31 July 2007


Everything was just the way it should be. England showed just enough resistance to make me sit up and take notice, but not nearly enough to make me fret. Vaughan showed the world once again, why he was such a highly regarded batsman. If Ganguly was the artist on the third day, here was Vaughan - determined to sculpt a masterpiece. Strokes flowing freely from his bat, he dominated Anil Kumble through the day, and it was only a moment of charecteristic cricketing fortune that got Vaughan out. The scoresheet will say bowled, Zaheer Khan. And he deserved it too, all nine of those wickets, bowling such taut swing bowling. What a remarkable comeback it has been for this man, a far cry from his extremely wayward days hardly a couple of seasons ago! And he had to work hard for it too. Strauss and Collingwood did hang around, and it would not have been too tough to give it all up. To India's credit, both Zaheer and RP were spot on through the day, and Sreesanth had his usual quota of dangerous deliveries too. RP picked up two crucial wickets, both with screaming inswingers delivered from around the stumps: Kevin Pietersen thrust his pad out, while Prior had his middle stump uprooted with a ball that is going to see many many television replays.
Contentment is already here. Now for the Indian victory. It wont be too late.

30 July 2007

Third day of the second Test

It was the best batting that Ganguly and Tendulkar had shown in years. In fact, to look for the last time that Ganguly played a knock of such beauty, not to mention value, we'd have to go way back to 2003 and the Gabba. Something similar could be said of Sachin too. And the amazing part was that, Ganguly, Sachin and Laxman scored runs against some very good bowling - particularly from Sidebottom and Tremlett. True, Anderson was off his radar and probably Panesar too, but Sachin had to bat out of his skin to survive Sidebottom before he could take out some tools from the cupboard of memories. Pleasure to watch.

What was painful to watch was Sree Santh's bowling. Needless to say, it was a humiliating loss of rhythm. The manner in which he comes back to bowl today morning will tell us a lot more about this National Breakdancing Champ.

25 July 2007

First Test Blues?

India's famous middle order kneeled before the rawest of swing bowling attacks. Not for the first time. On India'a last tour here, only Ajit Agarkar had the courage to stick his bat out between India and defeat at Lords in an attack that was missing Gough and Caddick. Much like this time, where the unheralded had to bat India out of trouble - namely Kaartick, Jaffer and Dhoni.
After being worked over by Anderson in the first innings, like he were a toddler, Dhoni needs to be congragulated in the manner in which he recovered from such humiliation.
Several things went wrong with the batting, not least among them the reluctance to go down the wicket to spin. Monty Panesar is a beautifully balanced bowler, but his threat is compounded by playing him from the crease. Also, a certain nervousness with the footwork against the swingers - never completely forward, never completely back.
Anyway, let us hope that the lessons of the first Test are imbibed well. If they do, a few cracking batting displays similar to 2002 cannot be ruled out. The 2002 series started an (all-too-short) golden run for Indian cricket. But make no mistake. This is a batting line-up in decay, and a more than Herculean mental effort would be required to revive the glory days of Edbagston and Adelaide.

19 July 2007

Wayward bowling

Granted it was a great pitch, but man, was it some bad bowling from the Indians in the first session. Having lost the new-ball advantage, the seamers and Kumble did try some tight stuff in the second session, but Strauss and Vaughan were just too good to give way their hard-fought advantage. Not all the Sreesanth-talk in the world....

18 July 2007

The drunk, the lampost and a guy named Bhutia

"Like a drunk and a lampost, statistics are used is more for support than illumination".

As Sachin returns to England again, the same issue has been picked up from newspaper clippings: how many times has Sachin contributed in a winning cause? Mike Selvey in the Guardian has used the same statistics used by pretty much everyone else to support the simple point: it is true, outside of Bangladesh, only seven of Sachin's Test hundreds have come in winning causes.

Someone known as Bhutia posted the following riposte. I loved it.

114 vs Australia,Perth, 92 - took India from 159/8 to 272 - on the fastest track in the world - played a series of incredible back foot punches - if that was not courage and self-expression,what was it?

169 vs South Africa, Capetown, 96 - it was Sachin's fault that other than Azhar who also scored a memorable century, not a single other batsman reached double figure and the bowlers let SA score 529 in the first innings.

122 vs England, Edgbaston, 96 - out of a total of 219- Again, the second highest score was 18. The absence of a good third seamer allowed england to escape from 229 for 8 to 314. Not suprisingly, we lost.

177 vs Australia, Bangalore, 98 - where he took India to 400 by first drinks on 2nd day -it was yet again his failings that we collapsed from 400 for 4 to 424 and went on to lose the test match by 8 wickets

113 vs NZ, Hamilton, 98 - erased a deficit of 144 in the first innings to take India to position of strenth of lead by 180 with 6 wickets in hand. We collapsed to 356 and then having NZ at 73 for 5, could not defend a 4th innings target of 213.

136 vs Pakistan at Chennai, 99 has already been cited - 17 to win - 4 wickets in hand - we lost by 12 runs

155 vs SA at Bloemfontein, 2001 - takes India to 373 for 7 from 68 for 4 - a base from which we could have pressured SA in the 4th innings when the ball was expected to turn. Instead, we collapse to 376 - The match gets over in 4 days. SA had only 54 for to chase in the 4th innings. Kumble took the only wicket.

148* vs Australia, Sydney, 92 - Draw - Indian bowlers could not bowl out Australia after having them at 129 for 7 with 50 runs deficit in a rain curtailed match - Merv Hughes scored 20 - Guess who finally bagged his wicket?

111 vs SA at Wanderers, 1992 - out of a total of 227 - next highest 25 - Match drawn - of course, we could not win that match because of sachin's weaknesses as a batsman

148 vs SL, Mumbai, 1997 - We could not bowl out Sri Lanka on a turning wicket in 1 entire day - SL escaped with 166 for 8

217 vs NZ, Ahmedabad, 1999 - We reach 583 by tea on 2nd Day. We do not enforce follow-on - Match Drawn

17 July 2007

Harmison out too

Deja vu, as India will take on England at Lords. Just like 2002, two of England's first-choice pacers, miss out due to injury. In 2002 at Lords, only Laxman and Ajit Agarkar stood up to the raw attack, but as the series progressed Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly came into their own and plundered runs. This time round, only Hoggard remains of the famed pace quartret that was able to restrain Australia in 2005. And this time too, both sides seem to have a bowling attach that is ripe for an ass-kicking.

There are danger men on both sides. Both Sreesanth and Zaheer had fantastic tours of South Africa. Stuart Broad is a 6 ft 6 inch beanpole who sounds just like the kind of bowler that can run through an Indian batting line-up. Sidebottom and Hoggard will be expected to keep things tight so that Monty strikes at the other end. Same with R P Singh when Kumble will keep bowling from one end.

14 July 2007

The Jaffer question

And as the Indian top order comes apart before the Lions, the time is ripe to ask: should we open with Jaffer at Lords? Many critics have pointed out, it is not that Jaffer keeps getting out, it is the way he gets out, ever late in coming forward. Today he was struck on the pads before he could get the bat around. This technical glitch, they say, will result in a horror run of opening partnerships throughout the series. It is not something a good batting coach can iron out in an hour.
He, however, is a batsman capable of huge scores with tremendous experience at the first class level. Remember that he capped off a disaster run in South Africa with some great batting in the third test - yes, the one we lost. I think Dravid should give Jaffer a chance at Lords.

13 July 2007

Two spinners?

Let's be honest. On the basis of the evidence so far on the England tour, neither Bose nor Ishant Sharma deserve a place in the team for the Lords Test. So when we can use both Ganguly and Tendulkar as back-up seaming options, why not go with two spinners? Admittedly it is a little unorthodox, but it is certainly not stupid. In the last match, Bose looked tamer than a pussycat. In the words of whoever it was that was doing the ball-by-ball on Cricinfo, "when he got it straight it didn't swing, and when he got it to swing it was too wide to matter". Ishant Sharma already sent down nine no balls today, the first day of the tour match against the England Lions. Problems galore clearly, in the heads of these rookies, and Lords is not the place to throw them into the deep end. R P Singh has a proven ability to be predictable. A little more zip in his bowling, and he would move from 'predictable' to 'metronomic'. But in any case, a second left-armer will lend a certain sameness to the attack, which a captain certainly does not want. (Remember the Karachi Test?) Powar gets my vote.

09 July 2007

Laxman made his case for inclusion, scoring 95 against Sussex. Mukul Kesavan blogs in Cricinfo that Dravid need not necessarily be faced with an either/or situation concerning Laxman and Yuvraj. He argues that with Kaarthik almost a certainty, dropping Dhoni to play both Laxman and Yuvraj might be the more prudent approach. Not only does Yuvraj provide all the firepower options of a Dhoni, there is also Yuvraj's left-arm spin option available.

The reason that this may not sit well with Dravid is that asking Kaartick to open the innings soon after keeping wickets for two days could be taking things a bit too far. Of course, Sangakkara often walks in very early on in a Sri Lankan innings after keeping wickets, but to be sure, no team is quite prepared to place such a burden on a 'keeper.

As of now, the top seven are likely to be: Jaffer, Kaartick, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly and Dhoni. Dravid has said that the match against the Lions would see the best Indian batting line-up.
"The greatest cricketer of the modern era, was a smoker."Michael Atherton walks down memory lane in the Sunday Telegraph.

06 July 2007

Zaheer in England

Zaheer put up an inspired display for Worcestershire in 2006, and was along with Ganguly's return and Sreesanth's seam position, one of the stories of the South Africa tour. He had Grame Smith's number for most of the series, and was constantly on the lookout for wickets until the patience of Ashwell Prince thwarted him.
Zaheer returns to England to play a Test match, after almost six years. The last time around, it was a lacklustre display. In four matches he had a haul of eleven wickets. To be fair, Ajit Agarkar fared even worse while Ashish Nehra picked up five wickets from two matches. This time, Zaheer is expected to show leadership at the head of the pace bowling pack. With Strauss and Alistair Cook - the mature head on a young body, a left-handed opening pair, Zaheer has a proven ability to make an impression at the top of the order, swining the ball bothways. After almost eight years in the international scene (not counting the break when he was dropped shortly after the 2003 World Cup) he is by far the most experienced of our pacemen in England. If India are to win, he will need to use his extensive experience with playing in damp, overcast conditions to effectively mentor Sreesanth, Ranadeep Bose and Ishant Sharma. And this is turning out to be a much wetter late summer than we hoped for.

04 July 2007

The Laxman-Yuvraj problem. Again!

Has Ganguly cemented his place in the Test squad? With a memorable display in the tour to South Africa, one would be inclined to think he would be given a few more chances. If that is the case, Jaffer, Kaarthick, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dhoni have confirmed spots in the batting line-up. Assuming that we play four bowlers, (probably Sreesanth, Zaheer, Ishant Sharma and Kumble), that leaves the spot open for one batsman. And once again, the choice is between Yuvraj Singh and VVS Laxman.
Yuvraj has made an emphatic case for his inclusion, grafting and exploding his way to a series defining performance. Laxman cannot be ignored easily either. Laxman's batting was crucial to the victory at Johannesburg. His batting in the tour to the West Indies would also be remembered more, were it not for the phenomenal efforts of Rahul Dravid. However, Laxman's subsequent failures in South Africa contributed to the series loss from a winning position.
Even if we ignore immediate performances, bith players have enough reason to feel wronged.
Laxman's ODI career was unceremoniously set aside: the rise of more athletic and powerful players like Yuvraj Singh was certainly a factor. Laxman has also been moved up and down the order whenever the interests of "team balance" dictated such a move. Equally, Yuvraj - despite being able to hold a place in the one-day squad consistently for the last seven years, has never been given too many chances to perform in the Test arena. Both started out as classy attacking batsmen, leaving fans drooling at their talent. The compulsions of international cricket have forced both to learn the art of staying at the wicket. In the one-day version of the game, Yuvraj is now seen as "one of the best finishers" of the game - someone who can accumulate, accelerate and change gears easily. Laxman's substantial innings over the past two years have been achieved through a fierce determination to stay at the wicket. The trademark audacious drives and flicks have been reined in substantially.
We are no closer to where we were at the beginning. How will Dravid n' Borde pick between these two without being unfair to one?

03 July 2007

Sardesai moves on..

Time, reportage and vedio film have done a bad job of recreating Sardesai for our generation. After he has moved on, the praise flows effortlessly. "A man so good he could open and play in the middle order with equal ease", "The best player of spin India ever had", "A man who surprisingly never cemented a spot in the squad", and the most heard, "The man who took India to the pinnacle of world cricket", having along with the young Gavaskar, sculpted India's first ever series victory in the West Indies. Sardesai's double hundred to bail India out of trouble a second time, is a tale that deserves to be repeated much more.

02 July 2007

The Yuvraj Singh show

Sachin was right in sharing his MoS award with Yuvraj Singh. Quite cute really, this "all for one" business. Ganguly did not seem so "aloof" and it almost seemed like the Natwest false dawn all over again. Thankfully, Dravid did not want to take his shirt off.
And hopefully, this will not obscure the tougher challenges that lay ahead: namely Steve Harmison, Mathew Hoggard, Pieterson and Monty Panesar.