30 January 2007

My World Cup fifteen

Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa, M S Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Kaarthick, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina/Gautam Gambhir, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ajit Agarkar, Sreesanth/Munaf Patel

I am still undecided about two spots, but the contenders will be slogging it out soon. Also, when people talk about the stupidity in picking three spinners in a squad of fifteen, I always remember the spin quartet we had. Guess that was a long time back. Had we not already had two world beating spinners, Powar (sigh!) would've walked in. Sree is yet to prove himself in ODIs. Its amazing how many balls he sends down the legside with an upright seam. But Munaf has a few question marks against him when it comes to fitness and commitment AND his fielding is a complete joke. Between Raina and Gambhir, I'm more inclined to go with Raina simply because he has been in international match squeeze-situations several times. Never mind whether he's been victorious or not. But then again, there's a time when one has to say, "you've got enough chances, you go back to UP and sort it out with Kaif and hopefully you'll be well in time for 2011"

16 January 2007

Who will open?

What will Chappell-Dravid do?
For two one-dayers against the West Indies, India have four opening options in Uthappa, Gambhir, Tendulkar and Ganguly. Both Tendulkar and Ganguly have batted elsewhere in the line-up previously, but are most successful as openers. Uthappa has had a dream year in domestic cricket, and will be a huge asset if he can make the grade. He has already shown himself more than capable, with a well-paced 86 against England, setting up a nice seven wicket win at Indore. And Gambhir, what does one say about a man who has forever been on the fringes on the playing eleven. After sixteen matches, his average is a little disappointing at just over 25. On the other hand, his aggressive strokeplay makes him, a bit like the currently out-of-favour Sehwag, a delicious prospect.

Now the smarter route the selectors could have taken was that they could have reduced the team management's headache; and picked only one of Gambhir/Uthappa - which would probably have been the Karnataka opener. This would have permitted Gambhir to actually have some matches under his belt if he were to get a suprise call-up just ahead of the World Cup.

So what can they do? What is the best possible batting lineup.
The choice of opening partnership should should be retained for the length of the series against the Windies, and perhaps even further. Nobody needs to explain the merits of a settled opening partnership to anymone. What is clearer is that neither of Tendulkar and Ganguly will want to let go of the opening spot in a hurry. However, with the weight of what he has amassed for Karnataka, Uthappa has an equal claim on the spot as Ganguly who has not played one-day cricket for a while. With an exciting hundred against the Windies in KL, Sachin has enough of a case for automatic appointment as one of the openers. Also, even though the bulk of his runs have been at the top of the order, Ganguly has a more than adequate record at number three - his difficulties with taking singles notwithstanding. In thirty innings at that position, he averages a little more than 52, with three hundreds and nine fifties. With an eye on the slow and low pitches of the World Cup, Ganguly's ability to succesfully take the aerial route against the slower bowlers will be a definite asset in the middle overs when singles and doubles are hard to come by. With the performance in South Africa behind him, he would also bring some authority to the number three position to which Laxaman, Raina and Dhoni have not been able to do complete justice to. All three, along with Kaarthick and Yuvraj Singh will need to slug it out for places lower down the order.
My choice for the series against the Windies - and even the World Cup, I think: Robin Uthappa, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly.

03 January 2007

Jaffer, Kaartick and uncomfortable questions

Jaffer and Kaartick not only cobbled together the best partnership of the series, but they upstaged every Indian opening partnership in South Africa. Ever. The clamour for Gambhir does not seem so loud any more, and Kaartick has a foot in the door now. The tricky stuff is yet to come. Dravid and Chappel need to put an end to the opening conundrum, for once. And to resolve that, they will need to go back to the age-old puzzle: specialist openers, or the best batsmen at your disposal? Answering that is important because the opener question is crucially linked to who makes way for Yuvraj when he announces his fitness.

Jaffer has cornered one opener's slot for himself; that is for sure. However, Jaffer needs to work on his concentration. When he wrestled his way back into the side after years in domestic cricket, he had the reputation of someone who would be able to play the long haul - the big innings. Of course, he does have the double century in Antigua. But as the South African tour has shown, he has a tendency to waft at the ball moving away just short of a length. Even after completing his century, he succumbed in similar fashion. However, since his return he has averaged nine runs more than Sehwag has over the same period. And if that isn't a reason to cement his spot, I don't know what is.

For the other spot, there is a throng. Kaartick has put his hand up, Gambhir is frustrated in the wings, Sehwag is bound to make a massive one somewhere and Uthappa is practically breaking down the door with huge scores for Karnataka. The certain return of Yuvraj Singh and M S Dhoni also needs to be factored in. Once that happens, the middle order will not be able to accomodate Sehwag. And Ganguly will also need to make a big statement somewhere if he has to hold on to that spot for a while.

If I were Dilip Vengsarkar, and if India is to bat a second time in this match, I would watch Kaartick very closely. If I were Dravid, I would be mentally preparing myself to open the innings some time in the near future. But from what we know of Dravid, I am sure he is already prepared. Things will get really really interesting if both Ganguly and Sehwag make a claim for the lower middle order. Hmm.. Kho kho was certainly not Yuvi's sport.

01 January 2007

That Sreesanth Moment

Its been a few days since THAT happened, and removed from the headiness of the moment, the videos of it on YouTube are educative. And it says much more than the nuances of a pelvic thrust. Everyone has seen it. Everyone agrees that people need to watch the video and not just read about it. Anyway, for those who haven’t seen it, the bare essential story goes somewhat like this. Nel tries to bounce Sree who backs away to whack him, and misses completely. Nel – as usual – motions to the number ten batsman that he lacks the heart to get into the line of the ball. Next ball. Fuller length from Nel. Sree backs away and makes an almighty swing which connects with the ball, and sends it sailing over long on. And then it happened. Sree proceeds to run down the pitch, twirling the bat over his head and after Nel had seen him, thrusts his pelvis out a few times. It was truly entertaining cricket. Naturally, ToI and HT made much more noise of the Sreesanth moment than The Hindu did (a few lines, I think, but on two separate days).

Was it actually a rare symbol of naked and aggressive ebullience in Indian cricket? Come to think of it, the last symbol of naked aggression (well, nakedness at least) was when Ganguly took his shirt off at Lords. Since then, the team scaled a few heights and climbed out of a few new lows – finding and discarding a few heroes on the way. M S Dhoni has lost some of his sheen, and Raina has lost all of it. Kaif - along with Bhajji anf Yuvraj - was a posterboy of the heady days of the Ganguly rein. Now he is treated like an itch in an uncomfortable place. (Anyone remember him doing the boy-on-the-burning-deck-routine batting against the visiting Aussies and the English? No? That’s my point.) In the space of a season, Pathan has gone from being blue-eyed messiah to fifth choice seamer. Serious questions are being asked about Sehwag’s commitment to the cause. But through it all, through the mess that masquerades as the Indian ODI record through the last year, the fortunes in test cricket have not been bad. The captaincy – though as different from the Ganguly way as one could imagine, has by and large been appreciated. In the batting, Dravid and Laxman have made stand out performances, and the return of Ganguly adds to the impression of solidity. It will be interesting though, how Ganguly will be treated once Yuvraj Singh of the Sweetest Timing – not He of The Drunken Brawl - announces his fitness. Kumble as usual, has soldiered on. No small part has been played by the quick bowling that has not allowed Pathan’s lost mojo to be a huge cause for concern. Both Munaf Patel and Sreesanth have displayed a knack of bowling a high percentage of wicket taking deliveries. Munaf bowls a probing line and length, and Sree can really swing it. In the West Indies, they led the attack and can take a measure of credit for the first series win there in godknowshowmany years. The return of Zak, new and improved, leaner and meaner, in South Africa, has lent the bowling versatility as well. And VRV Singh is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to unleash some genuine pace.

In the one day cauldron however, both Munaf and Sree have shown an immaturity that made them fodder at the death - precisely why Irfan’s loss of form hurts so much. His consistent batting means that India would have had a genuine all-rounder option if only his bowling was a half as good as it was – collecting numerous wickets with the new ball. In the absence of that delicious possibility, Sree and Munaf have to shoulder a bit more responsibility, and need to get their act together in one-day cricket, really fast. Along with the spineless nature of the batting, the lack of intelligent bowling at the death has also cost them dearly through the past year. And with the world cup just around the corner, their efforts may just peak at the right time, and compliment the Zaheer Khan show.

The Sreesanth moment however, just demonstrated how young a cricketer he really is. After the second Test match, his tally might have risen to sixteen, and he has displayed exceptional enthusiasm, the captain only needing to look in his direction. Just about everyone on TV is talking about his seam position. But the fact of the matter is, no matter how good your seam position is, a bowler is only as good as his head will let him be. If he keeps getting carried away like this, he will be mincemeat at the hands of experienced and imposing batsmen. With the World Cup around the corner, there is every chance that Sree might face the same problems that an overcharged Zaheer faced at the hands of a marauding Hayden in the 2003 finals.