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Smith memories stoke Mitchell Marsh’s fire

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Memories of batting with the banned former captain Steven Smith during last summer’s Ashes will be at the forefront of Mitchell Marsh‘s mind. This as he seeks to quieten a vociferous lobby of critics while making the No. 6 berth and the Australian vice-captaincy his own during the Test series against India.

It’s been a little less than a year since Marsh was recalled to the Australian Test side for the third Test of the home bout with England in Perth. He joined with Smith for a punishing stand worth 301 that not only delivered the allrounder his first Test hundred, but also effectively sealed the return of the Ashes.

Another century at the SCG shored up Marsh’s spot further, but after he followed it up with a key 96 during Australia’s victory over South Africa in Durban, his and the team’s fortunes have slipped considerably either side of the Newlands ball tampering scandal. Smith is suspended from Australian duty until April next year, but Marsh has revisited his partnership with the ex-captain numerous times by way of positive reinforcement.

“I constantly go back to that and watch my innings,” Marsh said in Adelaide. “I think it’s important for me to go back to that, I feel like I was batting really well last summer, I feel like I’m batting really well at the moment. It’s always nice to be back playing in Australia, I think we play extremely well here, the record shows that.

“Smudger (Smith) became one of my best mates in cricket over the last couple of years. We certainly like batting together. He doesn’t give you much out in the middle. We just had that connection and some great partnerships I’ll always remember the rest of my life. I feel very lucky to have done that. Hopefully we’ve got a few more in us in the future.

“When you’re batting at the other end with Steve Smith it takes your mind off the fact you’re out there. You can switch off and watch him do his work – pretty awesome to watch. We both don’t really communicate much out in the middle. Keep going, watch the ball, swing hard. That’s about it. It sounds stupid but that’s really all it is when you’re batting together.”

Australia appear highly likely to go into the first Test with a batting order of Marcus Harris, Aaron Finch, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, Travis Head and Mitchell Marsh, leaving Peter Handscomb the odd batsman out. Plenty of questions have been raised about Mitchell Marsh’s place in the team following an horrific tour of the UAE, but his productivity last summer at home, his value-add as a bowler, and also his status as vice-captain to Tim Paine, alongside Josh Hazlewood, appear set to see him retained.

“After the UAE, there’s no doubt that there’s a few questions marks over me, so I’m just really pumped if I’m selected to get out there and play in front of Australian crowds again, its a great time of year. I am feeling good,” Marsh said. “I think No. 6 is a great position to bat especially if you’ve bowled a few overs you always get a bit of time to have a rest. I’m doing my best to make the No. 6 position my own in this team, so that’s all I can do.

“I’m fully fit, rearing to go, got some good overs under my belt the last couple of weeks for Western Australia. I’m feeling great. My goal for this summer is to start chipping in with the ball and get a few more wickets for the team. I love coming on in the graveyard shift, 70 to 80 overs when the ball’s doing nothing and trying to sneak in a wicket. I really want to take my bowling to the next level in this team. That’s about taking your opportunity when you get it.”

Ticket sales for the series have been middling at best. It hasn’t helped that local train services won’t run over days three and four of the Adelaide Test. In Perth, a lack of demand has led to the decision to close off the shaded top tier of the new stadium. Asked whether the team felt trepidation about how they would be received by home crowds in their first Test in Australia since Newlands, Marsh was a picture of optimism.

“It’s been a big build up to this Test match but there’s a great feeling around this group,” he said. “We’ve all trained exceptionally well and prepared the best we possibly can. That’s all we can do, now it’s about going out there and hopefully putting it together as a batting unit. but we all feel really good at the moment.

“We’re pumped to get back here and play in front of our home crowds. We want to play an exciting brand of cricket that people want to come and watch. We know there’s going to be a lot of Indian fans here too, so that’s always exciting to play in front of them. But we’re just pumped to get back playing in front of our fans.”



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Cricket

Hardik Pandya gathers momentum with fifty against Mumbai

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The IPL has done funny things to Indian cricket, particularly the fan. How else do you explain lusty cheering for Mumbai Indians Baroda allrounder Hardik Pandya as he tried with all his might to thwart Mumbai’s chances of securing a vital first innings lead at Wankhede stadium? Sure, there is merit in the theory that he is an India player, but MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli apart, not many have such a hold over crowds across the country.

If it was a case of conflicted emotions – although there was no sign of it as the small crowd chanted his name like an anthem – they got the best of both worlds. Pandya obliged with a 137-ball 73 but Mumbai clung on to the cliff edge, securing a 29-run lead that may just keep them afloat in the Ranji Trophy.

Pandya may have missed a maiden Ranji Trophy hundred, but it was his first major contribution with the bat in red-ball cricket since a whirlwind 93 at the start of the year in Cape Town. (He’d made a fifty against Afghanistan in between, but that came after India’s total had already gone past 300)

Baroda had other heroes as well. Aditya Waghmode batted in khadoos mode to make 114 off 304 balls and Vishnu Solanki produced a more free flowing 133 to give Pandya the time he needed to find his feet, both literally and figuratively. At lunch he was batting on 3 off 29, struggling for rhythm but untroubled by the bowling as such.

Match situations, though, can be fickle, and after cruising for 121 overs and looking set to surpass Mumbai’s 465 by a significant margin, wickets fell, as though through a series of trapdoors. A comfortable 351 for 3 became 378 for 6 when tea was taken, and two overs post resumption Baroda had slipped to a precarious 379 for 7. At that stage, it seemed like they were running out of luck, exemplified by Solanki’s questionable lbw decision earlier in the day, but soon enough Pandya was bowled off a no-ball and it became a level playing field once again.

Reprieved on 41, he brought his side within 29 runs of Mumbai’s total before being pinned in front by Royston Dias as he tried to steal a single off the last ball of the over. It was not unlike the position he was in a few months ago at Edgbaston, when India needed 32 to win and Pandya was left with the awkward job of refusing singles when the field was spread, and scampering across when it came up. Eventually he was led to play a shot that wasn’t meant to fetch him runs or protect his stumps and he was dismissed.

The difference here is that there’s an innings left and Pandya could enjoy the perks of who he is – an allrounder – and influence the result. While Mumbai would have undoubtedly been the happier side, having taken the lead, given the lack of time left in the game, they were also the only ones left in a position to throw it away – a tendency common among teams batting without purpose on final days. With his two quick wickets before stumps, Pandya has stoked that possibility.



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Vernon Philander to miss Boxing Day Test against Pakistan

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South Africa seamer Vernon Philander is set to miss the first Test against Pakistan on Boxing Day after sustaining a hairline fracture on his right thumb. With Lungi Ngidi out of action until February with a knee injury, South Africa will go into the first of three Test matches with just three fit frontline quicks in Duanne Olivier, Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn.

Philander had recently returned to action following rehabilitation for a recurring ankle injury, that had flared up during South Africa’s trip to Sri Lanka in July, and had played in one of the early season rounds of the domestic four-day competition, as well as turning out for Durban Heat in seven of their Mzansi Super League matches.

“I really don’t even want to think about what would happen should there be another injury,” said South Africa coach Ottis Gibson.

All three of the remaining fit quicks will be playing in Sunday’s Mzansi Super League final, but they will not be part of next week’s round of domestic four-day cricket.

ALSO READ: Gibson not worried about Amla’s dip in form

“If you look at where we are, Steyn, Rabada and Olivier become very important to us. We just want to manage them as best we can. We’ve seen how Dale’s been going. I don’t want to say we’ve seen a transformation because he’s always been a top player, but he’s back to full fitness and performing like the player of old. KG (Rabada) as always is very important to us.”

“We’ve looked at a few bowling options over the past 14 months and we’ve got what we feel now is a very good bowling attack and group,” Gibson said. “You’ve got Steyn, Rabada, Philander, Ngidi and Olivier, who’s been in-and-out, but always in our thinking. That’s the making of a good attack in any form of the game. My job now is to keep them fit and fresh for them to be at their peak at international level.”



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India ‘surprised’ by soft signal on Virat Kohli catch – Jasprit Bumrah

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India’s players were “surprised” that Virat Kohli was given out on the field after Peter Handscomb claimed a catch off the bowling of Pat Cummins, according to Jasprit Bumrah.

A diving Handscomb appeared to scoop up a thick edge after Kohli drove hard at a full and wide delivery, but the decision was then referred to the third umpire, Nigel Llong. Llong was unable to find conclusive evidence, after extensively reviewing replays, to overturn the soft signal of out given by Kumar Dharmasena in consultation with Chris Gaffaney on the field.

But Bumrah said India were puzzled by the original decision.

“We were a little surprised by the on-field call,” said Bumrah. “Now it has been done, and it has been done. Now we will move forward with the game.”

Conversely, Nathan Lyon said there was no doubt in the minds of the Australian players that Handscomb had taken the catch cleanly.

“I wasn’t sure about the conversation between the umpires but, yeah, we thought it was out.

“Conversation was ‘great catch’.”

Kohli’s wicket fell at a crucial time in India’s innings, with India on 251 and trailing Australia’s first-innings total by 75 runs. The decision sparked a lively debate among fans and commentators alike and drew a strong reaction on social media in India.

ALSO READ: Bat, breathe, bat – the essence of Virat Kohli

Speaking on ABC radio, former Australia batsman Ed Cowan took an opposing view. “There is zero doubt in my mind that this catch has carried,” Cowan said. “Virat has made this a news story, and he shouldn’t.

“He should have the grace to walk off and say that was a fair catch.”

Kohli’s demeanour was animated through the day’s play. When he reached his century he held his bat up with one hand and made a talking gesture with his other hand. He encouraged the enthusiastic and noisy Indian contingent in the crowd and was front and centre for celebrations whenever an Australian wicket fell. There was also what appeared to be a colourful exchange between Kohli and Tim Paine as the pair walked off the field at the end of the day’s play.

Lyon played down the significance of the exchange.

“I think he just asked him where he was going for dinner that’s all,” Lyon said. “I’ve played enough cricket against Virat to know what he’s like.

“Virat’s Virat and I’m not worried about what he’s doing or what India’s doing.”

But Kohli’s animation throughout the day was enough to draw criticism from some, including former Australia batsmen, Michael Hussey.

“Virat Kohli is out of control out there,” said Hussey, speaking on Macquarie Radio. “He is revving up the crowd and he is going nuts when they take a wicket. I don’t like his attitude at the moment.”



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