India’s tour of England 2011 – Why the tours of England are special

July 31, 2011

I’ve almost always had a rush of nostalgia when India is about to tour England. The green grass, blue skies, the contrast between the “Surf-excel-white” clouds and the tourquise blue of the sky, the picturesque grounds, the lovely breeze and the occasional sweater worn by the spectator adds an element of other worldly magic to the drama that is about to enfold. India’s tours of England have brought back some lovely memories that run back to the summer of’96. There are several such occasions – the World Cup 99, the tour of 2002 and the Nat West final to name a few. The tour of 2007 seems so fresh, I can recall many of details – Zaheer Khan and the jelly gate, Dravid’s tired captaincy, his struggle with runs, Wasin Jaffer’s lazy elegance, Dinesh Karthik’s rise to consistent 45-50 opener, Kumble’s century, Micheal Vaughn’s batting, Tendulkar’s struggles in the 90s, and what not.

Part of what makes this special is a rather mundane aspect – the time of play for the Indian viewer. You can come back from work, either on a high, or tired and drained of energy, and let your mind take on something completely different and to be engrossed in it. There are days when the cricket energizes you and days when it lets you lament.

Another tour is upon us. And this tour, as in 2007, is touted to be last of the greats of India’s batting – Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman. Thus the need to savor it is greater than ever before. One hopes that there is, somewhere in India, a kid who yearns to emulate their techniques and deeds!

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India at the Compaq Cup 2009: yo yo so far

September 13, 2009

It’s been a while since since we’ve watched India play, so the Compaq cup was rather inviting. Though a  mostly inconsequential tournament, it seems to provide feed to the bored.

While India bowled and fielded well against New Zealand, given our reputation in those areas, but did not bat like the #1 ODI team they became following that victory. I have issues with the ICC ranking system which seems to be playing catch up rather than paint a picture. If you ask me, India were peaking as an ODI side,  just after IPL 2008 and started the downward trend perhaps just after IPL 2009. Australia, on the other hand, have been slumping since late 2007, following the World Cup. That the ratings have taken this long to reflect the fortunes of two teams – India and Australia – seems mocking.

As for the second ODI against, Sri Lanka, India played like a side not interested in the proceedings, barring Tendulkar, Dravid and Harbhajan. The bowlers were straying and spraying. Ashish Nehra’s first over set the tone. Though early in road were made with the wickets of Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardena, Kandamby was allowed to cut loose and cause havoc. Batting woes were bound to follow. Dinesh Karthik promised, but perished and there was no real batting after Tendulkar and Dravid, both of whom looked resolute to prove that they were still as good as one can get. Perhaps it wasn’t a backward move after all to recall Dravid.

The only solace from the loss to Sri Lanka in the 2nd match is the statistics. More often than not, if India won the match leading up the finals (baring semi-finals), they went on to lose the finals. One cannot resist but hope that maybe this is a good omen.


India win Galle Test on Day 4 – India in Sri Lanka 2008

August 3, 2008

Where are the folk who wrote India off? Eat crow today!

Ishant’s inspired fiery spells saw India scalp three in-form Lankan batsmen in the first half-hour of play. So inspiring was that spell that it evoked emotions even from Dravid! Perhaps one of the best spells of Ishant till date, there were several overs where he tested batsmen, reminiscent of that spell against Ponting at Perth earlier this year. I had goose bumps to see this young Indian bowler give chin-music to batsmen. India have till date only been on the receiving end of such music. Ishant is a very good sign for India. Wonder what would have happened if he didn’t get that 5-for against Pak in Bangalore, that most probably helped book his seat on the plane for that famour tour of Australia late last year. While Ishant, titled things in India’s favor by getting key wickets of Sanga and Mahela, Bhajji (after one session of mediocrity and after Ishant struck again claiming Dilshan) wrapped it up for India.

There are many positives for India to take home from this:
1. Gautham Gambhir and Man-of-the-Match Virender Sehwag – India’s new Tendulkar-Ganguly
2. Ishant Sharma
3. Zaheer finding form
4. Dravid showing positive signs of finding form
5. Some collective spirit

That aside, we won fair and square today – not with the new form of umprie coaxing that the referral system has already become. Jayawardene’s use of the referral system, particularly for the lbws was downright irksome. I understand he might be within his right to do that, but none of the referrals went India’s way in the series so far (okay, maybe one did, but I’m not sure of that either). If Dravid and Ishant were given out to a type of dismissal then so should have Dilshan/Samaraweera (I can’t recall which one) today as it was a very similar one. The lack of consistency from the third-umpires was particularly irritating, which is perhaps why Kumble didn’t ask for too many.

But there are also concerns:
1. Dinesh Karthik – looks woeful behind the stumps. While many may suggest the place be given to Parthiv Patel, I’m not entirely for that, esp for the decider Test. Patel will have to begin from square one, which is not the best thing to have in an important Test. It would be nice if Dravid could keep, but then again, keeping and batting at #3, may not be the best thing, and is close to impossible given that Kumble argued with selectors to include second wicketkeeper Parthiv in the squad. I expect no changes here.
2. The famed middle order haven’t really lived up to their name. Tendulkar whose record seemed beckoning will most likely not get it here. While he definitely isn’t out of form, he seems a little impatient. Ganguly, again isn’t out of form, needs to find ways to get some runs. Laxman who looked solid against Mendis in the first innings at Colombo hasn’t been able to carry that forward. Dravid, who looked miserable in the first Test, put up a gritty fight scoring 44 in the second innings at Galle – proof that the spirit and skill are both still there. I thought he deserved a fifty for that desperate effort. While he seems to be finding his lost touch, it’s still a work in progress.
3. Fielding – as always, fielding especially saving the one-s and two-s is important irrespective of the score being defended.

Victory is the best pain-killer they say. Adages don’t come any truer!


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!