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Live report: Australia v India, 1st Test

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Welcome to our live report for the opening Test from Adelaide as the eagerly anticipated series between Australia and India gets underway. We’ll provide analysis, colour, stats and graphics throughout the match. You can, as always, also follow our ball-by-ball commentary

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Starc ready for surprises from Melbourne pitch

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Mitchell Starc expects the MCG pitch to be “a surprise” for both teams in the Boxing Day Test a year after it earned a “poor” rating from the ICC. During the Ashes the iconic Test of the summer subsided into a dreary draw on a surface that offered little assistance to bowlers.

During the early rounds of the Sheffield Shield, head curator Matt Page has attempted to inject more life into the drop-in wicket by putting a layer of sand between the concrete base and the pitch trays and leaving more grass on the pitch, methods expected to be repeated for the Test. But while the drop-in block is due to be replaced in March, Starc admitted that, for now, conditions remain a mystery.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Starc said. “I didn’t play last year. I had to watch from the side and it didn’t do a thing for five days so hopefully they’ve sorted it out. It sounds like they’ve been trying a few things with the Shield cricket there in the first few rounds.

“I think it may be a surprise, what they actually dish out next week, but I think we’ll just sort of review this week and enjoy a moment of reflecting on the hard work we’ve had to do this week and then we’ll focus on Melbourne when we get there.”

The hard work shouldered by Australia’s bowlers included their efforts with the bat and the respective depths of the two sides batting line-ups has been a significant factor in the series, keeping them in the contest in Adelaide and then helping set up a winning total in Perth.

ALSO READ: MCG drop-in pitch to be upgraded to Perth standard

“It’s an interesting one,” Starc said. “It’s something that we all work really hard at and we have done for a long time. Pat’s obviously fantastic at eight. He plays a bit more like a batter than the other three of us he can bat for long periods of time.

“I think it just showed in Adelaide how many balls he can face and really he looks comfortable at the crease. He may not at times feel that way but he looks very comfortable and, when he’s batting with someone like Painey or other batsmen, it’s just fantastic. Those partnerships make India bowl a lot more overs and then the other three of us we just try and hang around a bit and score a few runs and face a few balls.

“It’s something that I think our tail takes a lot of pride in. And then with the ball we’re trying to do the exact opposite for them and try to get them out really quickly.”

To illustrate the importance of the tale of the tails, Australia’s Nos. 8-11 have made 227 runs off 520 balls in the opening two Tests, while India’s equivalents have made 51 off 228 deliveries. India’s decision to replace the injured R Ashwin with fast bowler Umesh Yadav lengthened their tail and put more onus on the top order to fire.

“They had a longer tail this week,” Starc said. “Obviously bringing in an extra fast bowler, I guess someone like a Bhuvneshwar or a Jadeja who probably bat a bit better than perhaps maybe Umesh did this week, could have made things interesting – or another spinner.

“But I think we probably over attacked a little bit in Adelaide and so I think we learned from that in the second innings in Adelaide and then this week. It was obviously a different wicket, we bowled a little bit differently to the tail this week.

“We probably repaid a few favours which they did to us in the third innings so it’ll be a different story again next week I guess in Melbourne depending on what the wicket is.”



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Two guys put their hands up and didn’t give us an opportunity for a day – Williamson

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New Zealand tried bowling short from around the wicket. They tried bowling full to tempt a loose drive, with plenty of catching men in front of square to snaffle a low chance. They bowled their spinner unchanged from one end for an entire session, then switched around their quicks so the ones who were running into the wind, now had the breeze behind them. There were short legs, square gullies, short mid-ons, every variation of the fine leg imaginable, leg slips, wide slips, and at one point, a fly slip.

But through the course of 108.4 overs, Angelo Mathews and Kusal Mendis dodged every arrow New Zealand fired at them. Not only did they not lose their wickets, they refused to even give the opposition so much as a half chance. There were no strong lbw shouts, and no edges that dropped just short (though a few balls did beat the bat).

At the end of it all, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson felt he could not fault his own team for effort or creativity, and could only praise the opposition batsmen for their epic feat of endurance.

“I don’t think I’ve been part of a game where two guys have batted a whole day together and not given an opportunity,” Williamson said. “Very rarely do you go a whole day where there’s not an opportunity regardless of what you try. There were a couple of wide balls that lobbed maybe 10 centimetres in the air toward point, but only five metres in distance. I think that was the best we got. Without bounce in the surface and the defensive strokes that were played, nothing was carrying through to the keeper. We tried a number of short deliveries, which we’d like to think might have brought about something foreign in terms of strokeplay, but it was very difficult.

“That is one of the beauties of Test cricket – two guys put their hand up and didn’t give us an opportunity for a day.”

New Zealand’s quicks had gone searching for swing with the new ball through their spearheads Tim Southee and Trent Boult, while Colin de Grandhomme had also attempted to get seam movement off the pitch. When those ploys failed on a surface that had become incredibly flat, short-ball barrages were attempted. Left arm spinner Ajaz Patel even tried going around the wicket.

“We sat down and had a number of conversations with other senior players at the breaks and said: ‘What’s something else we can try?’ We tried pretty much all of it,” Williamson said. “The guys had bowled a number of overs in the first innings as well, so it was about trying to balance that out and keep them fresh so we were able to apply pressure. There wasn’t a lot happening off the pitch. We tried a few short balls and changes of tack, and tried to build pressure for a period of time to buy a wicket to a certain extent. But it wasn’t to be.”

New Zealand might have had a chance of breaking through and securing victory had rain also not arrived to wash out all but 12 overs of play on day five. Despite Mathews’ and Mendis’ record stand, Sri Lanka were still nine runs in arrears when play stopped. It is conceivable that had another 40 overs been played, New Zealand could have got themselves into a winning position.

“Shame to have the weather around today because we felt if we could pick up a wicket and get into their lower order there was still very much a chance of a result,” Williamson said.



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Kusal Mendis the dasher turns into Thilan Samaraweera clone

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Kusal Mendis didn’t quite manage the double ton he had hoped to score as a leaving present for batting coach Thilan Samaraweera, but he did get something else after the innings in Wellington: the label of Samaraweera clone.

After making a hundred on day four, Mendis had thanked Samaraweera for helping him out of a substantial batting rut over the last few months, and said that he hoped to make double-century for Samaraweera on day five. As only 12 overs of play were possible on Wednesday, Mendis could only get himself to 141 not out. However, in having batted dourly during the afternoon and evening sessions on day four, the naturally attacking Mendis had inspired his team-mates to label him the new Samaraweera – the most obdurate from among Sri Lanka’s former greats.

“After the match yesterday everyone was having a bit of fun telling Mendis that he was batting like Thilan Samaraweera,” captain Dinesh Chandimal revealed after Sri Lanka had drawn the match. “He works really closely with Thilan on his batting, and we were just making fun of the way he’d played.”

The gag is that Mendis had had to completely overturn his batting style in order to produce the kind of innings that he did in Wellington. Though the two are close, Mendis as a batsman is generally an unrepentant strokemaker, completely unlike Samaraweera, who had been a batting boulder – unmoving and, at his best, immoveable.

Team-mates especially enjoyed Mendis’ blocking, leaving and ducking in the final session of day four – a period in which he scored only 18 runs off 80 balls.

“We’re really happy with Mendis, because this innings was very different from the normal knocks he plays,” Chandimal said. “Right through it was very different.

“We should especially mention that at tea yesterday, he had 98 runs, and at the end of the day, after batting 31 overs and playing out a whole session, he had only made it to 116. You look at that and you really see he played for the team. It’s a really valuable century, and it’s one that he had to go away from his natural style to produce.”

Chandimal, who had spent seven hours padded up as the next batsman in on Tuesday, was also overjoyed with the performance of Angelo Mathews – the senior-most batsman in the side. Mathews finished on 120 not out, off 323 deliveries. Unlike Mendis, who had enjoyed brief flurries of scoring in the first sessions of days four and five, Mathews stonewalled for virtually the entirety of his innings. He was rewarded with his first century of the year, having failed to convert five fifties into triple figures across his eight previous innings.

“When Angelo got out in the first innings for 83, I had a chat with him and he said: ‘Yeah, I missed a century. Again I have to go from zero to get a century from here,” Chandimal said. “He has a lot of courage and he has a lot of concentration when he’s batting. He’s one of the most experienced players we have in our line-up. If he’s scoring, that gives us a lot of confidence going forward. I’m extremely happy with the way he played.

“The most important thing about both their innings was that they were playing for the team. That’s the most important thing.”



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