A drab series ended: India-Pak 2007

November 20, 2007

Is it just me or was this India-Pak series just a little drab. There wasn’t too much of see-saw or nail-biting. Granted India did well, after a seemingly long draught of ODIs series victories, but this wasn’t what the India-Pak fan expected to see. There was no Shoaib-Tendulkar/Ganguly frenzy nothing much to look forward to with excitement.

For me the most disappointing thing in the series was Pak’s lack of enthusiasm. They just weren’t being Pakistan barring the final ODI esp after they got Tendulkar. Tanvir’s mad punch in the air after getting Tendulkar was the essence of what Pakistan represents. They thrive in aggression and aggression helps them raise the level of their game. Seriously, this was a tame Pakistani side; so tame, that they looked like India under Dravid (don’t get me wrong, Dravid is a fine batsman, but I was never a fan of his captaincy).

Shoiab Malik’s captaincy was fairly boring. He seems to lack the courage to try something different, let alone gamble. In fact, I can draw many parallels between Malik and Dravid’s captaincy, the chief one being defensive techniques employed. But one feels sorry for the man who has been recieving flak for everything he seems to be doing. Ramiz Raja seems to be heaping it truckloads. The other disappointing factor from the Pak side was the absence of Imran Nazir in the first 4 ODI. Nazir, to me, is a classic Pakistani one day opener who can thrill with all the frills (but can also fail miserably under trying conditions)  ala Afridi (who also disappointed big time) and provide a good platform for the middle order.

From the Indian side, there isn’t much for me to say aside of what I have I already been saying about the past few matches. A good victory, but this isn’t anything to gloat about; if Pakistan had been even 10% better, the result could have be harder to achieve if not different. Many things worked for India:
– Dhoni’s captaincy
– Good opening partnerships
– Tendulkar’s in sublime form (or should I say holy)
– Yuvraj-Dhoni’s consistent contributions
– Better pace bowling
Some things look good for the future:
– Rohit Sharma’s gritty innings in the fifth ODI
– RP Singh and Irfan Pathan’s contributions through the series

Having said all that, the fifth ODI was a little bit of an aberration for the current resurgent India. Not just because that they lost, but the manner in which they did. If you were wondering what it would have been to watch Indian cricket in the 90s, this was what it generally was: mediocre bowling from the spearheads, abysmal part-time bowling, lazy fielding, and batting collapses. Ok, the fifth ODI wasn’t as bad, but fearfully close. The fielding was back to its lackadaisical style; the bowling was fairly poor except for flashes of brilliance from Sreesanth (which was followed by some big-time ball-spraying). Praveen Kumar had a fairly good debut, but I was more impressed with the new Pak wicketkeeper Sarfraz Nawaz and new-kid-on-the-block Fawad Alam. I had written about Rohit Sharma earlier and he definitely a promising prospect for post-Dravid India at #3. Indian batting fell apart with flashy and almost reckless Tendulkar dismissed after a dangerous shot; ditto for Sehwag. Gambhir was unfortunate but not as much as Yuvraj. Uthappa at #3 was a mistake; to me he is more of an opener (in the right conditions) or excellent #5. Even the 2 sevens on Dhoni’s borrowed shirt couldn’t save India.

One other aspect of this series that has been on my mind is the relative ease with which both teams are being fined. First for slow over rate, then heavily fining Afridi and Gambhir and then Yuvraj for dissent (though I saw the coming the moment he gestured to the umpire). One wonders why a baby-face Ponting who blinks after lbw decisions and close stumpings doesn’t get the same treatment. If we are to copy the Aussies here, shall we call this racism?


India seal series 3-1 against Pakistan

November 16, 2007

After a 24 year draught, India have pulled it off convincingly against Pakistan at home. I had written earlier that this series involves two closely matched sides, but I have now been proved wrong. Pakistan pulled an India (from the 1990s) and India pulled off something that is almost unbecoming of an Indian cricket team: sealing a series before the final match. There’s still one match to go in the series, so I’ll save my thoughts on the entire series for after that.

Many things went into the record books for the Indians in the Gwalior ODI. First, 18 years to this very day, a boy who would become Master blaster Tendulkar set foot in the international cricket arena against the same opponent. Sourav Ganguly picked up his 100th ODI wicket in Afridi: not a bad 100th to get! Giving him company was Zaheer Khan who picked up his 200th. Captain Dhoni who hit the winning stroke for six has now done that for a record 5 times.

After all that, the Gwalior ODI will be remembered by most Indian fans for the blistering innings from Tendulkar; an innings that will shut his critics up for some time to come; an innings that should have gotten him his much sought after 42nd century. But sadly, for the sixth time this year, that was not to be. A fellow blogger called it Tendulkar-nineties and it remained that this time around also. Perhaps he should have listened to his son and gone for a six when on 94! Perhaps the problem is with the fact that he wants to get the ton on singles. I think that is part of the problem; until the 90s, he is blazing, but when in the nineties he seems to stop playing his natural game. That apart, this innings from Tendulkar proved one significant fact: this man is nowhere near retirement; he played strokes like a batsman in his prime. This one was definitely the finest Tendulkar innings I have seen so far.

Many things came together for India in the Gwalior ODI: the bowling was better, the fielding sharper and the chasing impressive with Yuvraj and Dhoni seeing India through. What would be more satisfying would be to give some members on the ODI-bench some time in the middle, esp Rohit Sharma and Sreesanth. One move that surprised me (one each for India and Pak) is the exclusion of Sreesanth and Imran Nazir from the playing eleven. It would be nice to see both of them play. The Indian line-up I would like to see is: Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sharma, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Uthappa, Sehwag, Pathan, R P Singh, Harbhajan, Sreesanth.

Will Pakistan save face or will India dominate? Jaipur will hold the answer.

When in doubt, side with the richer clown!

November 13, 2007

What else can I say about the BCCI’s take on siding with the Australian cricket board on the rights issue concerning agency photographers? Cricinfo reports on the matter here. Whenever there is a slight smell of money the BCCI runs towards it like a hound. Didn’t we see this coming?

Going along this path (stretching it a little bit), maybe the cricket boards would contemplate charging bloggers who write about cricket; for we are getting some eye-ball time aren’t we. Or maybe, stretching this even further, the boards can consider charging the cricket players to pay a fee on a per-match basis to play for their team: for the cricketers are making a fortune out of the game!

When will the BCCI learn that such blatant copying of the Aussie will be of no good? It must be said here that this ‘aping of the West’ has become a malady observed among developing nations, including India but that is another topic for another day perhaps. Why are we obsessed with the Aussies for the wrong reasons? The BCCI craved for an Aussie coach, who could only leave the Indian cricket team in shambles. In an attempt to ape their selection policy, we now have dual-captaincy. God save Indian cricket from the BCCI!

Marvan Attapattu could well have been referring to cricket boards and selectors in general when he made his famous (not infamous – I salute the man for his guts) statement about the Sri Lankan board/selectors being “set of muppets headed by a joker.”  Should we call cricket a muppeteers’s show puppeteered by clowns also known as cricket boards?

Happy Birthday Uthappa!

November 12, 2007

Uthappa turned 22 yesterday. Success seems to have come to him at an age where many only start think of their first job, career, etc. But it was not without a lot of hard work and toil. Check out this cricinfo feature on the young Karnataka batting bombshell. Apparently he almost gave up on cricket; thankfully for India he only almost did.
The thing that struck me the most on reading the feature on Uthappa was his unbelievably positive mindset and his unshakable faith in and love for God.

Wish you many many more successful years, Robin!

India-Pak ODI series leveled at Mohali

November 9, 2007

As an India-Pak series fan, if you were wondering what happened to the see-saw effect, well, you just got a dose of that at Mohali. I had written earlier that the two teams are more evenly matched this time than ever before; yesterday’s match, I think, proved what was not obvious on paper.

India entered the Mohali ODI as favorites to win the match, but complacency saw them lose a match that was until the last 10 overs very much in their bag. After scoring 300+ batting first, India let Pakistan cut loose with Afridi doing his boom-boom in the last few overs.

Although things don’t look too bad for India, there is plenty to think about. Looking at the Indian batting there are still plenty of holes to be plugged. Sachin and Gambhir did very well, the overly hyped Yuvraj and Dhoni flopped big-time, and Uthappa went cheaply and is becoming a favorite lbw candidate (much like Andrew Strauss) for many bowlers. Indian fielding, while a smidgen better than Pakistan, has still a long way to go to near the high standards set by South Africa and Australia. I can recall at least 4 catches that should have been taken. Speaking of temperment, while much is being said of Sreesanth’s ‘making-faces-and-staring-aggro’, Yuvraj needs to keep his temper too. Yuvraj’s on-field behavior yesterday made one think that there might be more than one reason why he was not made captain and isn’t much of a serious favorite.

Pakistan on other other hand didn’t really win the match, as much as India lost it. Credit must be given to them for pulling it off, but in my opinion, for the first 25 overs, they didn’t look to be even trying to win. It was shocking to see the Pak run rate plummet to 4-odd when Shoiab Malik was at crease; you would expect the captain of a side to show and tell, or at least try. What was more shocking was to see Misbah, now touted as India’s best friend, fall to the same paddle shot (although in slightly different manner) as in the T20 World Cup final. What Pakistan did yesterday in their batting was what most commentators say chasing sides should do while chasing big totals: bat through the entire 50 overs; and the run certainly came, with India’s mediocre bowling and shoddy fielding in the middle overs contributing considerably.

With Rahul Dravid’s continued absence in the ODI side, it remains to be seen if the selectors will see the need for his presence. While the outcome of the Mohali ODI has brought some life back into the series, India still have a small edge in this series, lest they don’t let it slip!