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!


Murali steers India to victory: a look at the 7th ODI at Mumbai

October 18, 2007

India set foot on the Wankhede ground with only pride to salvage and they managed that, thanks mainly to Murali Karthik’s incredible spell. After having been on a hatrick twice in the match, Murali spun a web around the Aussie batting line up. Credit must be given where it is due and Mahendra Singh Dhoni has clearly earned it. Dhoni has gone on record for having pushed for the left arm spinner’s inclusion. One wonders if he might have earned some snorts from some disbelieving seniors for bringing the cricketer-turned NEO Sports commentator back in the middle. Perhaps this is really the beginning of a better era of Indian cricket where game tactics and strategy turn the focus – even if only a smidgen – away from dressing room politics and senior-junior tussles.

Turning back to the Mumbai ODI, the story could have been different if Murali wasn’t the middle. Pacer R P Singh, who was replacing Sreesanth, unable to adjust to the swing, had a nightmarish day and ended up conceding the most number of extras of the day. Pathan and Harbhajan also struggled although in ways different from R P Singh. With the exception of Murali Karthik, Zaheer was the only other bowler who bowled brilliantly, and that after a fairly mediocre series he has had.  

As for the Indian innings, one could’nt agree more with Dhoni: “…the batsmen should have contributed”. You can’t win too many matches with tail-enders. The on-again-off-again top order turned itself off yet again with the shocker coming from the early overs with Ganguly’s dismissal. We do understand the ball was swinging wildly, but the top order need to handle this. Dinesh Karthik who came in at #3 walked back with a duck making one believe that the #3 batting slot in the Indian order is currently jinxed; perhaps by Dravid himself. Speaking of Dravid, ironically, this would have been the perfect Dravid-ian innings: defend a bunch of deliveries, and play occasionally. Although one would agree that with the mindset that Dravid seemed to be in now, he might have dropped more catches, had he been included, but I thought it was rash to not include him for the Mumbai ODI. On the flip side, had he failed in this situation, his critics would now be screaming for his retirement from all forms of cricket. 

Turning back to the Indian innings, Tendulkar looked in excellent form, but didn’t last too long. Sachin being the only man with the experience to deal with maddening swing, his wicket was what Australia needed to turn this low scorer in their favor. Yuvraj came and went like lightning. Honestly, when Robin Uthappa walked up to the crease, I had my doubts as to how long he would last. But refreshingly, Uthappa seemed to have worked on some of the areas he had missed out in the previous matches and seemed solid in defence and fearsome in strokeplay. And with that Uthappa, you’ve won my vote (for what its worth) for the Gen-X player of the Indian cricket. M S Dhoni came in at his usual position and threatened with a few good shots but perished to caught-behind dismissal yet again! Dhoni disappointed again, and if he doesn’t buck up with his batting soon, he’ll get branded as the ‘classic India captain’ who generally fits the description of performing-player-turned-team-member-who-fails-with-everything-other-than-captaincy (and in some cases, fails with that also). With Harbhajan and Uthappa at the crease, I had lost all hope. But the stodgy Harbhajan with Uthappa’s contained aggression and Zaheer and Kathik’s determined partnership, India were through, to the relief of the millions of fans of Indian cricket.

The intense nail-biter was followed by a rush of honesty from Man-Of-the-Match Murali Karthik who confessed to knicking one to Gilchrist when asked by Ramiz Raja. Only a Pakistani would have asked that to him. What was more interesting was to watch the camera cut to Ganguly having something to say to Murali after his ‘moment of truth’. Whether he should have said that or not is an endless debate, but if you ask me, it takes guts to say the truth. He must have had his reasons for sticking to the facts and it was refreshing to see some honest, nearly ego-less statements from an Indian cricketer. Go Karthik! Hats off.

The Symonds controversy continues even with the series ending. More on that soon.