Boxing Day for an Aussie, even an expat one, means just one thing - CRICKET! Stepping up for possibly the first-ever cricket preview on the blog (can't remember and can't be arsed going back through every post!) is esteemed, prolific and multi-pronged writer, William Kedjanyi. Follow him via @keejayOV2 or his blog... when it works again!
Boxing Day Cricket
What will be the first sign that Christmas Day is over and the feast of sport that will clog our screens over the next week? The first ball bowled in New Zealand as their ODI series against Bangladesh kicks off. The Black Caps swill have their eyes set on yet another home victory but this is a Bangladesh side that is improving all the time and is leaner, fitter and better coached than they’ve ever been, and there should be a good contest.
An hour later, the first ball shall be bowled as Australia clash with Pakistan again, and if this test is anywhere near as exciting as the first – or towards the end of it, at least – then it will be an occasion fit for Christ himself. A test that Australia had taken by the scruff of the neck on one of their favourite stumping grounds – they haven’t lost a test at Brisbane since 1988 – eventually became one of the most thrilling tests of the year, with the hosts escaping with a 39-run victory from a three-hour final session.
At the beginning of the day you could have gotten 600/1 with no restrictions on a Pakistan win, but the magical 137 of Ashad Shafiq, the cornerstone of a much improved second innings performance from the team, took things to the very wire. However, the dominance of Australia’s bowlers - Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazelwood, and Josh Bird teaming up for nine of their 10 first innings wickets - in the first innings proved to be too much despite Steve Smith’s much criticised decision to declare instead of enforcing the follow on.
That was the day/night test and now things move to the MCG, where Pakistan may find themselves more at home. There have been four day/night tests played and Australia have been involved in three of them; The Aussies have won all three, each against an opponent playing in the conditions for the first time.
The move back to the red ball should help a Pakistan side that has the players to target the Australian middle order with reverse swing in the shape of Mohammed Amir, Rahat Ali and Wahab Riaz when the conditions are right and the battling lineup had adapted to the conditions with aplomb in the second innings.
Shafiq’s innings took the headlines, but Azhar Ali (71) and Younis Khan (65) made the headlines whilst Mohammed Amir nearly did with his 48; Yasir Shah and Whab Riaz combined for 60. Any number of the Pakistanis could once again be top bat – it’s no surprise that you can get 7/2 for four or five choices.
Australia have lost just 3 matches from 29 played at home over the last five years and two of those came when South Africa visited in the summer, so favouritism is deserved. However, this could be more competitive earlier than the last test, and the 11/2 on Pakistan appeals as being too big if their batsmen can get into the game earlier.
Steve Smith got some flak for his tactics in the last test but he’s scored three half centuries and scored 132 to set up the Australian position in the first test. He’s scored a century at the MCG for the last two years and the 4/1 on him doing do again is of interest along with the 11/10on him making a half century. What might be a better investment than the latter, is the performance points line of 110 that Bet365 offer on him. Smith would have made it with both runs alone in Brisbane but he also took four catches and the last time he failed to take a catch was at the Oval when Australia were being taken apart during the Ashes.
For those of you who prefer to sleep of the excesses of Christmas, South Africa take on Sir Lanka in their Test series at 8am on Boxing Day. The last couple of years have been tough for the Proteas but they have been searching long term replacements to the outgoing heroes like Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, whilst they must cope with the absences of AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
However, they have found plenty of new faces to take the team forward. Faf Du Plessis is now an established captain, Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma are the second and third leading run-scorers for South Africa in Test cricket this year in what is their breakthrough year as member whilst Kagiso Rabada is the top wicket taker. Rabada, who took 15 wickets in Australia, can repeat the success that other fast bowlers have had against the Sri Lanka, especially back on home soil where he impressed so much against England last year.
This approach reaped rewards when they went to Australia and took a very much deserved 2-1 series win where Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott took 28 wickets between them and Quinton De Kock was the second top combined runscorer. De Kock was nearly 80 clear with his 281 in three tests where batting conditions are tricky and the 8’s that he’s the leading runscorer again appear to be big.
Sri Lanka are entitled to respect, but they have won just four of their 13 away games in the last two years and two of those were the two wins against Zimbabwe in their warm up for this; One other success was against Bangladesh. Their more relevant piece of form would broadly be their visit to England, which ended in a 2-1 home success, and a similar scoreline could be in the office.
There’s still reason to be wary for South Africa – their Boxing Day record is not immaculate – and Sri Lanka have got the confidence from a five-match winning streak, and the rise of rise of Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva in the battling lineup for solidity.
Trying to take 20 South African wickets is probably a bigger question for them, and much will rest on Rangena Herath’s late spinning, especially at Port Elizabeth, and Unwan Pradeep’s fitness, although he’s been exceptional when it’s held, taking 40 wickets at 32.55 since the beginning of 2015. If his legs hold he can lead the way for the visitors.
Australia v Pakistan – 2nd Test
1 pt Steve Smith 1st Innings Century (4/1 general)
3 pts Steve Smith to score over 110 performance points (5/6 Bet365)
South Africa v Sri Lanka – Series
1 pt Quinton De Kock Top South Africa Batsman (8/1 general)
1 pt Unwan Pradeep Top Sri Lanka Bowler (5/1 general)
1 pt Kagiso Rabada Top South Africa Bowler (9/4 general)