India Draws – Ind vs Aus 2008-09: Day 5, 1st Test, Bangalore

October 13, 2008

After what seemed like an eternity, India has managed not to lose a match batting 4th. I had mentally written them off and that mostly due to the poor show in Sri Lanka. I’m still trying to tweak Cricinfo’s statsguru to spit me the results of India’s draw percent when batting second. I’m pretty sure this must be low (esp in the last 3 years). From memory I recall only 2 from the last 3 years – the one at Lords (which really shouldn’t count) and one against South Africa.

Going by that, this is an achievement. But what that also says is that the Aussies have lost some of their sting without McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist (behind the stumps). Haddin has a long way to go. Watson, Haddin, Cameron White (who also plays for Bangalore Royal Challengers) don’t really strike me as great Test cricketers. Unless they go the Symonds way with their game, we may see some mediocre results from them in the near future.

As for India, NB from Soulberry’s TCWJ puts so succinctly, what seemed so muddled in my mind. To me, here are the worries:

  • Middle order: Granted, we’re getting some stinkers from the umpires from time to time, but the middle order isn’t really on strong footing. There are flashes of brilliance, but only flashes, and that’s causing anxiety. Ganguly seems best of the four at the moment. Doesn’t that tell a story in itself (with due respect to Gangs of course)? Meanwhile at the top order, Gambhir has not had too many answers either.
  • Spin bowling: We all know about Harbhajan’s “I-need-a-wicket-to-start-thinking”. That apart, Kumble has been very worrisome.
  • Fielding: Allright, we’ve never really been a great fielding side, not even when the Fab four where in their prime. Gambhir’s dropped catches were atrocious! So much for the “young-agile-fielding-sides”

Interestingly this time, both teams have seen some decline from previous glory. Can India put a 300 plus total? Can the middle order post 200 runs by themselves? Can India bat better than Australia? Can Australia take 20 wickets? Will they bowl better than the Indian quicks? Strange how it can become isn’t it?

Maybe we will get only 2 results from this series.

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Ind vs Aus 2008-09 – Day 3, 1st Test, Bangalore

October 12, 2008

That was some drama for a side that was 69-0 at the end of Day 2 after about half-a-session’s play. If you’re an India supporter, you can never rule out the fall of Sehwag to rash shot early in the first session. It would be unfair to criticize him for that, for it is that very rashness that shocks the opposition and some times his own team. But Gambhir was first to go and that was plumb!

Enter Dravid. I thought he looked a lot better today than he has in the last 3 months. Maybe it helped that he’d played on a similar low-bounce/uneven-bounce pitch at the Irani Trophy just a few weeks ago. Yes, it was disappointing that, given the start he had and how “set” he looked, he was unable to carry on. As a fan, I would call it a contentious lbw decision, perhaps the most contentious since that 47 again Pakistan late last year, but on a more rational note, getting one’s front pad out so far is bound to create doubts in the mind of umpires. What is heartening is that Dravid has been getting better, albeit slowly, since the hole that deepened in Sri Lanka. What we saw today was a thoughtful innings, mindful of the Ponting’s traps, and hard-working and patient enough not to fall for it. The difference between this innings of Dravid and the previous few was the more obvious attempt to make runs, and faster (given the conditions, his strike rate and Wall-ish tendencies). Most of his runs came from between the deep fine leg and deep square leg area. Well played, Dravid. Cricinfo describes Dravid’s innings from today here.

Sachin and Laxman, the latter despite being pushed up the order, failed. Maybe it is Sachin, not Ganguly, who should be retiring. A rather harsh thought about Laxman has been bothering me for some time now – maybe part of the success he’s since is because he’s been playing with the tail. Fielding sides tend to ignore the batsman and target the tail ender. I do realize that this is very rash, cynical and even evil on my part, but maybe 10% of it is true?

Sourav “Dada” Ganguly Maharaj, as blogging-friend Soulberry calls him, played a fighting innings. If it wasn’t for a lapse in  concentration, he could have carried on. I’m not even going to say anything about Dhoni’s innings.

The hero of the day should undoubtedly be Harbhajan Singh. Yes, he’s been batting rather well for some time now, but today’s innings was one which even top-order batsmen would envy. Those shots weren’t slogs – they were proper cricketing shots. An innings for class – a good mix of defensive shots, wristy drives and aggressive “over-the-bowler’s-head” one. Was a pity he went less an over before Stumps today. Zaheer did well to support Harbhajan. The “never-give-up” spirit shown by Harbhajan and Zaheer is what India-Aus from the past decade has been about about. The top-order batsmen will do well to take from what they saw from two tail-enders.

I see this match going two ways: a draw or an Aussie victory. There’s an outside chance that India have to win this, but that’s asking for way too many miracles from too many people. For India to win, tail-enders Kumble and Zaheer need to put on at least another 60-80 runs. The closer they get to 400 the better. Then, they need to bowl and field really well and get the Aussie out to chase less than 180-odd runs. Then, we need to hope that Indian batting doesn’t collapse  – either due to out-of-formness, lack of confidence, fear of failure or umpiring errors. Whew! Isn’t that a huge ask. On current form, I’m not expecting much from the Indian second innings, either. India will feel moral victory if they draw this.


What IPL cash does: Laxman retorts Afridi, Symonds goes fishing

September 1, 2008

I’m not sure which story came out first, Laxman’s or Symonds’. I’m not even sure what prompted Afridi to trash talk his IPL captain. Granted, Hyderabad’s Deccan Chargers ended up at the bottom of the table, but does it even make sense to blame a guy who captained less than half the matches in a tournament whose format is new to the cricket world in general?

“Laxman lost the plot” was what Afridi had to say. This is almost humour – one of the more irresponsible batsman calls his captain name. To top it off, Afridi didn’t perform to his best ability in the IPL either. Perhaps it was a “paid holiday”, to quote South African pacer Dale Steyn.

The normally quiet Laxman proved he is no Dravid to wait and make a statement with his bat. He has responded to Afridi’s comments by questioning Afridi’s team ethic and stating just what is and isn’t on.

I wonder what has caused the rather reserved Laxman to lash out. Pressure on losing his Test place after India’s disappointing Test tour to Sri Lanka? Worries about losing his IPL cash? I’m tempted to the say its the second, as VVS has been rather unfortunate to have never been able to cement his place in the ODI side, missed out on being part of the 2003 World Cup squad, and thus the several endorsements that come in the way. But I think it is a combination of both forms of pressure.

Meanwhile, down under, Symonds just got sacked from the team for going fishing, in what I thought was a harsh decision (from our limited view).  Wonder if it’s got to do with the fact that there was some bad blood about Symonds getting a bigger cheque from IPL. Or is just plain politics? Many bloggers were suggesting after Symonds’s run of luck from the Sydney Test earlier this year that his luck might run out soon. Is this it with the luck?

Whatever the deal is in both cases, it seems, at least at the moment, that the IPL is doing some significant damage. What’s a bit scary is that there is no remedy in sight.


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.


Can we have a cricket match please – Ind in SL 2008

August 9, 2008

This is getting to be ridiculous to say the least. The umpiring review/referral system which promised much has wrecked havoc for India in this series. Billy Doctrove turned down a plumb lbw decision today, prompting more ire towards the umpires among India supporters. Sri Lanka are reviewing everything and are getting away with murder. Perhaps they have learned the art from Ricky Ponting. Samaraveera’s almost mocking shake of the head when Kumble asked for review is nothing short of umpire coaxing. For me, such distasteful cricket took the charm out of Sangakkara’s innings.

At the risk of sounding socio-centric, I must say the umpiring review system has been very one sided this series. Sri Lankan batsmen enjoy the batsman’s benefit of doubt while Indian batsmen (primarily the Big Three) have been the victim of the umpire’s doubt. So now we have to fight not just two incompetent blokes but three. Perhaps the folk behind this are now happy that India will now have doubts about the use of technology and the like. For it is us, who created a riot after the atrocities of the Sydney Test and ousted Bucknor. Perhaps it is only fitting that Bucknor’s fellow bystander that day, Mark Benson, has stood in this series so far. Benson is surely having sweet revenge. Such atrocities make even a draw, let alone a victory, a herculian effort (out of form batsmen nothwithstanding).

Yes, I did mention the Big-3 here and while I’m itching to spill my thoughts on them, I will wait till the end of this Test. Till then do us wait.