The Irani Trophy beckons!

September 23, 2008

Well almost – it’s tomorrow and I can’t wait. This Delhi vs. Rest of India clash, touted as the the dress rehearsal to the Australia series, has everything in it to be a cracker. Everybody will have everything to play for. Weather permitting and pitch (and cable operator) willing we should see a good contest. I’m not a Delhi-ite but I think they have the psychological edge with the “we can afford to mess this up” factor helping them; at least they will be the lesser of the stressed. It is the Kumble lead Rest-of-India who will need to prove points. Every single middle order batsmen in their line up – Dravid and Laxman in particular – have everything at stake here. Actually, apart from Badri/Kaif, depending on who will play, and the aforementioned India seniors, there isn’t too much of interesting batting in the Rest of India line up. When I read the name Wasim Jaffer, I tend to to mentally skip it and am not too excited about Parthiv Patel either – he has no technique whatsoever. Delhi, on the other hand seems to have a more interesting batting line up. I use the word interesting for it is the kind of batting that could swing to either of the extremes. They could thrill us all, with attacking stroke play or have us screaming and lamenting about the future depending upon how things go for them. Delhi batsmen to watch out for will be Aakash Chopra, in-form Virat Kohli and Shikar Dhawan, though I feel the latter might turn out to be just a bit of hype. And that’s aside of perennial surprise package that is Virender Sehwag and “purple patch” Gambhir.

Two contests I will eagerly look forward to are Ishant vs. Dravid and Ishant vs. Laxman. While Ishant got Dravid in the IPL opener at Bangalore, it is his nagging off-stump line that is likely to bother Dravid in particular as he has been dismissed by such deliveries thrice (as far as I can remember) in the last year to Sohail Tanvir, Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma. Laxman who has a similar approach, though not identical, might fare a little better against such stuff. My predictions on Ishant – he will get the top four of Rest of India with Jaffer and Parthiv being the bunnies. I’m not familiar with the rest of the Delhi bowlers and will leave that discussion to the expert opinion of my Delhi-ite blogging friends.

Another contest to look to is Sehwag against Zaheer; the other Rest of India pacers, R P Singh and Munaf may get it from Sehwag big time! I would also like to see the look on Harbhajan’s face when Sehwag hits him over the top for six 🙂 ! Also interesting would be to see how the young Delhi middle order cope with the spin duo of Kumble and Harbhajan.

For Delhi, top order will be key, and middle for Rest of India. I already feel that this is an India vs. somebody else match with scale titled in favor of the “somebody else”. Rest of India, prove me wrong!


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.