Left to him, Virat Kohli would give teams extra points for away wins in the World Test Championship. On the eve of India’s second Test against South Africa in Pune, Kohli said that the arrival of the championship had encouraged teams to play positive cricket, and given them the incentive to go for wins when they might have earlier settled for draws. But he did hope there would be one change in the points system, perhaps when the next edition of the championship rolls around.
“The importance of every game has become that much more,” Kohli said in a press conference. “In situations that, in a three-match series, you probably would have played out a draw, teams are going to go for wins and get those extra points, so I think it’s great for Test cricket. The matches are going to be that much more exciting, is what we feel, and we can already experience that.
“We have to be absolutely professional in every session that we play, so yeah, I think it’s much more demanding on the players now, which is a good thing because it will keep the standard of Test cricket high. Yeah, these are the only things we have experienced so far and noticed in terms of changes.
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“If you’d have asked me to make the points table, I would give double the points for an away Test win. That is something that I would have definitely liked to see. Maybe after the first edition.”
Visiting teams in India would certainly appreciate that extra incentive. India have been an incredibly difficult team to beat in their own backyard during Kohli’s time as captain, India winning 16 of their 22 Tests and losing just one. For all that, though, Kohli said conditions in India are often difficult to negotiate even for his team.
“Look, it’s not easy for us as a home side as well,” Kohli said. “When conditions are challenging, when the ball’s spinning, we’ve also found it difficult in the past. But we’re a team that looks for answers, not excuses, so maybe that’s the reason we keep improving, and we’ve been able to win so many Test matches.
“Come on, give the guy a break now. He’s done well, let him enjoy his batting at the top of the order, let him just have fun, like he does in white-ball cricket, and stop focusing on what’s Rohit going to do in Tests”
“We don’t take anything for granted for sure, we can very well be losing four-five wickets a session, so we know that well, as a team. We work pretty hard on our game also, even though we play in our own conditions and we’ve grown up playing in these conditions. So I think the mindset is key for us, and that’s to win every game that we play and not focus on what the conditions are on display, we look to find answers rather than excuses.”
Over the first three days of the first Test in Visakhapatnam, South Africa pushed India hard to find these answers, particularly with their aggressive batting approach against spin, which helped them claw back from 39 for 3 to finish just 71 short of India’s first-innings total of 502.
Kohli wasn’t surprised by the fight South Africa put up.
“How they played in the first innings was very good,” he said. “You have to be positive when the wicket’s nice and easy to bat on, you have to try and get as many runs as possible, and that’s exactly what they did.
“I would say the first three, maybe even four days of the game, the wicket was hardly doing anything. After three-and-a-half days, it started to turn a little bit, and then on day five we really got into our own. We expected that. We expected teams to come out and try and be positive against us, and we held our own. We held our own in the second innings, and put up 400 runs for them to gun down again.
“Look, we are going to be put under pressure, even though we’re playing at home. Its about how we come back into the game and then put double the pressure on the opposition again and then tell them, let’s see if that can be executed again. So that’s basically what Test cricket is. You have to come back in the second innings and do the job again, it doesn’t end in one innings, but the approach was quite expected.”
On the final day, India’s match-winner was Mohammed Shami, who came into his own on a wearing fifth-day pitch to run through South Africa in their second innings. What sets Shami apart, according to Kohli, is how much help he can coax out of even the flattest surfaces.
“I think on the pitches that we play, I haven’t seen anyone get so much seam movement apart from him,” Kohli said. “Yes, internationally, many bowlers do, but I think on flat pitches he has the ability to pick you wickets in situations that feel absolutely dead. And that’s why he’s such an important bowler for us, that’s why we’ve wanted to manage his workload very precisely – all the fast bowlers.
“But he’s someone who can change the complexion of the game totally when you don’t see it coming. That’s the kind of skill he possesses, and now he’s taking the responsibility. We don’t need to push Shami anymore. We don’t need to tell him, come on, you’ve got to get up and bowl this spell for us. He wants the ball. He understands the situation. When he’s given the ball, especially in the second innings when situations are difficult, he comes in and does the job every time.
“It’s great. People are taking responsibility in different situations in the game, which is amazing to see and his skill is obviously there for everyone to see, it’s not a surprise anymore to all of us that he gets the ball to do that much more than others in conditions that don’t really offer you much. He’s blessed with that skill naturally, but it’s the mindset that’s changed now. According to me he’s in the best space right now.”
India’s other hero in Visakhapatnam was Rohit Sharma, who scored centuries in both innings while opening the batting for the first time in Test cricket. That performance, Kohli felt, should end the debate over Rohit’s place in the team.
“It’s overflowing. It’s not been filled,” Kohli said, when asked if the opening slots were taken for the foreseeable future. “Come on, give the guy a break now. He’s done well, let him enjoy his batting at the top of the order, let him just have fun, like he does in white-ball cricket, and stop focusing on what’s Rohit going to do in Tests.
“He’s in a great space, he’s playing really well, and he looked relaxed in the first game, which is great to see, all the experience he’s accumulated over the years came to the fore, so he’s feeling absolutely at home at the top of the order, and for us as a team it’s a huge bonus, because if you saw the second innings, the way he’s able to take the tempo of the game forward, that allows the bowlers an extra hour and a half or two hours to bowl the opposition out.
“So look, if a guy like him at the top of the order plays the way he did in the last game, we’re going to be in situations to go for victories in most of the Test matches. We’re all very happy for him, and I think it’s time to just move ahead from [debating about] his spot at the top of the order and just let him enjoy his batting.”
The Pune pitch had a fair grass cover on the eve of the Test match, and a certain amount of early moisture is expected too, given the volume of rain the city has experienced over the past week or so. Despite this, Kohli seemed to suggest that India would probably stick with an attack containing two seamers and two spinners, and not play the extra fast bowler.
“Well, I think more or less our team is settled,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to play that big a factor because when the pitch is damp it turns as well, so it’s not like only seamers are predominantly going to be effective on this pitch, all five days. Everyone will have to play their roles.
“Unless you have a pitch which has total grass coverage, only then you think of changes in combination for the match. Because you do know that it’s going to dry out at some stage, and you can’t go predominantly one-sided in your attack and then not have the balance. “We are pretty balanced in our team composition, and if any changes need to be made looking at how the pitch might behave on the first three days, then we’ll do so, but we don’t see any major things to think about, looking at the pitch.”
‘Test cricket is the best and most rewarding form of cricket’ – Jos Buttler
Jos Buttler admits that he cannot continue to be picked on “potential” alone at Test level, after being retained in England’s squad for next month’s tour of Sri Lanka despite an off-colour showing during the recent Test series in South Africa.
In the midst of an otherwise upbeat run of performances from England’s new-look Test team, Buttler’s form was a notable exception. He mustered 115 runs in seven innings, with a highest score of 29 – a run that evoked a similar collapse in red-ball confidence on the tour of UAE in 2015-16, after which he played just three more Tests in the next three years.
And in the wake of England’s 3-1 series win, there was inevitable speculation about Buttler’s future as a Test cricketer – especially given his integral importance to England’s white-ball fortunes, both in winning last year’s World Cup on home soil and in challenging for three more titles in the next three years: back-to-back 20-over World Cups in Australia and India this winter and next, before the defence of England’s 50-over title in 2023, by which stage he may well be the white-ball captain.
Buttler himself, however, insists he still has the drive to succeed in Test cricket, which he describes as “the best form of the game”, and says that, despite a Test record that now comprises a solitary century in 73 innings, at an average of 31.74, he retains the “massive self-belief” required to become a world-class player across all three formats.
“I’m very committed to Test cricket,” Buttler said. “It’s the best form of the game, it’s the hardest form of the game. That’s what makes it – when you have good moments – the most rewarding. You want to be a part of that.
“My performances may have meant that decision would be taken out of my hands. But fortunately for me I’m on the tour [to Sri Lanka] and really excited about it. I enjoyed the last tour there that we won back in November 2018. I’ve got good memories from that tour and looking forward to going back.”
Though he finished the South Africa tour on a relative high, with a 23-ball fifty in England’s series-clinching victory in the third T20I, Buttler acknowledged that his form throughout the tour had not been where he wanted it to be. However, he insisted it was an “easy assumption” to put that down to any sense of a post-World Cup hangover.
“I’ve got massive self-belief in myself. I’m too old now to get picked on potential but I feel that I haven’t got to the level I know I can get to, and that’s a big driver for me”
Instead, he insisted that the challenge of “managing your energy” was something that all the world’s top players had to get their heads around as they seek to make the most of their finite years at the top level of the sport.
“Definitely a lot went into the World Cup, not just that summer but for four years,” Buttler said. “Probably the realisation of it coming together and achieving that, it confuses you a little bit – that’s been your clear cut-off for a long time, then that’s done. So you’ve got to quickly reassess.
“But at the same time, I maintain I just haven’t played as well as I’d like and that’s through decision-making, probably.”
There’s no let-up in Buttler’s 2020 schedule. He sets off for Sri Lanka with the Test squad in early March before linking up with Rajasthan Royals in the IPL immediately after the conclusion of the second Test in the first week of April. Then he returns to England for three Tests against West Indies in June, by which stage the inaugural season of the Hundred will be coming into view. Further international engagements against Australia and Pakistan will complete the English summer, by which stage the T20 World Cup will be looming large. It promises to be a lot of chopping and changing if Buttler truly believes he can compete on all fronts.
“I think trying to manage your energy, it’s actually a real skill of the best players around the world,” he said. “Learning how to peak at the time you walk to the middle is a massive skill that comes with experience, but you can learn that from watching guys go about it and trying to work out how you do that authentically for yourself.
“Of course you need to find breaks in your schedule, because your mind is your biggest asset, and you need to make sure you can bring that to the best place when you turn up to games of cricket. But there’s a crop of guys who are the best players in the world and they’re the best players across all the formats.
“I’ve got massive self-belief in myself, and a lot of it is about fulfilling potential,” he added. “I’m too old now to get picked on potential but I feel that I haven’t got to the level I know I can get to, and that’s a big driver for me. That’s my aim every time I turn up to practice, to try and get better and try and reach that level I am capable of. I’ve always maintained that belief.”
Instead of the prospect of any outright rest, Buttler believes that a change will do him just as much good, and said that the chance to cut loose in the recent T20I series came as a “big relief” after a run of ten Tests in a row against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
“I love T20 cricket and it allows you to go out without as many consequences and you can take more risks and move the game on,” he said. “To play in that white-ball team again was great because that is the most fun team I have played in for a long time, so that was a great change up.
“I can’t think of any times I’ve played well in Test cricket and gone out and been really aggressive in the way I do in the white-ball game,” he added. “In white-ball cricket it might look like risky shots but it doesn’t feel like a risk because of the way you break down the probabilities of the game.
“The same is the case in Test cricket, it is about risk management I think. And it is about managing your time when you are waiting to bat. You’ve got to be aware of what is going on in the game but it is about saving energy as well.
“Maybe if I look back to when I first lost my place in the Test team, I probably listened to too many people,” he added. “Everyone’s got an opinion on how you should play, and if you’re not good with how you manage that, you can confuse yourself, which I certainly did four or five years ago.
“Maybe in South Africa I did that a little bit in terms of, after the first game, thinking I’m going to come out and counter-attack. When actually, you’ve just got to play the situation in front of you and react best and, as an individual, play how you see best according to that. I maybe didn’t do that as well as I would have liked.
“The main skill, and the biggest one that I do well when I’m at my best, is making sure that when I walk out to bat I access being in my zone, whether I’ve been waiting for six hours or just have a 10-minute turnaround in a T20.
“When I walk out to bat, if I’m in the best frame of mind, that allows me to perform. And looking forward to Sri Lanka. I will try and do more of committing to my way, whether it’s trying to block 1000 balls or slog 1000 balls. If that’s what I want to try and do, I’ll do it.”
DJ Rabada in the house: Kagiso Rabada is on song again – with help from Dad
When Kagiso Rabada earned his fourth active demerit point in a 24-month period and was suspended from the final Test against England last month, his father sent him a little something to make him feel better and it’s not what you might expect.
“I sent him a song about the ICC. To cheer him up,” Dr Mpho Rabada said, at the launch of his new track, Ska Chechella Morago, a collaboration with family friend and music student Motswedi Modiba at the Red Bull Studios in Cape Town.
The song was inspired by the idea of being able to take flight and its message of positivity is quite unlike the one Rabada senior composed on the fly when he heard that his son had fallen foul of the game’s governing body again. Neither of the Rabadas would share the content but Mpho Rabada said it was “quite hilarious,” and hoped that “maybe one day,” his son would release it. Judging by the look on Kagiso Rabada’s face it will be a long time before that happens. But, asked if he could sing something to the ICC, Rabada brightened up and offered a few chords. “Please don’t judge me,” he started, before the room gave way to giggles.
At least everyone could see the lighter side of what has been a tough summer for South African cricket and Kagiso Rabada, who, at 24 years old, is already five years into his international career. In that time, injuries to more experienced quicks meant that he was quickly elevated to leader of the pack while he was trying to find a level of aggression that intimidated opposition but did not tip him over the ICC’s code of conduct edge.
It’s little wonder he needs an outlet off the field and he has found it on the turntables. “Music has always been a part of me and my family. It’s something to get away and just think about something else,” Rabada Jnr said.
His father shares a passion for the beat and the pair spend time together experimenting with sounds, mixing tracks and seeing what happens. That’s where Modiba comes in. She is the daughter of Mpho Rabada’s best friend and an aspiring singer, who is influenced by gospel music. While Modiba and Mpho have taken the step up and released a single, Kagiso has been working with DJ Da Capo on some house music, which the pair have yet to put the finishing touches on, given their busy schedules.
So for now, music remains a hobby for Kagiso Rabada, and a motivator as he goes about trying to get the South African team and his own performances back on track. Like many sportsmen, he can be spotted with headphones on when he gets off the team bus; most of the time, he is listening to traditional tunes. “For me to get inspiration, that comes from tribal music, African tribal. That gets me going, the different sounds, the chants, it’s like I am bonding with my ancestors,” he said.
With music such an important part of his process, it’s not a surprise that he bonds with the crowd at St George’s Park, famed for their brass band. Last Sunday, when South Africa beat Australia in a tense T20 to square the series and Rabada bowled a decisive penultimate over, he could feel the fans acting as a 12th man.
“The atmosphere was really electric. That was the first time in a while where I actually felt the crowd, other than being at the Wanderers,” he said. “The Wanderers is my favourite ground because of the electrical atmosphere. Yesterday was similar to what I felt at the Wanderers, it was a sell-out and the band came out and we were in it together.”
That is a rarity in South Africa, especially this season, when most of the spectators were traveling English supporters. During the white-ball games that changed, with capacity crowds of mostly local supporters and it is set to stay that way for the deciding T20 against Australia on Wednesday and the three ODIs that follow.
Generally, though, South Africans don’t fill out cricket grounds and Kagiso Rabada thinks the team’s performances have something to do with it. “We have to win and we have to entertain the crowd,” he said “People need to feel an interest towards the game, even more of an interest than they feel already, to want to go the stadium and witness international cricket. If they realise that the skill level is going up, the professionalism is going up and they are going to be entertained, they might come.”
Though South Africa’s results have been poor of late, even when they were No.1 in the world Test crowds were thin, which could be attributed to anything from lack of interest to lack of time to lack of marketing. Cricket South Africa has been embroiled in various crises since the failed T20 Global League almost three years ago and has lost major sponsors. At best, they have appeared out of touch with their audience, at worst, uninterested.
Kagiso Rabada spent time last week experiencing the opposite when he traveled to the NBA All-Star game. While his highlight was seeing LeBron James because he “admires watching other sportsmen doing well in their craft,” he also saw first-hand how a sport can speak the same language as its supporters.
“What fascinated me the most was how it’s marketed and how it’s really fresh and they keep with the times,” he said. “It’s got everybody talking about it. It doesn’t have an age barrier. If you are older, you can go there and feel young because that energy is electrifying. Music and sport go together in America, the in-thing is trap music and the hip culture. It just feels as if the culture is so inviting and they are always staying on top of it. There is tradition, yes but they keep with the times.”
Sounds like a message to cricket to get the DJs in and they know the Rabada household has a few they can start with.
Recent Match Report – Australia A vs England Lions Only unofficial Test 2020
Australia A 176 (Wildermuth 50*, Carse 3-50, Robinson 3-66) and 5 for 180 (Maddinson 52) trail England Lions 428 by 72 runs
England Lions closed in on a convincing win in their four-day game against Australia A, enforcing the follow-on as their seamers continued to impress at the MCG.
Resuming on 5 for 103, Josh Inglis continued to hold proceedings up alongside Jack Wildermuth before he was bowled by Ollie Robinson, and the wickets then came easily for the Lions, Brydon Carse and allrounder Tom Abell taking two apiece as the lower order offered limited resistance. Wildermuth did complete a 10th first-class fifty, but was left stranded as wickets fell around him.
Keaton Jennings did not hesitate to enforce the follow-on, and his faith in his attack was immediately rewarded as Craig Overton trapped Usman Khawaja lbw in the first over. Nic Maddinson, the Sheffield Shield’s form batsman, made a quickfire 52 before falling to the same bowler, and then offspinner Dom Bess struck twice in as many overs to leave the hosts teetering at 4 for 85.
Robinson removed Inglis for the second time in the day before rain brought proceedings to an early close, and despite Kurtis Patterson’s resistance, the stage was set for the Lions to wrap up a win on the final day.
“We’ve had another good day in the field but we know there’s still work to be done tomorrow if we’re to win the game,” said Jennings. “Patterson and Wildermuth are good batsmen and I’m sure they’ll do everything they can to frustrate us and take the game as deep as possible.
“Our bowling throughout the day was generally good and even when decent partnerships started to form we held our nerve to take advantage of any breakthrough and put the Australian batsmen under pressure. Winning any game in Australia is difficult, so hopefully we can push on to victory tomorrow.”
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