The first test between India and Australia reached a dramatic conclusion on Sunday. At the start of the last day all three results – win, loose, tie – were still possible, with Australia the favourites. By tea time all three results were still possible but India, on the back of their captain and a strong batting display, were favourites. But Nathan Lyon put an ordinary first two sessions behind him to bowl Australia to a famous victory.

On day four Australia wrapped up the Indian tail then went about plundering the runs to set India a fifth day chase. Once again Chris Rogers and Shane Watson failed and were it not for Michael Clarke suffering yet another hamstring injury then both of their spots in the eleven would have come under scrutiny. The fact that Watson has survived this long at number three despite a series of sub-par performances is a mystery to me. David Warner once again was the mainstay of the innings, notching his second hundred in the match. But it wasn’t without fortune. Bowled in the seventies he received a respite after a front foot no-ball from Varun Aaron. Aaron had given Warner a send-off before the no ball was spotted by the umpires and Warner duly responded on his return to the crease. The animosity provided a sense of normality for two teams who clash more often than most.

Steve Smith’s rich vein of form also continued as he notched another half century. He is a batsmen and player who has matured enormously in the last twelve months and I believe Cricket Australia’s decision to name him as captain on Monday is fully vindicated. At 25 he may be Australia’s third youngest captain but he is the obvious candidate and a better long-term option than vice-captain Brad Haddin. He has captained at state and Australian under 23 level, clearly has a cricketing brain and looks ready for the job.

Back to the cricket, India were set 364 to win on the final day. It was a chase that would require plenty of records to be broken but wasn’t without hope. The wicket was still playing well and Australia’s pace attack hadn’t exactly set fear into the Indian batsmen in the first innings. But this isn’t an Indian batting line up with renowned stars. Murali Vijay provided the only real support to Virat Kholi with an outstanding 99. But his wicket sparked a collapse from which India never recovered. India lost 8 for 73 in the final session to fall 48 runs short of victory. For Virat Kholi the result will have been particularly tough to take. He batted well in the first innings for 115 and then even better in the second for 141, his highest test score. He led from the front all game. But his wicket will give him nightmares. It was one of Lyon’s worse balls of the day and sat up to be hit. Kohli duly obliged, but he picked out Mitch Marsh, who didn’t even have to move, in the deep. Kohli’s talent is there for all to see and if he goes on to become the player many expect then, despite the loss, this may well be a match he looks back on as the turning point. Up until now he has shown promise but failed to deliver all to often. An average of less than 40 is far too low for a player of his calibre.

For Australia it was Nathan Lyon who was the hero. 12 months ago and in a similar position he failed to bowl Australia to victory on the final day against South Africa. But he is a much better bowler these days. His flight and control were impressive throughout. He toiled for the first two sessions but found the umpires tough to convince with a number of near misses. But when he managed to beat Vijay’s wristy flick and trap him LBW there was a sense of vulnerability. The cricket gods may have smiled on him after with at least one of his wickets dubious. His seven wickets in the innings took his match tally to 12, easily a career best. And his performance helped to cover-up a subdued and ineffective bowling performance from his colleagues. Johnson, Harris and Siddle will be particularly grateful that Lyon was up to the challenge as the pace trio struggled to make an impression on the final day. And before someone pipes up that Johnson took two wickets, the first was fortunate and shouldn’t have been given out and the second was a number nine late on.

As close as India came it is worth remembering that Australia dominated for most of the five days. Australia declared twice and India managed a paltry 12 wickets across both innings. Whether they can take the 20 wickets required to win a test match is debatable. And while their batsmen acquitted themselves reasonably well not enough starts were converted and the form of Rohit Sharma will be of concern. The second test starts in Brisbane on Wednesday. It has been a happy hunting ground for Australia and they will be firm favourites to take a 2-0 series lead.

To football where this week I’m just going to look at one match, Manchester United versus Liverpool. Or should I say David De Gea versus Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli. Manchester United may have won 3-0 but it was De Gea who made the crucial interventions. Just how United have won six straight given their defensive deficiencies is quite amazing and once again they looked profligate on Sunday. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring after good work from Antonio Valencia on the wing. But it could have been a different story were it not for De Gea less than 30 seconds earlier. De Gea was on hand to block a Sterling effort and from the rebound United counter attacked and scored.

Twice more he denied Sterling in the first half, including one after Jonny Evan’s did his best impersonation of Xavi with a perfectly weighted through ball for Sterling to race on to. What was meant to be a backpass was woefully underhit and De Gea, after keeping out Sterling’s shot was rightly furious. He is a one man defence at the moment. Various websites have given him a perfect 10 for his performance and it is hard to argue with them. Thibault Courtois is the only goalkeeper in England who can claim to be anywhere near De Gea’s level, and he has the benefit of playing behind a far less hospitable backline.

While De Gea’s confidence is clearly sky-high, Sterling seems bereft of both confidence and ideas. He dallied at least once when he should have shot earlier and this was his 21st competitive game without a goal. The return of Sturridge to take some of the burden off his shoulders can’t come soon enough.

At the other end of the field the names on the scoresheet for United were familiar; Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata. Though it must be said that there was a sense of fortune about the second and third with a hint of off-side on both occasions. Rooney’s form is as good as at any time in his career, and he is continuing to find the net despite being moved deeper and deeper. On this occasion he played in midfield, with his presence alone seeming to instil confidence. Any further back and he’ll be in defence. He might just be United’s best option there at the moment as well.

Interestingly Louis Van Gall continues to use Radamel Falcao off the bench, with James Wilson starting. Falcao is beginning to look sharper and while he is snatching at goal scoring opportunities it seems only a matter of time until he is given a chance from the start. Anders Herrara hasn’t done a huge amount wrong and will surely find his way into the starting line-up sooner rather than later as well. He uses the ball far more effectively than most of his United counterparts and is a bundle of energy. And then there is the return of Angel Di Maria from injury to manage. Louis Van Gall is going to have his job cut out deciding on his best team and formation. But that is what he is paid to do.

 

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