A drab series ended: India-Pak 2007

November 20, 2007

Is it just me or was this India-Pak series just a little drab. There wasn’t too much of see-saw or nail-biting. Granted India did well, after a seemingly long draught of ODIs series victories, but this wasn’t what the India-Pak fan expected to see. There was no Shoaib-Tendulkar/Ganguly frenzy nothing much to look forward to with excitement.

For me the most disappointing thing in the series was Pak’s lack of enthusiasm. They just weren’t being Pakistan barring the final ODI esp after they got Tendulkar. Tanvir’s mad punch in the air after getting Tendulkar was the essence of what Pakistan represents. They thrive in aggression and aggression helps them raise the level of their game. Seriously, this was a tame Pakistani side; so tame, that they looked like India under Dravid (don’t get me wrong, Dravid is a fine batsman, but I was never a fan of his captaincy).

Shoiab Malik’s captaincy was fairly boring. He seems to lack the courage to try something different, let alone gamble. In fact, I can draw many parallels between Malik and Dravid’s captaincy, the chief one being defensive techniques employed. But one feels sorry for the man who has been recieving flak for everything he seems to be doing. Ramiz Raja seems to be heaping it truckloads. The other disappointing factor from the Pak side was the absence of Imran Nazir in the first 4 ODI. Nazir, to me, is a classic Pakistani one day opener who can thrill with all the frills (but can also fail miserably under trying conditions)  ala Afridi (who also disappointed big time) and provide a good platform for the middle order.

From the Indian side, there isn’t much for me to say aside of what I have I already been saying about the past few matches. A good victory, but this isn’t anything to gloat about; if Pakistan had been even 10% better, the result could have be harder to achieve if not different. Many things worked for India:
– Dhoni’s captaincy
– Good opening partnerships
– Tendulkar’s in sublime form (or should I say holy)
– Yuvraj-Dhoni’s consistent contributions
– Better pace bowling
Some things look good for the future:
– Rohit Sharma’s gritty innings in the fifth ODI
– RP Singh and Irfan Pathan’s contributions through the series

Having said all that, the fifth ODI was a little bit of an aberration for the current resurgent India. Not just because that they lost, but the manner in which they did. If you were wondering what it would have been to watch Indian cricket in the 90s, this was what it generally was: mediocre bowling from the spearheads, abysmal part-time bowling, lazy fielding, and batting collapses. Ok, the fifth ODI wasn’t as bad, but fearfully close. The fielding was back to its lackadaisical style; the bowling was fairly poor except for flashes of brilliance from Sreesanth (which was followed by some big-time ball-spraying). Praveen Kumar had a fairly good debut, but I was more impressed with the new Pak wicketkeeper Sarfraz Nawaz and new-kid-on-the-block Fawad Alam. I had written about Rohit Sharma earlier and he definitely a promising prospect for post-Dravid India at #3. Indian batting fell apart with flashy and almost reckless Tendulkar dismissed after a dangerous shot; ditto for Sehwag. Gambhir was unfortunate but not as much as Yuvraj. Uthappa at #3 was a mistake; to me he is more of an opener (in the right conditions) or excellent #5. Even the 2 sevens on Dhoni’s borrowed shirt couldn’t save India.

One other aspect of this series that has been on my mind is the relative ease with which both teams are being fined. First for slow over rate, then heavily fining Afridi and Gambhir and then Yuvraj for dissent (though I saw the coming the moment he gestured to the umpire). One wonders why a baby-face Ponting who blinks after lbw decisions and close stumpings doesn’t get the same treatment. If we are to copy the Aussies here, shall we call this racism?


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:
: 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:
: 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!

The T20 World Champions prevail: India beat Australia by 7 wickets

October 21, 2007

The Bradbourne stadium came alive as India, the T-2o World Champions took on Australia in the much anticipated 20-20 clash between the teams. The South African atmosphere was replicated here with the hip music and dancing girls which added spice to the already curry-hot up series. If one needed more, yes there was: starting from cricket veterans like Ravi Shastri, Sunil Gavasakar, and living legend Sachin Tendulkar, to Bollywood’s best and “lucky-charm” Shah Rukh Khan who came with Deepika Padukone in tow (if media reports are to be believed, she was the captain Dhoni’s guest).

With Australia winning the toss and batting first, I was wary: the only match in the T20 World Cup that India lost (against New Zealand) was one in which they chased. Although that match included Ajit Agarkar, the run gift-giver, and this one did not, anything could happen in a 20-20 match. However, that was not to be. The first over was full of excitement, with Gilchrist slamming 3 fours and R P Singh bagging his wicket with a beauty of a yorker. More Aussie action followed with in form Ponting flourishing and runs flowing, but Harbhajan pulled some back when he struck early to send Mathew Hayden back to the dug-out. The manner in which MS Dhoni handled the bowlers here must be lauded; that, and some good fielding restricted the Aussies to 166-5. Although the Indian fielding did not live up to the high standards that they set from themselves in the South Africa during the T20 World cup, some brilliant efforts like that of Yuvraj/Harbhajan running out Andrew Symonds and a few saves from Uthappa and Yuvaraj made the difference. Everybody did their part: the bowlers bowled well, the fielders for the most part did well, and the batsmen mauled the Aussie bowling.

There are many good things for India to take from this victory. Most importantly, it proves, as captain Dhoni said in the presentation, “… that World Cup victory (in South Africa) was not a fluke”. There was energy in the field, the fielders were pumped up applauding each others’ efforts, the batsmen belligerent, and the captain bravely innovative. Secondly, they played as a team and beat the opposition comprehensively; I’m tempted to say that they pulled an Australia (although this is 20-20 and India are ruling at the moment): when Sehwag failed, Gambhir and Uthappa shone, when Sreesanth struggled, Pathan, RP Singh and the spinners compensated. Attitude was key. In the batting, although Gambhir set the foundation and Yuvraj helped see India to through, for me, Uthappa was the pick of the batsmen; the way he danced down the track to hit out speaks volumes of the confidence that he and this Indian outfit share. When Dhoni hit the winning stroke for six, I felt a rush of happiness, pride, and awe. In Mahendra Singh Dhoni, I think, India have found a great captain: he is not fearful of the unconventional yet is capable of pulling out some almost boringly traditional stuff (like his innings from the Lord’s Test earlier this year) and most importantly, his game strategy is as fearless as his words. With some patience from the selectors, the media and the fans, this man could turn out to be one of the most successful Indian cricket captains.

Here’s to the new victorious India and to many more victories!

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.

Third time was charm: the Ind-Aus Chandigarh ODI

October 9, 2007

Third time was charm for India, and Sachin in the Chandigarh ODI which saw the hosts beat the Aussies by 8 runs. A good show indeed, but as MSD said, the opening partnership did set the stage; what he didn’t say is that it almost didn’t set the stage, with Sachin getting two lives (perhaps in exchange for each of the centuries that missed on the Ireland/England tour). It was rather sad to see Sachin, struggle for the first 10 overs of this ODI; what was heartening was to see, later in his innings, flashes of his good old brilliance.

There were many heartening things for India in this match; it was nice to see Ganguly back; Dhoni and Uthapppa showed the way to attacking the Aussies. Zaheer, although not impressive with the bowling for the day, did his bit with the fielding; RP Singh, gave away runs after spraying the ball, but came back with vengeance to get the match-winning wicket of Andrew Symonds. Murali Karthick on his comeback trail bowled beautifully at the death, and Dhoni showed his adeptness behind the stumps with two ‘quick-as-lightning’ stumpings. If there was one person who was missed, I think it would have been Sreesanth: the only guy who gets some respect from Hayden.

All in all it was a good performance by India. However, they musn’t bank on more of the same type of luck in the next few ones. Go MSD! We know you can!