Monthly Archives: August 2007

England vs India — 1st ODI: Six areas for improvement…

It has been a long summer for the Indian team. They have been on the road for a while, playing ODIs against Ireland and South Africa, an ODI against Pakistan (rained out), a few tour games, three Tests against England and an ODI against Scotland. The work load would have to catch up on the players at some point in time. And on todays’ evidence at the Rose Bowl in Southapton in the first day-night ODI against England, it has!

But the good news is that India has an opportunity to work on a few areas. There are specifically six areas that India must work on to be competitive in the remaining 6 games of the series. These are, in no particular order:

  • batting
  • bowling
  • running between wickets
  • ground fielding,
  • catching, and
  • team balance

I am saying this only partly tongue-in-cheek! The real India wasn’t on the park today. Some may say that the real India hasn’t been on the park for quite a while now in ODIs! And that would perhaps be a fair cop for a team that has spluttered through the last few months. But there certainly were signs of recovery when India played South Africa in Ireland. So, I’d be willing to write this loss off as “early days yet” in the recovery process. And I said exactly this to a friend of mine who SMSd me during the latter part of the game saying, “Looks like normal programming has resumed”!

There are no silver bullets here really. The team just has to buckle down and start to play good cricket. They are capable of it.

In some respects, just as the Lords’ ‘excape’ was a fright for the team, I think this loss will be a good spur for the team. It is a seven-match series after all.

There will be some criticism of Rahul Dravid’s decision to bowl first on winning the toss. I am not sure what impact that decision would have had. Had the bowlers bowled well and to a plan, I am certain his decision would have been lauded as a brilliant one!

More importantly, however, I just do not believe that India has the right balance in its team though and that has to be the starting point. A Freddie Flintoff is a tremendous positive in terms of team-balance. Yes, India does not have an in-form allrounder to thrust into the team at the moment. So it must hope and pray that Gautam Gambhir is just keeping the seat warm for an in-form Irfan Pathan! In the absence of an Irfan Pathan or a Joginder Sharma or a Dinesh Mongia or a Praveen Kumar in the team, India may have to bite the bullet and go with 5 bowlers! It has to be an option that the team considers. Even if the team does not do that, I don’t believe this Gautam Gambhir experiment should continue.

— Mohan

Let the (ODI) games begin…

The India England test series finished on the 13th of August and although there was some disappointment that India didn’t win 2-0, we still won. Now the focus shifts to the ODI tournament and both teams bring in some fresh blood. It is a new game and a new contest.

But of late the England One Day team has not performed well. If the ICC rankings are anything to go by, England are ranked 8th. They even lost the recent ODI series to West Indies 1-2. This does not mean the English are a push over. In spite of India holding the edge over the English in terms of ranking (India is ranked 5) and recent results (India have only lost once to England in the last 8 games), the series may still be closely fought. India are still trying to get its One Day groove back after the World cup debacle and although England are rebuilding, they have a distinct advantage playing at home and will also be trying to make up for the test series loss. Freddie Flintoff’s return should also boost their confidence.

For the Indians, Ganguly, Dravid and Tendulkar would certainly like to score a century or two in the ODI series – something they missed out on in the test series. It is highly likely that Sachin will open the batting with Saurav. One drop could be a toss up between Gambhir and Uthappa (my preference). Yuvraj, Dravid, Dhoni and Karthik will occupy the next batting slots (not necessarily in that order). Piyush Chawla and Zaheer Khan are sure to make the cut. Munaf was a bit off against the England Lions the other day and may make way for Agarkar and RP Singh. RR Powar may not get a chance as it is highly unlikely that India will play just 2 fast bowlers.

CricInfo had this as the likely XI for the 1st ODI:

India (likely) 1 Sachin Tendulkar, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Gautam Gambhir, 4 Yuvraj Singh, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Dinesh Karthik, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Ajit Agarkar, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 RP Singh

It certainly looks like the team that will take the field today.

-Mahesh-

ICL: Who’s in, Who’s out

The ICL has been busy signing up players. Apart from Brian Lara, Imran Farhat and Maravan Attapatu are also said to have signed up. It has been reported in the NZ Herald Sun and CricInfo that Nathan Astle, Chris Cairns and Stephen Fleming from NZ are being targeted. The Dawn newspaper and Daily Times have reported about ICL having made offers/signed up the likes of Razzaq, Inzi, Azhar Mahmood, Mohd. Yousuf and Mohd. Asif.

Apart from this, several former players, like McGrath and Warne have expressed interest although they are yet to sign up. In fact, after showing initial interest, Warne is now unlikely to join in. We know for a fact that some players have turned down the ICL offer: Justin Langer, Damien Martin, Shoaib Akthar and Afridi are some of the names.

The international players will only constitute a small portion of ICL. The majority will come from domestic cricket and a whole bunch of players from Hyderabad and UP have already reportedly joined in. The first former Indian player to have joined the league is Sridharan Sriram.

Kapil Dev has promised to reveal all the names in a week’s time, but here are the confirmed names so far –

  • Ambati Rayudu, Hyderabad
  • Vinay Kumar, Hyderabad
  • Anirudh Singh, Hyderabad
  • Ibrahim Khalil, Hyderabad
  • Shashank Nag, Hyderabad
  • K Reddy, Hyderabad
  • IS Reddy, Hyderabad
  • Alfred Abbalam, Hyderabad
  • Absolem, UP
  • Ali Murtaza, UP
  • Shalabh Srivastava, UP
  • V. Devendran, TN
  • Sridhar Sriraman, Maharashtra/TN/India
  • Brian Lara, WI
  • Imran Farhat, Pakistan

People who have refused to take the offer (for now):

  • Shoaib Akthar
  • Afridi
  • Damien Martyn
  • Justin Langer
  • Badani

People who have been rumoured to have been approached/signing up:

  • JP Yadav, Railways/India
  • Amol Mazumdar and Nilesh Kulkarni from Mumbai
  • Attapatu, Russel Arnold, Upul Chandana, Zoysa, Jayasurya and Vaas from Sri Lanka
  • Fleming, Bond, Cairns, Astlen from NZ
  • Inzi, Razzaq, Mohd. Yousuf, Asif, Azhar Mahmood

-Mahesh-

Team India for ODI against Scotland and England Lions

India plays Scotland today (Thursday 16 August) in a ODI match at the Clydesdale Cricket Club grounds in Glasgow. Not surprisingly, it has been raining in Glasgow and a tinge of optimism is required to believe that this match will run its full course. If the weather does not have a say in curtailing the match duration, the Indian team might! Scotland are definitely not pushovers and since the World Cup, they have shown some improvement. But I can’t really see them offer the Indian team anything more than a pleasant sightseeing opportunity!

India follow this game with a ODI against England Lions at the County Ground, Northampton.

After that the 7-match circus commences on 21 August at The Rose Bowl (Southampton).

From the Team India contingent for the Test matches, Anil Kumble, Sree Santh, Wasim Jaffer, Ranadeb Bose, V. V. S. Laxman and Ishant Sharma have departed for India while Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Piyush Chawla, Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel have joined the squad.

It is likely that all of the above will play in the game against Scotland and also in the game against England Lions on the 18th. It is also likely that the players with minimal work-rate in the Test series will also play both games — namely, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Ramesh Powar.

We could add to this list Rahul Dravid, Dinesh Karthik and Sourav Ganguly for the game against Scotland and Sachin Tendulkar, M. S. Dhoni and R. P. Singh for the game against the Lions.

So the likely teams for the games are:

Against Scotland:
Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Dinesh Karthik, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel.

and

Against England Lions:
Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, M. S. Dhoni, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, R. P. Singh and Munaf Patel

It is likely that Zaheer Khan will sit out both games.

— Mohan
— Mohan

The Tipping Point… Where to from here for Team India?

There is a time in its journey when a sporting team could find itself perched on an important cusp. An opportunity presents itself to break itself away from a state that it is in and launch itself into a higher state. I believe that Indian cricket’s first break-mould moment was in 1971. Its second moment arrived in 1983. Its third was in 2001. It is presented with another opportunity now. Whether the team takes it or not is upto the individuals in it and the team manegement.

India has, without a coach, managed to beat England 1-0 in England. This is a creditable result for the team which is in a strange rebuilding phase that the team found itself in after the World Cup debacle.

There can’t much doubt that the most exciting period in recent memory for a Team India fan was the one from 2001 to mid-2003. This was the period when John Wright was Team India coach. India won important matches overseas and India won a massive series in Pakistan. Nothing will matter to an Indian cricket fan more than that win in Pakistan! It seemed like Indian cricket had finally turned the corner. It was after then that the wheels started falling off a bit.

The departure of John Wright and the arrival of Greg Chappell gave one the impression that the upward momentum was going to continue. Sourav Ganguly was a terrific captain — a player who has fascinated me for a long time with his unique brand of leadership. He was, though, rightly asked to step aside. There was a staleness to his leadership as well as his batting. He had to go and Greg Chappell made a tough call — a right call, in my view. Rahul Dravid came in as a breath of fresh air. Together Chappell and Dravid crafted their vision and put in processes. They tinkered with batting orders to put personnel in hitherto unfamiliar roles; to test them in environments of pressure that they may not have otherwise encountered. Losses were seen as tactical gains; as necessary sacrifices in view of the bigger picture. India had won an important away series in the West Indies. India also won several important games in India and started making some impressive strides in the ODI arena. Ganguly went away and transformed himself. Even Ganguly’s re-entry was welcomed.

But all of that came to nought when India crashed hopelessly out of the 2007 World Cup. All the experimentation and short-term-pain-for-long-term-gain strategy fell completely flat and there was a hollowness to it all. Greg Chappell had taken over when the foundations to the house were in place. He left Indian cricket after having seen the construction of a fully built house. But the manner of his leaving and the mess that he had left behind suggested that the house wasn’t built to specifications. Urgent reinforcements were in need, lest the house fall in a heap.

Moreover, within a few months of his leaving, the house needed to be looked into critically. It was almost like we had to build an extension to the house a few months after it had been newly constructed!

These extensions and reinforcements were attempted shoddily, hastily and arrogantly by the BCCI. The extension was secured but did not quite sit well with the rest of the house!

And in amongst this mess, four months and 10 days after India’s torrid exit from the World Cup, India conjured an away series win in England! Set in this context, this was an impressive win for the team. Not perhaps as impressive as India’s ground-breaking win in 1971 against a strong England team. Not perhaps as comprehensive as the win in 1986 when Kapil Dev’s team won 2-0 — and almost won a third match too!

Nevertheless, it was an impressive series win. Some people have knocked the win as a shallow one, given the absence of Flintoff, Harmison and Hoggard. Perhaps they, in their haste to knock the teams’ and the fans’ celebrations have ignored three basic issues: (a) It was Englands’ batting that let the team down, not the bowling, (b) Barring Anil Kumble who did not have too much of a role to play in the series, the Indian bowling was as (in)experienced as the England bowling, (c) A team plays with the team that it has! Period.

In that epic 2001 series, India won against Australia without Javagal Srinath and Anil Kumble, its two frontline bowlers! And that series win is still being talked about. It will still be talked about 10 years from now! New players are born when key players are absent. This was an opportunity for a few players to step up and be counted. In that series, Harbhajan Singh and to a lesser extent, Zaheer Khan stepped up to the plate! Kumble was replaced in the three Tests by Rahul Sanghvi (Mumbai), Venkatapathy Raju (Kolkata) and Nilesh Kulkarni (Chennai)!

So, this win cannot be made shallow by claims that England was decimated by the absence of Flintoff, Harmison and Hoggard. Tough luck. Teams have to ride the storm. India cannot whinge about the lack of a coach, for example, if India had lost! Them’s the price that one pays for the relentless amount of cricket that is being played.

Having said that, my own view is that this win has come at a huge cost — Rahul Dravid’s batting. My own view was that on day-4 of the Oval Test Dravid was carrying a huge load on his impressive, strong, resillient, yet human shoulders. A coach relieves the captain of minutae. A coach takes emotion out of the equation by absorbing it. These are the situations when a coach becomes much more than a vehicle that takes the team from the hotel to the ground and back. After having borne the cross for the whole tour, it was perhaps to be expected that, at a crunch hour Dravid simply appeared, to me, to freeze.

So where to from here for Team India? One word sums up the path ahead. Opportunity.

There is a time in its journey when a sporting team could find itself perched on an important cusp. An opportunity presents itself to break itself away from a state that it is in and launch itself into a higher state. I believe that Indian cricket’s first break-mould moment was in 1971. Its second moment arrived in 1983. Its third was in 2001. It is presented with another opportunity now. Whether the team takes it or not is upto the individuals in it and the team manegement.

This opportunity was, I believe presented to the team on day-4 of the Oval Test match. My disappointment was that the team did not sieze the moment and launch itself into the next state. By playing on and playing positively with a we-are-going-to-win mindset, the team could have launched itself into the next state. It did not. But the opportunity still exists.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, the author presents a thesis that (ideas and) behaviors act like outbreaks of infectious diseases that create social epidemics. The Tipping Point is the moment in an epidemic when critical mass is reached. These are “boiling point” moments. Moments that we often describe using the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Dramatic moments when something unique becomes common. Moments at which little changes can make a big difference.

A little change on day-4 would have meant “positive batting“. The big difference could have been, “Hey! We can do it”. Winning is a habit.

India has that opportunity to move forward now. The team has to sieze this moment. These moments don’t arrive often. But when it does, one has got to sieze it and make the most of it, if one wants to.

I’d like to deconstruct this opportunity in terms of 3Cs: Consistency, Coach, Conversion

Consistency

The 2003 version of Team India showed that it could be consistent. This team needs to show consistency too. And it has the chance. I can’t think of too many years when the team plays 3 marquee series in the same year! India has just beaten England in the first of the three marquee series. India play Pakistan in October-November and then immediately take on the might of Australia in Australia from mid-December 2007 onwards. India has an opportunity to show consistency and class in these two important upcoming series. The time to start showing this consistency is now.

Coach

India needs a good, strong coach. I do not believe the team can afford to have Dravid play the way he did in England. Dravid was the core around which the consistent 2001-2003 performances were built. His innings in Kolkata — not much is made of the sterling 180 that he made in Kolkata alongside Laxman’s splendid 281 — started a magic phase for Dravid that has seen him be the bed-rock on which several famous wins were constructed (Headingly, Adelaide, Rawalpindi, Sabina Park, etc). The team needs him to play authoritatively and with minimal emotional burden. And for this, the team needs a coach who would take care of all the minutae relating to the team. The current state of affairs is shoddy. The BCCI needs to fix this now.

Conversion

I have no doubt that the time for blooding newcomers is now. For a long time now, the bare bowling stocks was highlighted as India’s main problem area. It was seen as the area that needed addressing if India was going to win consistently overseas. However, I actually think that this area has come of age in this series.

In Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Sree Santh, India does have a good portfolio. The bench strength, with Munaf Patel, V. R. V. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Yo Mahesh, Ajit Agarkar, Ranadeb Bose, Ishant Sharma, et al, seems steady, if not promising. And some of these players on the bench have been blooded into the international arena already!

Piyush Chawla for Kumble seems to me to be an like-for-like replacement when Kumble decides to call it a day

In Harbhajan Singh — a proven match winner — and Romesh Powar, India has its off spinning stocks covered although the cupboard is bare once you remove these two from the equation! An area of concern is certainly the left-arm spin option. These are two areas for future-investment and development.

The batting is, to me a concern. India needs to convert some of its bench personnel into toughened and hardened international cricketers. This is an opportunity. We can’t have Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman retire in a heap. This will leave the team vulnerable and exposed. I actually think that there are replacements for these four stalwarts in Sehwag-Rohit-Yuvraj-Badrinath for example. And then there are others like Raina and Tiwary waiting in the wings. But these conversions need to be made in a staged manner. And the time to start is now.

And this is where I believe the team should be thinking in the medium-term of a clear, cogent, planned and convincing rotation policy. Given the amount of cricket that is being played these days, it is not necessary for Dravid, Ganguly, Tendulkar and Laxman to play in every game! One of them could be rotated out — even in a Test match — for cricketers like Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Rohit Sharma, Manoj Tiwary, S. Badrinath, et al to play in the middle order! Apart from providing greater longevity to the careers of the Fab Four, it also provides for a sustainable future.

The Fab Five are going to retire in the next few years. Indian cricket cannot afford to wait until then to think of replacemements. These retirements need to be planned and managed and the way to do it would be through rotations and strong India-A tours.

The Australian rotation policy is centered around providing rest opportunities for key players. I do believe the time has arrived for India to form a core-group of 25 cricketers and devise a rotation policy that is focussed on sustainability and bench-strengh development. Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid commenced this exercise but I felt that they panicked and took their eye off the ball in the lead up to the World Cup. Cricketers need to be blooded and hardened. Just as Australia slowly brought in Michael Clarke, Michael Hussey, Phil Jacques, Stuart Clark, Shaun Tait, et al with a view to the future, India needs to do the same through a carefully crafted rotation policy. And the time to start this is now.

India has a few taxing series coming up. By planning for these along with a coach, India can make that Good-To-Great journey from being a good team to a great team. But this requires resolve. It requires a bunch of individuals that care about the future of Indian cricket to make some hard decisions. It requires the ability to realise the tipping point and also realisation of what it takes to tip…

These are mere discussion starters from me… Comment away!

— Mohan

How are the hopefuls going?

While all the action has been around India’s tour of England, India-A has been playing in Kenya and India U-19 has been playing in Sri Lanka.

In Kenya, Parthiv Patel is batting like a dream while Mohammed Kaif has been stuttering. Parthiv Patel has pushed himself up the order and is batting at #1 and even opened in one match raising the distinct possibility of India playing 3 ‘keepers in a game soon! After a rather insipid start, Irfan Pathan looks like he is coming good. He has been taking wickets in most matches. After strong initial contributions with the ball from Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha has stepped up to the plate as a convincing bowling left-arm-spin alternative for the future. One standout in the entire tour has been S. Badrinath. He has been making the runs steadily and he has been making them in quick time too! Of course, India has been winning everything on this tour of Zimbabwe and Kenya!

The real test will come when these lads travel to England, South Africa, West Indies and Australia. But it is certainly nice to follow the travails of the India-A team.

We have kept our eyes focussed on the U-19 tour of Sri Lanka too. There, one of the key interests was in the travels of Tanmay Srivastava and Abhinav Mukund. They both travelled well in the second match of the series, with Abhinav Mukund scoring a double century and a century in the same game!

— Mohan

England Vs India: Test 3 Day 5 — An overseas series win…

India pressed hard for a victory on day-5 of the 3rd Test match against England. But in the end, the England batsmen defended their way to the close of days’ play to leave India a few breaths short of victory.

Who knows what may have happened if India had another 15 or so overs? These, and other hypotheticals will surround the match, but the fact is that India won the series 1-0. It was an overseas series win to add to the win last year in the West Indies.

The day of “if only’s” commenced with an if-only off the very first ball. Sree Santh bowled a beauty to Alistair Cook that struck the batsman plumb in front. Umpire Ian Howell chose to not see it that way. During the day, Rahul Dravid dropped Michael Vaughan and M. S. Dhoni dropped Paul Collingwood. Both were difficult chances, but I’ve seen both Dravid and Dhoni take these. These missed catches added to the if-only ponderings.

However, in the end analysis, England had decided to pull down the shutters and play for a draw. The huge target put an England victory completely out of contention. But having decided that they would play for a draw, they proceeded down that path with aplomb. Instead of dour defence, they kept the scoreboard ticking — no doubt helped by the attacking fields that Dravid set at times. Pietersen was superb in his shot-selection as well as his innings-planning. He built the innings carefully and then played the gaps. He wouldn’t allow the bowlers to settle into a rhythm. Collingwood was a rock at one end as Pietersen scored freely at the other end.

The Indian bowlers toiled through the day and kept picking up wickets at regular intervals. But as in Sydney in 2004, India came close to winning the last Test in a marquee series, but not close enough.

Had India done the right thing by batting on? I think so — both in Sydney as well as at The Oval.

Had India delayed the declaration? I think so — both in Sydney as well as at The Oval, with the difference being that in Sydney, they played positive cricket in the second innings.

But all of that is irrelevant now. India has won the series here and that was mightily important to the team, its progress and her fans. The difference between a 1-0 series win and a 2-0 series win would have been (a) a few points on the ICC Championship Table, (b) the opportunity to be number 2 in the ICC table — level with England on 109 points — instead of number 3 — level with Sri Lanka on 107 points, (c) making winning a habit.

The team, through Dravid, sent a message that 1-0 was good enough and that is what we got.

England had battened down the hatches and saved the match, but lost the series. The series win was Dravid’s prime KPI and he, and his team, had delivered.

But more importantly, it was a good team effort. India went with an unchanged team in all three Test matches. The team played well together — without a coach — and came away with a fantastic win at Trent Bridge after being under the pump at Lord’s in the 1st Test. They had won a series in England after 21 years. They played smart cricket through the series.

Lets not take that away from this Indian team.

— Mohan