Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Support cast

Two fringe-men have made it count.
I had referred to Kulasekara as a 'journey-man' in an earlier post. 59.4 overs, 12 wickets out of a total 40 to have fallen, at a cost of 12.83 per wicket later, I am not sure these are the stats of a journeyman.
If Sri Lanka keep their cool, the series will be over today and Kulasekara would have had no mean part, whatever be the outcome. From being a prop in a line-up with names such as Murali, Vaas, Mendis and Fernando, Kulasekara has had his moment in the sun.
The other fringe-man has always made it count. Paul Collingwood stepped into the breach, yet again. Collingwood suffers the same fate as VVS Laxman did for the most of his career. He, for some reason was considered the most expendable of the middle-order batsmen, playing perennially for survival. A middle order prop, to bat somewhere between the glamour boys KP and Flintoff. Nothing more.
To me, he is the quintessential team-man. Be it, dragging England by the bootstraps to some respectable total, hard running and smart play in ODIs, or sheer doggedness as shown in this rearguard action - Collingwood is the man. He was never in the limelight (He never will be, with his nudges and shovels) in a team with KP and Flintoff, but he is one person Strauss can rely on to give his best everytime, unnoticed.
I have seen three of his innings which typefies the player he is. None of them remarkable for any great batting quality, but the timeliness of the effort.
1. The maiden hundred at Nagpur in 2006 to put up a total of 400 in a match they were expected to turn up and lose.
2. The double hundred which was strangely a support innings to KP's 150 plus at Adelaide.
3. The second innings hundred to support Strauss' hundred in Chennai in that test match - while Cook, Bell, KP and Flintoff all made single digit scores.
Typically, 1 was a draw and 2 and 3 were remarkable wins - for England's opponents. That has been the theme of Collingwood's career, although 9 hundreds and 15 fifties in 49 Tests suggests a 'maximiser'.
Go well Colly. You deserve your place in the sun.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Finally underway

If Nathan Hauritz were to play domestic cricket in India, they would not smash him out of the attack. They are clever chaps, our batsmen - they can't run two laps during training but they can bat for two days. Hitting him out of the attack is only closing an option. Instead, the Jaffer and others will re-check their guards, take a deep breath and proceed to tuck him off their legs all day. They will kep the valve open - 3 an over - Aaram se. Hauritz would end the day with something like 20-0-70-1 with someone or the other getting out due to sheer boredom.
His effort on Day 1 of Ashes 2009 was something similar. But the single digit in the last column was the difference between a commanding England total/a possibly winning start and an adequate looking one. As it stands, the game is poised evenly with England slightly in front due to the fact that their attack looks more balanced and they will likely be bowling last. However if I were the Goblin (© JRod), I would be thinking three more wickets before they get 350 and game on here.
25 minutes before KP's inspired moment, when he and Collingwood were comfortable in the middle, Australia were staring at 450 minimum. Collingwood edged one he could have left alone, but that was nothing compared to the madness to follow. KP like Virender Sehwag is spoken of as a maverick and a true gift to the game, supremely talented and unique. But while Viru gets out to 'needless' shots at times, he plays the percentages well. I mean, assuming KP connected that shot well, what would he have got, a brace round the corner? Is it worth a wicket in a test match?
Two new men in, Goblin on the attack, Lucifer joins him in the slips and the Aussies are back in the game. Here's where Matt Prior impressed (despite his average of 48, I honestly thought Aus were into the tail) and Flintoff found his spark. Aussies are good at choking off the runs, but Prior played intelligently, tucking it in the legside and running hard, never keeping Flintoff away from the strike. One pull and a brutal straight drive suggested all is well with him. Bowling has been Freddie's stronger suit and his batting in recent times has a sometimes distracted, sometimes laboured look to it. On this occasion he made a visible effort to dominate and strangely Australia withdrew. Deep point on the boundary when the offspinner is bowling (your sole specialist, remember) is not a great sign.
That said, bowling is not the Aussies stronger suit. If Stuart Broad and world record holding batsman Anderson can hand around and push the score close to 375, then the Aussies would worry. Either way the first hour would be fascinating.
PS: I have always thought that the Ashes are England's biggest ego massage - telling themselves more than anyone else that they matter in world cricket. However, with the glut of T20 in recent times, I am delighted to watch Test cricket, no matter who is playing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Rahul Dravid is my favourite cricketer of all time - ( it was him and Sachin, but when Rahul was bowled going for a reverse sweep on 270, in Rawalpindi when India were going for a declaration, in my opinion, he dwarfed everyone else)- one of the modern day greats of the One Day game and an all time legend in Tests. No two ways about it. Even these days, when he does not make the first cut ODI XI or XVI, the wise men have deemed him good enough to be in the mix.

It is a long way off to the CT (as fellow bloggers refer it), but then, such is the nature of Indian cricket that a debate will be ignited even before the team has returned from the ongoing series. So while the team takes a break, this debate will go on and intensify when the current 30 is cut down to 15 or 16 (with or without Dravid) as per the tournament's dictates - 'pruning' they call this process. One of the sports channels has already started the show and irate fans are calling from all over to voice their opinions.

For me, the move baffles on two counts:

1. Having more or less picked a core group keeping in mind the WC 2011, the selectors should stick to that group and certainly Rahul Dravid is not part of that group. Hence if Raina/ Rohit are inadequate at No3, either by technique or temperament, then try out the other players in your core group. For instance Badrinath, who has done just about everything but get even a sporadic look-in into the playing XI or Murali Vijay (who was deemed good enough to open in a Test match against Australia). By going to Dravid, the wise men are signalling that they lack confidence in the group that they picked and groomed all along and the same group who has given them a string of victories in T20 and ODIs (which are too well known to be repeated). If the youngsters (like Suresh Raina) were not equipped in 2007, there was no evidence in the interim to suggest that they were better equipped to fast, short-pitched bowling now. And if you think that this lot is not the best, then dropping Dravid for the CB (Australia ODI) series was a mistake in the first place. (And now don't tell me it is the other selection committee, we all know that MSD got the team he wanted). Hence the move does not look good.

2. Is this move intended to give a 'message' to the Rainas and Rohits, that " You guys have to hone your technique/temperament, or we will not hesitate to drop you. Youngistan-2011 be damned." If so it fails, because the other (wrong) message goes to unintended parties - like Badri for instance - that "We will pick you in the 15, but will not insist on you being played. We do not notice your presence. And hence we will go back to the grand master, whom we avoided all along". The right thing to do is straight forward: Having identified R and R as the future, send them on India A Tours/ Emerging Player Tours , where their technique and temperament will be tested. Have a wise man go with them full time to see how they are faring, if need be. As for Badri/Vijay/Ojha/Nayar - see how they fare against international opposition over an extended period of time. Having them as passengers on a tour is helping neither the team nor them. if you just want to make up the numbers, you could take Sreesanth along. He is more fun than any of Badri/Vijay/Ojha/Nayar. He will keep you entertained for sure.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mohammad Yousuf - The prodigal son

Mohammad Yousuf is a class act. One does not score close to two thousand runs in a year otherwise.
I can recall his batting from three instances. WC 99 was a sucessful campaign for Pakistan bar the final. While Shoaib Akhtar and the bowlers get lot of credit (fairly) and also Razzak for his stodgy batting at no 3 to hold the innings together, to me the key man was Yousuf (Youhana those days). Allright Razzak blocked and kept the wickets intact, but someone had to pace the innings and explode at the end and also give strike to other hitters (Azhar Mehmood and co). That someone in WC 99 was always Yousuf. The absolute mastery in 2006 and partnership with Younis against India. Admittedly, home wickets were favourable, but this man was remorseless. Flawless. The 4th innings 88 he made against Murali in a losing cause. Surprising everyone with how late he could play Murali and remain in control.
Among his contemporaries if one were to describe batting in a word, Younis is bold, Inzamam was classy and Yousuf is all poise.
While I did not see the century on return, I am sure he must have shown plenty of that poise against Mendis and co. 80/4 is a tricky situation to be chasing 290 plus. From there on to get a small but substantial lead of 50 runs is very good going indeed. The match is intriguingly poised and Yousuf has done the job once again. On a difficult track, coming in after a long layoff to score a a hundred at 60 runs per 100 balls confirms that he is a special batsman. Critics could point out that the rest of this team has not played much cricket anyway, but to make a comeback of sorts is always tough. (Ask anyone from Mohinder Amarnath to Dinesh Karthik) Twenty-five test hundreds is a mark of greatness and he is just one short.
On an aside, it is great to have Test cricket up and running after a surfeit of T20.

Friday, July 3, 2009

What If?

This is case has been dead and buried for all purposes. VVS Laxman's ODI record. The idea is to put things in perspective, question the perils of stereotyping cricketers and seeing them through blinkers.

VVS Laxman is one of the greatest batsman India has produced. With close to 7000 test runs, he is arguably the best cricketer in the world to have never played a single World Cup match. The two reasons cited for which he was kept out or missed out (depending on which way one looks at it) were 'Running between the wickets' and 'not the best fielder'.

Let us consider his two contemporaries, great batsmen, who were not great runners and not the best fielders (ground fielding and run saving ability, NOT catching) either and use them as a benchmark for various comparisons. Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly.

Career Stats as of date

Player/Matches/Innings/NO/Runs/Average /Strike Rates/HS/100s/50s Dravid/333/308/40/10585/39.49/71.22/153/12/81


Laxman/ 86/ 83/ 7/ 2338/ 30.76/71.23/131*/6/10

At first sight, Laxman's record suggests an inconsistent underacheiver. One has to note that the played his 86 matches staggered over 1998 to 2004 as opposed to the other two who were sure starters in this period. Confidence and assurance of a place plays no small part in performance as you will see.

The fact is that both Ganguly and Dravid were notoriously slow starters in ODIs and grew with experience and responsibility. Ganguly matured soon, and benefited from opening the batting which did his average and SR a lot of good. After 2002, Dravid found his niche at No5 and became perhaps the best middle order batsman in the game, till the time he was dropped. The high NOs and 81 fifty plus scores attest to that fact.

One interesting column is the strike rate. Notice that, even with the staggered 86 matches and even with Dravid and Ganguly improving their ODI play in the middle and later stages of their careers, Laxman has the same SR as Dravid and only 2.5 runs per 100 balls less than Ganguly. So much for Ganguly's big hitting and fast scoring abilities.

So how did Dravid and Ganguly fare in their first 86 matches?

Overall Records in the same number of matches

Same number of innings would have been a better indicator, but since I could not find such a filter in cricinfo (maybe I did not look hard enough) hence this. Even so, being top order batsmen all, it would be a fairly accurate reflection of performance.

Player /Matches/Inns/NO/ Runs/ Average/SR/HS/ Hundreds/ Fifties/ Period

Dravid/86/79/6/2738/37.50/68.70/145/5/18/1996- 5 Jun 1999

Ganguly/86/81/7/2998/40.51/68.87/124/5/20/ 1992(1996)-10 Jan 1999

(Forget the 'on-paper' debut in 1992)

Laxman/ 86/ 83/ 7/ 2338/ 30.76/71.23/131*/6/10/ 1998-2006

Here Laxman's runs and average are low compared to the other two giants. One obvious reason is in the last column. While the other two played out those 86 matches within 3 years, VVS had them staggered over a 12 year period, being in and out of the ODI side. That is not a recipe if one is looking for consistent run of scores. Had he been given a consistent run at No 3, who knows what might have been possible. Plus one must consider he did not make many runs against the minnows of those days. Although it is not clear from this bit of statistic, there were innumerable matches with likes of Bangladesh, Kenya, Zimbabwe and weak bowling sides ( in the subcontinent) like NZ against which Ganguly especially scored a lot of runs. Bringing them into the equation is beyond the scope of the subject.

One measure of how good a player is would be how you fare against the best in the business. It is known that Laxman enjoyed playing against Australia. However, the other point is that Australia were(are) the pre-eminent ODI side in the world, winning ALL the ODI World Cups in question, in this period of later half of 1996 to 2007. To score runs against them in ODIs, one would have to be exceptionally talented to find the gaps, or clear the field, and/or be fleet of foot to beat their super-strong fielding side. None of this three were exceptional runners, although Dravid was/is a great judge of the single. So how have this three gentlemen fared against the Aussies?

Record against Aus in 86 matches

For Laxman, these are the only ODIs played. For Dravid and Ganguly, these were the first 86 Matches they played.

Player /Matches/Inns/NO/ Runs/ Average/SR/HS/ Hundreds/ Fifties/ Period

Dravid/5/5/0/125/25.00/65.44/56/0/1/ 1996 - 5 Jun 1999

Ganguly/8/8/0/213/26.62/64.74/72/0/2/ 1996 - 10 Jan 1999

Laxman/21/19/3/ 739/46.18/77.05/106*/4/2/ Till Date

VVS strike rate against Australia 77.05 is considerably better than his career average. Nothing surprising here. This is more than the career strike rates of all three.

The stats also show that for an Australia series VVS was more likely to be selected. Hence he high proportion, almost 25% against Australia.

Obviously in their first 86 matches Dravid and Ganguly were not very 'seasoned' and pitted against Australia in that period, their records are fairly ordinary. Comparitively VVS's most productive matches against Australia came on the back of his most productive test series against them (2001 India and 2003-04 Australia - confidence and assurance of a place). As for Dravid and Ganguly , undoubtedly, as they grew in class and stature, their career records improved vastly.

Hence a better measure would be to compare how each of them has fared in similar number of outings against the best. This is by no means conclusive, since each batsman tends to have his 'favourite' opposition. Ganguly's in this stage was Pakistan who was still India's bogey and that spoke for temperament. But Austalia were top dog any day.

Record against Australia in same number of matches played

Player /Matches/Inns/NO/ Runs/ Average/SR/HS/ Hundreds/ Fifties/ Period

Dravid/19/19/0/543/28.57/64.56/80/0/5/ Upto 14 Oct 2003

Ganguly/20/20/0/466/23.30/64.36/100/1/3/ Upto 10 Jan 2003

Laxman/21/19/3/ 739/46.18/77.05/106*/4/2/ Till Date

Considering similar number of innings/matches against Australia, Laxman is head and shoulders above the other two while Ganguly's is the poorest in terms of average. Strike Rate wise too Laxman is streets ahead. The Aussies really had Ganguly sorted out on the offside, while Dravid's 6 fifties (seen here and few more 40s not seen here) are proof of his growing assertiveness in the middle overs. Finally, let us see how Dravid and Ganguly fared against Australia till date. Laxman's stats, as expected, remain unchanged. Surely Dravid and Ganguly cannot beat that average of 46 plus by Laxman against Australia.

Career Stats against Australia as of date

Player /Matches/Inns/NO/ Runs/ Average/SR/HS/ Hundreds/ Fifties
(includes all innings played for India and ICC World XI)
Ganguly /35/33/0/774/23.45/67.71/100/1/5
Laxman/21/19/3/ 739/46.18/77.05/106*/4/2

As expected, Dravid and Ganguly are nowhere near that average. Although had Laxman played another 14-15 matches against his favourite opponents, his average might have come down, but that again is arguable. Curiously, Dravid has regressed in terms of average but has got one fifty plus score in every 5 outings. Ganguly has not improved by much. Possibly an older Laxman in ODI's may have deteriorated performance wise.

Comments and Conclusion

The reason for choosing Australia has been mentioned - that they are the premier one day side and it is a fair indicator of the ability of the man in question and he has played most matches against them. It would not have helped to track Laxman's record against, say, Pakistan (against whom, perhaps Ganguly played some of his best knocks) since Laxman played only 10 matches against them (including a matchwinning 107(104) in a ODI Final in Lahore)

It must be noted that this is THE BEST form of Laxman in ODIs. Dravid and Ganguly had similar runs against different opposition in different times. This is a question - 'What if?'

This is not meant to be a critical assessment of Dravid and Ganguly, but it is notable for two things. One - Dravid and Ganguly were far from their usual best against Australia in their ODI game and Laxman raised his ODI game against Australia. Two - how much perception influences reality. Given 330 odd ODIs what could have Laxman done?

Laxman's best place was No 3, but due to the Saurav/Sachin/Sehwag opening conondrum in the later years, the No 3 spot was not available for him.

Call it Laxman'sbad luck or whatever, but the earlier half of his career ODI specialists JAdeja and Robin Singh were around and later half, Yuvraj Singh and company had made it, hence the theory that there were 'better' players for the ODI game. (BTW Ajay Jadeja's career SR was 69.80 - another statistical quirk? or perception becoming reality? Truth was , Jadeja was an established matchwinner in ODIs when Laxman came along)

One final statistic. Please consider the following list.

Ajay Jadeja 196

Ajit Agarkar 191

Harbhajan Singh 185

Venkatesh Prasad 161

Nayan Mongia 140

Robin Singh 136

MS Dhoni 134

Manoj Prabhakar 130

Mohd Kaif 125

Vinod Kambli 104

Kiran More 94

VVS Laxman 86

Dinesh Mongia 57

Hemang Badani 40

The above list shows names of certain players and their ODI caps for India. Now ask yourself - What if?

All stats from Cricinfo

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Deputy

What would happen if Mahendra Singh Dhoni were to sit out for a match? I know, the current designated vice captain in Yuvraj. When Sehwag returns, it would be him. But after the break till September/Champions Trophy, India have a fairly long season ahead. So they would have to be prepared for eventualities and cannot allow their form to vary with their skipper's presence. It happened in NZ, in the second test match, and the Indians, going by match reports, were listless on the field. What got them out of jail was the ability of Dravid and Laxman to bat time and Gautam Gambhir's discovery of another dimension to his game. There may come a time when MSD has to sit out an entire series. I also know that it is still early days int MSD's stint as captain, but there is no harm in thinking of a long term deputy and an alternative, when the need arises.

The vice captain in Indian cricket is an interesting animal. It surfaces in overseas tours and multi-lateral tournaments. It is generally unseen in home series. For tours it has been either the most experienced player besides the captain, or the next best player and someone who is sure of his place always in the starting XI.

Dhoni is the captain for the foreseeable future but who should be the deputy for a long term? If the selectors were to look for a succession plan, the next generation of cricketers are to be considered. Run through the following names of cricketers who are the gen next to the Dhoni/Yuvraj crop - Irfan Pathan, Dinesh Karthik, RP Singh, Rohit Sharma, Raina enough already. None of them is a shoo-in for all three versions of the game and each of them has his own problem(s) to worry about. Gilchrist was gushing about Rohit's leadership in the IPL, but the Indian team is a very different beast. While Irfan P and DK strike as future possibilities, they too are not sure starters and hence in the present scheme of things just cannot be.

So much for succession planning. So the VC has to be an experienced guy, from the Dhoni/ Yuvraj crop, possibly senior even and perform the kind of role Dravid did and what Sangakkara used to do until recently - Contemporary of the captain, may not have a similar long tenure, but experienced leader and will slot in without trouble.

Sehwag and Yuvraj obviously fit in here and Sehwag is the first among equals. He is as street smart as anyone else and there is not much against him except an apparent laidbackness. Yuvraj did not seem too inspirational in both the IPLs. In fact in the first version Jayawardene and Sangakkara were running the ship in tense situations. When Dhoni was chosen over him, there was the impression that he was irked, but now he seems to have made peace with the reality. He must be allowed freely to do what he does best - that is singlehandedly win matches for India.

As for the rest, there is Zaheer, Harbhajan and Gautam Gambhir. Appointing Harbhajan in any kind of leadership role would be the biggest practical joke the selectors can play on the team, its supporters and Harbhajan himself. Gambhir is young enough to serve for another 7-8 years. He is a sure starter for all versions of the game, looked in control in his IPL stint (unlike Bhajji and Yuvraj) and has grown in stature by virtue of his performances and will hence command the respect of his peers and juniors.

For me though, Zaheer is the most impressive canditate. He took the leadership role in the field during power-plays in ODIs, mentored Ishant, set fields with great effect, importantly looked in control. Lastly, he has the respect and trust of the main man in charge. He would command respect by being a sure starter, a match-winner and a man who has fought his way back to the top by hard work and performance. In his comeback avatar, he has made himself counted with the bat more often than not showing the willingness to hand in there. In close test matches in the recent past, the resoluteness of the Indian tail has tilted things their way. Zaheer has contributed to this in a big way.

So all things being equal, Zaheer it has to be for me as VC, till the next generation stands up to be counted.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The meaningless series

While the shoot-out stands at 1-1 before resuming next weekend, what exactly are the takeouts for Team India.

Gautam Gambhir needs a break and soon

It is not as though he has become a bad player of short-pitched bowling overnight, although, successive dismissals in the same mode will do two things. One, put some doubt in his mind and two, encourage even average quicks to pitch it short since the word has gone around. Nothing to worry about though. He did not have an outstanding run in Tests and ODIs with glaring weaknessess in his technique against the short ball. All he needs is a break, since, after Dhoni and Ishant he has been the most overworked Indian cricketer on view. The remaining 2 ODIs, even if he gets decent score will not matter much in the long run. It may be a better idea to give Murali Vijay a couple of outings whilst the series is alive. He did not look out of place in the Nagpur Test and also in the (very) limited opportunities he had in the IPL.

Rohit Sharma needs a wake-up call

Since his matchwinning 80 odd in the T20 Warm Up against Pakistan, this guy has been sleep-walking, first throught the T20WC and now, the first two matches of the meaningless series. Forget the two inconsequential wickets during the Windies chase. He should have been counted with the bat, more so in the second encounter and he failed. Some people do not revel in competition and would like a free range. Rohit had fared well in Australia, but since the arrival of Raina, his opportunities at 3 and 4 have been few and far between and he did not seem to enjoy batting at 6 (if at all in the playing XI). With no Raina aroundand hence no 'peer-pressure', and the team management seemingly inclined to give him an unbroken run as opposed to giving Badri a look-in, Rohit had the right platform. He then proceeded to shoot himself in the foot but mis-hooking once and flailing outside off in yesterday's game. As in Gambhir's case, these two failures do not put him in the 'bad batsman' category. However, serious questions need to be asked on his temperament and focus. For someone spoken of as the next big thing in the test middle-order, T20 cameos are not good enough.

Yuvraj is the key in LOIs

If this point was ever missed, these two games have only served to reinforce that. True that Sehwag found some consistency in ODIs. True that GG had been in unprecedented form. True that MSD's output in ODI's were Dravid-esque. True that the bowling as a unit has worked, but the undoubted star was Yuvraj. When not blasting hundreds , he has been crucial in injecting momentum at other times with timely big hitting. Counting those innings he has made 25 or above, he has scored 828 from 714 balls faced (pounding 30 x 6 and 93 x 4 for good measure, exactly 66.66 % of those 828 runs). In retrospect, it is such brilliance that has reduced pressure on GG and MSD and I would say, allowed them to prosper. (Latest bit of evidence of extra-ordinary ability - that half-flick, half swat off Rampaul that went miles over square leg for six, bowler looking bemused).

Ishant needs a breather

If playing under Bookha Naan for the Whipping Boys II of the IPL dint wear him down, the cumulative effect of the last 18-20 months certainly did. It showed in the T20WC and here too. He will learn to vary his length depending on the surfaces and be a better bowler. It is too early to compare his apparent decline with Irfan Pathan's. For one thing, Pathan had another suit to his game while Ishant has none. He seems focussed enough to recover his bowling mojo. His strength was to keep running in over after over tirelessly. Now, 18 months after Perth, it is natural that he is jaded.

Harbhajan plays true to form

Enough has been said about his bowling and attitude. Bottomline is that he is a passenger and doing just enough to keep the axe away. His admittedly brave efforts while batting should not hide the fact that he is in the team for taking wickets and 18.1-0-101-1 are poor returns for this wicket taker. His apologists in the 'expert' commentary panel, wax eloquently about how the 'compulsions' of limited overs cricket has caused him to cut down the flight, drift and fire it on the pads of the batsmen. Point taken. So where is the flight, drift and loop in the test matches? Shane Warne was Australia's premier bowler in WC '99. He had more than 300 test wickets already and was primarily an attacking bowler. Yet he displayed commendable control and accuracy and took two 4-32 and 4-33 in the SF and Final and handed Australia the cup. In such times of need, Harbhajan invariably goes AWOL and that is my case against him. How can we, therefore, expect any earth-shattering deeds from the turbanator, that too in the 'meaningless' series?

As I see it, the BCCI missed a trick. They could have compulsorily 'rested' some of the players who have been on the road for quite some time. It was in one such 'meaningless' 3 match ODI (initially scheduled to be 5 match) series in Canada against the Windies that Ganguly led India for the first time in Sachin's absence and came back with a 2-1 win. It was notable for the way he staggered himself, Sadagopan Ramesh and Dravid (the only international experience) at 1,3,5 in a weak batting order and optimised it. Such 'meaningless' series are just right for identifying such signs of leadership and ability.

While the board will continue to milk their cash cow to the last ounce, it is also upto the captain and coach to see who are really the motivated individuals and play them.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ICC World T20 - A review

They did it again, only this time, after a gap of several years . Right throught the 80s and early 90s ,if a there was a team that can raise themselves and their level of performance exponentially on the big stage it was Pakistan. Innumerable Champions Trophies, Sharjah Cups etc not to forget big ones like WC 92 attest to that. But over the years, retirement of stalwarts combined with their inherent inconsistency had led to a decline. From consistently challenging the Windies and Australia in the '80s and beating England, India, SL and NZ at will, anywhere, they have slipped to become a middle runger - capable of beating anyone on their day, but their 'days' were few and far between (much like the various Indian teams till the beginning of this decade) and occasionally capable of the ludicrous (losing to Bangladesh in WC '99 and Ireland in '07). But there would be no shortage of theatre.

This time around, they were playing true to form, customary lousy start, backs to the wall, draw favouring them etc. All said and done, after the defeat to SL in the super 8s, they needed to win 4/4 to lift the cup, backs to the wall again. Enter Popeye Razzak.

NZ 2/17 & 5(8)

Ireland 15(9) & 0/18

SF1 - S.Af 12(15) & 0/19

Final SL - 3/20

Granted. Nothing to shout about from rooftops, save the final. But what it did, was to free up the enormous burden on Shahid Afridi and let the team bat him and no 3 in the semis and final. And boy, din't Afridi turn up - match turning/ match winning performances in each of the four occasions. When Ganguly had progressed as an ODI matchwinner, the pressure on Sachin (sole matchwinner in absence of Sidhu and off/on form of Azharuddin) reduced and as a consequence India's overall performance improved steadily. We can see a distant parallel here. With Razzak back in the fold and Imran Nazir to come, and the bowling firepower they already possess, Pakistan's stock in the limited overs versions can be expected to soar. What was difference this time around in the climactic stages, was the absence of histrionics. (Q called it an un-Pakistani win). What the win has done is revive interest in Pakistan cricket and that is necessarily a good development.

Sri Lanka, the romantic's favourite failed only once and that when it mattered most. With WC 2007, they have fallen at the last hurdle in two of the three big occasions. Dilshan replaced Jayasuriya as the talisman player, but weakness in the lower middle order persists. After Ranatunga and Tillekeratne, they had Russel Arnold, who though not a big hitter, could be relied to see them home in tight chases with smart play and excellent running. Chamara Silva and Mubarak do not seem to have it in them. Angelo Mathews is their find of the tournament and seems to be a confidence player. They would do well to give him more opportunities, since he has age on his side to become a real star. Jayasuriya and Murali will not be around for ever. They would have to develop Malinga Bandara and also coax consistency out of Dilhara Fernando when he returns (the good Fernando, that is). For all his ICC rankings, Kulasekara, I think is a journeyman, the thoroughbreds are Malinga and Fernando.

There was some talk about South Africa being title favourites. I was sceptical all along. In SF1, with Pakistan to bat first, it was all uphill for South Africa from there. Q's prediction here was spot on. South Africa have been a consistently strong team, usually in the top 3 in all versions. They achieve such high ratings over a period of time with strong home and away records in bilateral ODI tournaments. They (like NZ) flop and flounder in the crunch in big (multilateral) tournaments. They are good at reading opposition tactics and consistently exploiting them over a period of time (recall Fannie DeVillers getting Sachin out with the slower ball, circa '96), but will not break the mould and dare to try something different, even in the biggest of crunch matches. The T20 SF1 was one such. They are faced with the most versatile bowling unit and chasing 150 and off to a decent start. Would they use Albie Morkel at No 3 or 4 to scatter the bowling and give him a chance to play game breaker. No way! They will play it safe , in the pretext of staying in the hunt and follow the primary school head-master schedule of Gibbs, DeVilliers and Duminy who collectively score 50 runs of 48 balls. Result, Morkel sitting and chafing in the dugout and momentum lost. This is not a case for Albie Morkel as a player and a matchwinner, it is a case for a team in a must win situation, overcoming the fear of failure and making a daring move to win. The end margin - 7 runs. If Morkel had faced half, no a fourth of those 48 deliveries, South Africa would have been in the final. (I made a similar case for using Yusuf Pathan well, earlier). So one can safely say, that till they will continue to be ranked in the top 3, win all home series againt all opposition (till Dhoni takes an Indian team there for a bilateral series ;-)) but still fail in crunch matches in big tournaments.
And what about the Windies. They will continue to entertain and exasperate in turn. But to be fair to them, they ran into SL who came up with their best performance in the entire tournament. Dilshan did not play his scoop perfectly even once, but got to within a hit of his century and after Mathews' bizzare first over, it was game, set and match. But Windies have that most important component for LOIs these days. The genuine, matchwinning, allrounder Dwayne Bravo (not the Ajit Agarkar type). A couple of years ago, Bravo seemed to have only one shot as a batsman - the hoick over midwicket. He has developed an all round game. But Chris Gayle continues to be the main man.
New Zealand did nothing of note, saw their key batsmen get injured, whined after being thrashed and sulked out of the tournament. New Zealand is one of those teams which will always have a minnow or two in all their league games (South Africa being another). They will promptly bash the minnows, get into the next stage and run into versatile opposition like Pak or SL and be shown the door. Eternal Bridesmaid. But somehow they manage to beat India in T20s.
England, like India will be a much talked about and much written about team. In KP and Bopara they have the class and dash for the 50 over and 20 over games. What they lack is the willingness to play Panesar and a high class keeper who can bat well. Their seamers and steady without being spectacular and they are good in the field. Like NZ, they will form the middle rung without ever punching above their weight and unlike NZ they will be true gentlemen. Read - they will not bully the minnows.
Australia - they have received scathing comments and deservedly so for their two performances. What was unnoticed in the melee, is that despite being 3 down for little in the WI match, they posted 170 plus. But for the good Chris Gayle turning up, who knows what would have happened. Similarly, in the next game Dilshan caught them with a punch to the solar-plexus, even before the bowlers had settled and that allowed his captain to manage the chase well. They key to beating Australia in all forms of the game is simple - early and sustained aggression, but not everyone can do this. NZ, Eng and SA certainly cannot. Recall WC 2007 SF2. South Africa talking big about aggression and the match getting over in the first half an hour!Beware a wounded Australia, the next world cup but 10 months away.
And finally what of India. The typical Indian narrow viewed jingoist in me lost interest in the tournament after the teams exit, and hence such a long time for this post. However, in many ways this defeat was a blessing in disguise. For one, it showed Rohit and Raina, there is a long, long way to go, before they can aspire to get into the Test side. Hopefully, this defeat will cause the selectors to introspect about having separate personnel for different versions and not bunch them under "good test player is a good LOI player" mantra. For instance, should the next slot be available in the middle order (temporarily or permanently), it would have to be Badri and Pujara in that order and not Raina and Rohit. Similarly, it will also hopefully stop Ishant being bowled into the ground. If he is a Test match bowler and not found his groove in LOIs, so be it. Steve Harmison retires from ODIs, spends two years thinking about the Ashes, lands up in Brisbane and bowls the first ball at second slip and yet he is England's number one bowler. Just let Ishant be, India's talent pool is wide enough to go well and this tournament is not the be-all end-all of cricket. The seeds sown in the Ganguly-Dravid-Wright era are bearing fruit now in the form of significant overseas Test victories and that is the bigger picture. This is not a case of 'sour-grapes' but an attempt to put things in perspective, seeing the usual media reaction back home.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tactical errors or head in the sand?

Toughness is on the inside; its what you are made of, not what you display; Anyone can walk with a swagger or turn their collar up. John Wright on Rahul Dravid, in his book 'Indian Summers'.
For the second time within three days the 'defending champions' found out that just turning up and swaggering out to the field would not do. They would have had to turn up, swagger AND actually score a run more than the opposition did (or as on Friday, restrict the opposition). While they could not defend 153 on Friday they failed to chase the same number of runs.
There is a tendency (in Indian media and elsewhere) to talk mockingly of the English cricket team - about how the English 'invented' the game and getting beaten by people who learned it from them - and while doing this, people seem to forget that England, for all their obsession with Ashes have been a middle rung team for all these years. While they have not exactly threatened top teams, it is not that they are at the bottom of the pile either (where one finds WI routinely these days). They are a bit like the Indian teams in the Azhar -Sachin reigns. Good on their day. Yesterday was such a day and they had a point to prove to the expats and PIOs who had apparently booed the home team in their own HQ. Is a bigger motivation needed?
England had given considerable thought to yesterday's encounter while it appeared that India were still thinking about Yuvraj's six sixes.
Harsha Bhogle said something about favourites tags and fearlessless. Nasser Hussain cut him short - India were exposed. Period. How that stung! Because it was true.
The tactical errors which have been highlighted by other bloggers have shown where all India went wrong - chasing (when NRR is not yet in the picture), keeping Ojha out, underbowling RP, overbowling Yuvraj & Ishant, glaringly sending up Jadeja (which was the most damning) and so on. The bottomline, most people seem to agree is that the Indian thinking was way too muddled. They seemed to be experimenting after finding themselves between a rock and hard place.
In some ways, the thinking was reactionary. Dropping the best bowler on view (after being hit for a few bby an exceptional Bravo) was not on. Was not Ojha an attacking, wicket taking option. If he does go for a few, it is not fair that he should be jettisoned.
While I had earlier called for the exclusion of Irfan, Ishant has also not lived up to his ability. The fatigue factor, perhaps. In the West Indies encounter and also against Englad, there were too many hit-me balls from Ishant.
The overall line adopted by bowlers also seemed to be too leg-sidish. They pitched too short, which sat up and bowled defensive lines. Doing nothing special, England managed 150 plus. It was their game to lose after that.
David Lloyd called him 'main man' and the 'thoroughbred' and indeed Bhajji turned in a mature spell when it mattered and reined in the score. He cracked, though - 17.6 and 19.6, two wide ones, fired down the leg side, in an attempt to finish the overs well - 10 runs gifted and India never recovered. Granted Yuvraj muffed a simple stop, but after 12 years on the circuit, Bhajji should not have bowled them in the first place down the leg. Toughness is in the inside.
MSD is tough, if he is anything. But today, he missed a chance to become a hero. Even his run-a-ball 20-full-of-bottom-handed-shovelling-dismissed-when-going -for-a-big-hit would have come in handy today from number 4. Instead, watching young Jadeja painfully struggle sapped the morale of the team. Even in the IPL, Jadeja could not quite clear the ropes, although he remained not-out and finished with reasonable strike rates, those were Nayan Mongia type losing cause efforts. Let us not be too critical of the youngster,because forgetting his bowling contributions which pulled back a 170 plus score to 150 plus.
Some points that reflect the team management's thinking.
A) When quizzed about the Jadeja move, MSD gave his reason and added someting like 'even if the run rate touches 8 or 9, myself and Yuvi can do the job'.
Let's get two things straight here.
1.Yuvraj is 10 times the batsman Dhoni is. Dhoni has this tendency to spin out this "myself and Yuvraj" stuff for quite some time. Who is he kidding?
2.Even in the IPL, MSD could not consistently manage those run-rates he is talking about.
B) MSD goes on to say 'we have people like Yusuf and Harbhajan, who can hit the ball' . Yusuf and Harbhajan, in the same bracket. Give me a break. We know Bhajji is a combative cricketer, who usually punches well above his weight when batting. Yusuf is the cleanest hitter in this squad after Yuvraj. Pushing himself ahead of YP, MSD reduced YP to an Afridi like swishing, between wind and water. That India got within to a boundary hit of winning is thanks to Yuvraj, YP and those two outside edged fours from MSD.
Earlier, while talking about Rohit in the opening slot, it appears they considered YP for the role. Wrong on both counts - opening and no 7. The right role to Yusuf could define cose contests, I had said earlier and despite all the tactical errors, short-pitched bowling it boiled down to just that. One or two more deliveries to face for Yusuf Pathan and India would have been in the competition.

It is no fun being proved right in this fashion.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Vexing Question

It beats me. I cannot figure out why this is happening.

Raja B calls him the Fake One Down Player. Sam had earlier written an impassioned defence here and here. The best Indian cricket writer of our times finally gives his take on the subject here.

The popular feeling as well as the informed opinion seems to be that if India are to put up a strong show in the upcoming round(s) of the competition, MS Dhoni would be better off at No 5 or 6 and vacate the number three spot he has occupied 'by force' as it were.

This is a smart player and tactically agile captain - does he fail to see the point? Having led a middling Indian team to triumph in 2007, surely he knows that T20 is all about seizing moments quickly. While 20 overs is a long enough time, the model cannot be consolidate-build-explode. There is no time to have 'a look' at the bowling. (Do it from the dugout if possible). I am convinced that Dhoni knows his strengths and weaknesses as a batsman.

In fact I would venture to say that knowing his weaknesses only led him to what Harsha Bhogle calls "Dhoni Mark II". MSD, somewhere in September-October 2007 realised that the bowlers have figured him out and adopted this mode of play. Why, during the home ODI series defeat against Australia, MSD was outscored by Robin Uthappa in the sense that RU was able to get boundaries at will, with his Hayden like walk down the track, while Dhoni was not quite as effective slogging.

In the CB series, we saw him go into the accumulator mode for keeps. He has figured that works best for him. It also has helped that this team is full of more capable batsmen who are better equipped to get quick runs.

So it is not as if the captain who is so good at assessing, pitch, opposition, bowling attacks and passages of play has failed to get his own batting order optimised.

As I said before, it beats me...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Viru to return

Saying "I told you so" is no fun, when it follows an injury to Viru Sehwag. Naturally, he has been replaced with Dinesh Karthik about whom I had written here.

Form or no form, Viru is India's biggest matchwinner and he will be sorely missed. Not to mention the entertainment he would have provided.

However, this could be a good opportunity to persist with Rohit at the top and give him the guarantee of a few matches on the trot, rather than a JIT basis.

It would make more sense at this point of time rather that blindly swapping Viru with DK at the top. DK could keep and bat in the lower middle (along with Dhoni) where he did so well in the IPL.

Only hope MSD doesn't persist with his misadventure at no 3, in the garb of "providing experience at the top".

Super Monday

Two results with a similar margin.
Two results which cannot be termed as upsets.
Two results which left the super eights in a vastly different shape than what was widely expected.

The beast has been killed. All hail Mendis, Dilshan and Sanga.

But first the eastern neighbours. Batting first, they had to tell themselves not to lose more than two wickets in the first 10. Aim for 150 and get 160. Instead they overreached. Ashraful and co went for 200 and got 140. But let's cheer the Irish and their supporters.

Trent Johnston took my mind back to John Traicos (remember him, Greek lawyer, offspinner, captain). Dissimilar style but similar in that they both were ageless, large hearted cricketers and played for minnows of their time. The lasting image, though will be the cheerful smile of Niall O'Brien hobbling on an injured foot and taking Mortaza apart in over no 5. Different game after that. He has class, recall the 70 odd that knocked Pakistan out of WC 2007?

So the accountants, lawyers, clerks would have informed their offices for extended leave.

Sanjay Manjrekar is usually a thoughtful man. Mostly speaks and writes sense. Yesterday, though he came across as a frustrated loser. Niall O'Brien had twistedhis ankle trying to save a single and needed a runner. After watching him hit those sixes Sanjay said, it is unfair for injured batsmen to have runners. They save energy when someone runs for them. It is inconvenient for fielders, umpires, non striker. Sanjay says, let's do away with the runner. If you are injured, bad luck. What kind of thinking is this? Does he forget that it is the batsman who is inconvenienced most. Does he forget that the batsman can be run out if either the batsman or runner is found outside the crease? Athar Ali Khan wisely kept quiet. I could see at least one instance where O'Brien by force of habit started running soon after playing a shot and then hobbled back.

Later on Sanjay interviewing Ashraful was hell-bent on painting a picture as though Bangladesh had thrown the match that was theirs. He kept harping on batting and bowling mistakes, while Ashraful (credit to him) said at least thrice that Ireland played well. Hell, can't Sanjay recognise that fact? While talking to MOM, O'Brien at one point Sanjay said in a tone that was both patronising and accusatory "So you are enjoying yourselves?" . The unsaid words were "You guys have no business staying on. Now get hammered by the big boys". Niall's response was awesome - we all do that don't we? That's why we play cricket!!

That's the essence Sanjay. Not everyone is schooled in Shivaji Park. Wicket to be preserved, bowlers ground to dust. Batting more a sacred duty than joie de vivre. There are other ways to play this beautiful game - the O'Brien way, the Rohit way, the Gayle way enjoying what they do. And we enjoy watching them enjoy themselves.

Harsha Bhogle in the post match was all mournful. He said "sad day" thrice in five minutes as though we were watching a political leader's funeral. Give us a break Harsha! We thought you are among the best. Its not as if Bangladesh were overwhelming favourites for the cup. I like watching Shakib too, but they played lousy cricket. Why not accept and celebrate the fact that the Irish have punched above their weight twice in two world cups. Way to go Ireland!!!

An aside while on Bangladesh, realised that Tagore is perhaps the only poet to have composed what would be National Anthems of two different countries.

What a fall for Australia. True that they are not particularly fond of thie format, true that they had one eye on the Ashes, true that the Symonds episode had shaken them, but for precisely the last reason, I expected them to come all guns blazing in this match and the tournament. But hell, who cares. Super 8s is more pleasant place without Ponting and Co. There was some mention about India being relieved that Australia is knocked out. I am not too sure of that. What I am sure of though is, that the format is kind to South Africa and NZ. Already in the Super 8s, first real match only coming up today and their nemesis knocked out even before that. Joy!!!

All credit to SL. First big match after Lahore. New captain. I thought he had got it wrong and overbowled the youngster Udana. Perhaps he did. But he used the 3 Ms well. 12 Overs for 85 runs and 6 wickets. Round 1 to SL. Thanks to Johnson's (served notice against India at Perth, no one recalls. Everyone is talking about his century against SA more recently) confident striking, they would not have touched 140. Ponting, Hussey, Watson and Clark were all wrong footed by Mendis. He might as well have been bowling a grenade. Such was the batsmen's expression. It will be interesting how the other teams tackle 12 overs of high quality bowing from the 3 Ms now on.

In the 50 over format, a sizable score to chase meant Jayasuriya had to get a decent start. Not any more. Dilshan stepped up today. Opening has helped him express himself best. He has the necessary aggro, all round shots (something Upul Tharanga never had despite 6 ODI centuries in one year or something like that. Tharanga was a two shot batsmen - flick of the hip and slash/drive at width outside off) and the mindset to play them, whether or not Jayasuriya is around. Where SL will falter (and in the past they have is the middle/ lower order firepower). Despite the obvious class and the top and middle, Chamara Silva, Maharoof and Mubarak will almost always be outgunned by Raina, Yuvraj, YP and IP. But all that can wait. For now, they are the dragon slayers. Go well Lanka!!!

Another aside - Kumble seems to have the making of a good commentator, in that he does NOT state the obvious. Wasim Akram and SMG fall into this trap.

Yet another aside - Good to see crusty, old Ian Chappell - as opinionated and prickly as ever. He mentioned 'Johnny Gleeson' (whoever that was) more times than 'Mendis ' (and Mendis was the one bowling). But he is sharp and insightful as always and remains one of my favourites.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Upsets galore

The result reminded me of the opening encounter in Italia 90, when unknown Cameroon shocked mighty Argentina (the last time we saw them as defending champions). The scale of the upset was not quite so much when England went down. We know for a fact that England do not enjoy the shorter versions of the game, but the result has thrown up interesting possiblities (as most upsets do) going into the tournament. For instance, a strong Dutch performance against Pakistan and given Younis Khan's apparent indifference to the format itself, could mean Pakistan's early exit. And if SL runs Australia close or even win ( I doubt it happening) and then go on to beat WI, then Australia will precede them on the way out. How is that for an upset?

Some random thoughts on this weekend's match-glut. Shakib Al Hasan is a gem. To find motivation to do your best day after day, when your team is beaten is not easy. A reference (in Q's blog, I think) calls him 'another Vettori'. Yes, Vettori and Andy Flower rolled in one.
South Africa will generally crush the minnows in the first round. Kirsten, Hudson, Cullinan and Kallis have filled their boots in the past and so has Herschelle Gibbs with 6/6. Proteas, like all strong teams will put things in place, send the right message, find the motivation etc and make all the right noises, but I look forward to see how they end the tournament. That is where they have not been quite a 'strong team'.

Pakistan floundering continued into the tournament itself. They had their best chance yesterday to bat first, bat big and ease themselves into the tournament, but no. Bowling first in a must-win match for your opponents is not agreeable, though understandable. Younis said something about D/L, but went on to say he had two spinners in the side and wanted to make use of the pitch. Well, best use of the pitch is done by spinners when bowling second, one would think. One can question the tactics, team selection, batting order, bowling line up, Younis Khan's indifferent attitude etc, but still feel that all it takes for them to find form is to beat Netherlands by the required margin and get into the Super8s. Once they beat a 'major' team, they could be a different side.

West Indies beating Australia is not an 'upset' in the sense of the word, but a shellacking in this fashion was surely not expected. More so after Australia put up 170 on the board. There were guests at home for dinner and before I could send them off and return to the TV, the match, as a contest was over. Watching the re-runs gave an idea of that Lee over and what it must have done to the Aussie team as a whole. The black bandanna sits nicely with the Caribbean pirate imagery. The sheer arrogance, the splendid camera work and the crunching sound the bat made every time Gayle connected - heady mixture for sure. The bad press he has been getting in recent times could have galvanised Gayle. He was even seen pushing hard for a single at one stage!!! Must reserve a special round of applause for young Fletcher who matched the Cool Dude in stroke-play. In fact it was he who started the carnage and gave Gayle a bit of time and space. The Sri Lankans (last team to enter the fray) would be supported by the rest of the cricket community for today's clash. If they slay the beast tonight, it would be a Semi Final line up sans Australia for the first time in a World Cup since '92.

And what of India? Just as South Africa continue crush minnows, India make heavy weather of them (recall Netherlands in 2003 S. Africa). One might argue Bangladesh are not minnows, but this Indian team is a strong contender and expected to put up big wins against such opposition. Though the 25 run margin looked convincing, Bangladesh had a vice like grip on things in the middle 10 overs of Indian innings, or, let's say about 25% of the match.

Few complaints about the win. Bright spots:

1. Rohit continues to impress in the new role. 2.Ojha is ready, I mean for Tests and the wise men need to look at him closely.

3. Going into the business end of the tournament, Yuvraj will once again be the main man. He seems to have found his groove, thankfully.

Some things continue to baffle:

1. Harsha Bhogle said before the toss that India are going in with 5 bowlers. I counted Zak, Ishanth, Ojha and Harbhajan. Who was the fifth?

2. Dhoni taking his batting too seriously, at the team's expense. In this space, I had questioned this tactic of Dhoni's in the IPL, which effectively scuttled his team's chances.

3. So far no one seems to have told Rohit Sharma that his strike rate is fine (compared to the damage Dhoni is doing these days). He can play normally and still strike at 150. He need not belt every ball while opening.

4. Tactical error - in form Raina at 5. At the risk of sounding repetitive - the batting should read VS& GG, Rohit, Raina, Yuvraj , YP and MSD. If Dhoni continues in this fashion, better teams will tie him down all too easily.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sufficiently warmed up

Watching a game starting at GMT 1630 hrs from a zone +8.00 hours is no fun. When there is a meeting to attend at 10 am, the following morning, it is downright foolhardy. But what of it. I had stifled the yawns well enough. This was no ordinary warm up match, you see.

While I believe Australia Vs India is the marquee contest these days, the intensity of an Indo-Pak clash has not diminished one bit. The atmosphere was magical. Admittedly India have lesser headaches coming out of this encounter but here are a few thoughts.

Praveen and Irfan seemed like just looking to pitch the ball with the result that the ball sat up nicely in the early overs at the right pace to hit. The length & pace of Ishant, and the inexperience of the Pakistani top order allowed India to get the toe in the door. And good teams will tear that door down, as India did.

Dhoni and Irfan kept their heads while Afridi lost his, but fact of the matter is Irfan is nowhere close to his bowling best. Facing tougher opposition in the super 8s (assuming they get there), he could get plastered (as in the past). More worrying is the lack of swing and thereby penetration from RP in English conditions.

The spinners did the job once again. While Harbhajan was adequate, Ojha seems to have progressed. One moment stood out for me. After getting Shoib Malik, there were no celebrations from Ojha this time. He just walked up to his captain and mates with a straight face, almost as if expecting the dismissal. No smile. No surprise. He was just pointing out (to Rohit, I think) as to how he got his man. Such confidence is desirable.

In the field Raina, was exceptional as ever. His celebrations after the direct hit and the catch (taken Aussie style) showed how keen he is to make a mark in his first WC of any sort. Tiredness be damned. Boys like to play. Apart from one early fluff by Harbhajan (nerves perhaps) Indians were largely safe in the field

Dhoni did not bowl out Ishant but kept Praveen and RP for overs 19 and 20. Good move again (like keeping Pathan on for Afridi, whom he riles to no end) .Both bowlers obliged like good neighbours with 15 and 14 runs allowing Pakistan to post a challenging total.

It is tempting to think of Rohit as an opening option. But it is a stop-gap solution and needs to be that way whenever Viru returns to partner GG. Rohit and Raina ahead of Yuvraj, YP and Dhoni would be my line up, though I suspect the last two would be swapped.

That said, let us give credit where it is due. Rohit, it appears had jumped at the offer when the team asked him to step in for Viru. For long he has languished at 6 and 7 and being dropped from the 11 in ODIs for accomodation. He relished the opportunity to play a decent knock and dismantled the Pakistan bowlers in such a way that you were left wondering who was the senior partner and who was the stop-gap man. In earlier posts I have written about his abilities and also his lapses of concentration, both of which we witnessed, but happily more of the first. The disdain with which he batted against Umar Gul, Afridi and Tanvir (a cause of concern for Younis, as these are three of the most effective bowlers in the circuit in this format) shows that he needs to bat in the top 4. Commentators were waxing lyrical about the extra time he has to play his shots. Hope for his sake and India's that he plays to potential. Perhaps, a case for Yuvraj and Dhoni to play Miandad-like (or Dravid like, can’t offend anyone here) roles and take the team home and empowering RS and SR with the responsibility of setting the tone.

As for Pakistan, Younis has more worries.

- - Extras ( Nothing new here)

- - Afridi ( Nothing new here, either)

- - Trigger happy young batsmen at the top, who need to realise 20 overs are a long enough time to bat.

- - When to bowl Umar Gul and Tanvir

- - Fielding under pressure

What has Younis got going for him

+ + The calming presence of Shoib Malik and Misbah, the latter looking in good touch. Let us not underestimate their value while admiring flashy 'teenaged' openers.

+ + Mohammed Amer holding his own against Rohit and GG is a good sign

+ + Favourable pool

+ + Possible Super 8 Group without the Big Three

++ No Shoaib !!!

Cannot underestimate the last named factor.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Warm up matches

An Air France plane missing over the Atlantic, Indian students being attacked in Australia, a 100 year old titan of corporate America finally keeling over and swine flu spreading slowly but surely - a T20 cricket world cup seems trivial in this background and warm up matches even more so. Despite that, here goes...

Warm up games are like pre-poll jousting between candidates. No one knows what to make of them or how they will count in the final tally.

South Africa have started well (yet again) in a World Cup. They would take a weak start and a strong finish everytime. England 1999, India-Pak-SL 1996, more recently SA 2007, where they won 4 out of 4 before running into India.

Australia is in business. Remember Champions Trophy 2006 (the Sharad Pawar one). They went after it in all cold blooded seriousness and got what they wanted. Teams like India and South Africa that are said to be title contenders must look out. Expect Australia (and a wounded Symonds) to come very hard.

Pakistan's poor outing means nothing. Expect them to lose the non-consequential games and close ranks when they are pushed to the wall. Once they do that, no team is a bigger threat. Plus, no other team has a 100% record against Australia in any format of the game (though they have played all of two matches)

New Zealand cannot lose to India in a T20. Q has summed them up superbly here.

They way India bowled their death overs and the way Ashraful and co laid into Aussie bowling points to an interesting first round. Shakib Al Hassan is a successful all rounder in ODI's and has come up with stellar performances, which have not been noticed, perhaps because Bangladesh have been soundly beaten, all the time.
Indians need to quickly decide on what to do with Irfan Pathan, having brought him to England. Make no mistake, he is a match-winning batsman in T20's, one of the better fielders but is unable to string a decent spell in any form of cricket for quite some time now. If the composition is 6 batsmen + 2 fast bowlers + 1 spinner + Yusuf + Irfan, then India is spreading itself very thin on bowling. In case one of the 3 main bowlers get collared, then stopping the runs would be a problem.
Yusuf's position is also something they need to think about. Dhoni's batting requires a post by itself, but he too must decide where he adds value to this line up and how best would he do that. The media and commentators are fair weather friends. Those who praise him for 'responsible batting' and 'curbing risks' would turn around and question his strike rate (quite justifiably at that) if he falters.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Getting it right

Stephen Fleming made the point during an innings break, in the recently concluded IPL2. When teams have only one way to play, they become dangerous. Chennai had set Mohali a target of about 10 RPO in 18 overs and Mohali came within a whisker of winning. A few days later, KKR took a similar approach and surmounted 190 in 19 overs. A decade back Saurav Ganguly led India to a famous chase in Dhaka for a cup-final win over Pakistan (the first after several years). More recently South Africa surpassed 434 against the Aussies. The sheer magnitude of the task fires up the chasing team and if they get off to a flier, fielders become jellies and hope that the next steepler does not come their way.

As for teams, so for individuals. I have earlier written about Yusuf Pathan being a 'game-breaker'. The trick lies in giving him an environment to express himself and finding a role, wherein if he comes off, you win in a hurry and if he doesn't - well, there is a 'real' batsman to handle it from there on. 20-20, we can see is not all crash bang and wallop. There are ebbs and flows here too, though the duration is much shorter. With Pathan in the mix, with the right role to play, the battle-weary Indians be a bigger force to reckon with.

Dhoni would almost always be tempted to leave Yusuf as the last 'specialist' if he makes it to the playing 11, just above the bowlers/allrounder. It would make better sense to sandwich him among the batsman, perhaps at no 5 between Yuvraj and Rohit, moving him upto 4 in case of a strong start.

That way, Yusuf will almost certainly walk into the middle overs with the spinners/ trundlers in operation. He can play in the mode Fleming mentioned. In case the top order is blown away Rohit can be sent up or even Dhoni can come up and nurdle away as he is prone to doing over the last one and a half year, and hold back Yuvraj and Yusuf a little bit. In almost all other cases, though, Yusuf can be allowed thrill us with his abilities. The think tank must resist the temptation to open with him or send him at 3, which I believe are a slot too high for him even in T20. 

Talking about opening, we have two big guns, badly misfiring and threatening to blow holes in their own camp (enough battle imagery). Problem is there's no backup for them or for the Skipper/Keeper. Funnily enough Dhoni had Parthiv in CSK to keep wickets, open, run around in the outfield, drive the team bus, double up as masseur, do the souvenir shopping etc but no standby for the 'title defence'. 

How about the boffins at BCCI showing some foresight, spending a few pennies and keeping Dinesh Karthik on standby. (Not banking on them to) The obvious counter argument is that DK shone as a late middle order finisher and he may fail as opener. I submit the following reasons.

Outside the current squad (and the 'seniors') let's do a top of the mind recall based on proven ability and promise. T Suman, Manish Pandey, Ajinkya Rahane, Dinesh Karthik, Abhishek Nayar, S Badrinath, Virat Kohli come to mind. Filter them through the following four criteria. 

  1. Experience of a world cup
  2. Reasonably good form and showing in the IPL
  3. Big match temperament/ spunk
  4. Reasonable technique/ opener mindset


DK and Pandey come through. Kohli comes close for his 50 in an ODI in SL. 

DK makes the grade for keeping and his versatility in batting. He opened in England with distinction, yes yes in Tests, I can hear the howls of protest. Point being, he is an adaptable cricketer, feeds on confidence and responsibility and undoubtedly has the nous for the job. 

Let's wait and watch...


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

6 and 20 thoughts on the IPL T20

The thing with such a format is that the business end is over in an action filled blur - one has to think really hard to find moments that linger.

As such the organisers have not learnt from the 2007 world cup T20 where 'less was more'. Meanwhile Lord Lalit has threatened to inflict two IPLs in a year upon us. In addition to the Champions League and the ICC World T20 once in two years. The shark has tasted blood.


AKA Anil Kumble. I know, I know. This is cliched, but it suits the man to a T. While Saurav sulked, VVS faded, Dravid was off and on after a bright start and Sachin chewed nails, tough as nails Anil backed his strength and showed the youngsters the way. Making Jacques Kallis, Ross Taylor and Boucher find their groove after indifferent starts, while Manish Pandey stepped up and Vinay Kumar punched well above his weight (while staying under the radar of wheezing Kiwi commentators). In BRC's last five matches Anil bowled 4 spells of an over each. Opposition off to a start, runs leaking, need wickets - look for him. Certain things never change, even after 17 years. If only Dravid had got a 50 and took them home...both of them could have shown their beer swigging owner his place.

Lasting images – The Finals - celebrations after getting Gilchrist for a duck and giving a mouthful to Robin Uthappa for yet another (failed) paddle shot in the last over.


Is what Matt Hayden does well and he was at his bulldozing best in the league phase. Freed of pressures of retaining his Test spot, Hayden batted of vintage 2001 and world cup 2007. Chennai has adopted him as one of their own and the rumour in government circles is that Karunanidhi may honour him with a 'Kalaimaamani' and a plot of land in the suburbs. Lead CSK to the title next year and the granite relief on Beach Road next to greats of the Tamil pantheon may be him.

Lasting image - moving inside the line and a one handed swipe for six over long leg off the bowling of you know who...


What is a carnival without one (or more) of them? If the IPL was a carnival, Messrs Shastri/Raja/LS/Morrison/Coney were the clowns. Singing Modi's praises whenever he was shown on the screen (with a phone on a ear and a blackberry on another), which was about a dozen times per over, hawking the IPL 20/20 Magazine (it is a good read, it has good articles and good photographs they informed us unfailingly), added theatrical whispers a few yards from dugouts and generally made us understand the value of mute buttons.

Honourable exceptions - SMG who, for once, shelved his parochialism, Harsha Bhogle - as good as ever, Kepler Wessels - no frills no nonsense, like his batting. Morrison was ridiculous, but took Shastri's and Rameez's personal jibes with a cool smile. Rameez took the cake. The batting team required 4 runs to win from 5 balls. Rameez revealed "Its easy. Just 4.8 Runs Per Over needed now." Subcontinentals and Asiatics were always good at math, but this was between WOW and WTH.

Memorable moment - Highlights of Gilchrist 85 in SF1 being shown. Harsha Bhogle says " Let me just keep quiet here". C could be Class too.

Donkey Drops

Is what Yuvraj bowls. Minimum turn, slanting in, at the pads, doesn't show much enthusiasm while doing it, quick to glare at his fielders. Does that remind us of Harbhajan - indeed Bhajji is a right handed Yuvraj minus batting, fielding and of course the hat-tricks.


Not the wide and no-ball kind, but of the Bollywood kind. Only, one was Australia's best fast bowler of all time, another was South Africa's leading fast bowler sometime back and the third was captaining England not too long ago. They came, sat on the sidelines, gave polite TV interviews about great atmosphere in the dressing room and did little else. Not suggesting that it was ever their fault. But the men who led them needed to think long and hard. Incidentally, their teams failed at the penultimate hurdle.

Fake IPL Blogger

Hundreds of comments and thousands of followers. Doubt if writings of Jefferson/ Voltaire/ Gandhi/ Mandela had apostles of such unwavering zeal. I read (and re-read) each one of his posts. Losing his nerve, this pseudo player (who looks like a mix of Rohan Gavaskar, Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Bose) reneged on his promise to his fans.

Everlasting contribution to humanity comparable with Penicillin and Pasteurization - Nicknaming Sreesanth.


12 per over in the last 5? Enter Yusuf Pathan. Predictable shots and predictable results. What was amazing was the sucess rate and the apparent ability to clear the field at will. Raw talent. Credit to his captain for using him well in the early stages of the tournament, like a Kamikaze pilot in neck or nothing situations. Hope Team India could use him in the same way in the ICC World T20. Imran did it with Inzamam in WC '92 using him for a burst of quick runs over a short span of overs, as opposed to sustained big hitting.

High Catches

If Cricinfo keeps the stats of catches that were put down in the tournament, I would want to see how many of them were steeplers. High altitude, they said. Rarer air and different momentum they expounded. Now, if only the pundits told us (and the hapless fielders) how to counter this...


Indian, (trans)Indian Ocean, Indi-pop, Invade, Infest, Infect, Irk, Irritate, Intimidate, Insufferable, Intolerable, Impudent, Ignoble, Importune, Invidious - all right, all right, I admit I opened thesaurus.com for the last three.

Joker in the pack

Jacob Oram would have looked more at home at a benefit match with Madan Lal, Kirti Azad and Roger Binny. Enjoyed a wonderful paid holiday in South Africa and failed to justify his billing and continued presence in the playing 11.


Cyber-coach derailed their campaign even before it could start chugging. Then the badshah fled abandoning his 'happy family' . Bengal Tiger wore a perennial 'I told you so' expression, forgetting perhaps, last year's result (6th out of 8 teams) and generally managed to shock themselves everytime they stepped out - their wins against last years finalists, included. Gladiator helmets, Team Songs, Golden Pads and Designer outfits. If only they could pay some attention to the cricket...

Lalit Modi

Who else? Smiling benignly at lesser mortals, signing autographs for the ardent, thanking President Jacob Zuma (and his own wife and children in the same breath), with all the humility of a Churchill addressing the House of Commons after victory, with the finesse and tact of Karan Thapar, chorusing with Eddy Grant and Shiamak Davar (why him for such an iconic song) for Gimme Hope Joanna - a man of very obvious talents. He has also deigned to give an interview for the IPL 20/20 Magazine. (The same one which is a good read, with good articles and good photographs) Oh! How I would like to part with my money to grab a copy and read what he has to say. In fact I would kill to get hold of one...

He reserved his best for the last. After witnessing an absorbing finale, viewers all eager to listen to the players in their moment of triumph and defeat, were made to wait for an hour, forced to watch a show ( not talking about the merits of which here), not to forget the heroes of the event, themselves shunted to the sidelines. Man, you got to hand it to Lord Lalit. I doff my hat to him.

Honest feeling – the game would be better off when such types stay in their limits.


Two bowlers. One of them is Planet Earth's top wicket taker and another is South Africa's second highest wicket taker in Test history. Between them they shared enough wickets to bowl out a Test side 60 times over. Captain Marvel keeps one of them on the bench for 15 matches in a row and berates his teams bowlers without fail at every opportunity. Man to man Shane Warne has the weakest team, Sachin has the biggest underperformers, McCullum this year and Gilchrist (and VVS) last year kept their chin up after every defeat - yet they did not complain or cry foul. Gilchrist won the (ugly) trophy with a RP and Ojha (certainly no Murali and Ntini) Get a life, jerk!!! You may win a world cup or three. But hell, you can never be a true leader like Saurav.

He is not done yet. Promoting himself ahead better people, he makes 28 runs (no fours and sixes) using up exactly 25% of his team's available overs. Had Dravid or Ganguly done that, they would have been flayed/ crucifed/ quartered/ garroted on the spot by the experts. M is also for Manipulative Misguiding Media Men.

Ness, Priety and their little Nest

Hard to fault them, the poor dears.They spent big money all right. Got the team they wanted. T20 king Yuvraj, classy Lankan duo, the won and wonlee Brett Lee, nerveless finisher with bat and ball Irfan, Sreesanth, Chawla, Powar, VRV - all India internationals. Strong Aussie group, super coach Moody.They thumped all comers last year came unstuck at the first do or die encounter. Overcoming another bad start they won a few close matches but failed to seize their moments and lost their nerve when it mattered. Dhoni and Murali sensed the fear and moved in for the kill. After 2 seasons the score is Dhoni 5 Yuvraj 0. What could Ness & Co possibly do? Cheerleaders from Rio perhaps???


Beauty contests without one coloured participant out of 50, treating South Africa and its people in the way US would treat Congo/Surinam/Western Samoa under the garb of 'giving back'. The game itself was an afterthought for these plunderers. There were reports of how they literally invaded the offices and premises of South African domestic cricket establishements like Natal and Western Province.

Ole!!! the unfailing roar of the crowd every time the bugle sounded. To survive this Indian rampage and still find motivation to pay and turn up match after match, salute the South African public. True sport lovers and true sports.



Quest for redemption...

DC's finally ended last Sunday. A team finishing last and winning only 2 out of 14 (that is one less than even KKR's tally this year folks) should win the (ugly) trophy this year. Not many changes in personnel, except that they didnt hesitate to bench non-performers (Read- No room for the likes of Arjun Yadav). Afridi's non availability was a blessing in disguise, as was Symond's return for the business end. All said and done, they did not blast the opposition out of the place , except for Gilly in the semi-final. Most of their important wins were hard fought, scrappy affairs. Goes to show that they were NOT head and shoulders above competitors and perhaps a middling team.

Memorable moments

1. Gilchrist smiling, clapping and encouraging Harmeet after the bowler concedes 10 runs from his first few balls. We know what Harmeet went on to do.

2. Gilchrist acknowledging Kumble /BRC and also thanking Hyderabad fans , hugging sundry DC officals during the victory lap.

He may have written about Sachin in a poor light, he may walk only when he suits him, but he is the biggest matchwinner of our times. Go well Gilly.

Rohit & Raina

Raina & Rohit. A few years back some of us thought Kaif & Yuvraj could be the next Dravid & Ganguly. We have gotten no closer to finding people of similar class and ability who can serve Indian cricket similarly for a similar tenure. Bat them at 3 and 4 for 25 ODI's at a stretch and come to a judgement. Dhoni must be told to put 'flexibility' in the trash bin and bat no higher than No.6 in any form of cricket. I am willing to wager that these two will come good. Tests, well, there is hope.

Different styles. Rohit seems to have that extra moment for everything. Defensive shots are soft touches as opposed to hurried jabs. Raina uses his reach and pivots on a firm base for big hits on the on side. Plenty of loose ends in the latter's game (a bit of a flat track bully), while Rohit's bane has been lack of concentration. If only they had come through in Saurav's time...


Hard to see him returning next year. The Icon thingie hangs like a millstone around his neck. Much like it did with Dravid. Taking defeats too personally, following results with batting order changes, and perhaps being too nice with his local bunch of Rahanes, Rajes and Kulkarni's. Zaheer's injury came at an inopportune time, but by then they had started their campaign well. Since SRT can do no wrong, lets call Shaun Pollock names for shunting JP Duminy up and down. He was all grace in defeat though, unlike some of the poster-boys. His unquestioned acceptance of Harbhajan irks me though...(I am biased here, but what the hell, its my blog)

Test Cricket

Can't wait for it to begin

Teja - Dwaraka Ravi Teja. Not a performance to shout from rooftops. I dont know/care how many runs he made. From his batting I can see that he is a supple and athletic individual with quick hands. One runout against the Rajasthan Royals stood out. The ball was played in front of point into the gap and the batsmen set off immediately. With one fluid movement, Teja ran, gathered wound up and caught the stumps at the bowlers end in the top 1/3rd. All sleekness and feline grace. To stand out in a team that fields Gibbs, Symonds and Rohit...that is something in itself.


They went largely unnoticed, except for a handful of decisions. Well done, gentlemen. Some were a little harsh on the wide calls, but never mind, bowlers, like the dancing girls are meant to entertain. The 60 yard ropes are the main course. Did Bucknor retiring have something to do with the lack of glaring errors.


With all those mandarins hogging the stage, Adam Gilchrist skirted the perimeter, Rohit and RP looked dazzled by the glittering eminence on view. Only Kumble looked at ease in the intense glare.

Walking Wickets (except for a game maybe)

Jesse Ryder Parthiv Patel Swapnil Asnodkar Sunny Sohal Graeme Smith  Viru Sehwag Gautham Gambhir Robin Uthappa, take a bow gentlemen.


That xtra something to make things happen, just by striding out into a situation or taking the ball in hand or sometimes a stunning catch out of nowhere.Step up Anil Kumble, Suresh Raina. Andrew Symonds, Yuvraj Singh and Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Tillekeratne Dilshan


There were a few who impressed.Pragyan Ojha - Many were convinced that he slimed to the Indian team courtesy a selector, but he has proved himself in the few international opportunities he got. Fielding needs improvement. Here he took the burden of being the lead spinner very well and got a number of crucial wickets.Manish Pandey - In a tournament full of superstars, the least known kid walked away with two of the best knocks played one of them the highest score for the year. 

He stays still, doesn't commit himself on either foot and delays the shot by a moment. Well placed twos stood out in his hundred apart from the classy shots. His square driving in the semi final stopped CSK in their tracks.Among others, Sudip Tyagi, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane had impressed. As had Ravindra Jadeja,  Amit Singh and Vinay Kumar. 


The newly elected president thanked Modi, thanked Shakrook Khan, Preity Zinta and engaged in keen conversation with Shilpa Shetty. Ah!The duties of a host...