Mendis propells Sri Lanka to lift Asia Cup 2008

July 8, 2008

Ajantha Mendis was the reason for me to watch the Asia Cup final. Though I wished the result went the other way, it was an interesting cricket match to see, unlike several other matches in same tournament and the recently concluded Kitply Cup; also a good lesson learned for the Indian batting line-up and Dhoni.

To me, death-by-spin was bound to happen to this Indian batting line up. While Q states here that Mendis ran through a line-up known as the best players of spin, I say that while that is historically true, it isn’t of this batting line up. This Indian line up with “I-don’t-play-spin” Yuvraj and inexperienced youth like Rohit Sharma and Uthappa, who in my opinion lack soundness in technique that has thus far embodied Indian batting, is far from deserving of the “best players of spin” tag. Historically, India earned the tag because the batsmen had a chance to play against the some of best spinners. That is no longer the case. Other than Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, there isn’t too much of interesting stuff in India’s spin closet. And no, Piyush Chawla, though seemingly effective, has a long way to go.

As for Yuvraj, if I were captain, I wouldn’t know what to do with him. He’s doubtless got talent, but I’m of the opinion that you can’t play spin, you don’t belong in the middle order. Perhaps he can open the innings – something that if I recall correctly, he has reservations about. Even better would be to pack him off to play Ranji – and he isn’t the only one who should be going. So much for a guy who’s upset over not making to a Test XI.

Meanwhile, our “anti-Ganguly-Dravid” friend Ottayan (I took the liberty of branding you that, Ott) suggests that this web around the batting line up is likely to heighten voices “clamoring for Ganguly and Dravid” in the ODIs. Yes, Ott, it might do just that. Though I must say you surprised me with your comment as  “..itself is not a bad thing”. Guarded though it was, it was defense for “the Arms”, as Soulberry calls them. Yes, Ottayan, I will resume my own clamoring though I have done that time and again. 🙂 Thank you for egging me on.

Honestly, if were allowed to pick only two seniors, they would be Tendulkar and Dravid, who will play at the cost of Yuvraj and Sharma(?), at #4 and #3 respectively.

So what of Dhoni’s captaincy in the final? Well there isn’t much one can do if you pick Uthappa in place of a bowler. RP Singh has been off color and Irfan Pathan seems lost. These are folk, who along with Rohit Sharma (who I have lost patience with) that I will drop. The youngsters need seasoning and there is nothing like good hard Ranji for that.

Going back to Mendis, a star is truly born. He still has to a lot to prove, but judging by what we’ve seen so far, he augurs well for Sri Lankan cricket and for spin bowling.

This will make India’s upcoming tour of Sri Lankan more watchable. Mendis or not, I was interested in the ODI series for the Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid against Murali foremost and umpire-challenging second. But the ODI series is now spiced up with Mendis being a definte inclusion. If he is picked for Test, then all the merier.

Bring it on! I can’t wait for this tour!


India thrill at the WACA – 3rd Test at Perth

January 20, 2008

India has made it into the history books once again, after this victory at the WACA becoming the only sub-continent country to trounce the Aussies at their home-advantage ground. A memorable feat considering that India were 2 down in the series, embroiled in controversy, and written off completely. This was supposed to the be the match in which Australia would steamroll their way to a 17-match winning streak, in which Shaun Tait would sizzle by bowling at 170 kmph, in which Australia could crush India with a 4-pronged pace attack and make mockery of the halchal that India raised after the controversial Sydney Test, but that wasn’t to be. India thwarted the Aussie streak yet again.

There were several memorable moments in this game for me, Dravid in the first innings, Laxman pulling it off yet again in the second, and so on, but if I were to chose one, it would be Ishant Sharma’s magical 7+ over spell. The young teenager had one of the best batsmen in the world poking, leaving, and beaten before he finally claimed Ponting for the second time in this Test match. And this was the boy who, even as recent as the Pakistan series, looked too raw for Test cricket. This awe-inspiring story will definitely live on for years to come. Three cheers for Ishant!

Another heartening thing from this match was to see the so-called inexperienced Indian bowling attack blossom. It may be a tad too early to call this the beginning of a new age of Indian pace bowling, but it certainly instills a lot of hope. It was also good to see Sehwag and Pathan back in the squad contributing all round. Way to go India! Way to square the series!


“The Princes” Yuvraj and Ganguly Rock Bangalore – 3rd Test Day 1

December 8, 2007

What a day of cricket! After having won the toss and electing to bat first, India were off to a disastrous start. If Rahul “Wall” Dravid’s fall very early in the day to a very un-Dravid-ian shot seemed like a bad omen, the unthinkable happened when Laxman was shockingly bowled for a meager 5. Within the first hour and a half, India had lost 4 wickets and were tottering on 61-4. It was then that that Ganguly and Yuvraj brought forth a mind-blowing, record breaking 300-run partnership to electrify the crowds at the Chinnaswamy Stadium (and TV viewers alike) and take the momentum away from Pakistan. Both played their natural games: Ganguly with his experience-laden vintage knock and Yuvraj with his aggressive attacking style that is bound to give the shivers to many opponent bowlers.

The experienced southpaw offered good support to his younger teammate; and I say support not because Ganguly merely supported: his consecutive ton in this series deserves all the praise and more for the endurance, adamant patience, and positively attitude. I say Ganguly supported only because Yuvraj bedazzled everyone with strokes of absolute brilliance. Sambit Bal writes it was a touch of Brian Lara, but to me Yuvraj replaced Tendulkar in a very different way: he made batting look ridiculously easy; that, a statement often said of Tendulkar.

The Ganguly-Yuvraj partnership had many things in common. Apart from the fact that both were left-handers, they played several strokes with the arrogance fitting of their princely nicknames. The positive attitude shown in a trying time sets an example for many young and upcoming cricketers. All cricketing apart, to me the most wonderful moment of the day was Ganguly’s celebration on Yuvraj’s century.

Dada celebrates teamates's landmark
Sourav celebrates Yuvraj’s landmark
Pic courtesy: Hindustan Times

It was honest and from the heart – almost like an older brother, ebbing with pride of his younger sibling’s success – so much that Ganguly celebrated his own century with much less ado. Sambit Bhal puts this beautifully; he writes of Ganguly “..Not that he would have grudged it [Yuvraj’s belligerence] a whit: his eyes shone brighter when he celebrated his team-mate’s century than when he reached his own” (emphasis mine).

Ganguly and Yuvraj celebrate Yuvraj's ton
Ganguly congratulates Yuvraj on ton.
Pic courtesy: Cricinfo

But sadly, like all good things must end, so did the Yuvraj-Ganguly partnership after reaching a landmark 300 runs with only 5 overs to spare till the end of day’s play. I had expected Ganguly to fall earlier and Yuvraj to reach 200, but it was Ganguly’s partner who perished to a shot that he didn’t seem to have commited to. With the spectacular innings from Yuvraj coming at a time when everything from his technique to temperment in the longer version of the game have been questioned, he leaves the selector’s with a happy headache.One couldn’t help but notice the difference when a rattled and tentative-looking Dinesh Karthik took Yuvraj’s place at the crease. Karthik seemed to be looking to survive the day, and he did having scored 3 from 10 balls with Ganguly on 125. Personally, I would like to see Ganguly get to 150, though a double ton to him would be a great morale booster before the tour of Australia. As long as Dada stays, India will see some runs, after that, only Pathan (if he doesn’t run out of partners very quickly) might add some quick runs. Until then. Go Yuvi! Go Dada! Way to show ’em how its done!


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?


Looking forward to the India-Pakistan ODI Series

November 4, 2007

The much hyped India-Pakistan series is almost here. I see many things different about this series compared to the ones from the recent past. Firstly, both sides are young and fairly inexperienced (at least in comparison to teams from previous clashes). Secondly, both sides have new/inexperienced captains. Thirdly, I think, this time they are more evenly matched than ever before; and this is the case chiefly due to the absence of some key players from both sides: Inzamam for Pakistan, Dravid for India (although it remains to be seen if Dravid will make a comeback later in the ODI series).

The Youth vs. the Wise
If there is anything that adds the extra spice to the already red-hot series, it is the youth. The youth are known to be fearless, yet can also be reckless. The lack the wisdom that comes with grey hair and perhaps the temperament required to poke around and see through a wildly swinging new ball. This is good reason to expect more of the extremes: massive 20-20 style hitting leading ala Uthappa or Nazir leading to huge totals or low scoring matches caused by batting collapses.

New Captains
Malik and Dhoni are fairly new to the captain’s seat and this will be a test for both. But I see them as having very different personalities. Malik is the laid-back quiet type of guy (like Dravid in some ways, although not as cautious with the communication skills) who I think may not be able to inspire his young guns. Dhoni on the other hand, comes off as a no-nonsense, outspoken (enough to poke one although good-temperedly at Ravi Shastri) type of person who seems to be able to bring out the yearning from his young lads. More importantly, Dhoni is a gambler, a trait that many successful captains. If I were asked to pick the better of the both, though I have a little bit of a soft corner for Malik – I’ve never had one for any other Pakistani captain I’ve seen – it would be Dhoni without a doubt.

More Evenly Matched than Ever
I remember this thought I had from a few years ago. I always thought that Pakistan had a lot of wild cards in their batting line up: people who, if it starts to go well, could blaze away ala Moin Khan, Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi. Today, with Tendulkar and Ganguly becoming increasingly susceptible (thanks to replays) the absence of ‘Wall’ Dravid and the featuring of the flashy Yuvraj, Uthappa and Dhoni, the Indian middle order has the shares unpredictable wildness of its Pakistani counterpart. On the brighter side for India, its bowling has a little more sting than during the times of Srinath (with due respect). Pakistan’s bowling has always been its strength and I think it will continue to be the case this time also.

Players to watch
In an India-Pakistan series, one can expect to see something special from almost every member, but these are my picks for people to watch for:

India
Strength
: Batting – 75% Bowling – 60%
Batsmen: Robin Uthappa and Mahendra Singh Dhoni for fire power; Sachin Tendulkar for experience and class
Bowlers: Irfan Pathan – can get breakthroughs and make a difference in the middle overs
* Honorable mention: Rohit Sharma (if he gets picked) – potential to become a good #3; Sreesanth – we might see some substance behind the dramatic paceman; Murali Karthik – bamboozling spin

Pakistan
Strength
: Batting-65% Bowing- 70%
Batsmen: Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi for pinch hitting power, Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan for stabilizing capability
Bowlers: Umar Gul – consistency, Shoaib Akthar – pace power
* Honourable mention: Afridi – his bowling might bother a few in the Indian batting line up.

Happy watching!