Sehwag rules and Big Two falter – India in SL Galle Test Day 1

July 31, 2008

Sehwag played an almost uncharacteristic innings to steer India to a respectable total. As he got to his fifty, he played a very responsible hand sans the traditional “I am holier than thou” atttitude. It might seem hypocritical of me to brand Sehwag with attitude, as it is that very aggressive nature that has got him (and India) double and triple centuries. But that’s the way its been with Viru. Even while he played the responsible hand, punishment was meted out to the bad balls – a very Hayden-esque manner. Or maybe that takes credit away from Viru. I particularly enjoyed both his and Gambhir’s onslaught of the flatter of Mendis of Murali’s deliveries. Atta, boy(s)! Way to show the kid his place. Gambhir gave good company too. Maybe India has found it opening combination in Tests too.

If you’re wondering why the above reads Big Two falter (instead of Big 3), according to the laws, Sec 32(e) to be precise, Dravid should not have been given out. While there is speculation if the ball first hit Dravid’s own helmet or the fielder’s shoulder, it seemed to have hit the fielder’s helmet before Warnapura took the catch. Skeptics check it out here.

I have no words for Tendulkar and Ganguly and some sympathy for Dravid (although that should have been a better shot) – he finds a way to be given out in the most bizarre ways. Critics and Vengsarkar will only see the scores not the trivia. Dravid! Wake up! Please!

While we’re on the topic of Dravid, I find it interesting that two other #3 batsmen have been struggling for some time now: Michael Vaughan and Jacques Kallis (not to mention Ponting, who has aside of some aberrations, been in rather woeful form since Oct 2007). While Kallis seems to have found it this evening, Vaughan is still looking for it. What is it with these #3s? Is it us? Do we notice their failure more than others because the #3’s success or failure can psychologically, if not really, turn the course of game?

Meanwhile the umpiring referral has taken a new turn. The on field umpire seems to be becoming more conscious of his shortcomings and keeps his fingers in his pocket if he isn’t sure. Should they have always been this way? Given batsmen out only when they actually are? In case you’re wondering, I’m still ambivalent of this referral/review system.

At stumps with Laxman and Sehwag at the crease, India would do well to reach 300, though I doubt if that will be enough to win the game. If there’s anything to be thankful for it’s the toss. At least this way, India wouldn’t be batting in the fourth innings. With the pitch being all cracked-up even on Day 1 and the rain adding its bit to the already complex looking wicket, I think it would only be fair if Sri Lanka get to play through the wicked phases of the pitch.


India lose 1st Test on Day 4 – India in Sri Lanka 2008

July 27, 2008

The agony is finally over. If it was agonizing for the Indian batsmen, it was equally so for us to watch that. A rain-delayed Test match that initially seemed destined for boring draw, gave India its third greatest defeat on the 4th day and has raised scathing questions of India’s Fab Four (in fact, Fab Five, including Kumble who went wicketless).

I actually started writing this post hours after the innings defeat to Sri Lanka, but didn’t get around to writing more than the first sentence. Perhaps that was for good, for it wouldn’t have been anything more than ranty, rambly, irritated, angry and haunted. Today, I feel very differently about it and have more sympathy for the batting line up, than they have been getting in the last 24 hrs. That’s not to say there is no anger, neither is there any proper excuse for the manner in which the batting folded completely, but if at all there is any slack to be cut it is for this Indian line up. This Indian line up won against at good South African line up, a weak Pakistan team, and had Australia on the mat on several occasions, so much so that Gilchrist conceded that India won the series 2-1. Somehow, we have forgotten all that and ranted in typical Indian fashion. So what caused this colossal debacle? We can only speculate in hindsight. Maybe it was complacency, maybe it was lack of preparation, perhaps it was even a sense of taking Sri Lanka too lightly (or at least lighter than they should have), but to me the most unforgivable part of this collapse was the lack of fighting-spirit and self-belief among the top order batsmen.

Let’s look at this from a first innings vs. second point of view, and a bit objectively shall we? To me the first innings seemed more like a mix of less-than-50% effort,”neither-here-nor-there” faith, rashness, and complacency than lack of skill or being bamboozled. The second innings was starkly different: one of over-cautiousness, despair, resignment to loss and finding the quickest route to it.

Here is my analysis by batsmen:

Sehwag: started rather aggressively, though many suggest (and I agree) it was more brainless than foolhardy. He was in T20 mode, but he has always be in that mode, even before that form of the game exsisted. In the second, he played with a bit more brain, maybe had some harsh words from coach Kirsten, but was given out on a very contentious decision. What are the umpires paid for? Can’t they make it through one match (or even one innings without a glaringly wrong one). The on-field umpire (though this was Mr. Incompetent Benson who I have ZERO respect for him), I understand – he has only a split second to decide – but not third umpire Koertzen who could have very well caught the deflection off the pad, if only his eyes were open.

Gambhir: played in T20 fashion, but quite well, better than I had expected, especially in the second innings. There was a trace of intent to occupy the crease. Though he fell to Murali in the very early overs in the first innings, and then again to Murali in the second, the latter was a more patient Gambhir. This kid will learn and must be persisted with, above any of the younger lot.

Dravid: arguably the tragedy of the batting line up. Is it the media pressure,or the board pressure for wanting him to keep wickets else get lost? He started the first innings rather positively – that uppish shot off Murali(?) which fetched him one of his two boundaries from that outing was nothing short of positive. But he was clearly bamboozled by Mendis’s carrom. The second innings demotion from #3 was possibly to allow Laxman to hold one end, or even in the hopes of an Eden repeat from 2001, but this move probably shattered the shards of self-confidence that he brought. I don’t know what has happened to India’s never-say-die man with so-called nerves of steel. If anyone deserves any faith, it’s him. God save Dravid!

Tendulkar: The man most capable of tackling Murali, with an average in the 60s against him, threw his wicket away in the first innings. He seemed to be in half a mind whether to play it or leave it, and ended up dragging it on to his stumps. Forgivable? By Tendulkar’s standards, no, but nobody’s perfect. The second innings dismissal is just sad. There isn’t much else to be said there.

Ganguly: first innings rashness and a saw him play a sweep shot, when he knew a fielder was there. Completely uncalled for while chasing a mammoth score. The second innings attempt by Ganguly was nothing short of callous carelessness. He had already given up, not wanting to fight it out.

VVS Laxman: Ok, I don’t have the heart to blast him, not after that tremendous effort in the first innings. No one, I repeat, no one else can fight with the tail, without losing hope, even in the most hopeless situations. In times of dire need, there is a sense of relief when he takes to the crease; a feeling that the damage will stop, even if it is to delay the eventual. He deserves to bat at #3, though nobody else can bat so successfully with the tail at #6. With Dravid in the state he is in at the moment, it seemed logical to promote him (which I had suggested here), but he fell and too quickly for the Indians to digest.

Dinesh Karthik: I think he has reached the end of his sudden stroke of luck in Dhoni’s absense. Though I will not be surprized if he makes in next XI, that might just be it.

Having said all this about the Indian batting, it was a collective failure that cost India dear – batting, bowling and fielding. You cannot allow fear to overcome skill. Umpiring atrocities notwithstanding, you cannot drop a batsmen twice, that too the likes of Jayawardene, and expect the favor to be returned or to win a test match. You cannot bowl to pass time without any regard to line and length. On the other hand, you must not milk a fast bowler till he bleeds. Kudos to Ishant for a gutsy showing with the bat: he lasted 70 mins with Laxman and faced 54 balls, for his 13.

Credit must be given to Ajantha Mendis for getting two of India’s best – Laxman and Dravid – not once but twice. That is more credit that I could ever write. Murali was perhaps his normal self. The pressure that both the spinner put from either end helped them both.

What now for India? Some gameplan, strategy and tons of self-belief and courage. Meanwhile shall we stop the trash talk for moment? This series ain’t over yet!


India totter – India in Sri Lanka 2008 1st Test Day 3

July 25, 2008

As many of us bloggers predicted it was Murali who wrecked havoc in the famed Indian batting line up. If there was one surprize, it was Dravid falling to Mendis.

It would have been unfair to expect Gambhir to tackle Murali and fair to expect Jayawardene to bring on the spinners in the 10th over (a ploy that has previous worked for him). Sehwag was his usual reckless self. Tendulkar wasn’t sure whether to play or leave Murali’s doosra, Ganguly couldn’t control the sweep, and the shot that Karthik offered to Murali was disastrous and may just seal his fate out of the Test side. While that would certainly be unfair to him, something better would have been expected from him, especially towards the end of the day’s play.

So where from now? Laxman is left to bat with the tail for the umpteenth time in his Test career. I would think India would be lucky to make 180 before they are all out. Looking at the stats and the stature of the batting line up, it would only be expected of them to draw the game. It was a similar side that, after following on, beat Australia, but differences remain. The self-belief seems lacking, at least to us. The Ganguly-spirit is also missing. Additionally, the seniors – the core of the bating line up – seem to be under pressure and want to prove something. Trying too hard has got them to this stage now. With these parameters in mind, a draw seems bleak, but I wouldn’t write ’em off yet.


The Umpire Review System – India in Sri Lanka 2008 1st Test Day 1,2

July 24, 2008

Two days have gone. Allright, really one day and a bunch of overs have gone and this battle seems to be lot less interesting that what it was touted to be. But maybe it’s too early to judge.

As for India, the intensity wasn’t there. After all the “we need more intensity” statement making by Zaheer Khan, he ended up being the more erratic bowler with the second new ball.Umpire Mark Benson wasn’t helping either. Is it just me or did he seem too harsh (to the point of getting his revenge from the Sydney Test fiasco) with the no-balling of Zaheer? I thought that c&b decision early on Day 2 no-balled by Benson wasn’t right. Kumble wasn’t amused either. Technically, if the foot lands on or before the line, that is what counts, not that it skid later. Remember that dismissal of Jaffer in the Sydney Test. Allright, I’ll move on ahead from here – back to the match. I only watched the highlights, so I won’t comment on the Sri Lankan batting or the teams’ use of the review system. While that is case, it was interesting that the young members of this squad – Gambhir and Kathik – dropped more catches than fielding howlers by the India seniors. But I’m pretty sure, if things go badly, the BCCI and Dhoni will have their way with branding the seniors. (Ok, couldn’t resist that taking at dig at MSD).

On the umpire review system, while it a step ahead, I’m afraid it will induce a new parameter to deal with, espcially with the three unsuccessful appeals. When to use/save these referrals will add a new needless dimension. What if you’ve used all the appeals, you are nine down on Day 5 of a Test match and a tail ender is given out off a delivery he didn’t nick? Isn’t that just as bad as not having the system at all. If you’re wonder if I’m going the Ian Chappel way with this, no, I’m not. If you ask me, why cap the number unsuccesful appeals. Also, why stop with only the decision of whether the batsmen is out or not. Any decision that seems wrong should be referred. Umpires are human and that is respected, but when help is available to enable the right team win, I don’t see why it shouldn’t be used.

Meanwhile a thing that has been bothering me for a while. Why isn’t there a better rating system for umpires? If a batsmen/bowler isn’t worth a spot in a squad, he is forced out of the door. When this is the case, why should the umpire survive after giving several howlers. Yes there is shortage of umpires, but that is perhaps for a reason too, which need addressing. There seems to be no way to tell the incompetent from the good ones, which is unfair to the good umpires. Perhaps incompetence and fear of that fact that might get hightlighted even more is why Benson feels the way he does about the review system.

As for the rest of this match, I see it inching towards a draw, unless India tumble to the spinners.


India’s tour of Sri Lanka 2008 begins

July 22, 2008

Yes, it’s finally here. I have been waiting for this India’s tour of Sri Lanka ever since the IPL ended (to be honestly about half-way thru the IPL), and almost feverishly after that Asia cup final which gave Mendis instant fame.

While India returns to its time-tested and experienced lot, I will resume my slightly biased blogging with the occasional pretense of objectivity 😉 Why you may ask? In the recently concluded Kitply and Asia Cup ODI series, I was indifferent, almost anti-Indian, as the team didn’t feel Indian-enough for some reason. But this Indian team is our age-old one and a loved one featuring the Big Three, Fab Four, Fab Five, whatever you want to call it. There is also the added evil joy in the absense of Dhoni (sorry SP and other Dhoni fans).

There’s plenty to excitement in store: umpiring referral, Tendulkar’s record beckoning, Mendis against the famed Indian batsmen, Murali vs. Dravid, Ganguly vs. Vaas (Dada has creamed him the past), Indian spinners and Dinesh Karthik.

So time to cheer. Indiyaah! Indiyaah!