Monthly Archives: January 2019

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Clarke passes Bradman thanks to umpire error


CHENNAI: India refuse to budge on the vexed issue of umpiring technology, and their distrust is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Their stubborn opposition to the decision-review system, however, has already come back to bite them in the first Test against Australia.If there was one batsman they did not want to be let off the hook at the MA Chidambaram Stadium it was Michael Clarke.Far and away the world’s most untouchable scorer of runs during an unforgettable 2012 he has proven time and again – via three double centuries and a triple in one calendar year – that when he gets a start, he is difficult to stop.A 23rd Test century, and third in India, proved him as good as anyone against spin, with the footwork of a tap dancer.  The Australian captain’s reprieve came on Friday just before tea when, on 39, he appeared to be caught, via an inside edge, at short leg by Cheteshwara Pujura. He was given not out by Sri Lankan umpire Kumar Dharmasena, a decision that soon after was confirmed as horribly wrong by replays and a Snicko reading that showed up so clearly it was as if Clarke had clubbed the ball out of the ground.MS Dhoni, India’s captain, had no avenue for review, as is the case throughout this series. Their own choice, they can have no complaint.However, the Clarke let-off hurt more deeply as he and an impressive Moises Henriques (68), on Test debut, produced a resurrection mission on a first innings in which Australia had fallen from an enterprising 2-126 to be languishing at 5-153. The pair put on 151 together, and while India struck again late, a day-one total of 7-316 was decidedly more healthy than it might have been.Ravichandran Ashwin, the tall off-spinner who learnt his craft with a tennis ball on the streets of Chennai, was the bowler who was cost Clarke’s wicket by the umpiring blunder. It would have been his and the team’s sixth of the day, having already secured a five-wicket haul in a session and a bit as he frightened the life out of Australia’s middle order. He would get his half dozen later on, claiming 6-88, but he might well trade them all in for Clarke.”It was quite clear for me he hit the ball, that’s why we all went up,” Ashwin said. “At the end of the day it does happen, the umpire used to be an off-spinner himself.”Henriques added: “I actually thought ‘what are these guys appealing for?’ To me at first glance and the umpire must have thought it because we were only a metre away from each other, it looked like it just glanced his thigh pad and went up. But then once I saw the big screen it was a slightly different opinion. We didn’t really speak about it out in the middle but after he had a look at the replay at the tea break I think he realised he was a little bit lucky.”It was not Clarke’s first win of the day. Victory at the toss – the word ‘bat’ could not come out of his mouth fast enough – was just as important.  Batting third on this south Indian dustbowl, against a coterie of hungry spinners, could be difficult enough. Chasing even 100 to win in the final innings would have been about as easy as a foreigner driving a hire car in Chenani peak hour.If Ashwin’s success was not plain enough, the ground staff’s activities in the session breaks spelled out just how specially prepared this pitch was for India’s three spinners. Armed with straw brooms, they swept the red soil deck at length, emitting a large plume of orange dust with each pointless swipe. The only sign of life on it for the last fortnight were the odd grass clippings sprinkled on the deck like coriander leaves on a stir fry.Australia will try their own luck with reverse swing and variable bounce when they take the ball, and there was plenty of the latter around on day one to inspire encouragement.Ashwin had a bowling average of 52 in India’s series defeat to England last year but on his home track was a different performer, particularly in an almost unplayable period just after lunch. He trapped Shane Watson for 28 with the fourth ball of the session, then in his next over, had David Warner beaten on 59, also leg-before, ending a smart innings from the Australian opener – his fifth Test fifty in six innings.Australia were in strife until Clarke stepped in, as is almost custom these days, and saved the day, in the process surpassing 7000 Test runs and Sir Donald Bradman’s career tally.He was ably supported by Henriques, whose selection was wholly justified by a mature half-century ended shortly before stumps, by Ashwin.Clarke reached three figures once again with a straight drive for four right on stumps. If it seemed the wicket was less hostile for him than the rest that was misleading. In reality, his batting was just better.

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Henriques happy with debut knock

CHENNAI: Moises Henriques says he has seen enough from a spin-friendly south Indian wicket to suggest Australia’s plan to bank on reverse swing in the first Test can come to fruition.

On debut, the NSW 26-year-old’s first-day 68 helped captain Michael Clarke (103 not out) rescue the tourists’ first innings against an onslaught from local hero Ravichandran Ashwin. While the off-spinner dominated Henriques said India’s two seamers, Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, had extracted enough reverse swing from the dusty deck to provide plenty of encouragement for Australia’s bowlers.

Clarke resumes on Saturday with Peter Siddle (1 not out) and Australia 7-316. They will be bowling before long, and have their faith primarily in three fast bowlers – Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc and all-rounder Henriques. Only the one specialist spinner, Nathan Lyon, is in the XI, with Clarke expected to provide considerable back-up.

“There was not much seam movement or anything like that but both their quicks were getting it to reverse,” Henriques said. “I think with our quicks they’ll probably penetrate the wicket a little bit more than what those guys did.

“(India) bowled with discipline and hopefully with guys like Jimmy and Peter and Mitch will have a little bit more air speed. There was certainly reverse swing so I think the key with reverse swing is to try to bowl to new batsmen with it and be smart with your fields.”

Portuguese-born Henriques finished the day with strapping around his left shin but said he would be all right to bowl on Saturday.

The presence of his state colleague Clarke, who he has batted with before at Sheffield Shield level, was a great comfort for the first-gamer.

“Luckily after the first ball the nerves died down a little bit but they were going through the roof waiting to bat,” Henriques said. “Then when that wicket (of Matthew Wade) fell and having to walk out the legs started to turn to jelly. But after that first ball and after the first run things started to calm down a little.

“(Clarke) wasn’t too different to when I’ve batted with him before in Shield cricket. He likes to smile out there and we enjoy our cricket and enjoy batting together. I think that relaxing, calming effect that he has and that confidence that he has as a batsman starts rubbing off on the people that he bats with as well.”

He was disappointed with the mode of his late exit, becoming Ashwin’s fourth leg-before victim of the day and sixth in total, but could hold his head high after a contribution in testing conditions that Australia badly needed.

“I really wanted to get through the day and make sure we finished five wickets down,” he said. “I could have been a little bit more ruthless at the end if I was going to be critical. But if someone said you’re going to have 60-odd on debut I’d take it.”

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Opposites are just as attractive

IN ALL sport it’s the contrast in styles that makes the contest, particularly when the differences between two key players in the opposing teams are so evident.

James O’Connor is the golden boy of Australian Rugby, the blond bombshell who sells tickets and attracts the image makers as much for his looks and style as his game.

Versatile and skilful, 22-year-old O’Connor can operate anywhere in the back line, but is currently being used at full-back by the Rebels.

Jesse Mogg, at 23 a couple of months older, is far less celebrated. The Brumbies full-back has played less than half the number of Super Rugby games as O’Connor, and scored only a fraction of the points since being plucked from the obscurity of the local league by the Canberra side last year.

But his explosive pace and hard, direct running provided a tremendous variation to O’Connor’s supple sinuousness when the two lined up at opposite ends of AAMI Park on Friday night.

Their differences illustrated, in this sport as in others, that while there may be one method of play that is more fashionable or aesthetic than another, in the end it’s the style that gets the job done that is the most effective.

Where Mogg was all power, speed and straightforwardness as he attacked, O’Connor was a muscular, twisting shape as he stepped and probed trying to find space where, for most of his colleagues, none would exist.

The difference was perfectly described in two periods of play early in the game. Mogg opened the scoring with a display of scorching pace – a rugby version of Black Caviar if you like – as he kicked the ball long to launch an attack and chased his own delivery down.

On the way through he outpaced O’Connor and then hit the turbo button to get his hand to the ball before Rebels half-back Nick Phipps, who had a healthy head start in the run to the try line.

O’Connor then showed the other side of the game, exemplifying his ability to turn and dance, to find the gaps and accelerate off a short step to set up his teammates.

Launching himself under a Mogg high bomb, O’Connor palmed the ball down, roved his own knock back and set off on a jinking, slippery run that took him past several opponents before off-loading for Scott Higinbotham to score his first try for the Rebels.

Mogg took the advantage in this contrasting battle of the full-backs near the end of the first half when another rampaging run saw him brush through several challenges before his pass set in train the move completed by Clyde Rathbone, who went over in the corner.

Still, it’s not all glamour and pyrotechnics playing at No. 15. Sometimes you have to stand and take your hits, and O’Connor showed that he had the right stuff in that department, too, when he made a second-half try-saving tackle on Rathbone that stopped the winger’s break. His efforts to return to the fray after an injury time-out were overruled by the medical staff – much to his evident frustration.

He will live to fight another day as the Rebels look to get back on track against the Waratahs next Friday. With the Brumbies on the break next week, Mogg can rest and recuperate – and prepare to let the brakes off in Canberra in a fortnight when the Brumbies take on the Waratahs.

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Hurt Dragons vow to rally for daunting opener

Unplayable … Greg Inglis was in scintillating form. DEFCON-SOUTHS


MATT COOPER, Jason Nightingale and Mitch Rein started the Charity Shield but failed to finish it. Cameron King, the back-up Dragons hooker, was medicabbed off ANZ Stadium in the worst possible preparation for their premiership opener against the reigning premiers in Melbourne.

South Sydney held off a spirited second-half fightback to win the 30th edition of the pre-season fixture 28-10. The focus will be on a bulging Dragons casualty ward which already includes first-choice halfback Kyle Stanley.

Cooper suffered a calf strain while Nightingale also failed to show for the second half due to a sciatic issue in his leg. Rein was forced off with a shoulder problem while the club’s other dummy-half, King, was heavily concussed after running into the shoulder of Souths forward George Burgess. At least Michael Weyman, returning from a knee reconstruction, came through unscathed.

Cooper declared himself a certain starter against the Storm, saying he may have played only 40 minutes even if he didn’t pick up the niggle. And Dragons coach Steve Price was confident Nightingale and King would take their places for round one.

”Mitch Rein has got a bit of a burner there on his shoulder so we’ll let it settle down over the weekend and he can get scans early in the week,” he said. ”Our medical staff aren’t overly concerned.”

Despite the body count, the joint-venture club threatened to steal the contest when two tries in the space of four minutes narrowed the gap to six. But late tries to Rabbitohs youngsters Dylan Walker and Mitchell Buckett gave them a deserved victory.

Nathan Merritt was dumped for, the official line is, ”failing to meet team standards”. It’s believed the prolific try-scorer channelled James O’Connor and failed to respond to the alarm clock. Just like Ben Te’o the previous week, he will don the red and black of feeder team North Sydney in the ultimate wake-up call.

In his place stepped Bryson Goodwin, who took only 10 minutes to make his presence felt. The former Bulldogs winger crossed after a sweet cut-out pass from Greg Inglis. Every stakeholder in the game held their collective breath when the decision was referred upstairs on the slightest suspicion of obstruction. However, ”General” Luke Patten kept his head in his first decision in the video box and pressed the green button.

Inglis was again involved in the second touchdown, chipping over the Dragons’ defence, with Andrew Everingham batting the ball back to try-scorer Beau Champion.

Nathan Peats’s converted try near half-time, the result of a Canterbury-esque interchange of passes from their big men, gave Souths a 16-0 advantage at the break.

Injuries aren’t the only concern for Price. His right-edge defence was targeted with great success. And it was a mixed night for the makeshift halves pairing of Nathan Fien and Jamie Soward. Like all good relationships, this one will take time to blossom.

It is difficult to read too much into a trial. The winners of four of the past five Charity Shields have finished the season lower on the table than the vanquished. If anything, it raised only more questions, such as how good is Inglis? Others, such as what sort of a team will Price be able to assemble to take on the Storm, will be tougher to answer.

SOUTH SYDNEY 28 (B Goodwin B Champion N Peats D Walker M Buckett tries A Reynolds 2 Goodwin 2 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 10 (D Vidot T Merrin tries J Soward goal) at ANZ Stadium. Referees: Adam Devcich and Jared Maxwell.

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Five things we learnt from the Charity Shield

1.Souths hit the ground running

South Sydney looked like a team ready for finals footy already. It is hard to read too much into trial form but Souths looked crisp and, most importantly, cohesive. They looked like a team that were familiar with their systems. And with Greg Inglis fit and firing behind a monster forward pack they look like they will better their preliminary final appearance of last year. For the Dragons, they seemed like a team needing a hit-out, working on combinations. Passes just missed their targets and players were crowding into similar holes with the ball. They weren’t too far away and will be much improved before their round-one clash with Melbourne.

2. Slow deal on Beale

Darius Boyd he isn’t, yet, but Gerard Beale showed enough to indicate that he has all the attributes to be the Dragons’ long-term No.1. The former Bronco was St George Illawarra’s highest-profile recruit and he showed glimpses of good touches. While some of his passes went to ground, his ability to catch and pass and become an important link player gives the Dragons a much needed attacking option to ease the pressure on halves Jamie Soward and Nathan Fien. Coach Steve Price has moved Soward back to the left side of the field, where he was instrumental in guiding the Dragons to premiership success in 2010, whereas Fien spent most of the game on the right-hand side. Trent Merrin will fill Dean Young’s vacant lock forward position, with the NSW prop playing as a ball-playing option in the middle of the field.

3. Controlling Reynolds is the key

Forget Greg Inglis, Sam Burgess or Issac Luke, halfback Adam Reynolds has emerged as South Sydney’s most important player. While Reynolds might not grab the headlines, it is what he does off the ball which makes him so valuable. He is their chief organiser and allows the likes of Inglis and John Sutton to focus on their running game. It’s no secret that Sutton and Inglis had career-best seasons last year with Reynolds taking plenty of the attention away from the duo. His deft kicking takes the strain off his big forwards and gives them a handy breather when needed. If he is in-form mid-season and Souths are riding high, he will come into NSW calculations.4. Michael Maguire is ruthless

Just a week after dumping star recruit Ben Te’o to NSW Cup, veteran winger Nathan Merritt was left out of the Charity Shield for not meeting team standards. Coach Maguire has shown he has lofty expectations of his charges and reputations won’t matter should they not follow his lead. While Te’o and Merritt were omitted for off-field indiscretions, captain Michael Crocker also felt Maguire’s wrath after starting the match from the interchange bench after a poor showing in South Sydney’s first trial against Newcastle. Merritt is expected to play for North Sydney on Saturday and may face an extended stint out of the top grade following the strong performance of his replacement Bryson Goodwin.5. Video ref ruling a winner

The on-field referee being forced to make a decision before sending a possible try to the video referee to review will be a winner and reduce endless amounts of replays. The initiative, introduced by new referees’ boss Daniel Anderson, came into play when Bryson Goodwin scored the first try in the 10th minute. Controlling referee Adam Devcich indicated a try before sending the ruling to video referees Steve Clark and Luke Patten, who deemed Devcich’s decision correct.

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