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.

India “went down fighting”: India-Aus Nagpur ODI

October 16, 2007

That was one of the few quotes from Ramiz Raja that I liked. You can’t really argue with honesty can you? Yes, I thought they did go down fighting yesturday and there isn’t much to be ashamed of (as far as the Nagpur game is concerned). They could have bowled better, especially in the last few overs, for they did get a good start. At one point in the Aussie innings, it looked as though they may not reach a score of 250. There were flashes of brilliance interleaved between phases of mediocrity and sheer abysmalness. These phases of mediocrity were present in almost every member of the team: Sreeshant’s initial spell was insipid; Dravid ‘s dropped catches were shocking and Dhoni’s wicket keeping for the day, disappointing. It is this mediocrity and lack of adhrehence to the basics that cost them this match. The

And so the series is a wrap, for most practical purposes. Australia have won it, but there are many positives to take from this match. For one, the innovation exhibited by Dhoni must be lauded. I was surprized to see the way he pre-empted Ponting’s powerplay tactics by sending in Pathan at number 3. That must have taken Ponting by surprize and that element I think counts for a lot. Granted, it didn’t make or break the match, but it took India closer, raised our hopes, and kept the Aussies thinking. The second thing that was nice to see was Uthappa’s confident attitude. The Uthappa-Dhoni partnership took India very close to victory. If either one of them had stayed longer, we might have had a different result; however in their defence, I think they did what they had to in a situation which demanded 12 runs each over. For the second time in this series, they showed aggression with their game, not with words.

On the flip side, wrt to the Indian batting, Yuvraj’s failure in the last two matches was sad. This really isn’t the way to get a Test match call. Moving on to Dravid, what has happened to him? He seems to be getting worse as the series has progressed. First he drops a sitter of a catch, then picks up a blinder, then drop another few (he did have company here, but more on that later). To be fair to Dravid, I would attribute at least a part of his current horrible form to bad luck. I though he started out well in the second ODI, though he didnt score much, thanks to a stunning catch on the boundary line; after that, there were also instances where we saw glimpses of the Dravid that we know and admire. It can be hard for anyone, in any walk of life, to get out of a negative frame of mind. I have seen that the affected person is the best person who can change that.

It has become increasingly impossible to leave a discussion of Indian cricket without a mention of Sreesanth. In the Nagput ODI, it was nice to see his inclusion, but annoying to see that he didn’t get the early break-throughs. His first spell was so expensive that it seemed like Dhoni feared bringing him on later; however that could have been different if Dravid had picked up that edge off Gilchrist. In stark contrast to that was his second spell, in which he earned a deserved wicket.

Cricket is a strange game and in the case of Symonds and Sreeshant, it could not have been scripted any stranger. After all the on-field and off-field antics and verbal war from both people, Symonds had the last laugh, for it was Sreeshant who dropped the centurion on 2.

As for the next Ind-Aus match at Mumbai, India have nothing but pride to salvage. With that being the case, I think the Indian fan might be in for something special on Wednesday.