Mission 2011 World Cup: Wrong Path?

August 19, 2008

The Indian ODI side has lost another battle to Mendis. I’d written them off even before a single ball was bowled in the series. Soulberry is postively miffed and strangely I thought they should have been doing exactly what SB suggests.

But the anxiety and emotion isn’t just about this series. It is about the so-called mission to win the World Cup in 2011.

While there is value in the vision itself (I do have some reservations on the over-emphasis that the World Cup is getting, but I’ll save that for another day), for some time now it has taken precedence to common sense. I think the selectors and us, the serious-Indian-cricket followers, have mostly overreacted to the T20 victory. Just because a young side that won us a World Cup in a abridged format does not mean that was the way to go. Again, we also overreacted to the ODI series victory in Australia, which I have said time and again was largely due to Tendulkar and some good fast bowling from the younsters: not the Uthappas and Rainas.

This reaction has brought about precisely two things: a meteoric rise in the importance of Dhoni and wholesale recruiting of inexperienced youth from an U-19 cricket team. Dhoni’s recent success has hidden his rather mono-dimensional-nature as captain and less-than-solid batting from scrutiny. Dhoni isn’t a thinking captain, Azharuddin was. Dhoni is a lucky captain, at least so far: his troups have delivered. While there is nothing wrong with that the lack of ingenuitity or depth is bothersome. Perhaps this is the series which might expose these aspects of Dhoni further more. I’m not suggesting that we sack Dhoni now. That would be knee-jerk and the problem isn’t really with the captaincy, though I must add he hasn’t been doing much either. Besides, we don’t have a replacement captain. Please don’t suggest Yuvraj, he’s even worse! This itself is a crisis unprecedented in the last 10-15 years. When Azhar had to go, there was Tendulkar; when Ganguly was sacked, Dravid was ready. Even when Dravid stepped down, Dhoni made it because there was no one else, not out of his own merit. The second issue is of more importance. We’ve had a good deal of failures even the recent past of 3+ years from the Chappel era of recruiting U-19s to the Indian team. A cursory look at these names leads credence to the view that this really isn’t the way to go: Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Mohammed Kaif. In Rohit Sharma, Kohli and Ohja we perhaps have our next failed experiments. Domestic cricket is there for a reason and cricket is not a boys’ game. It involves either genius talent ala Tendulkar or just pure hard work. Gambhir learned it the hard way and is now back after having spent some time in the domestic circuit. Barring Tendulkar, the other Indian batting greats of today, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman roughed it out before they were even considered to represent the country at the highest level. The selectors need to look back this tradition, gather strength and change the way things are being done, though I fear it might already be a bit too late. Give it another year or a few more failed U-19 stars, and we might have to wait another generation for a set of solid batsmen.

Honestly, on the mission World Cup 2011, I honestly don’t see it happening. Teams that win World Cups generally have about 4-5 members who have played in an earlier version and have a mix of solid and swashbuckling batsmen and quality bowlers with variety. Australia in ’99 was probably the best Aussie WC team in the recent past. India’s 2003 WC squad was also probably our best and will remain that way for some time to come. I won’t comment on the 2007 WC here, much has been said about it. If honest effort is made to nurture good batting and bowling we might have a competitive 2015 WC squad, and unless anything miraculous happens I don’t see this particular ODI side winning a 50-over World Cup for us.

Meanwhile, in Soulberry’s thread, some have suggested what I have been ranting about for over eight months now: the reinstatement of Dravid in the ODI side. I would suggest that we include Ganguly too. We need some stability and some sanity. We need a batsman to hang around so the youngsters can learn what it takes to build an innings. Right now there is no mentor in the ODI team for the younsters. And please, Dhoni isn’t one! What happened to the rotation policy?  We seem to only have a senior-elimination policy at the moment. Dhoni was picked as captain of the ODI side because he supposedly had a good rapport with the seniors, but the first thing that he did was sack Dravid and then Ganguly. We need to rotate the Big 3, not eliminate 2 and let Tendulkar chase his records. Having said all that, given the nature of BCCI, do I see it happening? No. But do I continue hoping? Yes.

I think at the end of this tour of Sri Lanka, we would have learned more lessons than we did in the past decade. The last instance of such a lesson-filled tour that I recall is probably the 99-00 tour of Australia.  We need a good mix of the old and new to win matches and to build for the future. The veterans need to be around to show the way and the transition to the new order gradual. We have learnt a valid lesson from the ODI squad and one only hopes that after the 1-2 defeat in the recently concluded Test series, the same mistakes aren’t made with the Test squad.


India lose series 1-2: Musings on the Fab Four

August 11, 2008

I must first forewarn you that this is not an organized collection of thoughts. It’s a largely an emotional response to the series thrown away and hope lost of seeing the Fab-four in action together.

After a day and of half of holding on to the fine ray of hope, nearly living on the edge, the most logical result has shown its face. I’m sure fellow blogger Soulberry shares in my fatigue. Soulberry, you seriously raised my hopes with your stats on the Dravid-Laxman partnership. They looked promising, esp, Dravid, but I guess it just wasn’t to be. This goes to prove you cannot win a Test match with 4 injured players, especially if it includes your strike pace bowler. A few overs of Ishant could have made for a different story, but many will feel that he could only have delayed the inevitable.

It was a rather hyped series given the sub-continental flavor. As an Indian cricket fan, it is a sad day not because this is just another series loss, but because, I think we might have seen the last of the Fab-four playing together. Not because that should be the case, but because I think that will. Indian fans and the BCCI have been known for their knee-jerk reactions to everything: World Cup exits, victories and umpiring errors alike. I expect that one of the four places will now go to a junior and as SP predicted, I suspect that it will be Ganguly, but honestly, I think it should be Tendulkar. Either way, some of us, fans of the Fab-four, need to brace ourselves for some brutal ones to come.

While the rational side of me says it is only fair that one of these places go to a junior, a part of me also fears the selectors will pick the wrong senior to replace and give his place to a wrong junior. The selectors might pick a teenager who scored in the IPL 20, the likes of Rohit Sharma. We need to pick from our regional circles, a player who has scored well. Doesn’t matter if he is 30. The Gangulys and the Dravids, the two who have probably lasted the longest in the history of the game (apart from Tendulkar, of course) came in their late twenties, after being seasoned by good old Ranji. At the moment, the only batsman deserving of a Test call up is Badrinath, but I think Rohit will get it earlier and fail. That said, some of the senior folk could use some domestic match practice as well.

Galle victory notwithstanding, we lost the series in the first Test: mostly psychologically. There was pressure on the seniors from Asia-cup-fame Mendis, the fans, the press, the media, and I suspect the BCCI. Did the Fab-four lose this series for us? Yes and No.

Yes, they did contribute significantly to the loss. Let’s start at the top with “the God” shall we. Tendulkar seemed impatient and arrogant, more inclined to get his record that to play to a responsible innings. Nothing else explains the dismissal in the first innings of the First Test. Then Ganguly. Nothing seemed to be wrong with him, impatience and fear got the better of him. Dravid, seemed disturbingly out of form in the first Test. Batting seemed to invoke horrors in a man who nicknamed the Wall. There was one innings in which he was himself: the second innings of the decider Test and this is the only good sign for us among the Fab four. Laxman seemed solid in the first innings of the First Test, fell like a bunny 5 times, and resurrected himself to some extend in the second innings of the Third Test.

Yes, they lost it for us as Dravid, who has for long been the backbone of the batting did not find form until the second innings of the 3rd Test. We need the Wall to keep building the fortress to allow the other batsmen to build. There is just no replacement for the role that Dravid has played.

Yes, they lost it for us, as this is the first time in which they were all not scoring throughout the series.

But, no, it isn’t just them. Our bowler’s did not step up either. Other the Ishant, nobody looked like taking any wickets. Our wicketkeepers or wicketkeeper-batsmen, as we wrongly call them were pathetic with both their responsibilities. Kumble, surprizingly didn’t look like taking wickets. Our fielders lacked initiative, yes the young ones too. Last but not the least, there was the largely inconsistent and partisan referral system. A collective failure in performance and spirit caused us this series and takes us only further from that coveted #1 Test team position.

Having said all about the Fab-four, while they have been stellar in many ways, they have also been largely inconsistent through their illustrious careers. It would be hard to find a series in which all of them collectively consistently and consequtively scored heavily. It has been their class and showmanship with the bat that has earned them this tag. The again, winning Test matches isn’t about of collective centuries, it is about everybody doing their part and doing so well. This time, they failed to produce that face-saving century that they needed, or half century each, Lax and Dravs excluding (though I’m not sure that will save them from the selectors who will want to keep Tendulkar) . Also, more often than not, they have been bothered by a bowler on debut. Bret Lee, Chris Tremlet and Sohail Tanvir come to mind. Ajantha Mendis now joins this list. It will be interesting to see which way he goes.

The selectors have a many tough decisions now with the Aussies coming to town. Do you judge the seniors on one bad series? Do you put the mentally pressurized seniors on the spot with an ultimatum in the series against the Aussies? Or do you throw the younsters to the wolves? Do you give seniors match practice in Ranji or rest?

As RS rightly points out, the only one to gain from this is Dhoni. It’s a stroke of tactical masterclass from him to skip this Test series. I now predict a Sri Lankan ODI series washout by 4-1 or 5-0. Then will the same questions be asked of Dhoni’s boys? Let us see.


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!


Of India-Paksitan cricket and India’s wins – are they boring?

June 12, 2008

Three matches have gone by the tri-series featuring India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. All three matches had a predictable result. In the match against Bangladesh, after Sehwag fell, I was almost hoping for an upset.

Despite the fact that this series includes an India-Pakistan face-off, there is a sense of boredom about it. Is too much India-Pakistan to blame? Or is it the fact that India has been consistently beating them for some time now? Or is the lack of competitiveness from Pakistan? As for me, I thought Bangladesh in their match against India, for their standing in World cricket, batted better than Pakistan. Where is the spirit, Pakistan?

Let me ask the bigger question. Is it boring to watch India win? Is it even boring to watch ’em batt? I didn’t watch much of India’s batting after the goose-bump inducing T20 style Sehwag-Gambhir partnership. Other than noticing that Rohit Sharma is losing his patience, Yuvraj is his princely self and Praveen Kumar is getting better by the hour, there isn’t much to say. Are you missing the star clashes of old the Tendulkar-Shoaib or Ganguly-Shoaib? Or the lopsided Indian collapses from 100-1 to all out for just under 200?

Q points out here with hard facts, that India has been closing the India-Pakistan gaps. And that India has turned the tables. They have turned the tables indeed, but on a very weak Pakistan team. Pakistan won many games against an Indian team with some of best batsmen in Tendulkar, Azharuddin, Manjrekar, Dravid, Ganguly and the like. In that case, does the turning tables really count?

With this kind of one-sided cricket being played, I’m better off watching the other matches with more interest. The Aussies are 5-down on Day 1 of the Barbados Test. Gotta go catch some of that!

Ciao for now.


Looking ahead to IPL Season 2: Iconless IPL?

June 1, 2008

Allright, the IPL is almost over. I don’t really feel the intensity for either of the semis. Maybe that is because Rajasthan Royals have clearly been the best T20 side in the IPL. Or maybe because neither of the teams that I was supporting – Bangalore and Kolkata – are in the contest. There was a bit of feeling for Delhi, I would have liked to see them in the finals, but that wasn’t to be. 😦

Much has been said of the performances of the icons, specially the senior ones: Dravid, VVS Laxman, Ganguly and Tendulkar. I will not venture into that discussion just yet. Instead, I will ask this. What will an icon-less IPL be like? Considering some of the owners’ heavy-handed manner and the way things are going for the icons, I would speculate that not all of these folks will feature in the next installment.

Let us assume, for arguments sake, that neither of the above mentioned icons make it to the second season in any form. What would be the reaction of the masses? Especially the partisan ones – Mumbai and Kolkata. The Mumbai folks (or at least most of them) throng the IPL to watch Tendulkar and Kolkata to see their Maharaj. What happens to the other folk who go to these matches to see a Ganguly or a Dravid bat? Will these foks not turn up? Going by the attendance in the Ranji Trophy, an icon-less IPL will be a only a few grades more interesting to the masses. Yes, there will be Gilchrist fans and the McGrath fans, and they will bring some people to the stands, but these folk are the more educated cricket watchers, not the average Indian guy on the street who goes to watch a cricket match.

Even as I type this, I see the counter argument coming. One being that Indian cricket is in a state of flux where the seniors will slowly make way for deserving youngsters; that we need to be practical and one day or the other get used to an Indian team sans Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid; that the fans of the new recruits will take the place of today’s masses. True, all valid arguments. However the issue is that all this takes time. You need several match-winning performances to get a fan following. Good looks will help too :). Consider Rohit Sharma, who gave us some very valuable runs in that T20 world cup match against South Africa. On the other hand you have Ishant Sharma – the find of the Aussie tour, the kid who troubled titan-esque Aussie captain Ponting. I would think Ishant has a bigger fan following than Rohit Sharma. On the other hand, Gautham Gambhir, who has figured in more matches than the Sharmas may have a smaller fan base. All this is of course speculation. The point that I’m trying to make is that, for the icon-less IPL season to succeed, it must be timed right. If not, it will shake the very foundation of the IPL. Lack of crowds will affect TV ratings, ad money, sponsorship, etc, and pinch the owner’s pocket.

The owners may consider the icons as dead weight, but they bring the crowds at least for now. And they might need the icons more than they think, for this is India; we are mostly a crazy lot and cricket is a religion here. The owners, at least for the time being, better not mess with the Gods.


Bangalore pull it off: Bangalore Royal Challengers vs. Deccan Chargers

May 25, 2008

For an IPL match that was largely called a battle to avoid the wooden spoon, it entertained quite well.

The entertainment value was not top class, but it felt like standard cricket: not too euphoric, for the most part, and even boring sometimes, but not without fluttering a supporter’s heart.

The Bangalore Royal Challengers seemed to have carried on some momentum from their previous unbelievable win against Chennai. Without Zaheer and Praveen, one would have thought the bowling had chinks, but the local boys and under-19s contributed well to the line up. The team spirit seems to have gotten better over the past couple of games.

Gilchrist won the toss and chose to bat first. Dravid responded by opening the bowling with Kumble, a move that seemd to suggest that he has returned to thinking ways, as opposed to panicking. Risky? Yes. Payed off? Not completely, but the Kumble-Steyn combination stopped the Gilchrist-Gibbs pair get off to a flyer. The move almost payed off with Kumble appealing although unsuccessfully for lbw against Gibbs. It remained just a close one, which umpire Koertzen turned down. Steyn continued some his good work from the the last couple matches. While the Deccan run rate was kept down to 5-odd for the first couple of overs, the bowling change to Kallis brought some change in fortunes. Shortly after taking a pummelling, Kallis retired hurt causing worries for the bating. The local boy Vinay Kumar with U-19 Virat Kohli succeded in keeping the Deccans down as Bangalore regularly picked up wickets. Perhaps the biggest blow for the Deccan was losing the IPL star Rohit Sharma after he hurt himself while batting.

Going by Bangalore’s chasing record, going after 165 seemed tough, but there was some hope with Jaffer on top to lead some stability. However, Jaffer turned out to be the clown of the batting line up for first running himself out and then atrociously running out the injured but belligerent Kallis by some very lazy running. Misbah came settled down, thrilled and went. Dravid also came, threatened to lead the chase, thrilled indeed with a six and three consecutive fours- all priceless beauties (including a Misbah trademark cheeky reverse one), but departed by mis-timing one from Sanjay Bangar. It seemed to be over for Bangalore at that point with the asking rate creeping to over 10. However they weren’t destined for the wooden spoon. Thanks to some hitting from until-now indifferent White and Kohli, but mostly to Akhil for sealing it with 2 sixes towards the end of 18th over. At the end of the day, it was team work that did it for Bangalore: everyone chipped in when it was required.

Mallya! You spilled trash too soon. This team isn’t as bad as your mouth.

Go Bangalore! Go Dravid!


South Africa humiliate India – 2nd Test at Ahmedabad

April 5, 2008

An innings defeat at Motera was almost imminent as South Africa crossed 200 runs in their first innings after bowling out India for an embarrassing 76.

Many things went wrong for India at Motera:

1. Being given a green top

2. Kumble choosing to bat first on a green top

3. Picking five bowlers with Pathan being the fifth

4. Poor fielding

5. Shocking shot selection from some of the batsmen

Credit to the South African bowlers to have taken full advantage of the green top. Sometimes you get caught in a middle of an excellent spell of bowling; that was the case with the dismissals of Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly, the last being perhaps at lightning speed.

What will happen now is the question on most people’s mind. Are we thrashing the seniors again? Fellow blogger Soulberry fears that this might bring out the likes of the Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma. I shudder at that thought. That would also perhaps shut the case of Mohd. Kaif.

Till Kanpur do us wait!