17 December 2007

Kaushik's XI for Melbourne

Kaushik has collected his thoughts on the team sheet for Melbourne, and makes some interesting observations about how to accomodate Yuvraj in the team. He argues for Dravid's exclusion from the XI pointing out (1) that we need a solid opening pair because our realistic chance lies in out-batting Australia in the first innings; (2) that Yuvraj by being a belligrent, confident batsman and part-time bowler, provides everything that the out-of-form Dravid does not; and (3) it would be an unmistakable signal of an intent to win.

12 December 2007

What about Chopra??

If Gautam Gambhir had a sore shoulder and could not be picked in the sixteen, should not the next choice in the 24 probables have had a better at the squad to Oz, than someone from outside the 24?

What impact will such a decision have on Chopra's career?! One act of selectorial stupidity (that of dropping Veeru) does not justify such contrivance.

Who is Pankaj Singh?


This is what the Cricinfo Player Profile says:
Pankaj Singh, a tall and strapping right-arm medium-fast bowler from Rajasthan, has progressed from the Under-19 level to the India A side with consistent performances since he made his first-class debut in August 2003. By 2006 he started showing signs of having matured, taking Rajasthan to the final of the Ranji Plate league, with 21 wickets at 20.95. In 2007, he was part of India A's twin tour of Zimbabwe and Kenya, and a total of 18 wickets in the unofficial Tests and ODIs in Kenya earned him a spot for the home series against South Africa A. With Sreesanth and Munaf Patel injured, he earned a call-up to India's Test squad to tour Australia.

08 December 2007

Pakistan in India, Chinnaswamy, Days 2 and 3: Ganguly, Pathan make hay, looks like it will be a batathon

After an eye-catching partnership between Ganguly and Pathan competing among them for the best sixer against Kaneria, it fell to India to slowly wrench the Pakistani batsmen out before they reached the follow on score. At the end of Day 3, India will be disappointed that they do not have more runs to play with. Misbah and Kamran, the duo that thwarted the Indians at Eden are batting and there is Mohammed Sami to follow. Only 58 runs are needed to avoid the follow on.

It was sexy stuff from Ganguly. He looked awesome, and as a person who has always been frustrated with his lack of urgency between wickets, I was really really happy that he ran 78 singles and 13 twos. Pathan too, turned it on, but I hope his selection will be determined by his bowling alone.

I don't think India bowled as well as they could have. Salman Butt had it quite easy, and I think young Ishant found the right hand-left hand combo tricky. Butt hit several boundaries on leg side, behind and in front of square.

Younis Khan is a bit of a stud. I did not think much of him when he came into the game and was stunned when Pakistan decided that he was their best number 3. But eventually he did rewrite the rules of the game in his own small way, much like Dhoni did later. That dab to third man got him thirty percent of his runs today. Like Dhoni, like Sehwag, there is not much we can complain of when he gets out. All we can mutter is, "but that's the way he plays the game!" Sad part is, Pakistan rely on him much more than we ever did on Sehwag or now rely on Dhoni. They rely much more on Yousuf, and he played a shot that he will rue, to get out.

Misbah is slowly becoming a master at the attritional game. Even today he ate up time and made the runs that will almost certainly save Pakistan from the follow-on. Kamran is his pocket-sized ally. Neither put away the shots, but managed a risk-free game.

Day 1: India go ahead, the Left turns it.
This was Chinnaswamy, and it wasn't too long back that Balaji and India fell with fifteen balls left. The Bangalore jinx had to be broken and India came close to giving Pakistan the test on a platter on Day 1. Laxman was unlucky maybe. But Jaffer, Dravid and Gambhir made errors in judgment. Gambhir flirted with one outside off, and did not do much to dislodge Karthik from the opener's slot. Jaffer misread the line and got hit right in front. He did not look anywhere near as fluent as he did in the two innings at Eden, and looked ridiculous going like that after facing 62 balls. So, questions still remain at the top. Did Dravid play one shot too many? Arafat may have put in some extra shoulder into that ball, and Dravid did not see that coming. It is a shot he plays well, so he'll be ruing his bad luck. Four down on the first session of the first day of a Test match. Though Arafat was getting the ball to move, he was not that hostile.Subsequent events showed the pitch for what it was, and had the top order shown a little more application, the heroics that followed would not have been necessary.

Yuvraj Singh has all but torn down the walls of the Test team with a counterattacking innings of real confidence. It is not the first time he has scored a Test century, but every time he has showed us that he belonged, he would paly a one-day stroke too many and get out. Ganguly rode out a stupid feud with the childish Akthar early in the innings and then hardly gave a chance through his innings. Yuvi's runscoring abilities took the pressure of Ganguly and he followed Yuvraj to a century in the third session. Gaping holes in the Pakistan bowling became apparent. Akthar was taken to hospital again, but Sami soldiered on and that certainly was not enough. Yuvraj and Ganguly played Kaneria quite easily. Younis Khan, Yasir Hameed, Salman Butt all had a ball. Three hundred runs and the new ball later, Yuvraj was out.

Karthik did not look very confident. His situation is dicey and he will need to push his claim against a ball that is still new, tomorrow. India would want to bat till tea, but if Akthar is back to bowling well tomorrow, the innings could fold before lunch and set up and see saw.

06 December 2007

Fast bowling depth

Only recently, Harsha Bhogle was complaining about the lack of depth in Indian pace bowling. The criticism came not a moment too soon, as India had just returned from England with a remarkable series win. And many credited the win to India going to England with an attack capable of picking twenty wickets. Zaheer was bowling very well, and had two capable allies in Arpy and Sree. It was even more remarkable that India won a Test match without a significant contribution from the erratic Sreesanth. Clearly, these three would be at the top of the pecking order for a while.

Prior to the England tour, both Munaf Patel and VRV Singh had been tried at various points. Munaf could only go through one complete series uninjured, while VRV seemed too raw and unpenetrative at times. At the same time, the erstwhile blue-eyed boy Irfan Pathan made a comeback in the T20 and ODI scheme of things. Astonishingly, Ajit Agarkar remained in contention for the ODI and T20 teams. After some good ODI form in 2006, Ajit returned to his pedestrian habits. Ishant Sharma played against Bangladesh but did not set the imagination on fire. He went to England, but like the line-and-length-master Ranadeb Bose, did not get to play a Test.

In Bangalore, we will probably get to see what the second level of Indian fast bowling looks like. Set to play are Irfan Pathan, VRV Singh and Ishant Sharma. Irfan is making a comeback to the Test arena after having to make a humilating return from the squad in South Africa. Slowly, he has climbed back to be in the reckoning and he would love to be in the squad to Australia where he made an impressive debut. Once promoted to spearhead status after Zaheer was dropped, he forged a useful partnership with L Balaji. For a while, we were able to forget Zaheer and Nehra and Agarkar. On his comeback trail, he has mostly permitted himself to be viewed as a cunning support bowler, and there are serious doubts about whether he can ever recapture the scorching form or the fast banana inswing that made him.

The scariest part is that there is a chance that India may play in Oz without any of the bowlers that did well in the recent past. Though Ajit Agarkar will always pick up wickets, his discipline is probably worse than Sami's. It needs to be seen just how penetrative Irfan, Ishant and VRV can be. With a depleted line-up at his disposal, Kumble cannot be blamed if he goes on the defensive.

05 December 2007

Belling the Murali

Ian Bell stood between Sri Lanka and certain victory. And failed with just fifteen overs remaining. But sport permits us couch and internet potatoes to speculate about glory and beauty in defeat. There is Gavaskar's last test innings on a minefield that is the stuff of legend. There is Tendulkar battling injury, Saqlain and his own team's frailty at Chennai.

Bell batted out 209 balls. Only King Kumar batted longer in the match. When the second new ball was taken, England which had been in complete disarray, could actually contemplate a victory. God knows if Prior thought about it because he played some crackers off Vaas.

In the end it only delayed what happened. Murali came and sent both of them backing.

04 December 2007

Murali is the champion of the world

Watching you sir, has been pure pleasure. Your competetiveness in the face of detractors, doubts and dickheads in an environment of conflict, is an inspiration to many. You deserve an unassailable peak.

30 November 2007

Pakistan in India, Eden Gardens

Eden Gardens, Day 5: Pakistan live to fight another day

There is much to be said of living to fight another day. No one knows that better than Pakistan. Their most celbrated victories have come when all but the craziest had written them off. On days one and two, nobody seemed to doubt that this was the worst Pakistan squad to have ever toured India. But now, Pakistan are moral victors having drawn at Kolkata with a severely depleted bowling line-up. Much credit to Younis Khan, who not only delayed his arrival at the crease to let Kamran have a go and to shore up the lower order, but also attacked with purpose after Butt concentrated hard to leave almost every ball on the rough alone.

India did threaten until the two Ys were settled but once that happened, only spectacular fielding and lapses in concentration could have brought them back into the match.

Apart from the Kamran-Misbah partnership, Sami's barnacle act that ate up so much time was a definite match-turner. Perhaps India could have batted a tad faster. Ganguly could have run better once Khan had spread the field to save the boundary. Eventually, declaration was a decision taken out of Kumble's hands on Day 4, and there is no point discussing it.

Another interesting facet in this match has been watching Shoaib's bowling. After a horrid Day 1, he showed definite improvement. Even though no wickets came his way in that mammoth first innings, he did bowl 16% of Pakistans overs. In the second innings, he bowled more than Sami or Tanvir, and also did a good job of stopping Ganguly and Dhoni from going for an early decaration.

Eden Gardens, Days 3 and 4: It's alive!!!
India could have done much better at the end of the fourth day's play. Pakistan should have folded much earlier, and Dhoni and Gulguly could've done better towards the end.

Kamran was brilliant after lunch on Day 3, making it the third time he has bailed his time out with brilliant counterattack against India. When we see such stunning strokeplay, it is difficult to reason why he is not among the top wicketkeeper batsmen in the world today. Yes, the pitch was flat but the score was 150 for 5, and only the Aussies can claim to have consistently regrouped from such a situation. Hopefully he can carry this confidence into his keeping as weel. The opportunity again brought the the best out of Misbah who always seems so collected in a pressure cooker until his mode of dismissal would betray the storm within. Misbah and Kamran ran well and built their stand and Pakistan had the opportunity to walk away with a draw. Misbah did not relent on the morning of Day 4 and Sami did the barnacle act again. The follow-on was averted and then some. Once Sami was dismissed, the rest perished in a flurry.

Kamran should have been out earlier, and Sami as well. It was shocking that the scoreline did not reflect how badly the Indians fielded in England, and probably it won't in this series as well. One hopes the batting and bowling can hide the fielding troubles in Australia as well.

Karthik was scratchy in trying to regain some form but Jaffer was as confident as I have ever seen anyone and capitalised on several Tanvir deliveries on his pads. Karthik got out trying to be too sexy. The next boundary came four overs later, and the one after that came after six. Jaffer went trying to slog after his fifty and Ganguly came. Dhoni had been sent in to accelerate the scoring rate. But some awesome turn that Kaneria got from the rough outside leg, as well as Shoaib's controlled aggression, and Ganguly's weak running meant India did not declare by end of the day's play. On a difficult wicket, Dhoni (28 from 53) might not necessarily be the guy who can score quick.

In 2001, seven Aussie wickets fell after tea on the last day. India have given themselves a chance to win, and they just need to keep going at Pakistan. Harbhajan already has five wickets in this match. He will be very confident. But Pakistan will be too, as anyone who came back from the dead would be.

Pakistan in India, Eden Gardens, Day 2: Ganguly, Laxman, Dhoni pile on
Ganguly, Laxman and Dhoni coninued to pile on the misery. The strokes sparkled in the first session and continued till Ganguly's dismissal. Both men made their first hundred against Pakistan. For Dada, it might even have been emotional.

Shoaib was a touch better today. He bowled more and tried to keep it in the 140s, though the slower deliveries were coming with predictable regularity. Sohail Tanvir though, found the situation too hot to handle and continued to leak runs. Sami eventually ended up bowling just five overs more than Shoaib. The batsmen were in such good control that Danish Kaneria was punished for almost every single bad ball that he bowled. Kumble's declaration left him stranded on 194.

For a brief period prior to the tea break, both Laxman and Dhoni went circumspect, and I was wondering whether there would even be a declaration today. But all those doubts were put to rest when Dhoni reeled off some strokes to bring up his fifty and the declaration with it.

Whether it was merely a matter of an unequal contest between bat and ball on a placid pitch will be revealed tomorrow. The third day is supposed to be the best for batting at Eden Gardens, and Pakistan have an opportunity to get as close to the follow-on target as possible. It is still not clear what is wrong with Zaheer Khan, but Kumble did the right thing in taking him out of the attack at the first sign of trouble. India need Zaheer to be fit for the long haul ahead.

Even without Zaheer in the attack, Pakistan will at least need until lunch on the fourth day to overhaul the target. India will not lose this series. To win this test, the Indian captain will look no further than himself. However, Kumble will need to work in tandem with Bhajji, and a few injections of confidence will do him no harm. This is Eden and it won't be the first time he has performed magic here.

Eden Gardens, Day 1: Jaffer bullies clueless Pakistan
Pakistan were asking for it, going into the match with an unfit Shoaib. A shadow of his second-innings avtar in Delhi, Pakistan were a bowler short throughout and India made the most of it. Of course it could have been much better had Dravid not been given out, but Dravid should have been run out a few overs earlier.

Dravid's partnership with Jaffer laid the foundations for the assault that Jaffer and Tendulkar launched. Pakistan's brightest moment was when Tendulkar fell to a Kaneria googly after a sparkling knock. Post the second innings at Kotla, he seems to have shifted a few gears in his head and his style. I was getting quite irritated with his grinding game in England, but this was fun to watch. Even when Kaneria tried to do what Warne once attempted, packing the leg side field and bowling into the rough outside legstump, Sachin was looking very much at ease.

Jaffer throughout, was magestic and dominated everyone, pulling and cutting and driving easily. On three different occasions, he reeled off a hat-trick of boundaries. In Australia he may not get away with driving in the air so much, but man, his backfoot play is spectacular. Sohail Tanvir seemed to be at the recieving end quite a bit. With Shoaib certainly undercooked and Sami bowling like he did not care, Kaneria's good bowling at the other end went unrewarded. Kamran dropping Tendulkar did not help. At the end of the day, it had to be said that these two teams were not evenly matched. Even on placid pitches, Pakistani bowling ususally threatens more.

I do not know the logic of playing three pacers at Eden Gardens. But even if we agree with that policy, Pakistan would have been much better off choosing the repalcement Arafat. I do not know whether the management was pandering to Shoaib's whims, but from the morning it was clear that Shoaib would be dead weight. Tanvir, Arafat, Kaneria and Rehman it should have been.

What of Dinesh Kathik? Despite his failure in three consecutive innings' he is still in the Top 10 runscorers in Tests in 2007. But how much longer can he keep out Gautam Gambhir or Yuvraj Singh? Things somehow look rosy for Indian Test cricket. There is competition for the openers spot, in the middle order, to be the chosen fast bowling options, and to be Kumble's suppport spinner. Mahendra Singh Dhoni seems to have cornered the wicket keeper batsman's position, though.

27 November 2007

Regional bias

Read this 2002 Ram Guha article on Kerala cricket here. It needs to be updated to include a para on Sree.

26 November 2007

Bent elbow blah

During the television coverage, we all saw Shoaib - and Bhajji too, let it be said - bend and unbend his elbow at the time of delivery. Superslomo had revealed it, and Rameez could not hide his mirth trying to deadpan.

I think this fixation with the bent elbow is frustrating, and frankly unfair to the bowler. I have not seen any scientific inquiry to what precisely a bowler gains from bending his arm. More spin for the spinner, more speed for the pacer, but in terms of an increment on the speed/spin he would have recieved anyway, we know nothing. Also, the cameras see everyone chuck, some perceptible to the naked eye, all perceptible to cameras if you could just slow them down enough. Even Zaheer and Kumble extend their arms at the point of delivery, just that we don't see it. This easy identification of 'unbent elbow' with a 'beautiful action' is somewhat simplistic. Bedi, he of the most beautiful action the game has known, unbeknownst to us, was also, what you may call, ahem, a 'chucker'.

When everything else in the game is going the batsman's way, I don't see why the bowler should not be allowed a little leeway - if research proves that it is indeed, little. Fifteen percent extension is what is aloowed now. Shoaib is well within the rules, and snide remarks will not bring back any un-bent utopia.

22 November 2007

Pakistan in India, FSK

India clawed back to a point of ascendancy every time they looked like being put under pressure, and that is why they won the match. Laxman and Dhoni were under pressure in the first innings, but the way they batted, you'd never have known. Zaheer proved he was a world-class bowler. Very very few easy balls came from him. Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman came up with adequate performances with the bat. Adequate that is, to keep Yuvraj out. Adeqaute also, for an Indian win.

Pakistan will take heart from the continued good form and effort from Shoaib "Jesus" Akthar. Salman Butt continued, like Jaffer, to look dangerous without inflicting any irreparable damage. And what can I say about Misbah that has not already been said? Good bat, though.

Days 4 and 5: India win, Ganguly swings it, Yuvraj'll have to wait

Throughout this match, Pakistan have lost wickets exactly when they should not have. Ganguly swung the match decisively India's way, taking advantage of some across-the-line indiscretion on the second new ball. If Misbah and Sami had reproduced half their first innings exploits, India would have found the going much tougher.

KDK's second failure in the match should not bother him or the managment this early. He should play the whole series, and if he still does not find his form, the selectors might think of taking an additional opener to Australia. But I somehow have faith in that plucky little man. Jaffer proved why he is the man who could have been King. On song, there aren't too many batsmen who look better flicking and cover-driving. Over the last few matches has shown why exactly he is not King, giving it away when it was just beginning to look easier. He averages 35 after 23 matches.

Shoaib bowled brilliant. I did not believe he was capable of the long spell, but he has been a revelation. If the three ever bowl together Shoaib, Asif and Gul promise some compelling viewing.

Just when India began to look a little vulnerable chasing, Ganguly was quick to seize initiative. His strokes took the pressure off Sachin who eventually took the team home.

Day 3: The one where both teams should have done better
It wasn't great. We should have batted longer. The lead India got was just the bare minimum. Zaheer and Bhajji did not pull their weight and in the 'larger' scheme of things, another thirty runs may prove crucial. Also, after India batted to see the new ball off, Laxman was in a position to take India to a much bigger lead.

I think Munaf bowled shite. To abuse a cliche, he should have made the batsman (Salman Butt in particular) play a little more. Zaheer was good, but did not live up to the billing. Not to take anything away from him, but Butt had it a little easy, and it is my first minor problem with Kumble's captaincy. This time around, Ganguly's little spell took some pressure off.

But Kumble and Bhajji bowled well, and Younus and Mohammed Yousuf were dismissed without too muh trouble. Yousuf though, was looking well in dispatching the bad Munaf and Bhajji deliveries. Credit to Kumble for keeping the pressure up, but Pakistan should have done much better given the bowling on offer.

And then, Jaffer let Misbah go. It was a fairly simple catch and Misbah can make India pay more. Some lusty blows took Pakistan to the ascendancy, but India still has a chance to get Pakistan out for a score that can render this match one-sided.

Day 2: Misbah's brain explosion (part II), Tanvir's chamillionaire debut and India nosing ahead - just about.

Misbah should be cast as Borat's 'retard brother Bilo' in the next movie. It was the funniest dismissal in a long time, one that ended a long vigil that at the end of the second day's play looks critical in the larger scheme. Pakistan bowled well and checked the Indian ascendancy, but like India yesterday, were blunted in the third session.

India look good to score at least another fifty runs. Anil Kumble's last Test innings was a hundred and VVS Laxman was stroking the ball well. Also, Bhajji and Zaheer are not complete mugs with the bat, even though they have been known to behave like that on occasion.

Laxman ran very well with Dhoni who walked in and where some (including me) expected him to bat painstankingly like he did at Lords, he changed the complexion of the innings. Fielders were under pressure and strokes were played with some freedom. The partnership (115) was built at above four. India will get a first innings lead but only after they frittered away the opportunity to put the game in the bag.

Dinesh Karthik played at an Akthar delivery he did not have to. He will need a better performance in the second innings and in the coming Tests to justify why Sehwag/Gambhir are not even in the squad. Jaffer gave it away too. He had a solid start and was beginning to look good when he played a lazy shot, but the ball from Akthar was mean too. Throughout all this, Tanvir was putting out on his debut, giving away easy runs to Jaffer and Dravid. If he was not doing that, he was pitching it too wide to bother. But some overs after luch, I suspect he decided to pitch it better, and also to bring the ball back in occasionally. Tendulkar got himself run-out, and then Ganguly left a huge gap between bat and pad to Tanvir, and Dravid fell to a scorcher.

Day 1: Sessions one and two to India, and Sami the barnacle.
The second new ball has been taken and Mohammed Sami has continued his staunch resistance. Misbah stayed put at the beginning of the innings and took ages to get going. Now he shields Sami. In between he has scored 69, and the smog never really lifted.

In the first skirmish of the Salman Butt versus Zaheer Khan battle, Zaheer won comfortably with a ball that jagged back in to take the off-stump. It was a lovely period of bowling. This series will feature many more of these skirmishes.

Though Younus Khan has only himself to blame for that top edge that went to Munaf, Zaheer did keep it tight and full, and when it came, the bouncer surprised the Plunderer-in-Chief of Indian Bowling.

Ganguly kept it tight and the ball moved both ways off the seam. His twelve overs went for 24, and what is more, he got the most important wicket of Mohammed Yousuf. Much as I am irritated with Yuvraj being left out, Ganguly did well. It is easy to forget Ganguly's contributions with the ball, but not too long ago he was getting crucial wickets in England. Now it is up to Laxman to come up with a performance that will keep Yuvraj out. Pressure on.

Munaf, Munaf, the comeback boy, he made the most of it, though clearly bowling quite within himself, the kind of thing Unc J Rod so hates. He mostly kept it on a good line and length after some time into his first spell but the pace rarely went over 132 or so. The question is, is that good enough to keep Arpy/Sree out of the side?

Anyway, the umpires have offered light and the barnacles walk off after defying a hungry Indian attack for more than 30 overs. It really perplexes me why Sami came below Shoaib and Tanvir, for he has always been someone who can hold the bat and it is not the first time that an Indian captain has been frustrated by Sami. Kumble seemed okay for the most part, did not overbowl himself and rorated the bowling frequently - basically, got the basics right. Now, how to uproot a barnacle is an education he had to go through, and it is good that he got a lesson on Day 1 itself. Any more analysis of Kumble's captaincy is too early. He bowled well, making the most as only he can, of a pitch with some uneven bounce.

A good day's play. Pakistan will be much happier than they ought to be, and India will be much more frustrated than they ought to be. On the balance, India did get eight wickets on the first day, and Pakistan ought to have scored a few more runs.

20 November 2007

One man's injury...

If you had watched half an hour of the Oz-Lanka series, some commentator was bound to have talked about Shane Watson and Michael Clarke. The former's injury was the latter's foot in the door. Clarke has never looked back, and Watson has not been heard of, since. Of course, this is not unique by any means.

Dhoni has injured his ankle in the final ODI. It is still unconfirmed whether he will be fit to play the first Test. If he were to sit out, it would give Yuvraj the opportunity everyone wants him to get, but did not know how. Ganguly had batted better than most in England, and Laxman has been consistent, but within himself. Most importantly, it is a line-up that just won a series away. One of three would have had to sit out the Kotla Test, but Dhoni's injury opens up a few new possibilities.

If Karthik is to keep, will Kumble want him to open the innings as well? If not, then who? Assuming Yuvraj walks into the squad, one of Yuvraj, Dravid or Laxman may need to step up and open the innings. All three have done it before and Dravid has been the most succesful.

My line-up, assuming Dhoni's injury keeps him out:

Jaffer, Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Yuvraj, Karthik (wk), Kumble (c!), Bhajji, Zaheer, Sreesanth

Actually, I'm not too sure who too pick among Sree and Arpy.

What will be even more interesting to see is what happens when Dhoni comes back from injury. If Kartik, Laxman, Yuvraj and Ganguly all perform creditably, then there may be the absurd scenario of the vice-captain not having a place in the squad.

16 November 2007

Zaheer versus

Zaheer Khan's recent record of early eickets against left-arm opening batsmen in Test cricket is heartening.

Grame Smith fell in the third over of the first innings at Durban.
Shahriar Nafees fell in the third over of the first innings at Chittagong.
Andrew Strauss kept falling. Third over of the first innings' at Lords as well as Trentbridge, the eleventh over of the second innings at Lords and in the fifth over of the first innings at the Oval.
Alastair Cook fell in the thirteenth over of the second innings at Lords.

And lining up to face Zaheer over the coming weeks are Salman Butt, Mathew Hayden and Phil Jacques. Having seen the Aussie openers handle Vaas with ease, and Hayden's continued domination over Zaheer, this battle will make for interesting viewing.

14 November 2007

Your best openers or your best batsmen

Question is, do you pick the two best openers in your XI, or do you pick your best batsmen and demand that two of them open the innings?

Jaffer and Karthik are certain for the XI for the first Test against Pakistan. But are they both good enough to be in a side that could potentially leave Laxman, Yuvraj or Ganguly or any combination of them, on the bench?

06 November 2007

Captain confused

India is in the unenviable position of not being able to pick a captain for the future. Sachin has just announced that he is reluctant to captain the side and that leaves Dhoni as the most likely candidate. However, the selectors would be mindful of the fact that Dhoni's glovework was not much better than that of the severely criticized Matt Prior, in England. Even though he helped India cling on to a draw at Lords, it is not yet clear whether he can hold on to his spot in the Test side by virtue of batting alone. Moreover, Parthiv Patel must soon start wondering what more he could possibly do to win back his spot in the team. Not to forget Dinesh Karthik, part of the squad to England as specialist opener.

So even if the selectors would like to see Dhoni captain India, giving it to him now could be a serious gamble. On the one hand, we might see Dhoni bloom into a marvellous Test batsman, and everyone salivates at the possibilities that he brings to facing the second new ball. Or he might end up exposed by Akthar, Asif, Gul, Lee, Tait, Clarke and Mitchell. And there is nothing worse than landing up in Australia with a captain who can't seem to score many runs. Best thing might be to wait on it, and appoint a stopgap someone.

Laxman, Kumble and Zaheer seem likely to be the other prospects. Laxman does not have a settled spot in the team. Yuvraj Singh's awesome form over the last year, the improved performances from Gambhir and Uthappa, and the tons made by Raina and Tiwary at the domestic level mean that Laxman hangs on to the middle order by a thread. Dravid and Ganguly, in comparison, are a little more secure. Laxman needs sustained performances if he needs to reach the 100 Test mark, and so his case is quite similar to that of MSD. And thus, we exhaust our batting captaincy options

Both Kumble and Zaheer look set to play a few more years, and are both aggressive cricketers who don't lack for effort. But the last thing India need is an overbowled Zaheer Khan. India need him to stay fit and fresh, at least until Arpy/Sree/Munaf/Ishant is able to lead the attack. And that right now, looks like it may take forever.

Appoint Dhoni now and cut him some slack. Or Kumble it should be, until he retires.

01 November 2007

Number 3

I doubt the Ganguly-Sachin opening combine would be broken just yet. The plan, for all to see, is to drag it on a little longer. So we move on to the number three position.

The number three position though, is far from settled. Even though conventional wisdom points to a batsman settled at this spot, India, over a period stretching even prior to the Chappell years, have approached the spot with some amount of flexibility. Of course, on some occasions such fluidity has been forced on the managment. On others, Dravid and Chappell pursued it aggressively as strategy. Quite surprisingly, it is VVS Laxman who has walked in at the fall of the first wicket, the most number of times since 2003, having done it 28 times. Ever since he was dropped from the squad to South Africa for the '03 World Cup, it was clear that Laxman would never cement his spot in the ODI team. Nevertheless, India kept going back to him. This is just one more instance of muddled Indian selection. Not only has this held up the development of another ODI batsman, it probably affected Laxman's Test batting as well.

Pathan has batted at number three sixteen times, and is second only to Laxman. Surprisingly,
of the 142 matches he has played since 2003, Dravid has batted at this position only thirteen times. Dhoni has done it eleven times, Kaif ten, Sehwag nine, Yuvraj eight, Gambhir seven, Tendulkar five and Uthappa and Raina have each batted there four times. and surely there are a few more.

Contrast this to Australia. Of the 134 ODIs Ricky Ponting has played since 2003, he has batted at number three in 126 of them. I don't want to use this statistic to extol the virtues of a settled number three position. In the 2003 World Cup, Saurav Ganguly batted at number three for all but two matches of the tournament. Even that does not settle the obvious superiority of this approach. Especially for the Indian captain. After all, is he not a product of the flexible approach that allowed him a platform for creative expression?

Now, assuming that the managment stays predictable and opts for Sachin-Saurav Inc to open, we have the following candidates for the spot.

- Gautam Gambhir
- Virender Sehwag
- Robin Uthappa
- Yuvraj Singh
- S Badrinath
- M S Dhoni
- Irfan Pathan
- Rohit Sharma
- Pravin Kumar

And if Dravid is back after two ODIs, then of course, him too.

It would be surprising to see any of the last five at the position. Such a ploy may work, but it won't sustain itself over a series or more. Of the rest, one has to say that all of Sehwag, Gambhir, Uthappa and Yuvraj have a claim on the spot. Yuvraj is used to coming in a little later, but there is no point in worshipping the dharma of youth if the ultra-experienced and uber-talented Yuvraj still does not or is not allowed to take responsibility for the batting. Gambhir is the man riding a purple patch. Sehwag should be given a chance to storm back, and Uthappa has proven just as destructive at the bottom of the lineup. Since this is such a tough choice, one is likely to see more shuffling. A couple of failures could see Sehwag either sit out or move to the lower middle order to make space for Gambhir or Uthappa.

31 October 2007

Captain Tendulkar

Some snippets from Tendulkar's previous stint as captain.

29 July 1999
News Roundup: Tendulkar takes over
Peter Deeley
India have sacked Mohammad Azharuddin as captain and replaced him with Sachin Tendulkar for the forthcoming limited-overs matches in Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Tendulkar was the unanimous choice of the Indian selectors and is expected to be named captain for the rest of the season in September.
This will be Tendulkar's second stint as captain. The 26-year-old was first given the job in similar circumstances when Azharuddin was sacked in 1996.
But a collapse in his form led to Azharuddin taking over again a year later.


30 July 1999
Captain Tendulkar meets the Press
Anand Vasu
Sachin Tendulkar ended all speculation by confirming his acceptance to Raj Singh Dungarpur, the president of BCCI.
Mr JY Lele had earlier telephoned Sachin's house, and the good tidings were recorded by Tendulkar's answering machine. The little genius first heard of his appointment when the recorded message duly informed him that, "You have been named captain, congratulations!"


Tendulkar will be back in action soon
Partab Ramchand
September 15, 1999
Surely no part of any cricketer's anatomy has been so analysed, discussed and disected as Sachin Tendulkar's back. Cricket fans have expressed anxiety over how acute the problem is. One national newsmagazine has carried an extensive cover story asking whether Tendulkar's career is finished. Another has a lengthy analytical report.
Ever since the problem first cropped up during his gallant century in a losing cause in the Chennai Test against Pakistan in January, there has been much speculation to the cause and the effect it will have on Tendulkar and Indian cricket itself in the long run. When the problem resurfaced during the camp at Chennai prior to the team's departure for the competitions in Sri Lanka and Singapore, the Indian captain consulted doctors. When the back pain persisted and affected his batting in the two tournaments, Tendulkar, realising the gravity of the situation, lost no time in dropping out of the series in Toronto and hastened to Australia to seek the advice of doctors there. The Chennai based MRF Pace Foundation which has a tie up with the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide helped him make the trip and Tendulkar took along with him Ajit Agarkar for treatment to his hamstring problem. 5


Tendulkar Junior born yesterday
Anand Vasu
September 24, 1999
Amidst all the changes that are happening in the Indian cricket organisational hierarchy and the excitement of India's packed schedule there was some good news for Sachin Tendulkar. The Indian batting genius has become a father for the second time. Anjali, Tendulkar's wife, delivered a healthy baby boy yesterday at the Breach Candy Hospital, in Mumbai.
Anjali was admitted to the Breach Candy Hospital yesterday. Tendulkar's first child Sarah, was born in October 1997. Details about what the boy will be named are not yet known. The Tendulkars and the Mehtas, (Tendulkar's in-laws) have been lowkey about all personal matters, and continue to be the same about the birth of Tendulkar's second child.


Tendulkar - confident captain, undisputed leader
Partab Ramchand
October 27, 1999
In the last chapter of my recent book on Indian cricket captains, I have said that Sachin Tendulkar's best could lie ahead. The book was released early this year when Md Azharuddin was still firmly entrenched as India's captain. In analysing Tendulkar's first stint as captain during the period 1996-97, I had said that he was not yet ready for the captaincy and when given a second chance, he could do much better.
The victory at Kanpur gave Tendulkar his first victory in his second stint as captain and his fourth overall, his other three victories having come over Australia at New Delhi in his first match as captain and South Africa (twice) later that season. There is little doubt that this victory will give Tendulkar immense confidence. Already he has many of the qualities that go into the making of a successful captain and all he needed was a result in his favour. Having obtained that, he could go from strength to strength and indeed in future, he could look back on the Green Park triumph as a major turning point in his leadership.
If Tendulkar the batsmen has his critics, Tendulkar the captain also has had his detractors who feel that he is not captaincy material, that he would be better off if left to concentrate on his batting. Tendulkar for one has never lacked confidence in himself. Particularly now when he is older, more mature, more aware of what is going on and when he has been given a greater say in team selection, and matters of strategy. Also, a close relationship between the captain and the coach is very important and he and Kapil Dev, who enjoyed cordial ties as players, have been able to maintain the bond.


Rebuilding process must start in real earnest
Partab Ramchand
January 31, 2000
Even in the long, chequered history of Indian cricket, it is difficult to come across a more disastrous tour made by a team from this country than the just completed trip `Down Under'. Losing all three Tests by margins that brook no argument and winning only one of eight one day games in the Cartlon & United Series was the dismal record of the Indian team that simply went from one humiliating failure to another.

Tendulkar to step down, mystery shrouds decision
Anand Vasu
February 20, 2000
In a move that rocked the Indian cricketing world, Sachin Tendulkar walked to the press box along with the chairman of the selection committee Chandu Borde and Jaywant Lele, Secretary, Board of Control for Cricket in India and before the board officials could announce the team for the first Test against South Africa, the Indian captain walked up to the microphone and began "I have an announcement to make..."
The press waited in anticipation as Tendulkar announced that he would be stepping down as captain of the Indian team after the two Test matches against South Africa.
The Indian captain read out a written statement to that effect. Tendulkar said that "in the beginning of the season when the then chairman of selectors Wadekar met me and offered me the captaincy, I hesitated as I was not mentally prepared at that time. In spite of that I accepted. I took it up as I was most experienced and the selectors thought I was best suited for the job. I went to Australia knowing fully well the difficulty, given their status as current World Champions. But I don't want to make any excuses for our performance in Australia."
In a sentence that was vintage Tendulkar, he went on to explain: "As captain, I accept moral responsibility for our failure and after a lot of thought I have decided to step down as captain after the two Tests against South Africa."

27 October 2007

KDK

Does Karthik know he's been dropped for the first two ODIs against Pak? He's piling on the runs, on the back of a good foundation built by Sehwag, Raina and Yadav. Fifty coming from 37 balls, Blues look set for a gigantic total.

Poor KDK. Won't do his confidence any good before he walks in to open the batting in Oz.

Racism - II




(From left) Andrew Symonds, Aussie ODI stud; Predator, pop-culture icon.

24 October 2007

Bangar

Sanjay Bangar played 12 Tests for India. He took 7 wickets at 49, scored three fifties and made a hundred not out against Zimbabwe. His batting average ended at 29.37 - modest for a batsman who was asked to open the innings in England. As long as he was in the team, he was considered nothing more exciting than a lucky mascot. India won five and drew one of Bangar's first six Test. Yet, he had a massive impact on one of India's most celbrated victories of the last decade - Headingly '02. The following is an extract from Ralph Dellor at Cricinfo. It may sound like a Bor-a-thon, but as that match progressed, the value of that attritional first morning became quite obvious. Once again, India had to rely on Anil Kumble (6 wickets) and Rahul Dravid to wrestle an overseas victory. Sanjay Bangar took two wickets in England's second innings.


"In such conditions there was the traditional movement for the bowlers, leaving Sehwag and Bangar to perhaps question the wisdom of batting first. They coped well for half an hour before Sehwag got the opportunity to address his captain on the subject in person. He got a ball from Matthew Hoggard that drew him into the drive and he edged to Andrew Flintoff at second slip as it left him.
That was the only punishable indiscretion in the morning, despite the fact that both Hoggard, operating down the hill, and Andrew Caddick probed outside the off-stump with five catchers in an arc from the wicket-keeper. Hoggard bowled a long, controlled spell of ten overs that cost a mere 20 runs despite the attacking fields. Caddick and Alex Tudor maintained the pressure and it says much for the resolve of the batsmen that they were not beaten more often.
Their efforts were all the more valuable in that the ball was not always behaving as expected. After digging out a couple from Tudor that kept low, Dravid was forced to take evasive action as a vicious ball climbed past his gloves and over the wicket-keeper for four byes. That was one of only four occasions when the ball reached the boundary on a morning that would have been anathema to those wanting quick thrills but was fascinating for anyone with an appreciation of proper Test cricket.

A similar rate of progress was maintained after lunch as the England bowlers toiled and the Indian batsmen picked up the odd run, played and missed or simply left alone. Every over was a test of patience and, even when the sun came out, the ball still swung and the batsmen were still happy to concentrate on survival.
It could be said that the bowlers became intoxicated with the sight of the ball snaking towards the slips instead of risking a faster scoring rate and making the batsmen play more. The batsmen, however, were not to be drawn and were just as watchful against the left-arm spin of Ashley Giles as they had been against the quicker bowlers.
One of the few risks taken was as Bangar went to his fifty with a single into the covers off Tudor. Had Michael Vaughan hit, Bangar would have been some way short. As it was, he reached his personal milestone from 166 balls. Dravid was marginally quicker, taking 153 balls as India added 74 runs in the 32 overs of the afternoon session. "

18 October 2007

Racism

From the ICCs Anti-Racism Code:
"Spectators shall not engage in any conduct, act towards or speak to any player, umpire, referee or other official or other spectators in a manner which offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, threatens, disparages or vilifies that other person on the basis of that other person’s race, religion, colour, national or ethnic origin."

The Oz press has quite rightly exposed Indian double standards when it comes to racism. But the ICC, and the Oz media need to bear in mind that the language of 'race' is quite new in India. Very rarely has a dispute broken out on clearly determinable racial lines. Religion, language and caste and tribal loyalties have been the major drivers of identity politics.

This however, should not be an excuse to stick our collective heads deep in the soil. People in Delhi are not very kind to African students at the Delhi University, and chronic police suspicion of the Nigerian community would shame most Indians. The rest of the country treats their own countrymen and women from the North-East region (who usually have Mongol features) like trash. Forget about caste violence for now. At least we have a law to deal with that.

The problem does not stop with the BCCI. The government needs to legislate (or at least think about) an anti-racism law. Until then, there will be no public debate or awareness about the problem of racism. Whatever the BCCI and the ICC do until then will only be a stop-gap measure. And when the ICC demands that its anti-racism code be enforced, it would do well to realize that the code is quite useless in such a vacuum, and the best it can do is to ensure that its Anti-Racism officers have a good understanding of such local conditions.

16 October 2007

Why's everyone taking aim at Dravid?

Many television (and random) commentators still make the mistake of seeing Dravid as a one-dimensional batsman. Perhaps they're still stuck with the image of Dravid as an accumulator, fooled by his nickname into underestimating his run-scoring abilities. Bad form cannot be the reason to spread all kinds of misinformation and lies about players. I am so glad that Sanjay Jagdale decided to stand up for Dravid, reminding everyone of the explosive 92* at Bristol. Coming at three or four down in England, he averaged 37.16 - which is not too bad. The only problem is that Dravid did not play in the T20 World Cup, and now there is a clamour for his removal, forced resignation blah. Dravid, along with Yuvraj and Tendulkar are still India's best ODI batsmen. Uthappa and Gambhir have scarcely promised more than Dravid has delivered.
Patience, is all I can say.

13 October 2007

Stating the obvious.

Peter Roebuck is either wrong or states the obvious, and very rarely makes any sense. Sample this. India needs to find a balance between the old and the new, apparently. Ahem. And?

His highly original suggestion, for which he gets paid, is:

"Either put Sachin Tendulkar in charge of everything. Or ask Anil Kumble to serve as Test captain and allow his gloveman to lead young T20 and ODI outfits."

And he ends with the classic:

"Dhoni, Sreesanth and company are not the problem. They are the solution, and with a little help from Sachin and, yes, Sehwag, the future must be built around them."

Wow!

12 October 2007

Zaheer needs a rest

Zaheer Khan has been bowling non-stop ever since he started on his comeback mission. Some time during the England tour, he admitted that the rigour of Worcestershir county cricket, where he bowled over after over, practically every day for several months, helped him get his rhythm back. In South Africa and in England, he finally became the spearhead that he had promised so often but had delivered only for a brief period prior to the 2003 World Cup - in West Indies, England and New Zealand.

But for a shocking first morning at Lords this year, Zaheer constantly troubled the English batsmen with some high quality swing bowling with balls old and new. Starting with Grame Smith, and then Andrew Strauss, he has been a handful for a few left hand opening batsmen over the past year.

Take a look at his ODI figures over the last eleven ODIs that he has played in:

- Vadodara (0/23 from 3)
- Chandigarh (0/68 from 9)
- Hyderabad (2/61 from 10)
- Kochi (1/55 from 10)
- Bangalore (1/64 from 10)
- Lords (0/40 from 9)
- Oval (1/43 from 10)
- Leeds (1/44 from 8)
- Manchester (1/45 from 9)
- Birmingham (0/49 from 10)
- Southampton (1/49 from 10)

From absolutely brilliant in England, he was downright mediocre in Chandigarh and Vadodara. It may be a reflection of the quality of the opposition and the pitches, but it needs to be remembered that the ODI series in England was pretty high-scoring.

With a long season ahead including Tests against Pakistan and Australia, India needs its pace spearhead fresh and thinking clear. It is unnecessary that India play him in the last two matches of this series. The Colonel had an opportunity to do more than lip service to the rotation mantra-and this was a case where it might have had some merit.

09 October 2007

Left arm seamers

Yesterday, India played three left arm seamers. I don't know when the same three last played for India, but they did play in Karachi in 2006, when Pakistan rose from 39 for 6 on the first day to inflict one of the heaviest defeats on India. Arpy wasn't first choice then, and there were murmurs about how there was a 'sameness' to the attack, that made it easier for the Y Khan blade. Is the same true now? Both Zaheer and Arpy are now adept at coming around the stumps and firing it in, or shaping it away, but in ODIs, variety for variety's sake is occasionally a compelling argument.

And the fact that it is an all left-arm opening attack bowling at two left-arm opening batsmen may make it even more so.

05 October 2007

Kartik is back.

Murali Kartik has been picked in place of Romesh Powar for the next few ODIs. This is what the Cricinfo Player Profile has to say:

A left-arm spinner in the classical mould, Murali Kartik has long been on the fringes of the national team. He has a high-arm action straight from the coaching manual, and possesses all the weapons in his armoury - the tantalising loop, the ability to extract sharp turn and bounce, and the subtle variations. But he hasn't always had the breaks, and has regularly played the understudy to Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Kartik forced his way into the Indian team in 1999-2000 after impressive performances in the domestic games, but didn't seem to enjoy his captain's confidence and was either used as a defensive option or underbowled. He made his mark as a one-day bowler against West Indies in 2002-03, consistently keeping the batsmen in check on pitches where every other bowler got tonked for plenty. However, his best moment clearly came at Mumbai, against Australia in 2004-05. Enjoying the confidence reposed in him by Rahul Dravid, the captain, Kartik ran through the Australian batting on a dustbowl, taking seven wickets in the match to bowl India to a famous win.


Kaushik on dailycric has this to say in a post on India's Test captaincy:

I have seen Laxman captain, in the Challenger series a few years ago, and he was simply outstanding (amongst other things, bringing out the best in the temperamental Murali Kartik through the setting of some wonderful fields, allowing Kartik to emerge as one of the most successful bowlers of that tournament).

04 October 2007

Bhajji the prude

Bhajji has complained about 'vulgar' Australians. That's surprising considering it doesn't take a trained lip-reader to figure that the Punjabi equivalent of 'sisterfucker' is always on his lips. Perhaps he could have been more specific. After all, common law has developed for centuries without adequate resolution of the problem of 'obscenity', and detail always helps.

For a minute there, he had me thinking of Priyaranjan Dasmunshi. Apparently our Hon'ble Minister for Information and Broadcasting stays up late at night to make sure no 'obscene' content is being broadcast.

03 October 2007

Spin

Why were Harbhajan-Powar not half as good as Hogg-Clarke? Going by talent and pedigree, the Indian duo should have performed better. But they did not. Or did inept Indian batting make the Aussie twinsome look much better than they actually were?

In B'lore and in Kochi, India had Australia in trouble but could not keep them down because our spinners were ineffective. Against the Aussies, it is no good trying to limit the damage. The spinners need to be able to hunt and gather wickets. Yesterday, Powar was only allowed five overs and did not get any wickets. Harbhajan also had barren returns and was almost as expensive. Unlike the English, who were tied down by Powar's subtelty, the Aussies look extremely comfortable. He had an amazing first over maiden at B'lore, but as soon as the batsmen started using their feet, he came under some serious pressure. And like yesterday, did not finish his quota. Harbhajan on the other hand, gives the impression of having kept things tight, but if you look at his figures, the word that springs to mind is "toothless". Quite apparently, there were always singles on offer. All the great spinners will agree that wicket-taking spin bowling is all about the gradual application of pressure, and that can come only with the complete confidence of the captain.

So what next for Harbhajan, Powar and Dhoni? And the injured Piyush Chawla? Powar is returning from a succesful tour of England, and he is immediately saddled with thoroughbred competition for the possibly lone spot for a genuine spinner. Qutie clearly he is not the same bowler. Dhoni should seriously consider the option of picking only one spinner, and perhaps strengthening the batting lineup. If he needs to pick two spinners, he might want to give Pathan the new ball, and rest Zaheer/Sree. Whoever he chooses as spinner must have the freedom to ply his trade. As if Clarke, Symonds and Hayden weren't enough, Powar has to worry about his spot in the side. Similarly, Bhajji needs to worry about cementing a place in the side.

In the long run however, things seem to look fairly rosy. In Bhajji, Powar and Chawla India have three seriously good spinners to pick from when Kumble decides to call it a day. Hopefully the decision will be made on the basis of genuine wicket-taking ability.

Dhoni also needs to think long and hard strategically. Four bowlers or five? Has Pathan done enough with the bat to qualify as an all-rounder? Two spinners or one? If he decides to go with the lone spinner, do we have the resources in Tendulkar, Yuvraj and Sehwag (I hope it is only a question of when he gets picked.) to back him up?

28 September 2007

Very Very Strange

I got damn excited when hours before the T20 finals, I noticed that a certain VVS Laxman was batting at 54 off 54 balls, for Lancashire in the fourth innings, chasing a county record 489 to win against Surrey and keep their title hopes alive. For a while there, the clash with Pakistan was not at the top of my mind. Sitting in office, all I could think of was VVS, imperious at the Oval. He eventually made a run-a-ball hundred which went a long way in denting that imposing total - but it was not enough. Lancashire fell short by 24 runs.

I will admint that I have a fondness for VVS Laxman, that borders on the insane - and I am probably never objective enough when discussing him. It is not a complex relationship. Just one of blind idolatry. Very simply, there is no other batsman in the world (now that Lara is out) that I'd rather watch make a hundred. There are similarly gifted people, of course, and Mohammed Yousuf and Jayawardene are almost in the same league, and perhaps Michael Clarke and Ashraful too, but as far as I am concerned, there is only one Laxman. He has his critics too, and I have never listened to them.

He has a modest Test batting average of 42.71. It is not so bad, considering that he has played 37 of his 83 Test matches at number 6, and only recently has there been the fairly decent buffer of MS Dhoni between Laxman and the tail. Three hundreds and thirteen fifties from this uneviable position is really not a bad record, if you have to go by numbers alone, and in Laxman's case, numbers don't come close to doing justice. He has remarkable records against the best team of his generation, and I will never regret having slipped away from home three days before my Std XII exams to watch him make the epic innings, whose burden he is forever destined to carry, every time the team is in trouble.

A consummate team man, Laxman has always batted at whichever psotition has suited the management of the day. Even as late as last year's tour of Pakistan, he was asked to open the innings. It was nothing new for Laxman. He has opened the innings without complaint on 25 occasions, never compalining even though his average drops to 29. Opening the innings in a losing cause in a dead rubber in sydney in '99, he scored one of the majestic Indian innings' of the last decade against a fire-breathing Lee and co, making 167 in a team score of 261. Laxman was the emperor on the burning deck.

Over the last couple of years, the penchant of scoring massively seems to have petered out, but he has contributed handsomely in some famous Test victories. On a minefield in Mumbai, he earned India a consolation win against the Aussies with a superbly executed 69. In the home series against Sri Lanka that followed, he made a 69 and a 104 in the second and third Tests, both of which we won. In the Jo'burg Test, he was the highest scorer in the second innings, propping India to a comfortable 236 to set up the win. In the historic series win in England, he continued on his recent trend of being more safe than spectacular, collecting two fifties on the way. Of late, he has played his part in some tough fought drawn matches too. Facing defeat at the hands of the Windies in St Kitts, he made 100 and 63, batting at number 3 in both innings.

He has played in 83 Test matches and has represented India with distinction, and unless the selectors decide to play spoilsport, should be around to shepherd the younger generation of Uthappa, Sharma, Gambhir, Tiwary etc. even after the Big Three (phttth!!) retire. For some reason, he has a Grade B contract. Perhaps his omission from ODIs is the reason, in which case, I guess it is fair. But if the reason is that his spot in the Test team is not as certain as Ganguly or Dhoni (!!), then I think he is entitled to be angry. Like me. But perhaps this will produce from him the kind of heroics we saw from Zaheer to earn a propulsion from C to A.

To me, he also looks an automatic candidate for Test captaincy. Experienced and a usually attacking batsman, the only problem is that he is no longer an automatic choice in the team when India play five batsmen. But then is Dhoni assured of a spot? Don't we have two keepers in the team already and another (Parthiv) with a Grade D contract?

26 September 2007

Easy on the chest-thumping, says Premachandran

Dileep Premachandran is probably my favourite cricket writer. Of late, he has been writing for the Guardian and in this article, cautions against all the chest-thumping. There's also a snipe at ToI, which I just loved.

25 September 2007

Delirium

In the end, what transpired, was the stuff of India-Pakistan matches only. It was always going to be down to who held their nerve best after Dhoni called right and chose right. I will remember Misbah getting out just like I remember Sohail and Prasad, Sachin's lone hand and Akram's lap of honour at Chennai, Sachin against Shoaib, Miandad and Chetan Sharma, Jadega and Waqar, Miandad and More, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Saqlain Mushtaq, Anil Kumble getting pumelled in Chennai, Ijaz Ahmed on a rampage, ten wickets in an innings, Sachin's debut, Akthar bowling into Ganguly's ribs... and the several other pearls that pepper conversations.


Poor Misbah. The brave lone act that brought his team to the brink - certainly not unique in the history of Indo-Pak cricket: he did the same thing just a fortnight ago. But it was difficult to feel sorry for too long. Shock had taken over.


It was an Indian win, and I was shell-shocked until very late into the night, while crackers, dancing, alcohol, rowdiness - general happiness, I guess, embraced New Delhi. Phone calls from across the country certified that similar scenes were being xeroxed all over. That photo on top is a scene from India Gate, way past midnight. I was there among the sweaty men, milking the "Chak De" song for all it was worth. Nobody cared enough to notice my disapproval of the anti-Pakistan slogans, "Pakistan ki maa ki ..." interspersing the "Bharat mata ki jai".

What a match!! What excitement! What pressure! Robin dropped Misbah and I thought it had come full circle, but then Sreesanth held on, didn't he? Dhoni again went with Joginder for the climactic over, and a charmed choice it turned out to be yet again, Pakistan falling five short of a target that Misbah had all but dragged into the Pakistan dugout. A see-saw from the very first over, Yousuf Pathan striking a clean six, then a stumble, then the repair act by Gambhir, and finally a little eruption from Mister Rohit Sharma - all adding to a score that seemed less-than-competetive. But nobody - nobody but my ever confident friend Baban - wanted to make a call on the outcome of the match. Context was everything, and there was a history of pressure-cooker accidents.

And then after the break, the tension really started to mount and mount till something had to give every now and then. RP Singh, you beauty, you made the match competetive. And honestly, I am still surprised at what an amazing bowler you've become, capable bowling at 140 plus, mixing it up with some bhaiyya guile, and looking threatening on the flattest of pitches. You're a hero today, and people will remember you as a champion. And Irfan!! Haven't you put our selectors in a bit of a pickle? The third left-arm seamer to have a great season, and what an astounding performance to wrench the game back after Younis seemed quite likely to win the match with his dabs to third man! And then there were the others. Joginder Sharma, the unlikely man who wanted to bowl the last over again, Sreesanth - the man who took the catch with just a few billion people breathing down his neck, Yousuf Pathan - who walked in to open the innings with a swagger, Bhajji - whose tight bowling in his first 2 overs contributed to Pathan's wickets. People stepped up to be counted. Or more, like Yuvraj. Time and again. Debutante or experienced, here was a team that played absolutely fearless cricket. Only a captain without fear would nonchalantly open with Yousuf Pathan, or throw Joginder Sharma the ball when the cauldron was bubbling over, or know exactly what to do in the event of a bowl-out, or look beyond the storm during a particularly average spell of bowling from Sreesanth.

Cheers all of you. I don't know when we'll see that again. But last night, it really paid off being a crazy fan of Indian cricket.

24 September 2007

Dhoni, take a bow.

And you too, Yuvraj, Sreesanth, Arpee, Bhajji, Uthappa and Joginder

Even though I will be delirious if India win tonight, I just cannot be bitter. Shorn of the weight of experience and reputation, Dhoni and his men in blue had already pulled off the impossible, by the time they made it to the semis. Of course, the benefit of hindsight means that many experts have mysteriously pulled out a few I-told-you-so's from their hats. Now, Nasser Hussain cannot stop talking about how this format of the game is most suited for subcontinental cricketers who started life with the see ball-hit ball sort of cricket. I just don't think it is as simple as that, Nasser. South Africa possesses some of the cleanest hitters in Gibbs, Boucher and Pollock; and Pietersen, Luke Wright and Dmitri were capable of the same as well. Why is it so difficult to believe, Nasser, that this Indian team was not only talented, they were also led astutely by a captain who backed the strengths of this team? Such an explanation also blinds one to some of the most intelligent bowling from Harbhajan and Arpee. And certainly, Sreesanth's spell to Australia and Gul's to the Kiwis, you cannot pin that on the street can you? Or is "street" a euphemism for oriental sorcery, just like the days when Waqar and Wasim were vilified to death in the English press?

Tonight's key battle: Yuvraj Singh versus Umar Gul. It looks like Shoaib Malik is comfortable leaving Gul with three overs - overs 15, 17 and 19. And if Yuvraj Singh is still batting through these overs, it will probably decide the tournament. Super performers, both of them, throughout the tournament.

And finally a word on a tournament that captured my fancy from the first match itself! I never thought I'd give into Twenty20 that easily. But now, a wonderful tournament, that has displayed cricket of the highest quality, has made me think again. I am closer to concluding that Twenty2o is as much about skill and pressure as Test cricket is - maybe different skills are required in either format, and different pressures may come into play as well. Don't pooh-pooh it on the basis of some hypothetical "soul-of-cricket" principle, Mr Soumya Bhattacharya!

21 September 2007

Was that India playing out there?

It was a performance too clinical to believe, one worthy of India's next opponents - the Aussies. Recovering well from a stumble on a lively pitch against the quality bowling of Pollock, Morkel and Ntini, they bowled and fielded with an intensity that not only got them through, but in an amazing reversal of fortunes, the knocked out the previously unbeaten South Africans. A young Indian team, under its young captain, posted a comprehensive victory without its best player. And that is far more significant than the Aussies thumping the Lankans without Ponting.

Anyway, Arpy again. What a bowler he is turning out to be! After a three-over first spell when he showed Sreesanth the virtues of bowling the new ball on a tight line and length, he returned to fire in yorkers and bouncers in a last over where he clocked 143 kmph. Pietersen certainly wasn't lying when he called him a "highly skilled swing bowler".

And Rohit Sharma. Eased into international cricket with four off his first fourteen deliveries, and then caught the South Africans napping with some sensational driving and cutting. A deserving man-of-the-match, he also got a crucial run out of Justin Kemp to cap a sensational night for the young batsman. He seems to have the attacking technique and temprament to make it at the highest level in all forms of the game. Quite significantly, his first international effort has come on a fresh pitch at one of India's least favourite grounds, when the chips were stacked high against him.

What of MS Dhoni? His batting in this series has been a revelation. I know that many will disagree and say that captaincy has made his eschew his customary hammer-and-tongs approach, but I have four words for them. Proof of the pudding. Especially at a time when our line-up is filled to the brim with lovely shotmakers, it is not a sin, even in T20, to have someone around to shepherd the innings. And the fact that he has done so quite a few times in this series, speaks highly of his thinking - someone capable of looking beyond the immediate.

Against Australia though, India's traditional failings might stand exposed. Today India were placed in a situation where Rohit Sharma absolutely had to fire. Giving the Aussies an opportunity like that would be akin to suicide. Similarly, the Aussies would certainly make the several extra deliveries bowled by India count. Sreesanth has to be careful.

20 September 2007

Method in the madness

That was almost perfect limited-overs batting from India. An almost old-fashioned assault on English bowling, it was an exhibition of how, when batting first, wickets in hand can be converted into runs on the board. Top marks to Sehwag, Gambhir, and of course, the man of the moment, Yuvraj Singh for a clinical batting display. Of course, we could crib over how Uthappa was foolish to lose his wicket, but the 21 year old has hopefully learnt his lesson.

Sreesanth hasn't learnt anything! Of course I could keep heaping blame on Prasad, but if Sreesanth cannot clean up his act now, there is real danger that he could be the next Agarkar. Agarkar has been the one constant in India's fast bowling over the last decade. Nehra, Mohanty, Tinu Yohannan, Harvinder Singh, T Kumaran, Balaji et al have all come and gone. He has bowled alongside Srinath and also with Pathan. A man of immense promise like Agarkar, he will always be on the fringes of national selection, because of an athletic disposition that makes him less likely to get injured - like Agarkar. Going on with the comparison, both of them had dream starts to their careers, Agarkar becoming the fastest ever bowler to reach fifty wickets. Sreesanth had a sensational tour of South Africa. However, very early on their careers, both of them also displayed an inability to stick to a plan. Neither seems to believe in the notion that when things are not going your way, drying up runs can produce wickets. It comes as no surprise then that Agarkar's golden run in Australia in 2003, was a result of fantastic attacking bowling, built on a foundation of simple line-and-length. He was the most economical and also the only one among himself, Zaheer, Nehra and Pathan to play all four Test matches and that says a story.

Sreesanth has a lot to learn from Agarkar's career. For a person on the selection radar for ten years now, Agarkar has only played 26 Test matches. In contrast, an injury and inconsistency-ridden Steve Harmison, has already played 54 in the six years that he has been around. And for those who think Harmison is not an appropriate comparison, Mohammed Sami who had a glittering start to his career in 2001, has played 30 Test matches. Irfan Pathan, despite being in the wilderness for a year, has played 25 Tests since his debut in 2003.

And finally a word on a man who I have always looked at suspiciously. I never thought he looked the sort of bowler who could cut it at the international level. Arpy Singh did really well to pull the Indian bowling back into some kind of rhythm yesterday, continuing an impressive run over the last couple of months. Hopefully he can remain fit, and continue bowling with the same sort of accuracy. It is always useful to have more than four fast bowlers to pick from.

18 September 2007

Biting the bullet.

The selectors have made the tough decision. This signals a new era in Indian cricket. India is going to be captained by a "small town" boy. It is also pretty clear now that an Indian ODI team will never again be led on to the field by Sachin or Saurav or Dravid - and that is momentous. They have not gone for the safe harbour of Sachin/Saurav. Instead, they have thrown Dhoni into the deep end of the pool. His first assignment? Seven ODIs at home against the Aussies.

It is no secret that many in the establishment believed that Dhoni did not have the necessary experience to take on the mantle, and I would tend to agree with that. But now that they have decided to go ahead with him, it is important that he be given a reasonable period to prove himself. And as far as captaining the Indian ODI team is concerned, nothing less than a year is good enough to make our assessment. The selectors - not to mention the cricket fan - should be patient with the results that Dhoni will bring home.

In time, Dhoni will probably need to choose between captaincy and wicketkeeping. However, it is for him to decide, and it should not be forced on him on the basis of some mythical "burden". But since he is a certainty with the bat in the ODI line-up and he can afford to do so, particularly since both Karthik and Parthiv Patel are legitimate contenders for a middle-order berth in ODIs.

17 September 2007

Prasad needs to take some of the blame.

So far, I ve managed to keep my high expectations from Venkatesh Prasad intact. For the first time ever, we toured England with a bowling attack that looked capable of taking twenty wickets in a Test match. But since the memorable Test series, where Zaheer and Arpee were exceptional, and Sreesanth brilliant in spurts, the ODIs and now the T20 WC have left Prasad open for attack. Why does India suffer from what seems to be a chronic inability to dam the flow of runs at the death? Why is the vastly experienced Agarkar bowling length on off stump? Where is the yorker, the well-disguised slower ball? For all his other talents, Sreesanth's slower delivery will seem quite obvious for an international batsman. Yesterday, McMillan slapped one straight past him.

If there are bowlers who can consistently get the yorker going, should they not be preferred over Agarkar at the death? The bowling coach will also need to examine Sreesanth's decision to go around the stumps every now and then. As of now, it seems that such decisions are made at random, leaving poor Dhoni with very limited time to make adequate fielding changes. Confusion reigns, and Dhoni I had a brain explosion when he preferred to bowl Yuvraj Singh when Pathan had two overs in the bag.

And what of team selection? Should we have Chawla come in place of Agarkar. This will mean we have a wonderfully varied bowling attack - two left arm swing bowlers, one right arm swing bowler, one off-spinner and a leg-spinner.

15 September 2007

Wow!

Last night, there was a chance that the last fifteen minutes spoilt what was forty overs of riveting, edge-of-the-seat stuff. We could've done without the comical bowlout, especially since there was no need for it, given that both teams had found themselves in the next round. Quite foolish, especially when cricket fans have lived with the idea that it is possible for a cricket match to not have a winner, for more than a century. By all means, please devise a method to decide crucial knock-out encounters that end in a tie, and perhaps a bowlout might actually be the fairest that the imaginative administrators could think of - so let it be.

This match had as many twists and turns as a compelling Test match - all rolled into three hours, and proved the conventional wisdom that the best cricket is played on tracks with a little in it for the bowlers - no matter which form of the game it is. What this match has also done is that it has ensured that the most financially important fan bases for the game at the moment, are hooked on to the shortened version - for life, perhaps. The match had everything you may expect from a classic India-Pakistan encounter. Poor top-order batting against good guality swing and seam, excellent rearguards from both teams, bowlers losing their cool and some bowlers keeping their cool.

Asif, Pathan, Arpee, Sohail Tanvir, Harbhajan, Sreesanth, Uthappa, Misbah, Dhoni - all put their hands up at different points in the match, and both teams fielded a couple of notches above what we have seen them do in recent times. The biggest plus for India however, was undoubtedly the relaxed return of Irfan Pathan, and credit to Dhoni for handling the situation well.

14 September 2007

Dravid resigns from captaincy

Has Rahul Dravid resigned from captaincy? CNN-IBN has just carried a headline saying exactly that. More on that soon, I guess.

***

Well it's confirmed. He has asked to be relieved prior to the arrival of the Aussies. The only reason that Dravid has cited in his letter to the BCCI is that he wants to concentrate on his batting. He has also pledged complete support to his successor.

Under Dravid, India won eight Tests. However, his ODI record was patchy. He began on a winning streak, where India set a record for 16 consecutive successful chases. However, this was a man who captained India through a very tricky phase. He had to handle a team that was being eaten from inside by a rift between senior players and coach. At the end it also has to be said that he handled Ganguly's tricky return to the team very well. Given all these, it is remarkable that he led us to Test series victories in West Indies, Pakistan and England, and also one of our greatest ever Test wins, when we knocked South Africa down in their Jo'burg citadel. His captaincy will also be remembered for the fall-from-grace of three pillars of the Ganguly era: Sehwag, Harbhajan and Zaheer - the third of whom also made a sensational comeback under Dravid. Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, S Sreesanth and M S Dhoni were fairly consistent performers during this all-too-brief period.

But it was also clear that captaincy was taking its toll on Dravid the batsman. The tours of South Africa and England earned him mixed returns which were well below the standards that he set himself as a professional. With a tough tour to Australia looming, India needed Dravid the batsman to be firing, and so perhaps it is just as well.

It is also quite typical of Dravid the person that he realized earlier than anyone else that his time at the helm, and in the team, would soon come to a close, and decided to make way in an understated manner.

13 September 2007

Zimbabwe on course...

Two teams with heaps of domestic T20 experience: West Indies and England. The former has been booted out by Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe is giving England a run for their money. And England have to face an angry Australia tomorow.

For a brief period today, Bangladesh showed glimpses of the role that spinners could potentially play in this format. Most teams though, seem to favour loading the side with medium pacers. And just to emphasize the point Dmitri Mascarenhas has just done what none of Broad, Anderson or Flintoff could do: threewickets down for Zim, all of a sudden.

And India will play their first match today, against Scotland. The World Cup rout still fresh in their minds, Dhoni will want to put his best foot forward today. Also helping India's case is that the team is crtain to be filled with batsmen who are crying out for a spot in the regular side. Hopefully the batting will thrive in an atmosphere of internal competition: Sehwag, Gambhir, Uthappa, Karthik and Rohit Sharma. The trouble however is with the bowling. Neither Agarkar nor Sreesanth are miserly customers in ODIs at the best of times. Both have a reputation for taking important wickets, though, and I'll be happy if both of them together can manage 8 overs for 60-70, if they take at least three wickets. The lefties, Pathan and Arpee, the former an unknown quantity, the latter on the back of an English tour where he has shown a surprising capacity for economical wickets. I say surprising, because he can look really tame at times.
Now comes the biggest decisions that Dhoni'll need to make. I don't see him keeping Harbhajan out of the side. Chawla though, is an intriguing question. And as I write this, Schofield, the English leg-spinner has taken two wickets off four balls. Wow.

Ashraful is the man!

Mohammed Ashraful is the most exciting young batting talent in the world at the moment. A scoop from outside off, over the top of fine-leg for six, followed by a thumping straight drive: just two from the array he unleashed today.
With a whole generation of superstar batsmen saying goodbye, the man who is already Bangladesh captain will be one to watch out for.

Zimbabwe stun us, and Australia

I don't want to write too much on T20 because I really haven't seen enough of the format to even come cloase to understanding it. Do good Test batsmen remain good T20 batsmen? Will the minnows find it easier to topple an established Test outfit? Two days into the tournament, there is a flurry of results that refuse to show up any "trend". But Zimbabwe and Taylor, that was awesome. Cricket fans everywhere bar Australia rejoiced with you.

And to continue the focus on the future Indian ODI team..

Suresh Raina
Suresh Raina was the poster-boy when Chappell was still Guru Greg. Prodigiously talented and reminiscent of the young Yuvraj Singh, at nineteen he was toasted by many as the "next big thing" when he calmly walked in at five wickets down for under a hundred, and proceeded to polish off a large total against England with crisp and elegant shotmaking. Raina was also one of the exciting young fielders that formed part of a creditable offside cordon that also contained Yuvraj and Kaif. However, the same notions of "flexibility" that showcased the versatility of a deep Indian batting line-up, returned to haunt Raina. Shuttled up and down the batting order, he became a confused shell of his former self, and that was severely exploited by bowlers in the Champions Trophy. In his last seventeen ODIs, he did not cross fifty once and was pretty much a big hole in the Indian batting line-up, averaging under twenty for that period. The horrow finally culminated in his axing prior to the World Cup, and he joined compatriot Mohd. Kaif in the domestic circuit. An injury to his knee also ensured that unlike other international discards Sehwag, Pathan and Harbhajan, he was not on the team to South Africa for the Twenty20 World Cup. Raina was as much a victim of his early success as bad man-management. Making it back to the team will not be easy given that Kaif, Rohit Sharma, Sehwag, Karthik and Uthappa can all legitimately lay a claim on limited middle-order positions. But if he does, he will have learnt that inner demons have no place in international cricket.

11 September 2007

After the anti-climax

The last match proved India the weaker one-day side in an anti-climax of a match, a certain let-down after the firecracker at the Oval. Notably, the Indian media has not been too critical, and for a change, most reporters were keen to admit that this was a team that had won a Test series in England, and so one should not be too hard on the boys. I hope this climate of tolerating mediocrity in the one-day format can continue for a year. For that is how long India will need at a minimum to rebuild itself into a competetive one-day outfit. The ingredients are all there, floating around in Twenty20 World Cup or random domestic tournaments, but for them to coalesce into a whole, is the challenge. Starting today, I will profile the few who I feel could comprise the Indian ODI team of the future.

Mohammed Kaif has always been unfairly treated by selectors and fans alike. His ungainly batting technique is probably the reason why we have refused to let his runs - mostly scored in crucial circusmtances, do the talking. Once rumoured to have been in the reckoning for a future captaincy, the 27 year old has been out of reckoning since November 2006. Even though people tend to remember his fielding at cover or his sensational batting at Lords in the NatWest final, there were other nuggets that fans and media have not given the same kind of respect. His 91 at Nagpur, scored in the company of the doughty Anil Kumble, in a drawn Test match against England was one such. At the same time, one needs only to look at his overall statistics to note that he has not made the most of his opportunities. In 125 matches, he has an average of 32. Batting away from home, this modest figure plummets to 26.5 from 52 matches, and the 87 not out at Lords remains his highest. Only against England and Bangladesh does he average over 40, while it is abysmal against Sri Lanka (9 matches) and New Zealand (7 matches).
A furious runner between the wickets who places a high price on his wicket, he could be a top-order batsman for the future. However, there are deficiencies in his ability to clear the ropes consistently which will need to be addressed before he cements a place in the team.

And by the way, let the games begin!

06 September 2007

ODI cricket regains some sheen

After a lacklustre World Cup, ODI cricket as a format needed a shot in the arm. And it was delivered - with all the drama, skills and emotion that sport is about. Oval 2007 will be remembered by Indian fans. Like Lords 2002, and the Sharjah '98 Double Bill still are.

On the back of a dismal World Cup campaign, something extraordinary was necessary to win the whimsical Indian cricket fan back, and Tendulkar, Ganguly and Uthappa delivered it yesterday.

05 September 2007

Four bowlers or five?

Was it the extra padding at the lower end of the batting order that allowed Sachin and Saurav to play with more freedom? I am sure there have been occasions in the past where the two have gone after the bowling even when the batting wasn't too deep. But does it make sense to do the same even on a ground where the average score of the team batting first has been 234, and has been known to assist spin? This may a good occasion to back Yuvraj, Sachin and Saurav.

I am not a great fan of the "four bowlers as formula" approach. Flexibility is required in composing the bowling attack, and five bowlers can be really handy on a subcontinental belter. I also have the feeling that Dravid would be ready to stick to the four-bowlers strategy even on shirtfronts, if only he had the services of Sehwag too.

03 September 2007

Sachin

I hope some people I know watched him bat yesterday. If they did, they would shut up about the whole "retirement" thing.

India is still the weaker team in the tournament. Despite Ganguly's success as a bowler at Headingly, he is less than a good fifth bowler, and desperately needs helpful conditions (Toronto!) to be succesful. And Sachin's tendency to leak runs in between good balls is also hurting us. Collingwood on the other hand, has bowled very well, and England have not had to rely too much on Bopara, Pietersen or Mascarenhas. Fielding and catching was still below par, and it was only superior batting and wicket-keeping that won us the match, apart from some probing overs from Zaheer and Powar.

01 September 2007

Karthik should be dropped.

I am a big fan of Karthik. So much so that if it came down to a Karthik-Dhoni showdown for a place in the Test team, I would pick Karthik. And my guess is that Dravid is also a big fan of the pugnacious Tamil Nadu 'keeper. But it is time for some tough love. He has proven awkward at one-down, and unnecessary below Dhoni. The only way Karthik can be valuable in this one-day batting line-up is when one or more of the Big Three start leaving. As things stand now, not only will his confidence get dented, there is a good chance that an air of purposelesness may creep into his game - the pointless waft outside offstump in Bristol (?) was a symptom. He is better off spending time batting with one of the counties or in Indian domestic cricket, preparing for the Pakistan challenge. Uthappa, with the ability to do a demolition act at the top of the order, is the best available option - considering neither Dravid nor Yuvraj will come one-down.

31 August 2007

Broadside!

India got beaten by a very good English team. Since 1992, England - but for a brief spell under Adam Hollioake with Thorpe batting like a god, has never been able to produce sustained spells of good one-day cricket.
On the evidence of their performance yesterday, they seem to have a formulaic one-day team, capable of evolving into a champion side. Take a look.

- Two quick opening bowlers who look like they have a cool head on their shoulders. They will need it when they travel to the subcontinent. In this series, the nature of the track has not seemed to bother them, they have hit the deck hard anyway.
- Talismanic bowling all-rounder
- A one-down who looks capable of growing into a batsman who can accelerate and consolidate with equal ease (like Dravid, who inexplicably, is not batting at one-down!)
- Deep, really deep batting line-up, with a number 9 capable of taking the game away with his batting. When Pathan, Dhoni and Raina were winning matches for India, such an attribute was true for India as well, but not now.
- Few lower middle order batsmen who can chip in with a few overs.
- Decent fielders and runners, all of them, with some exceptional brilliance thrown in for good measure.
- A captain who likes the one-day cauldron, and is always trying to stay one step ahead of the game.

Dravid needs to make at least one tough decision. Is Karthik actually better than Utappa? And deciding that is just the start!

I do not foresee much success for India in one-day cricket at least until the end of 2008. Hopefully, by then, the likes of Sehwag, Kaif, Raina, Pathan, Harbhajan, Sreesanth, Uthappa, Gambhir and Rohit Sharma will have a greater claim for a spot in the side. Fresher, faster, hungrier cricketers are needed to supplement Yuvraj, Dhoni and Zaheer, and that will take time. The Indian fan will just have to be patient.

24 August 2007

One down is the key

I won't focus on the fielding or the running between the wickets. With this team, we should assume that we start out with a 50-run deficit against England. Maybe 35 at Bristol because it is a much smaller ground than the Rosebowl. Even then, the Indian batting is touted to be far too good to be outbatted by an England batting lineup that was till very recently, pathetic. Anything less than 300 is a score that the batting should be able to chase down anywhere and against any bowling. And that is why they carry seven batsmen, hoping to chase down any target that the opposition is able to set. Which should make us wonder: why did India lose a match by a hundred runs? After it looked like India did well to restrict England to 288 especially after the kind of platform they had? Bad batting. If we need to criticize the strategy of playing four bowlers, we cannot do so on the evidence of one match. And not so long back, during the dream ODI run, when Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Dhoni were winning us matches, nobody had too many complaints.

This is where an in-form Irfan Pathan could have been handy. But until such time as he manages to break down the door to the national team, I have a feeling that Dravid is comfortable leaving ten overs to Yuvraj, Tendulkar and Ganguy.

In my opinion, the only major selection question that Dravid should ask himself is: who should bat at one down? Apart from thinking of Gambhir, Uthappa and Karthik, Dravid should also think about Rohit Sharma. Uthappa may replace Gambhir at the top of the order. Or Karthik can come up the order and Rohit Sharma can bring up the rear. There is also the conventional wisdom of palying one of the best batsmen at one-down, which could mean that Yuvraj could come in.

For all we know, Dravid may even go with five bowlers, and draft in either Powar (two spinners, small ground = big risk) or Munaf, in place of Gambir.

23 August 2007

Read Nagraj Gollapudi's article on Cricinfo about the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore.

21 August 2007

Why the Indian legal system is so slow.

T: wanna bet on the match?
3:06 PM me: not the result.
3:07 PM something else.
T: which is an English vivtory?
me: Indian victory, I say.
T: then we can bet ont he reuslt?
me: we can.
3:08 PM T: what?
whats up jon?
havent seen u in ages
3:09 PM me: ya, man! i miss you. now, how much do we bet?
T: u tell me
1,000 bucks?
3:10 PM me: fuck off. not worth it.
T: u give figure
me: 300 bucks.
T: how about a bottle of alcohol to be shared
by both of us
me: ok, wait. listen..
T: and aid for by the loser
me: exactly.
T: that way no one loses
3:11 PM me: we'll bet 3 bottles of beer each on each match of this series.
it need not be on the result.
by the end, we would have bet 42 bottles.
3:12 PM or is that too ambitious?
3:13 PM ok. winner taks three bottles. so the eventual bet is only 21.
fine?
3:15 PM hello?
3:18 PM T: yeah
sounds good
brb
dont go away
lets discuss the structure for this

Lights on... Camera.. And Action!

Attitudes toward cricket under lights seem to have undergone some kind of shift since India last toured these shores. Correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot remember India having played a single match under lights in England. But this series features as many as three!
If this is what Twenty20 cricket did to England, then I am all for it, boss. But other than that, can anyone shed some light on this? What happened to the English fear of floodlights?

16 August 2007

Spot on or not on?

Well Cricinfo (Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, actually)has rated Karthik above Dhoni and Tendulkar. But for the catching, even I may have marked Karthik higher. And they also seem to appreciate Jaffer more than I have. And clearly they have been swayed by the role that he played in building a foundation from where Ganguly, Sachin & co pushed on. However, I really felt that on a couple of occasions, Jaffer was guilty of giving it away when well set, playing irresponsible shots. Jaffer has a wealth of experience playing cricket, even though not at the highest level, and is well known for the tenacity with which he builds huge knocks. In my book, he did not pull his weight. In fact, I may have forgiven him easier had he perished more without getting set (like at the Oval). Anyway, getting starts is not such a huge flaw.
This is exactly the reason why both Sehwag and Gambhir are essential in the frame of things. Both Jaffer and Karthik need to be on their toes, and they need to know that despite a historic series victory, the opening spots are not theirs forever. They need to continue justifying their spots in the team - as specialist openers.