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 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.


Mendis propells Sri Lanka to lift Asia Cup 2008

July 8, 2008

Ajantha Mendis was the reason for me to watch the Asia Cup final. Though I wished the result went the other way, it was an interesting cricket match to see, unlike several other matches in same tournament and the recently concluded Kitply Cup; also a good lesson learned for the Indian batting line-up and Dhoni.

To me, death-by-spin was bound to happen to this Indian batting line up. While Q states here that Mendis ran through a line-up known as the best players of spin, I say that while that is historically true, it isn’t of this batting line up. This Indian line up with “I-don’t-play-spin” Yuvraj and inexperienced youth like Rohit Sharma and Uthappa, who in my opinion lack soundness in technique that has thus far embodied Indian batting, is far from deserving of the “best players of spin” tag. Historically, India earned the tag because the batsmen had a chance to play against the some of best spinners. That is no longer the case. Other than Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, there isn’t too much of interesting stuff in India’s spin closet. And no, Piyush Chawla, though seemingly effective, has a long way to go.

As for Yuvraj, if I were captain, I wouldn’t know what to do with him. He’s doubtless got talent, but I’m of the opinion that you can’t play spin, you don’t belong in the middle order. Perhaps he can open the innings – something that if I recall correctly, he has reservations about. Even better would be to pack him off to play Ranji – and he isn’t the only one who should be going. So much for a guy who’s upset over not making to a Test XI.

Meanwhile, our “anti-Ganguly-Dravid” friend Ottayan (I took the liberty of branding you that, Ott) suggests that this web around the batting line up is likely to heighten voices “clamoring for Ganguly and Dravid” in the ODIs. Yes, Ott, it might do just that. Though I must say you surprised me with your comment as  “..itself is not a bad thing”. Guarded though it was, it was defense for “the Arms”, as Soulberry calls them. Yes, Ottayan, I will resume my own clamoring though I have done that time and again. 🙂 Thank you for egging me on.

Honestly, if were allowed to pick only two seniors, they would be Tendulkar and Dravid, who will play at the cost of Yuvraj and Sharma(?), at #4 and #3 respectively.

So what of Dhoni’s captaincy in the final? Well there isn’t much one can do if you pick Uthappa in place of a bowler. RP Singh has been off color and Irfan Pathan seems lost. These are folk, who along with Rohit Sharma (who I have lost patience with) that I will drop. The youngsters need seasoning and there is nothing like good hard Ranji for that.

Going back to Mendis, a star is truly born. He still has to a lot to prove, but judging by what we’ve seen so far, he augurs well for Sri Lankan cricket and for spin bowling.

This will make India’s upcoming tour of Sri Lankan more watchable. Mendis or not, I was interested in the ODI series for the Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid against Murali foremost and umpire-challenging second. But the ODI series is now spiced up with Mendis being a definte inclusion. If he is picked for Test, then all the merier.

Bring it on! I can’t wait for this tour!


Dream Team XI – ODIs

July 5, 2008

While watching the bore-fest Asia Cup in fragments, I have been thinking, what would be the best ODI XI ever? I must add here that “ever” for me would probably go back 10 to 12 years, not more than that. Here is my eleven:

  1. Virender Sehwag
  2. Mathew Hayden
  3. Rahul Dravid
  4. Steve Waugh (c)
  5. Sachin Tendulkar
  6. Adam Gilchrist (w)
  7. Lance Klusner
  8. Wasim Akram
  9. Shane Warne
  10. Glen McGrath
  11. Mutthiah Muralitharan/Anil Kumble

12th man: Allan Donald

Honorable mention: Sourav Ganguly, Waqar Younis

Here is the reasoning behind the selection. The openers must be aggressive run getters. I almost made Sachin the opener, but somehow felt uncomfortable about Hayden and Sachin batting together; nothing serious, it just didn’t seem to fit. Besides, Sehwag as opener, when he doesn’t throw his wicket away can be rather demoralizing to the opposition.

Dravid has always been my dream #3 batsman, one who could steady the batting whether the team is 8-1 or provide spine when on 110-1. I wouldn’t pick anybody else for the part, maybe Ponting (but not on current form) and only if Dravid is unavailable. Waugh at #4 is another dream pick. Besides, Dravid and Waugh batting together would be interesting to watch, that too when the former being an admirer of the latter. I made him captain for his skills and the respect he is likely to get from the team.

It’s hard to pick an ODI side without Tendulkar. Ideally, he should either open or bat at #4. But having picked Waugh, I didn’t think any other position would be apt for him. Yes, Sachin at #5 could prove problematic, given his ordinary stats for #4 in ODIs. But I’m not quite sure what to do here.

Gilchrist plays as wicketkeeper and at #6 is bound to deliver a good amount of punch. Klusner plays as all rounder. The legendary Akram must figure in any dream team for his tact with both the new and old ball. As a better batsman, he bats above Shane Warne, who is another must-pick. I picked Glen McGrath for his impeccable line and length and chose Murali and Kumble to pick from depending upon the kind of variety required. Donald is my 12th man as I assumed we are playing on spinning track. On a green track, I would lose one of the spinners.

Team composition is a bit bat-heavy, especially with Klusner at #7, but these folk to me are legends.