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Test Championship will prevent pitches that favour home team heavily – Faf du Plessis

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Playing conditions in the age of the Test championship are less likely to be stacked in favour of the home team, according to South African Faf du Plessis.

Currently preparing to play the second Test in a three-match series in India, du Plessis and his team have been pleasantly surprised with pitches, which are less hostile than they were on South Africa’s last tour in 2015.

Back then, South Africa faced a trial by spin and lost two of the three non-rain affected matches inside three days. The Nagpur surface was rated poor on the evidence of variable bounce, turn and pace and South Africa’s batsmen were completely undone, which led to them losing a first series on the road in nine years and their No.1 ranking.

“We didn’t get 20 wickets the first Test and that’s something I don’t want to do again”

Faf du Plessis

In response, South Africa prepared revenge strips aka green tops for India’s visit in 2017 and earned their own premier pitch at Wanderers a fine for excessively steep and unpredictable bounce. The venue remains under warning until 2023 but du Plessis thinks such tactics are unlikely to continue thanks to the new Test league.

“That’s the big thing the Test Championship has changed. In the past, if you had a below-average pitch, you got a warning, whereas now you get deducted points,” du Plessis said.

He is only partly correct, because the home side will only lose points if the match is abandoned because of an unfair pitch, but the broader point stands. Home sides are less likely to ask for anything that could result in their line-up being disadvantaged by conditions because they would not want to risk losing any points.

“Home games are going to be very important. We knew coming here, India will always be a tough place to play but you’ve got to make sure you get your points at home,” du Plessis said. “It’s not as obvious as making wickets like that (to suit the home side) anywhere, like what it was in 2015.”

That much was evident in Vizag, where the pitch started off slow, flattened out and then took turn later on. It remained possible to score runs and take wickets throughout and produced a compelling encounter, which India won convincingly. Du Plessis expected Pune to have slightly more in it than for the hosts. “The turf is a little bit more red, more spinning conditions, so expecting the ball to spin a little bit more from the straight. I am not a pitch expert but I think it will take a bit more turn than the first Test.”

ALSO READ: The mystery of the Pune pitch

That will affect how South Africa select their XI, which came under some scrutiny for including three frontline spinners in Vizag, two of whom were largely ineffective. Dane Piedt looks most likely to lose his place if South Africa are after an injection of pace with either Lungi Ngidi or Anrich Nortje, which may help with their big-picture goal of bowling India out twice. “We are thinking, ‘what’s going to be our most aggressive options to get 20 wickets,’ du Plessis said. “We didn’t get 20 wickets the first Test and that’s something I don’t want to do again. We are planning for a pitch that will be a bit drier and that will spin.”

While that means Keshav Maharaj and Senuran Muthusamy, if he plays, will be expected to do most of the wicket-taking, South Africa will also look at the way Mohammed Shami bowled in Vizag to inspire their quicks.

“KG and Vern are masters in their conditions, they have proved that but any cricketer, not just bowlers, tries to learn from players in their own conditions,” du Plessis said. “Shami ran in with a lot of intensity, a bit quicker than in the first innings and things happened a little quicker off the pitch. Also, learning from the lengths that he bowled. He is a guy that hits the stumps a lot. That’s something we want to make sure we are better at. In the first innings, we were too wide and they scored quite frequently square of the wicket.”

South Africa had few answers to Shami’s burst on the fifth morning in Vizag, which they could not blame on conditions. But as a line-up, they still lasted beyond lunch on the final day and proved to themselves that conditions are not unplayable in the new, Test-championship era.

“The difference with us from 2015, where you try and survive in Indian spinning conditions and with that sometimes you can become too defensive and you allow the opposition to be on top of you the whole time, now it needs to be a good combination of positive play, an element of taking risks at some stages of the game to try and counter that pressure from the bowling. The balance between attack and defense is key when you are playing in the subcontinent.”



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‘We know each other’s roles when we’re out there’ – David Warner on partnership with Joe Burns

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David Warner and Joe Burns believe their commanding 222 opening stand against Pakistan at the Gabba will be the resumption of a beautiful friendship, after a previously promising union was effectively broken up by the wiles of Sri Lanka’s spinners as far back as 2016.

Always comfortable in each other’s batting company, Warner and Burns were strong partners in 2015-16, including another major stand against New Zealand in Brisbane, before they were split up and left with plenty of challenges, culminating in Burns’ extended time out of the team and Warner’s ban in 2018. They were almost reunited for this year’s Ashes series, but the belated union at the Gabba instantly showed why they had so enjoyed providing starts for Australia in the past.

Warner was hopeful that this time around he and Burns would be given an extended run as partners, both for this home summer and the challenges beyond it.

“Yes is the answer. I reckon I threw the toys out of the cot a lot there as well, that was a challenging series for a lot of us,” Warner said of Sri Lanka in 2016 when Burns was dropped. “But look the success we’ve had together, especially here at home has been fantastic, and as Joe said before, we just have this energy about us when we’re out there, we communicate a lot, we’re always talking about cricket, even though we probably wouldn’t want to talk about it but we do.

ALSO READ: Warner thrives on home comforts and positive thinking

“But the most important thing is rotating strike. When we do that well, it’s hard for bowlers to put it on the spot all the time when you’re doing that. I know I try to achieve that when we’re out there, if I can’t get the ball away or it’s got to be respected, I try and tuck it in on the leg side or we drop and run. A lot of the fielders hang [back] a little bit, especially when I’m on strike, so I’m always looking around for that drop and run, and I know he looks to get off strike as well. Knowing each other’s roles when we’re out there, we do that very well. We did it the other day in the nets, we had a good half-hour session where we said we’re going to run if we think there’s a run and rotate it six balls.”

For his part, Burns stated that the combination of a left-hand batsman and a right-hand batsman was always useful, in addition to a good feel for each other’s batting tendencies. “I think the left-hand, right-hand certainly helps, and I’ve always said batting with Dave is really easy,” Burns said. “You get down the non-striker’s end, you look up and the scoreboards’ ticking along, there’s no pressure to score. I think the biggest thing for me is just the engagement we have, we’re always talking about how the bowlers are trying to bowl, where we can score, where the threats are.

“When you have a combination like that with your partner, you lean on your partner during the tough times, and as the innings develops there’ll be scoring opportunities for each of us. I think we saw that today, the Gabba can be a great place to bat once you get in, and if the bowlers are missing their areas, and left-hand, right-hand certainly helps with that.

“The way we prepare as well, having someone who’s been there and done it, someone to talk to about how they’re going to go about their preparation and walking out into battle with them makes it a lot easier. You’d be silly not to lean on guys in our team who have the experience and success that guys like Davey has had.”

Reflecting on his time out of the team, Warner noted how it had given the likes of Burns, Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne the start to gain a foothold in the team, while also granting him a physical and mental break from the treadmill of international cricket.

“It was obviously fantastic [to be back] – on the other hand it was a great opportunity for other guys to step up and show what depth Australian cricket has and I was chuffed for this guy next to me to get some runs and play the way he did,” Warner said of Burns. “He was unlucky not to get selected in the Ashes touring group, but to come out here and put that on the board and have that time off to reflect, and just get away from the game.

“There’s a lot more to life than just cricket and I really loved the time I spent at home with my family. You don’t get that when we’re travelling all the time. You come home, sometimes you’re not in form and you can throw the toys out of the cot and that can hinder your relationships. But for me it was a level grounding and I really enjoyed that time off. Obviously I’m back now and I’ve got to keep working hard and keep being respectable of the game, because it can bite you in the backside very fast.”

Burns, too, had faced time away from the national team, and had won respect from several key observers by responding to his omission from the Ashes squad by taking a European holiday and returning fresh and ready for the home season. His northern summer and a contract with Lancashire had been broken up by a case of post-viral fatigue.

“I don’t think you really have much choice,” he said of not sulking over his non-selection. “Selections come and go in this game, there’s so many games you play these days that you’ve just got to make sure you’re making runs. There’s always a training session around the corner, always a game to play around the corner. I came home, got stuck into pre-season with the Queensland boys and wanted to hit the ground running with three Shield games at the Gabba, which I knew was going to be tough work and just wanted to be batting well.

“I knew if I was batting well there’d be opportunities there. It was great to watch the boys on TV playing in the Ashes, obviously you get left out and of course you want to be there trying to help out in any way you can, but I knew my job was to make sure if I was called upon in the home summer that I was ready to go. Tried to use that as my motivation and get stuck into it.

“It’s a very bitter feeling getting bowled around your legs on 97 by a legspinner at the Gabba. But I was really satisfied with how I batted, felt like I did a lot of things right and I know if I bat more often than not, hopefully it equates to plenty more runs. I’ll just try to be better in the 90s next time and go and bat all day and come out tomorrow and do it all again. Look at Davey, he finished 150 not out, those are the sorts of innings that win Test matches.”



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Warner likens Naseem to a young Mohammad Amir

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Naseem Shah was denied a first Test wicket by the calling of a no ball after the fact, but he had consolation in a generous assessment by David Warner, who made the most of the second chance to bat through day two of the Gabba Test for Australia.

“He’s quite skiddy, got a nice fluent action, but he won’t get a harder Test debut than out there and bowl at the Gabba,” Warner said of 16-year-old Naseem. “To keep coming back in, having to back up the overs, that heat. You ask any Test fast bowler who’s played here and had to keep coming back, it’s very challenging out there, and our job as batsmen is to try and keep them coming back. I think he kept his speed up quite a lot throughout the whole day. The back end he cramped up a little bit, but that’s obviously going to happen.

“He charged in, and there’s a superstar there. Like when Mohammad Amir came on the scene, the first time, he was rapid and had us all in a pickle. He was a world class bowler, and if you add him to the Test lineup as well, their depth is ridiculous, and having these other young guys like Musa and Hasnain as well, who I faced in the T20s. If Waqar Younis can get a hold of them and get their lines and lengths and their engines going, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.”

Those words of encouragement were as good as it got for Pakistan on an otherwise barren day, as Warner, Joe Burns and Marnus Labuschagne were so supreme as to prevent the Ashes dominating Steven Smith from even getting a bat. Yasir Shah, who continued his own personal battle to try to find the right way to bowl in Australia, was blunt in assessing how the pace bowlers had used the new ball in the absence of Mohammad Abbas.

“The wicket played very differently to the way it did on day one. The kind of moisture we saw wasn’t there,” he said. “We bowled badly with the new-ball. We didn’t use it well. That allowed them to get set and they played well.

“We’ll have to see how tomorrow goes. There was a little bit of help later on. I didn’t get too many breakthroughs but there was quite a bit of bounce on offer. Our bowlers have used the second new-ball well. So I hope that we come back tomorrow and bowl well.”

Yasir, who may have been close to losing his place for the match, explained how he had tried to experiment with pace and line to find a way past Warner. “I changed and mixed my pace around quite a bit today,” he said. “I bowled slow and also at times a bit fast. You have to do that on these pitches. Your ball can skid with the faster one and bring you a wicket. I tried my best to bowl at one spot, which I’ve done in the past and they played me well.

“Today I did the same, but also with some variations and they played me well again. There wasn’t much support from the wicket. It’s just the second day of the Test. You just need to find the right spot from where you can get the ball to jump and get you wickets at short-leg and at close-in positions. And if the ball breaks even a bit off the pitch, there’s a chance of getting an edge to slip.

“That’s what I tried but without much success since there wasn’t much turn off the wicket. But I’ll try to do the same tomorrow morning and hopefully it’ll work out.”



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Recent Match Report – Australia vs Pakistan, ICC World Test Championship, 1st Test

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Australia 1 for 312 (Warner 151*, Labuschagne 55*) lead Pakistan 240 (Shafiq 76, Azhar 39, Starc 4-52, Cummins 3-60) by 72 runs

David Warner managed to eclipse his meager Ashes tally in less than two sessions of batting on the way to a cathartic 22nd Test hundred, putting on an opening stand of 222 with the recalled Joe Burns, as Australia enjoyed a dominant day at the Gabba to move into a position from where it’s difficult to see how Pakistan can come back.

Warner and Burns, who fell three runs short of his fifth Test century, were not separated until the final session although debutant Naseem Shah was denied his maiden international wicket shortly after lunch when he overstepped having had Warner caught behind on 56.

He made the most of his reprieve, reaching his first Test hundred since the 2017 Melbourne Test against England off 180 balls. After a sedate single, he brought out the trademark leap and there was clear emotion as he was congratulated by Burns. It was his fourth hundred at the Gabba – where he also scored a Sheffield Shield century earlier this season – and took his average at the venue over 70.

Warner closed unbeaten on 151 albeit with another stroke of fortune when the ball grazed off stump but the bail did not dislodge as he shouldered arms at Imran Khan in the penultimate over. Alongside was Marnus Labuschagne who eased to 55 in a stand of 90 with the lead already at 72 and the prospect of them batting long enough to take the final innings largely out of equation. For the members of the Pakistan attack who were on the previous tour – Khan and Yasir Shah – it would have been a familiar feeling.

From the start, Australia set a positive tempo although Burns wasn’t far from falling to his first delivery when he under-edged Khan but the ball did not carry to Mohammad Rizwan. There was a hint of nervousness from the opening pair for a few moments, but Burns’ first boundary was a strong square cut and in the sixth over Warner leaned into a thumping cover drive.

Naseem was handed the ball in the seventh over, immediately pushing the speedgun into the high 140s, and in his fourth over registered the fastest ball of the match. There was plenty to get excited about with the smooth action and impressive pace although already a no-ball would come back to haunt him. He returned for a second burst before lunch and struck Burns a painful blow on the elbow with the penultimate ball of the session.

One of the curious tactics from Azhar Ali was the use of Iftikhar Ahmed’s part-time offspin ahead of Yasir and the warning signs were flashing for Pakistan as Australia went to lunch on 0 for 100.

However, two overs after the break they should have had a huge lift. Warner drove a full delivery from Naseem, got an under edge and the celebrations started as Rizwan took the catch. A moment to savour for the 16-year-old. Then the third umpire was called in to check the no-ball and the image was painful: Naseem’s foot comfortably over the line, no room for any doubt as with Pat Cummins on the opening day.

There were consoling pats on the back from team-mates and the incident, while ultimately the bowlers’ fault, brought into the spotlight again the lack of on-field calls for overstepping. At tea, Channel 7 showed there had been 21 missed no-balls in the first two sessions.

Pakistan created precious few other chances during the afternoon as Burns joined Warner with a half-century in a rekindling of a productive opening partnership. Both players used their feet nicely to the spinners and the closest they came to being separated was Warner surviving a run out by a frame when Yasir hit direct completing a second on 93.

Warner had to take tea on 99 having tried to turn a single into a two on the last ball of the session and Pakistan strung together nine dots before the run to bring up three figures.

The opening stand reached 200 – this had been the previous opening pair to reach that mark for Australia, against New Zealand, also at the Gabba, in 2015 – and attention turned to Burns as he approached three figures, his absence from the Ashes looking even stranger.

He was within touching distance of centuries in back-to-back Test appearances, following his 180 against Sri Lanka in Canberra, when he missed a sweep at Yasir and was bowled round his legs. He could barely drag himself from the crease, but there would need to be an extraordinary turn of events for him not to have the whole summer to try, finally, to cement that opening role.

It has been a while since Australia’s No. 3 has come in with a ball 60 overs old against a tired attack and though Naseem was brought back to Labuschagne there was not quite the life of earlier. At the end of his first day with the ball, Naseem was elevated to take the second new ball but there was no late success to lift him or Pakistan. There will need to be plenty in the morning, although this already feels like a game that has gone. Steven Smith is still to come.



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