straits at 138/9 and staring at certain defeat. However, at the fall of the ninth wicket, out came Kanga, limping and with a runner accompanying him, to join J.N Elavia at the crease. The supporters of the Hindus were ready with garlands to congratulate their team, as the result seemed an inevitability. But Elavia and Kanga battled for the next three hours and the Hindus ultimately failed to dislodge this last pair. The two put on 52 runs together and saved the match for their team. While Elavia scored an unbeaten 51, Kanga made a heroic 24 not out. This match came to be known as the Kanga-Elavia match.

    Watching the above-mentioned innings was the great Indian batsman Vijay Merchant, who was then a schoolboy. In later years, Merchant recalled Kanga’s bravery – “The entire last over was played by Dr. Kanga in a manner which suggested that he was a man of iron will and nerves of steel. In spite of his handicap, he battled it out against some of the best bowlers in the country.” After the match got over, Kanga was chaired by some Parsi supporters on their shoulders to the pavillion amidst scenes of great jubilation.

    Dr. Kanga had two elder cricketer brothers – Dinshaw and M.D (who were twins). Incidentally, Dinshaw Kanga was the first Indian to score a first-class century on home soil – he scored 116 for the Parsis against the visiting Oxford University Authentics in Bombay in 1902-03. After his retirement, Dr. Kanga served as the President of the Bombay Cricket Association from 1930-31 to 1934-35 and then as the Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) from 1936 to 1945. He was also the Chairman of the All India Selection Committee from 1932-33 to 1939-40. He passed away on December 9, 1945.

    In 1948, the Dr H.D Kanga Memorial Cricket League was inaugurated in his honour. Popularly known as the Kanga League, this competition is the inter-club monsoon tournament which has been played every year since then at various grounds across Mumbai. Also named after him is the Dr H. D Kanga Memorial Library, which is a sports library housed at the Mumbai Cricket Association headquarters. He will be forever remembered for his contribution to the game of cricket in India.

RECORD BOOK – India smash the highest World Cup total

  The 2007 World Cup in the West Indies was a highly forgettable one for the Indian cricket team. Having finished as runners-up in 2003, expectations were high four years later for the Men in Blue to go one step further. However, the Rahul Dravid-led outfit lost two out of its three games (to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) in the group stage and bowed out of the tournament within two weeks, crushing the dreams of a billion fans.

  India’s solitary victory came at Port-of-Spain against Bermuda on 19th March, 2007, sandwiched between an upset five-wicket defeat to Bangladesh and a depressing 69-run defeat to Sri Lanka, which was the knockout blow. The Bermudans were playing their first ever World Cup, and their utter inexperience was exposed in their first game against Sri Lanka where they were shot out for 78 en-route to a 243-run thrashing. After the defeat to Bangladesh, India had to win both its remaining games, and this game against Bermuda presented the batsmen – who folded for 191 all out against Bangladesh – with a good opportunity to find some form ahead of the crucial last match.

  Bermuda captain Irving Romaine invited India to bat after winning the toss. Off the first ball of the second over, 17 year-old all-rounder Malachi Jones had a dream moment. He struck with his very first ball in the World Cup, removing Robin Uthappa courtesy a stunning catch by Dwayne Leverock in the slips. This dismissal, which sparked frenzied celebrations from the Bermudans, has gone on to become one of the most famous World Cup catches- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGuPP8vLlTc. But this was to be a false dawn for Bermuda, as they then ran into Virender Sehwag, who proceeded to clobber their amateur bowlers. Sehwag shared a rollicking 202-run partnership in a little over 28 overs with Sourav Ganguly for the second wicket before getting out for 114 off 87 balls (17 fours, 3 sixes).

zrety      Virender Sehwag (left) and Sourav Ganguly made merry against lightweights Bermuda in 2007 with a double-century stand that guided India to a record total (source – reuters.com)

  Ganguly (89 off 114 balls) and M.S Dhoni both perished in the next ten overs, but that brought Yuvraj Singh and Sachin Tendulkar (batting at number six) at the crease, the score reading 269/4 in the 39th over. The two unleashed mayhem and rendered all the bowlers and fielders helpless. Yuvraj’s super-charged innings of 83 off 46 balls (3 fours, 7 sixes) made look Sehwag’s century sedate in nature. The fifth-wicket stand fetched 122 in a mere 10.2 overs. Tendulkar too joined in the party, smashing an unbeaten 57 from 29 balls as India piled up a huge 413/5 – the highest ever team total in the World Cup, eclipsing Sri Lanka’s 398/5 against Kenya at Kandy in the 1996 edition. The modest crowd at the Queens Park Oval was treated to 18 sixes – which equalled the then ODI record set by South Africa against the Netherlands just three days earlier.

  The numbers in the two halves of the first innings bear quite a contrast. The first 25 overs saw a solid 153 runs being scored, while a whopping 260 were added in the latter half. Every batsman besides Uthappa had at least one six to their name, as India looked hell-bent to show their fans that they were very much alive in the tournament. Jones and Leverock, the two contributors of the first wicket, were hammered for 1/74 in seven overs and 1/96 in ten overs respectively. Only Kevin Hurdle (1/53 off ten overs) and Delyone Borden (2/30 off five) bowled with any control. After the debacle against Sri Lanka, an even bigger defeat loomed large for the Bermudans, and so it happened.

  That Bermuda managed to get to an eventual total of 156 in 43.1 overs was only due to David Hemp’s 76. Hemp, with the experience of playing for Glamorgan, faced 105 balls and remained unbeaten as his team-mates capitulated around him. Ajit Agarkar and Anil Kumble both took 3/38. The final margin of victory was 257 runs – a new ODI record at that time and still a World Cup record. It obliterated the previous World Cup record of Australia’s 256-run victory over Namibia at Potchefstroom in 2003 by just one run.  The ODI record as of today is the 290-run margin inflicted by New Zealand against Ireland at Aberdeen in 2008.

  Besides being the only World Cup total of over 400, this was also India’s first 400-plus total in all ODI’s. Since then, they have scored more than 400 twice, with their highest being 418/5 against the West Indies at Indore in 2011-12. India’s previous highest total in the World Cup was 373/6 against Sri Lanka at Taunton in 1999, while their previous biggest ODI victory was by 200 runs against Bangladesh at Dhaka in 2003.

  Of course, little had to be read into India’s record win as the do-or-die last group match against Sri Lanka beckoned, but it did fill the Indian fans with optimism of a turn-around and of sealing a spot in the next round. However, the Indian batsmen caved in for the second time in three matches, this time to Muttiah Muralitharan and Co, as the 1983 champions fell short of Sri Lanka’s 254/6 by 69 runs. Sehwag’s century against Bermuda was an aberration in a string of poor scores and he found himself out of the team a few months later.

  It was a short and strange World Cup for India. Two defeats, in which they were bowled out for 191 and 185 ensured their ouster from the tournament. But in between, they racked up a record total which ultimately counted for little.

Match Scorecard http://www.espncricinfo.com/wc2007/engine/current/match/247468.html