Ind vs Aus 2008-09 2nd Test Preview: Why are we so unsure?

October 15, 2008

The Mohali Pitch will not be the “usual Mohali” pitch. It will have bounce initially but will turn later. God! What does this mean? What do we do if we lose the toss?

Pacers and Kumble can use the bounce. But what if Ponting has figured out Ishant? Have all the Aussies gotten a hang of Kumble?

“Danger man” Stuark Clark may not play? But Peter Siddle may debut. What if our middle order can’t figure him out – given our records from a Lee in ’99 to Chris Tremlet in 2007 and Ajantha Mendis in 2008 (bowlers on debut)?

What if we can’t get Hussey at all?

It’s raining in Mohali. What could that mean?

Seriously, is it just me?


Mission 2011 World Cup: Wrong Path?

August 19, 2008

The Indian ODI side has lost another battle to Mendis. I’d written them off even before a single ball was bowled in the series. Soulberry is postively miffed and strangely I thought they should have been doing exactly what SB suggests.

But the anxiety and emotion isn’t just about this series. It is about the so-called mission to win the World Cup in 2011.

While there is value in the vision itself (I do have some reservations on the over-emphasis that the World Cup is getting, but I’ll save that for another day), for some time now it has taken precedence to common sense. I think the selectors and us, the serious-Indian-cricket followers, have mostly overreacted to the T20 victory. Just because a young side that won us a World Cup in a abridged format does not mean that was the way to go. Again, we also overreacted to the ODI series victory in Australia, which I have said time and again was largely due to Tendulkar and some good fast bowling from the younsters: not the Uthappas and Rainas.

This reaction has brought about precisely two things: a meteoric rise in the importance of Dhoni and wholesale recruiting of inexperienced youth from an U-19 cricket team. Dhoni’s recent success has hidden his rather mono-dimensional-nature as captain and less-than-solid batting from scrutiny. Dhoni isn’t a thinking captain, Azharuddin was. Dhoni is a lucky captain, at least so far: his troups have delivered. While there is nothing wrong with that the lack of ingenuitity or depth is bothersome. Perhaps this is the series which might expose these aspects of Dhoni further more. I’m not suggesting that we sack Dhoni now. That would be knee-jerk and the problem isn’t really with the captaincy, though I must add he hasn’t been doing much either. Besides, we don’t have a replacement captain. Please don’t suggest Yuvraj, he’s even worse! This itself is a crisis unprecedented in the last 10-15 years. When Azhar had to go, there was Tendulkar; when Ganguly was sacked, Dravid was ready. Even when Dravid stepped down, Dhoni made it because there was no one else, not out of his own merit. The second issue is of more importance. We’ve had a good deal of failures even the recent past of 3+ years from the Chappel era of recruiting U-19s to the Indian team. A cursory look at these names leads credence to the view that this really isn’t the way to go: Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Mohammed Kaif. In Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Ohja we perhaps have our next failed experiments. Domestic cricket is there for a reason and cricket is not a boys’ game. It involves either genius talent ala Tendulkar or just pure hard work. Gambhir learned it the hard way and is now back after having spent some time in the domestic circuit. Barring Tendulkar, the other Indian batting greats of today, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman roughed it out before they were even considered to represent the country at the highest level. The selectors need to look back this tradition, gather strength and change the way things are being done, though I fear it might already be a bit too late. Give it another year or a few more failed U-19 stars, and we might have to wait another generation for a set of solid batsmen.

Honestly, on the mission World Cup 2011, I honestly don’t see it happening. Teams that win World Cups generally have about 4-5 members who have played in an earlier version and have a mix of solid and swashbuckling batsmen and quality bowlers with variety. Australia in ’99 was probably the best Aussie WC team in the recent past. India’s 2003 WC squad was also probably our best and will remain that way for some time to come. I won’t comment on the 2007 WC here, much has been said about it. If honest effort is made to nurture good batting and bowling we might have a competitive 2015 WC squad, and unless anything miraculous happens I don’t see this particular ODI side winning a 50-over World Cup for us.

Meanwhile, in Soulberry’s thread, some have suggested what I have been ranting about for over eight months now: the reinstatement of Dravid in the ODI side. I would suggest that we include Ganguly too. We need some stability and some sanity. We need a batsman to hang around so the youngsters can learn what it takes to build an innings. Right now there is no mentor in the ODI team for the younsters. And please, Dhoni isn’t one! What happened to the rotation policy?  We seem to only have a senior-elimination policy at the moment. Dhoni was picked as captain of the ODI side because he supposedly had a good rapport with the seniors, but the first thing that he did was sack Dravid and then Ganguly. We need to rotate the Big 3, not eliminate 2 and let Tendulkar chase his records. Having said all that, given the nature of BCCI, do I see it happening? No. But do I continue hoping? Yes.

I think at the end of this tour of Sri Lanka, we would have learned more lessons than we did in the past decade. The last instance of such a lesson-filled tour that I recall is probably the 99-00 tour of Australia.  We need a good mix of the old and new to win matches and to build for the future. The veterans need to be around to show the way and the transition to the new order gradual. We have learnt a valid lesson from the ODI squad and one only hopes that after the 1-2 defeat in the recently concluded Test series, the same mistakes aren’t made with the Test squad.


India vs. Sri Lanka again!

August 17, 2008

Ok, this is the third time in eight months that we’re playing Sri Lanka in ODIs. I admit I’m neither too interested nor too excited.
However, that doesn’t stop me from betting on some players from the Indian side:

1. Sehwag – has the best record against Mendis at the moment
2. Gambhir – after Sehwag, has seen the most of Mendis
3. Badrinath – he might the technique to handle Mendis/Murali

My prediction for the series Sri Lanka will win 4-1, assuming Mendis/Murali are played in all matches, though I reserve the right to alter that margin. 🙂


India lose series 1-2: Musings on the Fab Four

August 11, 2008

I must first forewarn you that this is not an organized collection of thoughts. It’s a largely an emotional response to the series thrown away and hope lost of seeing the Fab-four in action together.

After a day and of half of holding on to the fine ray of hope, nearly living on the edge, the most logical result has shown its face. I’m sure fellow blogger Soulberry shares in my fatigue. Soulberry, you seriously raised my hopes with your stats on the Dravid-Laxman partnership. They looked promising, esp, Dravid, but I guess it just wasn’t to be. This goes to prove you cannot win a Test match with 4 injured players, especially if it includes your strike pace bowler. A few overs of Ishant could have made for a different story, but many will feel that he could only have delayed the inevitable.

It was a rather hyped series given the sub-continental flavor. As an Indian cricket fan, it is a sad day not because this is just another series loss, but because, I think we might have seen the last of the Fab-four playing together. Not because that should be the case, but because I think that will. Indian fans and the BCCI have been known for their knee-jerk reactions to everything: World Cup exits, victories and umpiring errors alike. I expect that one of the four places will now go to a junior and as SP predicted, I suspect that it will be Ganguly, but honestly, I think it should be Tendulkar. Either way, some of us, fans of the Fab-four, need to brace ourselves for some brutal ones to come.

While the rational side of me says it is only fair that one of these places go to a junior, a part of me also fears the selectors will pick the wrong senior to replace and give his place to a wrong junior. The selectors might pick a teenager who scored in the IPL 20, the likes of Rohit Sharma. We need to pick from our regional circles, a player who has scored well. Doesn’t matter if he is 30. The Gangulys and the Dravids, the two who have probably lasted the longest in the history of the game (apart from Tendulkar, of course) came in their late twenties, after being seasoned by good old Ranji. At the moment, the only batsman deserving of a Test call up is Badrinath, but I think Rohit will get it earlier and fail. That said, some of the senior folk could use some domestic match practice as well.

Galle victory notwithstanding, we lost the series in the first Test: mostly psychologically. There was pressure on the seniors from Asia-cup-fame Mendis, the fans, the press, the media, and I suspect the BCCI. Did the Fab-four lose this series for us? Yes and No.

Yes, they did contribute significantly to the loss. Let’s start at the top with “the God” shall we. Tendulkar seemed impatient and arrogant, more inclined to get his record that to play to a responsible innings. Nothing else explains the dismissal in the first innings of the First Test. Then Ganguly. Nothing seemed to be wrong with him, impatience and fear got the better of him. Dravid, seemed disturbingly out of form in the first Test. Batting seemed to invoke horrors in a man who nicknamed the Wall. There was one innings in which he was himself: the second innings of the decider Test and this is the only good sign for us among the Fab four. Laxman seemed solid in the first innings of the First Test, fell like a bunny 5 times, and resurrected himself to some extend in the second innings of the Third Test.

Yes, they lost it for us as Dravid, who has for long been the backbone of the batting did not find form until the second innings of the 3rd Test. We need the Wall to keep building the fortress to allow the other batsmen to build. There is just no replacement for the role that Dravid has played.

Yes, they lost it for us, as this is the first time in which they were all not scoring throughout the series.

But, no, it isn’t just them. Our bowler’s did not step up either. Other the Ishant, nobody looked like taking any wickets. Our wicketkeepers or wicketkeeper-batsmen, as we wrongly call them were pathetic with both their responsibilities. Kumble, surprizingly didn’t look like taking wickets. Our fielders lacked initiative, yes the young ones too. Last but not the least, there was the largely inconsistent and partisan referral system. A collective failure in performance and spirit caused us this series and takes us only further from that coveted #1 Test team position.

Having said all about the Fab-four, while they have been stellar in many ways, they have also been largely inconsistent through their illustrious careers. It would be hard to find a series in which all of them collectively consistently and consequtively scored heavily. It has been their class and showmanship with the bat that has earned them this tag. The again, winning Test matches isn’t about of collective centuries, it is about everybody doing their part and doing so well. This time, they failed to produce that face-saving century that they needed, or half century each, Lax and Dravs excluding (though I’m not sure that will save them from the selectors who will want to keep Tendulkar) . Also, more often than not, they have been bothered by a bowler on debut. Bret Lee, Chris Tremlet and Sohail Tanvir come to mind. Ajantha Mendis now joins this list. It will be interesting to see which way he goes.

The selectors have a many tough decisions now with the Aussies coming to town. Do you judge the seniors on one bad series? Do you put the mentally pressurized seniors on the spot with an ultimatum in the series against the Aussies? Or do you throw the younsters to the wolves? Do you give seniors match practice in Ranji or rest?

As RS rightly points out, the only one to gain from this is Dhoni. It’s a stroke of tactical masterclass from him to skip this Test series. I now predict a Sri Lankan ODI series washout by 4-1 or 5-0. Then will the same questions be asked of Dhoni’s boys? Let us see.


Rain gods! Show your might – Ind in SL 2008

August 10, 2008

The situation on Day 3 of the final Test at Colombo is dire indeed and the crow pepper fry that Scorpy promised to eat a very far cry. At 161-5 and leading only by 14 runs, the script is almost already written.

The very fine ray of hope lies in this and this. Allow me to magnify the hope. As for rain, the weather men have got it wrong as far as the past 3 days have gone, but it’s not without reason that we say that weather is unpredictable. With all the bad luck that India have been having with the referrals and injuries, the partisan in me thinks we deserve a shot of luck. Rain gods, show your might! As far as an 2001 Eden Gardens encore is concerned, while I don’t expect a double from Laxman who has been foxed by Mendis 5 out of 5 times this series or Dravid to make a 180, the hope lies in the fact that Dravid has seemed very positive this innings, from the very first over. Yes, there have been some circumspect moments, but the clouds seem to be lifting to reveal our good-old Dravid. Laxman doesn’t look very sure but there are no devils in the pitch.

For the folk who think much of the youngsters – Parthiv lasted two balls. Take that! Sehwag is by no means a youngster and Gambhir has been the best of the lot as far as playing spin is concerned. We’ve seen the Indian middle order (and that of the Delhi Daredevils) collapse after these two fall.

Join me in sending positive thoughts and invoking the Rain gods. Rain, rain come again!


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.