Cricket Ramblings from the weeks I’ve missed

January 20, 2009

There’s been so much I’ve wanted to write about while I was away- Pietersen quitting, Dravid scoring not the least- so here’s my random rambly attempt to catch up.

Dravid scores
After eight months and not too many runs, Rahul Jammy Dravid scored his second century of 2008, one that came after much media speculation, blogger deriding and what not. I remember that innings rather well and was fortunate to be able to catch that given my schedule at that time. I recall a feeling of painful dread that set in when I watched Dravid take guard that day, knowing at the back of my mind that the umpire’s finger may go up any time. Reconciled to what seemed only to be a matter of time, I was only hoping please, let it not be a duck. Interestingly, that day, it was not be a duck! Dravid build the innings, almost cringingly. I remember the early parts of that innings to be slower than “Dravid slow” and more poking-ly than ever before, but for fans who did not relent, we got to see a fairly good innings. Was this vintage Dravid? No. But after the 60s, it was soothing. Runs seemed to flow painlessly, albeit slowly. We got to see the wristy flicks and late square cuts that we hadn’t see Dravid play since that blistering innings at the Bristol ODI in India’s 2007 tour of England. After several months, this Dravid fan was happy, just plain happy. What was most fitting was Dravid’s press conference after the century. In characteristic fashion he thanked those who supported him thought the tough year for it seemed that they had almost “gone through the journey with” him. That to me is classic Dravid! Join me in wishing Dravs a very Happy Birthday (belated thought this might be).

Pietersen steps down as England captain
If only India held the legal rights for changing captains for every drink of water, it seems we have passed that on for the world to relish! England’s captaincy woes in the past couple of years remind me of India’s Azhar-Sachin-Azhar-Sachin days. It’s a pity what happened with Pietersen, for I thought his daring leadership was England’s best chance to regain the Ashes. Strauss, whose form seems to show signs of return, will be again burdened with captaincy, thus making the England top order a bit more vulnerable than before.

South Africa win Test series 2-1 in Australia
J P Duminy starred in a record 4th innings run chase that would have made all those who wrote off Test cricket to eat crow. What a scintillating innings, what daring batsmanship! One cannot discount captain Smith who set it all up with an almost trademark innings. Australia have a long way to recovery now. While there are chinks in the South African armour – as we saw in the 3rd Test match – they seem to be bigger in the Australian armor. This series will make Australia’s upcoming tour to South Africa a very interesting one to look to.


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.


Vaughan and Collingwood step down as England captains

August 3, 2008

In what came as a rather unexpected double blow for England, Michael Vaughan stepped down an England’s Test captain and Paul Collingwood as ODI captain. When such thing happens I often wonder about links between a captain’s form and their team’s success. While I think most teams tend to take upon themselves their captain’s attitude, having an out-or-form captain can be a energy-draining factor. The converse is also true. In fact, more often than not, I think the team’s failure tends to affect the captain’s form, especially, if he is a batsmen. For other captains, while captaincy may initially be inspiring to their personal form, it tends to bog them down sooner rather than later. Classical examples from India: Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. England have their own in Strauss.

Vaughan and Collingwood both have been woefully out of form for a while. On Collingwood’s captaincy, I didn’t think too much of it. His primary successes have been against India (during India’s tour last summer) at home and against Sri Lanka away. In both cases, he enjoyed success of a playing against teams that were either largely out-of-form or failing to find a wining combination. On Vaughan, the story is a different. His captaincy skill outclass Collingwood by miles. I wouldn’t blame captain Vaughan too much for the team’s failure against South Africa – it was more a case of collective failure: batsmen not up to the challenge and bowlers unable to take 20 wickets. Given Vaughan’s current form, if he didn’t skip the Oval Test himself, he might have been dropped. While it is sad, I think we might have seen the last of Vaughan for some time to time.

Where from here for England? I can think of two players with some experience who are automatic selections to any England lineup: Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell, who are also at the moment at the best contributors to the team. Strauss’ name has also been doing the rounds, but I doubt if he could make an assertive captain, also, to me, he isn’t an ODI auto selection. Pietersen would be assertive and possibly innovative, but captaincy could curtain his own batting freedom, which isn’t good for England. So, I would go with Bell. I’m curious to find out who will be named this time around.


Of India-Paksitan cricket and India’s wins – are they boring?

June 12, 2008

Three matches have gone by the tri-series featuring India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. All three matches had a predictable result. In the match against Bangladesh, after Sehwag fell, I was almost hoping for an upset.

Despite the fact that this series includes an India-Pakistan face-off, there is a sense of boredom about it. Is too much India-Pakistan to blame? Or is it the fact that India has been consistently beating them for some time now? Or is the lack of competitiveness from Pakistan? As for me, I thought Bangladesh in their match against India, for their standing in World cricket, batted better than Pakistan. Where is the spirit, Pakistan?

Let me ask the bigger question. Is it boring to watch India win? Is it even boring to watch ’em batt? I didn’t watch much of India’s batting after the goose-bump inducing T20 style Sehwag-Gambhir partnership. Other than noticing that Rohit Sharma is losing his patience, Yuvraj is his princely self and Praveen Kumar is getting better by the hour, there isn’t much to say. Are you missing the star clashes of old the Tendulkar-Shoaib or Ganguly-Shoaib? Or the lopsided Indian collapses from 100-1 to all out for just under 200?

Q points out here with hard facts, that India has been closing the India-Pakistan gaps. And that India has turned the tables. They have turned the tables indeed, but on a very weak Pakistan team. Pakistan won many games against an Indian team with some of best batsmen in Tendulkar, Azharuddin, Manjrekar, Dravid, Ganguly and the like. In that case, does the turning tables really count?

With this kind of one-sided cricket being played, I’m better off watching the other matches with more interest. The Aussies are 5-down on Day 1 of the Barbados Test. Gotta go catch some of that!

Ciao for now.


The IPL Opener: Bangalore vs. Kolkata

April 17, 2008

As a new day dawns on  a brand new form of cricket, I am reminded of some memorable moments from my high school days. I remember the times when I used to play book cricket with a friend in the last bench when the Physics teacher was explaining Bernoulli’s theorm. My friend and I had several different teams pitted against each other: India against Australia, India against Pakistan, India against World Dream Team XI, India World (lead by Ganguly) vs. India A (lead by Azharuddin). While we did this, we wondered how interesting it would be to watch some of our folks playing against one another. This dream has now come true, with Sourav’s Kolkata facing-off against Dravid’s Bangalore.

Though, “officially” I’m a Bangalore supporter – not Chennai, to know why check this out – this will be a hard one, since the opposition is Ganguly’s Team.

This Ganguly vs. Dravid match will be interesting for many reasons. First being, neither have played much T20. Secondly, these two are perhaps the best you can get if you are looking for opposite ends of the captaincy style spectrum. The biggest question is whether Dravid’s strategy and technique will trounce Ganguly’s adrenaline powered leadership.

Other things to look forward to:
– Ganguly’s down-the-track 6
– Dravid’s stylish drives (form permitting)
– Ishant Sharma vs. Dravid
– Ricky Ponting’s attitude
– Virat Kohli’s game
– Bangalore fans cheering as Ajit Agarkar gifts run to the opposition 🙂

Technically, I think Bangalore has batting stability but lack variety in bowling. With Dravid, Kallis, Kohli and Boucher, the batting line up seems secure though it will be interesting to see how the former two Test stars adapt to the abridged form of the game. Kolkata seems a smidgen more balanced in the team (excluding Agarkar of course), perhaps due to strike bowler Ishant Sharma and spinner Murali Karthik.

I was very sceptic about the T20 format, before the T20 World Cup in Sept of last year, but this time I’m not sceptic. I’m dying in anticipation of the match, and hope that there will be some highlights on Sony MAX! (I wait so long for a dream face-off, hoped to watch it at the stadium, but can’t even watch it live on TV; but that’s life, I guess).

Cheers, Bangalore Royal Challengers rock ’em. Good luck Ganguly and Dravid, we love you!