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Return with a Roar: A Gujarat Lions Post Auction & Pre-Season Review

Suresh Raina (image from espncricinfo.com)

Suresh Raina will lead the Gujarat Lions once again. (image from espncricinfo.com)

While the Gujarat Lions had an excellent season on the field in 2016, it is key to appreciate all the work they put in before the season even began, starting right from the Player Draft in December 2015 – where the spoils of the suspended Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were divided between the Lions and the Rising Pune Supergiants. While Pune went for the batsmen, Gujarat picked five very all-round players, beyond whom they would not need to spend too much to build a strong team. This was an invaluable foresight, given that they had to build from scratch in an auction that not only had limited marquee players to begin with, but would also have to contend with other franchises with fewer players to buy, and more to spend. In the end, GL entered IPL 2016 with a squad closely resembling that of the Chennai Super Kings in 2015, with all their overseas strength invested in their top and middle order, and a robust Indian bowling lineup, even if not the best.

The results went their way, as they topped the table in the league stages before eventually bowing out after successive losses in the Playoffs to the eventual finalists Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Their key issue was that while their bowling lineup was – more often than not – solid enough to keep any opposing batting units to totals within the chasing range of their batting lineup. However, that same bowling lineup lacked the ability to defend totals posted by their batting lineup. This is shown as only 2 of their 7 losses came while chasing, but only 1 of their 9 wins came defending. Addressing this issue would have been their main concern in this auction. Here’s how they fared:

GL Auction Results - Property of IPLgeek.com.

On the whole, the only thing GL seemed interested in was strengthening their Indian bowling contingent. Barring Ekalavya Dwivedi, even all of their unsuccessful bids – Pawan Negi, Aniket Choudhary, Karn Sharma, and Varun Aaron – are all Indian bowlers. This indicates that they are looking to retain the same squad composure, with the beefed-up top and middle order, followed by a largely Indian bowling lineup. Chirag Suri – the first UAE player to be offered an IPL contract – was also a talking point from the Lions’ auction.

Once again, it was fairly smart auctioning from GL; they didn’t splurge on one player, but looked to pick up a wide range of different players to help remedy their situation. It will also be interesting to see Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony back in the mix of things again – neither has represented an IPL team since 2013, but both offer skills and experience that will be invaluable to the GL lineup.

However, one key point they did not address was the issue of their overseas all-rounders. Their top order firepower is matched by few in the competition (especially when you add Jason Roy to the mix), but they did not address the issue of Dwayne Bravo. Bravo is still recovering from an injury he sustained in the Big Bash League, and is likely to miss at least the first few games for the Lions. It would have served them well to have an additional all-rounder – such as Chris Woakes, perhaps – to hold fort, especially considering James Faulkner had a fairly unremarkable 2016 season. Yet, nothing has suggested that Bravo’s injury is serious enough to keep him out of the entire tournament, which means that Faulkner could perform his duties until he returns.

GL had a pretty decent auction, picking up a truckload of Indian youth as well as some experienced faces, and should enter IPL 2017 ready to roar.Now, check out my dynamic for their playing XI:

GL Playing XI Dynamic - Property of IPLgeek.com.

Note: This dynamic represents possible scenarios of my own deduction, and have no direct affiliation with the actual plans of the GL team management.

Jason Roy is not likely to feature unless either Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum or Aaron Finch is injured or has a lean run. However, Roy’s aggressive technique and ability matches that of his colleagues, and having someone like him as a reserve will go a long way for GL. All said, however, an interesting move would be to play him ahead of Dwayne Bravo while he is injured. While this might disrupt the overall balance of the lineup while weakening the bowling, the prospect of a top order consisting of McCullum, Roy, Raina, Smith, Finch and Dinesh Karthik is undoubtedly very tempting. Regardless, GL fans will be hoping to see the belligerent Englishman plundering runs under their flag in 2017.

The bowling is likely to be a mix of old and new. Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni – who had solid returns in 2017 – are likely to stay, and Nathu Singh is likely to make it in as a third seamer. He beats out Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony on youth, and because his extra pace would bring a little more diversity to skipper Raina’s attack. Shivil Kaushik will likely play as the main specialist spinner, given pretty solid returns last season.

Chirag Suri made history as the first UAE player to receive an IPL contract, but if he was looking to make it into the playing XI there are few other teams in which he would have a lower chance of making it. Like Jason Roy, he would have to count on an injury/a poor run of form from one of the Lions’ first-choice overseas batsmen to make the cut. His best scenario would be if this were to happen while Dwayne Bravo is out on injury, and if the Lions’ bowling attack puts up solid displays, negating the need for James Faulkner. While it may be a long shot, it would no doubt be a memorable moment for Suri, his country, and the IPL at large, if he were to make it into the XI.

Given GL’s issues with all-rounders, the form of Ravindra Jadeja will be vital for GL’s success. Although ever-reliable with the ball, Jadeja has flattered to deceive with the bat (191 runs, SR 107.30), leaving the Lions’ lineup dangerously exposed beyond the top order. That said, he has played a number of gutsy knocks down the order for the Indian test side in recent times, and the Lions will hope he can do the same for them come game time.

The Gujarat Lions will make their first appearance of the season on April 6th, as they lock horns with the Kolkata Knight Riders at home.

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IPL 2016: 5 Players Who Can Surprise Us All

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Carlos Brathwaite will be fresh off a magnificent finish to the WT20 (image creds: www.india.com)

Playing T20 cricket is like binge drinking: it’s fast and reckless; and leaves you surprised at what it can get you to do (not speaking from experience). IPL – with it’s lucrative cash deals and massive popularity – only raises that bar even higher. As fans, watching IPL often leaves us surprised at the performances some people end up pulling off: be it Paul Valthaty’s blitzing 120 in 63 to stun Chennai in 2011, or Chris Gayle’s bizarre 24-ball 10 while chasing 209 vs. MI in 2015. My point is this: players surprise a lot in T20 cricket, especially in IPL. Here are 5 players who I think can surprise us with some scintillating shows in IPL 2016. This list includes people who could prove us wrong, people who could perform well above our expectations for them, and plain exciting prospects, who I tout to do great things for their teams.

The difference between this article and my last one is that these are players who are less of a certainty to do well, and more of “potential stars.”

#5 – Marcus Stoinis (KXIP)

Marcus Stoinis is a top-order batsman and medium pace bowler. He’s yet to find his feet in the international arena, but he made some significant contributions for the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League that took place earlier this year. Reliable up at the top, and handy with the ball, Stoinis will be an excellent man to turn to in the event that Glenn Maxwell fails, a liability that KXIP lacked last year.

#4 – Carlos Brathwaite (DD)

Brathwaite is a more balanced all-rounder, made in a similar model to Kieron Pollard or Dwayne Bravo. He is best known off late for his four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes to win the World T20 for the West Indies. He presents the frame of someone who can bring balance and stability to a Delhi Daredevils side that has been found wanting for quite some time now, something that Angelo Matthews failed to do last year. Hopefully, he can shine for them.

#3 – Adam Zampa (RPS)

This Ozzie leggie showed in the World T20 that he is a force to be reckoned with, as he took 5 wickets at a tidy economy of 6.27 at an average of 13.80. For the slow surface that is the track in Pune, I think Zampa will provide quite an edge for his franchise. I look forward to seeing him bowl with R. Ashwin.

#2 – Akshay Karnewar (RCB)

In the past 2 years, spin has been a resource woefully underused by the Royal Challengers. True, Yuzvendra Chahal has been brilliant enough that this didn’t matter as much, but their lack of spin resources is still something that has been somewhat worrying (at one stage Chris Gayle was their number one capped spinner). Hence, it is quite nice to see RCB investing in someone like Akshay Karnewar. His ambidextrous ability will really be fun to watch, and will also help RCN put an extra bit of uncertainty in the minds of their opponents.

#1 – Krunal Pandya (MI)

Many an eyebrow was raised when Krunal Pandya was purchased by Mumbai Indians for 2 crore rupees at the auction. From my statistical analysis of him, he appears to be an all rounder of the Ravindra Jadeja-esque build: a low-order batsman, and a front line spinner. If he is given a chance, he could definitely make an impact for MI by providing another spin option for Rohit Sharma to use as well as an extra line of defence with the bat. He would especially be useful to shore up the bowling in the absence of Lasith Malinga.

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Resilient: An International Tale

Some of the various atrocities in the world today Source: Facebook.

                Some of the various atrocities in the world today. Source: Facebook. 

Paris: Terrorist attacks. Japan: Earthquakes. Baghdad: Suicide bombings. These are just a few of the major calamities that have happened over the last two days. Discounting the global scale, one only needs to look at a newspaper to see a plethora of atrocities that make even the holocaust look humane. This is not something new to our world. We have seen these kinds of events before, and we will see them in the future. There’s no escaping it.

While sifting through all the tabs on my browser, I inevitably stumbled upon the Australia vs. New Zealand test match. While comparatively insignificant, the Kiwis were going through a tragedy of their own. Led by the belligerent David Warner, Australia had racked up a massive 559/9 in less than 2 days, something that essentially wins half the game for you. Add Mitchell Starc to the equation, and I thought the Kiwis were done and dusted, and moved on. Yet, when I checked the scorecard recently, the men in black had put up 510/6, a feat that nearly mirrored the one the home side had put up. As I saw this impressive display of batting, something hit me. Resilience. That was the answer. Crises occur all the time. In 2001, it was America, in 2008 it was India, yesterday it was France, and tomorrow it will be someplace else – we cannot stop that. I now speak to all the survivors of atrocities – be it those that’ve made headlines on CNN or made 5th page on the local newspaper – be resilient. Keep your head up, and know that people are praying for you, in different languages, to different Gods, in different places, but for the same purpose. Keep your head up, even if it seems that things can’t get any worse, as the path is still not at it’s end. Keep your head up.

Now, I am aware that I am probably asking you for the impossible. I realize that I am probably asking you to come back from the dead, or to lift a mountain with one hand. However, know this: life doesn’t wait. Life doesn’t care how hard you fall. If New Zealand had succumbed to Mitchell Starc – who was hitting 160 kilometers per hour – and the sheer magnitude of the Australian score, would they have won a “pity point”? No! The series would have been 0-2, and that’s it. Now I’m not trying to be an insensitive person, but I beseech you, fight. While you have arms, pick up your sword, and fight for all it’s worth. Be resilient, like the New Zealanders, and like hundreds of thousands of others impacted by these crises across the years.  Just fight. I cannot guarantee that you will win, but you can sure as hell try. If you can’t be a victor, you’ll be a martyr. So stand up, and fight. Stand up, and be resilient.

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IPL IS HERE ^^

Well folks, the IPL for 2015 is here, and I cannot tell you how much I have been looking forward to it. This is my 3rd full IPL here in Korea, and I must say the tournament provides me with many a breather in this rigorous world of study-hard-or-die environment of a high schooler seeking to study in the USA. It is at a terribly late hour (8:00 PM matches start at 11:30), but my IPL spirit will never be contained!

So I hope this season presents a lot more fun, cracking yorkers, Yes Bank Maximums, and AB de Villiers. Au revoir! 😀

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World Cup Journal #2: Blitzkrieg

AB de Villiers’ innings of 162 in 66 is an innings we will never forget for a long time. (Image from lockerdome.com)

The World Cup has steamed through February, and has now hit March. We’ve seen some exciting cricket, but I’d like to bring up one theme we’ve seen prevalently since my last World Cup Journal just over a week ago: Blitzkrieg.

Before you ask, no, Adolf Hitler did not invade Australia (he’s dead, and will hopefully stay so). Rather, the style of cricket we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks has been like that. For those who aren’t World War 2 Enthusiasts like I am, Blitzkrieg was a tactic used by Nazy Germany during WWII. Basically, what they did was that they would send forward an initial overwhelming thrust of tanks, which would shake up the opposition. Then, the rest of their army would come in, and finish the job. Using this, the Germans conquered nearly all of Europe. Similarly, now teams in the CWC are using it to destroy their opponents.

We’ve seen some belligerent cricket being played in the last week: Chris Gayle’s 215, AB de Villiers’ 66-ball 162, Dilshan’s 161, Mitchell Starc’s steaming 6-28, and Kumar Sangakkara’s twin centuries all showed a sense of dominance that the opposition fell flat before. While the innings themselves were magnificent, it was that air of supremacy, and authoritarianism that they stamped into the pitch that was so wonderful. It was as though they went up to the pitch and said “we’re here to thrash you, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. This is a marvellous quality we see in cricket, and I hope to see it more as the World Cup progresses.

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The IPL Trading Window – MI

Vinay Kumar is one of MI’s 3 new imports for the year. (Image from gocricket.com)

The IPL Trading window has been going very well so far. I’m personally very happy to see that teams are actually using it this time (as opposed to last year), and I’m also glad that I can actually understand why the teams made the decisions they did.

The Mumbai Indians have been the most active, dropping 2 of their players and acquiring 3. The two players they dropped were Praveen Kumar and Michael Hussey.

With PK, I can see why they did what they did. The seamer was, after all, only a replacement for Zaheer Khan, and while he did not underperform, he did not do enough to give MI enough reason to retain him. Still, I personally would have thought that MI would have done well to retain PK, owing to the fact that Zak is injury prone.

With Hussey, however, I was more surprised. Although he had a poor showing in the UAE, he made a strong comeback in the India leg of the tournament, and brought experience to the playing 11 that would have been much missed after Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement. This again shows the fickle nature of the Mumbai Indians unit in terms of their player choices. Players such as Richard Levi, Davy Jacobs, and Corey Anderson were all players who delivered momentary bursts of brilliance, and were immediately snapped up by the franchise. However, when they failed to show, they were discarded almost as quickly as they were purchased. Jacobs and Levi were dropped following the 2012 IPL, and Corey was not a part of the playing XI for any of MI’s games in their forgettable CLT20 run this year. Same thing has happened to Hussey here. I’m guessing that it’s because of the unexpected rise of Lendl Simmons as an opener. His revolutionary rise to the occasion when Mumbai were all but out of the IPL is probably what inspired them to give him their slot for overseas opener.

Now on to their purchases. With Unmukt Chand and Parthiv Patel, I believe that it is yet again a part of Mumbai’s black hole desire for opening batsmen. Since Tendulkar’s retirement and Dwayne Smiths’ leaving MI, they have been searching for that suitable pair to open the innings. Hence, players like Hussey, CM Gautham and Ben Dunk were tried, but in vain. This, I assume, is just a continuation of that need to fill the void. Parthiv Patel was scintillating for RCB in the first few games of the tournament, but he quickly sizzled out, and failed to make much more of an impact. Nonetheless, he has shown on numerous occasions that he can be a stable opener, and could well be the answer to MI’s opening issue. As with Chand, he received well below his due playing time in IPL 2014, which I assume is due to Karun Nair’s extraordinary form. However, he can be a forceful opener for the MI squadron, and I feel that spending some time under greats like Tendulkar, Johnty Rhodes, Shaun Pollock and Anil Kumble would give the youngster an excellent chance to hone not only his cricketing skill, but his leadership skills as well. This experience could be one that would prepare him to be a future leader of India.

As for Vinay Kumar, the only reason I can find for their picking him is Zak’s injury situation. Although he is by no means a very economic bowler, Vinay is an aggressive wicket taker, who can choke oppositions at the right times. The Karnataka skipper also brings some experience with him, which can be useful for nurturing some of the other young bowlers in the MI squad.

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What have RCB Done Wrong?

 

Image Credits: BCCI

Chris Gayle. Virat Kohli. Yuvraj Singh. AB de Villiers. Albie Morkel. Mitchell Starc. Each and every one of these players is a game-changer in T20 cricket, and has a great reputation of absolutely decimiating oppositions to clinch victories. Inarguably, most IPL franchises would pay big money for any one of these players. But all of them in one team? That’s a “fantasy team legend”…. and the side RCB has this year. When they walked out of the auction with a squad like this most people were convinced that they were favorites for the cup. After all, with that many match winners, someone would get them over the line. However, it has been far from that for the Royal Challengers this year. With 6 losses and 3 wins from 9 games, they now stand at 7th place, just ahead of the Delhi Daredevils. One may ask, how did this happen? Quite understandably too. After all, the chances of Virat Kohli (the man who came out of the T20 World Cup with an average exceeding 100), AB de Villiers (Mr. Awesome), Yuvraj Singh (Stuart Broad’s nightmare), and Chris Gayle (Chris Gayle), fail to make it large? Well, here’s what seems to have happened. Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli have looked very scratchy, and have often given their wickets away cheaply. This is why we have often seen the RCB batting card with 2 in the wickets column well before they would have liked. Also, a scratchy Yuvraj Singh (barring his gallant shows of marvel against RR and DD) has stuck the wheels on RCB, and not allowed them to gain momentum. AB de Villiers has carried too much of the weight, and even he was in indifferent form back in the UAE leg of the tournament, and it took a show against his old buddy Dale Steyn to get him back in color. The other batsmen have done precious little as well, as Parthiv Patel, Rilee Rossuow, Nic Maddinson, Yogesh Takawale, and Sachin Rana all have fallen flat, and not done justice to their selections. Albie Morkel has not looked like the genuine all-rounder he has been known for, as his bowling has not been economic, and his shot selection has been simply terrible, especially considering the situations he often walked into. Mitchell Starc has actually often been smarter as a batsman than he has, and as a result lasted longer at the crease. Their bowling was stellar for the first part, with Yuzvendra Chahal, Starc, and Varun Aaron high in the wickets column. However, in the last two games against KXIP and RR, their fast bowlers received a mauling at the hands of David Miller, James Faulkner, and Steve Smith, and ultimately conceded extremely high totals.

Some potential remedies:

The batting needs to begin to settle. They need to find a combination at the top which can play a calm, composed game to build partnerships, and set a strong foundation for the finishers. Parthiv Patel looked good for this, but effort to try and go big too often in the last few games has sucked him in. Vijay Zol played some very good shots against Rajasthan before he fell, and would not be a bad opening partner for PP, if Gayle is unfit.

The Bangalore track has offered good purchase to spinners. However, the RCB attack – with only one pro spinner – has been unable to take advantage of this. With the poor form of Ashok Dinda, they may want to consider using Shadab Jakati, the experienced left-arm spinner from Goa. He had a good stint with Chennai from the 2008-12 era, and will have plenty to offer for RCB.

If they can do this, RCB might achieve a turnaround, and achieve the already-improbable semifinal berth.

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Commenting

by iplgeek 0 Comments

Hello guys,

I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve been getting a ton of spam comments over the last few months. I know you probably don’t have the worst intents when you deliver these, but it doesn’t look very good on my site.

Hence, just be sure to include something with context to the article you’re commenting on when you deliver a comment. Any comment without context will be marked as spam and deleted. Should I find that I’m getting a steady flow of proper comments, though, I may revoke this policy.

Sorry for any inconvenience caused.

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Game over for Ishant?

Is Ishant Sharma out of chances?

Is Ishant Sharma out of chances?

44 needed in 18 balls. Adam Voges and James Faulkner at the crease. Most people would agree that India would have easily taken the game home from here. However, they also thought RCB would have defended 43 in 12 in that game vs CSK in IPL 2012. However, the circumstances are a bit different here. For one, MSD had far more trustworthy bowling options than poor Daniel Vettori did, and secondly, James Faulkner is not as renowned as a batsman as Albie Morkel is. So when Ishant Sharma walked in to bowl the 48th with figures of 7-1-33-1, no one protested much. After all, Ishant had responded to his captain’s need back in the Champions Trophy Final during the summer and defended much less against much more dangerous batsmen. However, what came was enough to give some a heart-attack, and made others look like this:

Why when even I popped open my Yahoo Cricket app on my iPod this morning and saw Australia won, I naturally went to investigate more and I saw James Faulkner with a score of 64 in 29. I was upset that we had lost, but not as much as I was befuddled as to how James Faulkner’s batting could have been the instrumental to it. Even more when I found that he had taken Ishant Sharma for 30 runs in an over to pull it off. However, a quick look at some highlights showed me that Ishant had really walked right into Faulkner’s trap. Or rather, fixed it up before falling into it. From the highlights I saw, it could not have been more evident that Faulkner was playing the typical “desperate tailender” game. He was simply slogging at everything, and a yorker, or a delivery that was a tad wider and slower would have done him in. However, like I said, Ishant fixed up the trap before he fell into it. He gave Faulkner a series of pitched-up deliveries, which to the Ozzies was like Gold Dust. Faulkner smashed 4 of them for six in addition one double and a boundary. A real “whoops” moment for poor Ishant.

Alright, end flashback. Back to the here and now. Now that brings us onto what I really wanted to discuss in this post. Is it time up for Ishant Sharma? Of course, one can argue that it was just one of his “bad days”. However, we must also consider that Ishant has an economy of 7.87 this series, with only 2 wickets and a pitiful average of  94.5. Not what you’d expect of the most experienced seamer in the XI. Now the reason he is so disappointing as contrasted to the other two seamers – Vinay Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar – is that they each have a plus and minus. Bhuvi is expensive at death, but is tidy at the front and even though he has only 1 wicket this series, he is the only Indian bowler to keep his economy below 6 in all three games. Vinay has been terribly expensive (he is not known for economical bowling) but did what he did for RCB: picked up wickets. Even if his death bowling hasn’t been as good as it was during IPL 2013, he was the only Indian bowler to pick a wicket in every one of the 3 games. Ishant has been on neither side. Many have jokingly said that his poor shows are “tribute” to Ajit Agarkar, who recently retired from first-class cricket. On the up side, India have plenty of reserves. Jaydev Unadkat – who had a good tour of Zimbabwe and a brilliant IPL, along with Amit Mishra – who used the slow track of the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium to his advantage to outfox batsmen in IPL 2013, and was also India’s best bowler in Zimbabwe. So in the likely event of Ishant getting dropped, India will not miss him too much. As for Ishant himself, hopefully he will use this as a wake-up call and look to work on his lines and lengths so he can hope to make a comeback soon.

 

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Team Australia – Golden Era Over?

End of the road for the Ozzies?

Team Australia. Once the bullies of the cricketing world, home to legends like Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, and Micheal Hussey. Three-time World Cup winners, and arguably the best team of their time. In fact, such was their dominance that playing Australia at home is still referred to as playing “Down Under” because you are literally “Down Under the Heat” when you play there. Even though a most of their legends were gone, they still made South Africa – the number one Test team in the world – really sweat when they toured the Ozzies in the dying months 2012. Even though the visitors eventually edged through to clinch the 3-match series 1-0, the amount of effort it took showed how much it takes to beat the Ozzies. However, this was merely a step towards Australia’s sudden downfall. Despite being stripped of their title of World Champions by India, the 5-0 Whitewash win against the latter, and the tri-series win against India and Sri Lanka helped the Ozzies cover up for the World Cup failure. Nothing wrong here. The true fall began in March, 2013. The Ozzies were coming off a 3-0 win against Sri Lanka, despite not having Ricky Ponting at the time. However, now Micheal Hussey too was gone, and their test side was slightly weaker. They walked right into the wide-opened arms of the Indian side, who re-payed some debts by taking the series 5-0 as the visitors watched helplessly. Only Micheal Clarke and James Pattinson put up some sort of a fight, but it was too little. The next drop came when the Ozzies were stripped of their title of Champions Trophy Champions (true champions huh?) as they exited the tournament without a single league match victory – by India (again). Things didn’t get better by David Warner punching Joe Root. After all this came the Ashes. Although their bowling put up a reasonable fight, the batting failed miserably, as England have treated themselves to a 2-0 lead in the 5-match series. Even Micheal Clarke – who had proven to be their saving grace in Test cricket – failed to get the runs. Couple that with poor use of the DRS, and we got some performances so comically poor, that even Cricket Germany couldn’t resist having a little go at them:

It’s really a shame to see this being the standard of the team that once won three consecutive World Cups, and beat England in England to start the concept of “The Ashes”. Is it the end of the road for the Ozzies? Has the “Golden Era” for the men from Down Under ended? Whatever it is, it is high time for the Australian side to pull up their socks, and get back up to face the heat.

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