IPL 2: So it isn’t boring after all

May 4, 2009

I must admit that I’m the one who vowed not to watch the IPL 2, who wore my thoughts on my sleeve about how this season can be nothing short of very boring. I’m now very guilty for I’ve watched more IPL matches this year than the last.

Credit must be given to the pitch masters of South Africa. It isn’t for nothing that the T20 World Cup in 2007 was such a hit. It isn’t just about the Bollywood babes, catchy tunes, and scantily clad cheerleaders. If the cricket’s boring (and the tickets expensive or spectators’ conditions poor), the tournament becomes doomed. By getting the pitches right and the ticket prices right (if the commentators and other tournament-folk are to be believed), cricket South Africa have ensured the success of the tournament.

Perhaps this even balance so produced by quality pitches have ensure that insipid sides like Rajasthan and weekend ones like Punjab don’t seem that great this year. Suddenly the Asnodkars and the Mascarenases don’t seem that valuable. You’ve got to get the cricket right here, which is why the good old folk – Dravid, Tendulkar, Boucher, Kumble – and those among the new who are worth their salt – Badrinath, Duminy, RP Singh – and the like are making merry.

The teams and their fortunes

Royal Challengers Bangalore and Deccan Chargers

The shift away from India has benefited two teams that found themselves at the bottom of the table last year: Bangalore and Deccan.

We all knew Deccan had it, it just wasn’t clicking for them. That RP Singh has had a lot of success in South Africa adds a lot to their attack.

Bangalore’s is the miracle recovery. I think it has more to do with team spirit and Kumble’s captaincy than Ray Jennings’ coaching. Besides they are the side with almost an all South African combination with Indian stars. They lucked out that the tournament moved to their real home. Bangalore doesn’t belong in India! ūüôā On yesturday’s thumping victory over Mumbai that involved chasing a score of over 140, while Uthappa’s innings might be a flash in the pan, Kallis I think has indeed found himself in the T20 version. I cannot end a paragraph about the BRCs without mentioning Dravid. He started the tournament with a sparkling 66 of 40-odd. That he is back in the squad will add the much needed backbone to the Bangalore team. Dillion du Pree, the debutant yesturday seemed like an inspired pick. Four overs might be too early to judge, but he may yet become the star of Bangalore attack, surpassing a certain lackluster Dale Steyn.

Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab

For those who just couldn’t understand how the Royals won the tournament last year, myself included, this year, so far has been a vindication. The team has little value in the young mavericks. Veteran Saffer batsman Smith isn’t exactly setting anything on fire; they are missing Sohail Tanvir the most. Watson might have been another flop here – not a huge fan of him.

Kings XI is kind of neither here nor there. Their bowling department has lucked out with the selection of Abdullah. They are missing Sreesanth, Lee and Shaun Marsh. Jayawardena isn’t in cracking form. For me this is a 50-50 team. Could go either way.

Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevils

The two most balanced sides – Mumbai and Delhi – have got fairly good results so far, the latter more than the former. Mumbai’s bowling has expectedly been bolstered by Malinga’s form and Zaheer’s presence. Is it just me or does somebody else also think Zaheer seemed more lethal when he was bowling for Bangalore?

Delhi lost Shikar Dhawan this year, but thankfully for them, he isn’t in form. Viru is yet to blast away that 10+ an over rate for the first 6-8 overs, but it might only be a matter of time.

Chennai Super Kings

Last year’s uber geek team is languishing in the table. Why that is the case is beyond me. Dhoni and Albie aren’t contributing too well. But that apart, you’ve got to believe it’s a matter of a few wins to see them in the top four where they belong.

Kolkata Knight Riders

The most woeful of the teams this year. Given the degree of off-field woe which seems to be propagating on-field, they probably deserve to be where they are. The batting isn’t clicking, McCullum’s batting looks stressed; he’s not the free flowing carefree man from last season. Ganguly is smug, Ishant erratic and unsupported by horrible fielding which reminds of Indian team from the early 90s, Agarkar is well, just plain Agarkar. Buchanan and his army needs to be shown the door and Ganguly or somebody else made sole captain.


The Irani Trophy beckons!

September 23, 2008

Well almost – it’s tomorrow and I can’t wait. This Delhi vs. Rest of India clash, touted as the the dress rehearsal to the Australia series, has everything in it to be a cracker. Everybody will have everything to play for. Weather permitting and pitch (and cable operator) willing we should see a good contest. I’m not a Delhi-ite but I think they have the psychological edge with the “we can afford to mess this up” factor helping them; at least they will be the lesser of the stressed. It is the Kumble lead Rest-of-India who will need to prove points. Every single middle order batsmen in their line up – Dravid and Laxman in particular – have everything at stake here. Actually, apart from Badri/Kaif, depending on who will play, and the aforementioned India seniors, there isn’t too much of interesting batting in the Rest of India line up. When I read the name Wasim Jaffer, I tend to to mentally skip it and am not too excited about Parthiv Patel either – he has no technique whatsoever. Delhi, on the other hand seems to have a more interesting batting line up. I use the word interesting for it is the kind of batting that could swing to either of the extremes. They could thrill us all, with attacking stroke play or have us screaming and lamenting about the future depending upon how things go for them. Delhi batsmen to watch out for will be Aakash Chopra, in-form Virat Kohli and Shikar Dhawan, though I feel the latter might turn out to be just a bit of hype. And that’s aside of perennial surprise package that is Virender Sehwag and “purple patch” Gambhir.

Two contests I will eagerly look forward to are Ishant vs. Dravid and Ishant vs. Laxman. While Ishant got Dravid in the IPL opener at Bangalore, it is his nagging off-stump line that is likely to bother Dravid in particular as he has been dismissed by such deliveries thrice (as far as I can remember) in the last year to Sohail Tanvir, Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma. Laxman who has a similar approach, though not identical, might fare a little better against such stuff. My predictions on Ishant – he will get the top four of Rest of India with Jaffer and Parthiv being the bunnies. I’m not familiar with the rest of the Delhi bowlers and will leave that discussion to the expert opinion of my Delhi-ite blogging friends.

Another contest to look to is Sehwag against Zaheer; the other Rest of India pacers, R P Singh and Munaf may get it from Sehwag big time! I would also like to see the look on Harbhajan’s face when Sehwag hits him over the top for six ūüôā ! Also interesting would be to see how the young Delhi middle order cope with the spin duo of Kumble and Harbhajan.

For Delhi, top order will be key, and middle for Rest of India. I already feel that this is an India vs. somebody else match with scale titled in favor of the “somebody else”. Rest of India, prove me wrong!


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.


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?