Dhoni – villain or scapegoat?

January 23, 2008

When we are supposed to be talking about the Adelaide Test, look what’s grabbed the headlines – rifts in the team. Yet again, there is this seniors vs. juniors all over again. If new reports are to be believed, it was not Vengsarkar but Dhoni who insisted on the Ganguly ouster. Apparently, the selectors considered including Dravid too.

Dhoni doesn’t seem to be dealing with this very well. When asked about it, “…still have one more Test match to go, so I think we should wait with the questions regarding the One-Day players. We have waited for two days, let’s wait for another six days..” was what he had to say. Not pleasing the Indian media is a dangerous thing for an Indian captain – a thing Dravid learnt the hard way. On the youngsters dealing with the situation, he said “..it’s not about the people’s expectations, it’s about the players’ expectations.” Perhaps, Dhoni who claims to have learnt a lot from Kumble, also seems to have had lessons of arrogance from Ponting. You don’t want to alienate yourself from the fans, Dhoni; that could get ugly. Remember that match when the crowds at home cheered for the opposition team?

Allow me to emotionally rant here. This begs the question – is Dhoni, with head-rush from the T-20 World Cup victory, a villain or a scapegoat? If this young side with batting line up as brittle as fresh ice succeeds, Dhoni will be spared. If not, he will be made the scapegoat. Consider this, Dhoni is sure to have already lost some public favor. In an emotional country like India, his alleged back-stabbing will earn him the wrath of the Dravid-Ganguly supporters and some neutrals alike. Should his side lose out – which is almost a certainty given that it is the Aussies that they will be facing, and that too in Australia – his captaincy will come into question. His batting has already been questioned time and again; it is only now, after the T-20 success and some against Pak in the recently concluded series in India, that there seems to be some silence on that aspect. With the series lost, fans crying and burning effigies, and the media joining the party, BCCI will be back to the situation of being under pressure of media and public opinion. Then, as my friend Ottayan jokingly suggests, Dhoni may be soon playing his farewell match!


Looking forward to the India-Pakistan ODI Series

November 4, 2007

The much hyped India-Pakistan series is almost here. I see many things different about this series compared to the ones from the recent past. Firstly, both sides are young and fairly inexperienced (at least in comparison to teams from previous clashes). Secondly, both sides have new/inexperienced captains. Thirdly, I think, this time they are more evenly matched than ever before; and this is the case chiefly due to the absence of some key players from both sides: Inzamam for Pakistan, Dravid for India (although it remains to be seen if Dravid will make a comeback later in the ODI series).

The Youth vs. the Wise
If there is anything that adds the extra spice to the already red-hot series, it is the youth. The youth are known to be fearless, yet can also be reckless. The lack the wisdom that comes with grey hair and perhaps the temperament required to poke around and see through a wildly swinging new ball. This is good reason to expect more of the extremes: massive 20-20 style hitting leading ala Uthappa or Nazir leading to huge totals or low scoring matches caused by batting collapses.

New Captains
Malik and Dhoni are fairly new to the captain’s seat and this will be a test for both. But I see them as having very different personalities. Malik is the laid-back quiet type of guy (like Dravid in some ways, although not as cautious with the communication skills) who I think may not be able to inspire his young guns. Dhoni on the other hand, comes off as a no-nonsense, outspoken (enough to poke one although good-temperedly at Ravi Shastri) type of person who seems to be able to bring out the yearning from his young lads. More importantly, Dhoni is a gambler, a trait that many successful captains. If I were asked to pick the better of the both, though I have a little bit of a soft corner for Malik – I’ve never had one for any other Pakistani captain I’ve seen – it would be Dhoni without a doubt.

More Evenly Matched than Ever
I remember this thought I had from a few years ago. I always thought that Pakistan had a lot of wild cards in their batting line up: people who, if it starts to go well, could blaze away ala Moin Khan, Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi. Today, with Tendulkar and Ganguly becoming increasingly susceptible (thanks to replays) the absence of ‘Wall’ Dravid and the featuring of the flashy Yuvraj, Uthappa and Dhoni, the Indian middle order has the shares unpredictable wildness of its Pakistani counterpart. On the brighter side for India, its bowling has a little more sting than during the times of Srinath (with due respect). Pakistan’s bowling has always been its strength and I think it will continue to be the case this time also.

Players to watch
In an India-Pakistan series, one can expect to see something special from almost every member, but these are my picks for people to watch for:

India
Strength
: Batting – 75% Bowling – 60%
Batsmen: Robin Uthappa and Mahendra Singh Dhoni for fire power; Sachin Tendulkar for experience and class
Bowlers: Irfan Pathan – can get breakthroughs and make a difference in the middle overs
* Honorable mention: Rohit Sharma (if he gets picked) – potential to become a good #3; Sreesanth – we might see some substance behind the dramatic paceman; Murali Karthik – bamboozling spin

Pakistan
Strength
: Batting-65% Bowing- 70%
Batsmen: Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi for pinch hitting power, Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan for stabilizing capability
Bowlers: Umar Gul – consistency, Shoaib Akthar – pace power
* Honourable mention: Afridi – his bowling might bother a few in the Indian batting line up.

Happy watching!


The BCCI drama continues: starring Rahul Dravid and Dilip Vengsarkar

October 28, 2007

Vengsarkar bowled a beamer, as the squad for the first two ODIs in the upcoming Pakistan tour was announced, with the target being ex-captain Rahul Dravid. What was the need for this bizarre knee-jerk reaction? One bad series against the world’s best ODI side should not lead to being dropped; not for a class batsman like Dravid. After all, the story could have been different if it hadn’t been for a stunning catch near the boundary line in the Kochi ODI and Aleem Dar’s shocker lbw in Vadodara. The plot seems to thicken as media reports storm in which suggest that some selectors were looking to drop Ganguly but Vengsarkar insisted on Dravid. Adding to this is captain Dhoni insisting that his former skipper was being “rested”. Does an out-of-form Dravid need rest? Logically, the best way to get Dravid out of his lean path would be to demonstrate some faith in him and play him in a few ODIs or to have had him tart part in the Challenger series. But sadly, BCCI and logic are poles apart from one another!

What is more appalling than dropping Dravid, is some of the statements made by the chairman of selectors. Here is the worst; according to Vengsarkar, Dravid is “not adding value to the one-day side” (check out the TimesNow article for details). All this is being said of the man who not too long ago, pulled out a blistering 92 at Bristol and was captain of the side less than six-weeks ago. Says Vengsarkar of Dravid, ” he is a good player and has a good chance of coming back.” Honestly, that doesn’t really sound like a chance. All this politic-ing begs the question, if Sachin had had a bad series, would he have been given the same treatment?

While we digest the shock, consider the balance of the ODI squad that has been announced. Siddartha Vaidhyanathan pens a gem for Cricinfo here and I join him in asking a key question. Why are there five openers in this team (Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sehwag, Gambhir, Uthappa)? Add new comer Praveen Kumar, that makes six openers. Who will play the sheet-anchor role of #3 (ironically, the other man being dropped, Dinesh Karthik is also a #3 batsman)? The temperment for being #3 is not in Yuvraj yet, with flash-bang being his current mantra; there is potential indeed, but there is also plenty of scope for improvement. I had written earlier that India missed its #3 batsmen in the recent series against Australia and I have a feeling they will continue to miss that dependable #3 should the selectors persist on this route.

Check out more reactions on this:

Ex-cricketers criticize exclusion

‘Floater’s role took him nowhere’

Dravid shoud have been selfish

While the cricketing fraternity seems to be screaming about the shocker that is Dravid’s exclusion, only time can tell of what will be the fate of Dravid (as far as ODIs are concerned). A few middle order collapses in the first two ODIs against Pakistan may bring a flicker of hope for Dravid, but even one victory (however that may come) may see The Wall droop even more. God save Indian cricket from Vengsarkar!


The Mad Mad Indian Media: Dhoni in the news for reasons other than cricket

October 25, 2007

What has gone wrong with us? I had a strong reaction to the Headline news segment earlier this month which started the madness surrounding Dhoni and Deepika Padukone. But it seems to be getting worse.

All major cable news channels, for the past two days, NDTV included, stooped down to levels lower than I have previously seen them careen towards. On TimesNow, Dhoni’s mane made for flash news; on NDTV there was a special segment yesterday and it was also featured on the sports segment today. This is just ridiculous. I don’t really care who Dhoni is dating or what his hairstyle is and why he changed it; neither do I care if Yuvraj is growing his nails long enough for sponsors to rent space on it.

I almost didn’t blog about this until I found some like minded people venting off about this in the BlogSphere. It is very heartening to see that there are some folks around who want news to be what it should be. Check out these people’s thoughts on this:

IdliDosa’s blog
Dazzledooey’s blog

I used to joke about the US media and about how bizarre it is that Britney Spears’ lip job or Angelina Jolie’s umpteenth adoption was making it to the headlines. The Indian media now, sadly, is not any different.

The analogy now stands thus:

Britney’s lip job: US Media :: Dhoni’s mane: Indian Media

Ok, rant over.


Thoughts on the concluded India-Aus Future Cup series

October 24, 2007

With the Future Cup series concluded, we get a fair picture of the T20 champs’ position in the ODIs. Realistically, I doubt if any serious Indian cricket follower would have expected India to win this series. I certainly didn’t; however, after the Bangalore ODI was abandoned, I thought India stood a good chance to draw the series. What I did expect to see was fighting Team India and was fairly happy to see that happening. To me, although the series ended with Australia winning 4-2, this could have very well been 3-3.

Looking back I think the Vadodara ODI disaster was the only thorn that cut deep into the faith that one had in Team India; that is where India were comprehensively outplayed. Again, even in that match, if Ganguly had stayed on for a few overs, the result might have been different. In Vadodara, the Indian batsmen lost the psychological battle to the swinging ball and Mitchell Johnson. Backtracking a little bit further to the Kochi and Hyderabad ODI there were issues in all the departments; the bowlers struggling in the middle overs, the opening batsmen weren’t the greatest and the middle order were in 20-20 mode. The Chandigarh ODI was another close where things started to fall in place for India: batting clicked; bowling got better, although still errant and spray-prone, especially from the speedsters. In the Nagpur ODI, the Indian team’s fight started to really threaten Australia; that is a match they should have won, either by conceding lesser runs or batting a tad more responsibly. In the four matches that India lost, they missed the #3 batsman very badly. Does the word responsible come to mind? I had written earlier about my thoughts on Dravid in this series. Looking ahead to the upcoming Pakistan series, India will need Rahul Dravid to come to terms with himself; much will depend on him if some consistency is to be expected from the middle order.

Here are my votes for the some of the best and worst performers from either side:

Best Batsmen:
India
: Tie between Sachin Tendulkar and Robin Uthappa.
Australia: Tie between Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke
Rationale: For India, this was a tie because both shone in their own ways. Sachin was brilliant in a few innings and managed to plod through when that was required, especially in Chandigarh. Check out what I wrote about Sachin’s Chandigarh innings. Uthappa’s positive aggressive cricket rocks and adds a new dimension to Team India. To me, he’s the best bet looking ahead beyond the Big Three, for the opening slot. While Symonds’ the runs speak for him, Clarke seemed brilliant in the early knocks; would make a great #3 after Ponting retires; definitely a promising one for Australia.

Best Bowler:
India: Murali Karthik; honorable mention: Sreesanth
Australia: Mitchell Johnson
Rationale: Murali Karthik was sensational in his comeback. I’ve written more about that here. I had to mention Sreesanth got under Hayden’s skin several times this series, even in the T20 match, Hayden seemed to struggle against him; in spite of the high economy of 7 odd runs, Sreesanth is a fiery wicket taker and remains a good option despite the downside. As for Johnson bothered the Indian batsmen the most and thus ends my best bowler winner for Australia.

Most Influential Player:
India
: Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Australia: Ricky Ponting
Rationale: There are players who can add value the team with their presence alone. No surprises in either category; perhaps it not a co-incidence that they lead their sides! For India, Dhoni has shone light on a face of Team India that we never knew they had. As for Ponting, his experience and presence-of-mind makes part of what Australia are and this could be gathered when Gilchrist lead the team.

Most disappointing Batsman:
India: Rahul Dravid; dis-honourable mention Yuvraj Singh
Australia: Brad Hodge
Rationale: No surprises here. I had to include Yuvraj due to sheer lack of consistency: a few fair knocks, one patient century, and few single digit scores.  If you were wondering why I didn’t mention Sourav Ganguly after the 2 ducks, we are looking ahead aren’t we?

Most disappointing Bowler:
India: R P Singh
Australia: I don’t think anyone disappointed enough to make to it to this list; dis-honorable mention to Bret Lee.
Rationale: After an amazing T20 world cup and a fairly good England tour, R P Singh set the expectations high and disappointed. As for Lee, he makes the list for some average (compared to the high Aussie standards) performances towards the end.

Having said all that, I think this series will be remembered most for the off-field action; two names come to mind instantaneously: Symonds and Sreesanth. When Sreesanth said of Australia, earlier this series “I am a child, they are all legends” he may well have been talking about sledging as well. They are after all the legends and Sree is just taking a leaf from their book. Sreesanth was right on another account: he is still a child and needs more match-wining performances to reach the legendary levels. As for the so-called line, I don’t think Sreesanth in particular crossed the line; if he did indeed cross the line, then Aussie are guilty of that too, not just in this series, but in the past 10 years of their cricketing history.  As for Symonds, the racial row got hyped and blown up. Even, Steve Waugh, former Aussie skipper joins many others in questioning the racial nature of monkey chants. I am not in support of what sections of crowd allegedly did to Symonds. It is definitely bad behavior and a stark contrast to the culture of India where guest are to be treated like God. My take on the crowd behavior is that it is a reaction to on-field sledging exhibited by both sides. Such disturbing crowd behavior wasn’t as pronounced earlier perhaps due to the fact that the India media wasn’t as aggressive with its reports on sledging earlier. The honest remedy for such behavior lies in remedying sledging: when the on-field abuse stops, the crowd will behave. But I don’t see that happening at the moment as the players and the spectators seemed to be enjoying the added “spice”.

 All in all, an eventful series and India looks more promising than ever before; looking forward to a successful one against Pakistan. Go India! Go!