Monthly Archives: September 2007

Australia Tour itinerary

Here is the tour itinerary for the India Australia ODI series –

Sat 29 Sep Floodlit Match  M.Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore
Tue 2 Oct Nehru Stadium, Kochi
Fri 5 Oct Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad
Mon 8 Oct Sector 16 Stadium, Chandigarh
Thu 11 Oct I.P.C.L. Sports Complex Ground, Vadodara
Sun 14 Oct Vidarbha C.A. Ground, Nagpur
Wed 17 Oct Floodlit Match Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

 

There will also be a T20 match on Sat 20 Sep at Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai. Wonder if the ODI series will be a let down after such a great T20 tournament 🙂

You can also download the Outlook calendar from here, courtesy of CricInfo

-Mahesh-

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The challenges ahead for M. S. Dhoni

Over the weekend, I was in conversation with a few friends of mine about M. S. Dhoni’s captaincy. We agreed that in the T20 World Championship he was doing exceedingly well. He appeared to have confidence in his players and also had their confidence. There was a sense of an environment of trust and enjoyment in the team. He also appeared to get them to give off their best for themselves as well as their team members.

Ian Chappell observed that this was a team that was playing fear-free cricket in the spirit of their captain.

At this point in time, perhaps justifiably, most fans, observers and commentators are completely enamoured by Dhoni’s freshness, approach, acumen and style. If sceptics needed more convincing, apparently he and Sreesanth had an early night after the T20 finals with Dhoni saying that there was still much to do in the Australia ODI series and there was no need to get carried away. He is reported to have said to his teammates, “Sab kuch normal rakhne ka (keep everything normal). Just live in the present, keep your feet on the ground, enjoy your success but don’t get carried away by success.

These are good days for Dhoni and his team. These are honeymoon days for Dhoni. They are happy days too, for his team has won when no one expected it to do so.

However, there are some stark realities of captaining India and if he is not aware of it already, I am sure it will hit Dhoni most when he contends with three evils in Indian cricket which are, in no particular order, (a) ‘the system’, (b) the dressing-room-egos, and (c) unsurpassed expectations.

The System:
This is euphemism for the BCCI and its machinations. Harsha Bhogle, writing in the Indian Express, says in the context of Rahul Dravid’s resignation: “Ideally, a captain should be free to think about the game and his players. If matters outside the playing field begin to occupy his mind more than those on it then there is a problem in the system that is causing it to happen. If a captain has to keep thinking about contracts, coaches, schedules and such other matters that really should be someone else’s responsibility, it is taking away time from his primary activity. Nasser Hussain quit as captain in 2003 because he was being forced to think more about Robert Mugabe than about the opposition. If Dravid has left the job for similar reasons, then all we will have is a new face with the same worries.

And that is essentially what Dhoni will face too.

Subsequent to my conversation over the weekend with my friends, I was reminded of this lovely article I read by Rohit Brijnath — in my view, one of the best writers on Indian cricket — just before Rahul Dravid and his team departed for England in June 2007. He wrote of the BCCI: “On 23 March, India’s World Cup challenge ended. In July, India opens its tour of England. Ample time existed to find a new coach. The BCCI’s inability to do so is further confirmation that no one in the Indian board knows, or seems to care, how to build a world-class team. As a group they remain unfamiliar with excellence.

Dhoni will be faced with a similar inept system that has no commitment to excellence. As I have said before, I doubt that this mob would be able to plan a booze party in a brewery even if their lives depended on it. They would, however, organise it in a hurried manner as though their backsides were on fire if and only if they smelt money.

Sourav Ganguly was able to manipulate this system to his — and his teams’ advantage. But then he was a master politician and moreover, he had Dalmiya on his side. It will be interesting to see how Dhoni copes with this single major challenge that he faces to his tenure as captain.

Dressing room egos:

If one were to accept the scuttlebutt , there may have been a blip in the dressing-room temperature in the game against South Africa with Yuvraj Singh being one of the culprits. Harsha Bhogle gave the impression on air that the “tendonitis of the elbow” explanation was a bit of a furphy. He follows that up with the following lines in this article: “India should have been rocked by the withdrawal of a champion batsman, but the captain let him sit out and didn’t bother persuading him to play. That is the way to go and in doing so he made a statement on what he thought the rest were capable of. Only Yuvraj will know how bad the pain was but it must have been excruciating enough to warrant missing a game a day after playing the innings of his life.

If there were any tensions subsequent to that game, Dhoni appeared to have smoothed them over, given Yuvraj Singh the ego-stroke that he was possibly looking for — if indeed, the scuttlebutt was to be believed — and then gotten on with the job.

But this is just the start. As Rohit Brijnath comments eloquently, “Indian cricket is alive, constantly, with a dozen mutinies and a captain must deftly quell them. Some insurrections are quelled by a quiet word at dinner or a friendly pat to an uneasy bowler. Dravid’s toughness has reportedly made him intimidating to men who are not on his wave length. Of course he must not pander to indolent fellows, yet must convince men to a common cause. A fellow at ease with words must communicate more ably.

What Brijnath writes about Dravid applies equally to Dhoni with a few exceptions. The problems are the same — there are always a “dozen mutinies” to quell — but the approaches will be crafted by the leader. Where Dravid was seen as “intimidating”, Dhoni may be more “approachable”. And Dravid’s “toughness” may make way for Dhoni’s “tough love” approach.

Dressing-room-mutiny-quelling is a necessary skill that any Indian captain must possess. Sourav Ganguly had this in spades, in my view and that made him more able to curtail the inevitable “slow leak of spirit from the team”. Ironically, in Ganguly’s reign — and so also in Dravid’s reign — this “slow leak” occurred most when the team was winning! Somehow, when effigies were being burnt and when houses were being stoned whenever the team lost, team spirit was at its highest! These events seemed to spur the team to band together and play for each other! Dhoni will face the same challenges, particularly as the team has started on a winning note. The more the wins, the greater the dressing-room-egos! He needs to manage that and the mutinies that could result and this is certainly not a job for the faint-hearted!

The most telling paragraph in Brijnath’s wonderful piece is this one: “No doubt there are players in the team who complain about the imperfections of Indian cricket (selection, too much cricket, etc), yet never strive for their own personal perfection. There are fading elders around, too, of varying utility. Yet for better or worse these are Dravid’s men, this is his team. A great leader finds a way to unite the most rag-tag bunch, rousing them to play harder for him and each other.

And as Dhoni sits down on the flight back to Mumbai and as he charts out his own roadmap, it would do him good to have the above paragraph — with Dhoni instead of Dravid — in front of him. His task will be one of managing egos, stopping the slow-spirit-leak and uniting a rag-tag-bunch that is not high on self-discipline and extremely short on consistency!

Unsurpassed expectations:
This was one area where neither Ganguly nor Dravid managed well. These expectations come from the media and the fans.

Dravid always talked about the lack of proportion. In an interview with Mike Atherton midway through the England series, when asked about whether captaincy was a “burden”, Dravid perhaps gave an insight into the resignation that was to follow when he said, “Burden is too strong a word and people say that because of how I look. I’m not naturally a cheery-looking soul on the field. I do enjoy it but there are aspects I find tough. What I find hardest is the absolute lack of proportion. It makes it very hard to build a team when two or three bad games provoke such an extreme reaction. The media in India have been changing rapidly. I actually enjoy reading the papers over here because I’ll get criticised for how I actually captain the team, the bowling changes I make and the field placings I set, rather than, for example, how many times I clap my hands and something equally irrelevant.

And seriously, the braying mediocrity of Indian cricket — its media — must cop a lot of the blame for setting and moderating the expectations of fans. Media people will tell you that they are merely reflecting the pulse of the nation. And that may well be right. However, the quality of commentary is more often than not, based only on opinion and completely devoid and bereft of analysis and “proportion”. There are TV programs that regularly tease out and hang-to-dry “culprits” of losses that the team endures! There is too much banality, too much opinion-driven hysteria, too much drama and too much sensationalism — just in the name of filling up column-space or air-time. There is very little deep-analysis. And the real danger is that those that do indulge in analytical pieces are dumbed down as boring and irrelevant.

Dravid had to battle the system that did not provide him with support. He had to fight the egos in the dressing room. But the public couldn’t care less! Joe Public wants to see achievements. And achievement, for almost every Indian fan, is thrashing the living daylights out of the opposition. Nothing else will do, thank you very much!

These are the realities and challenges that Dhoni will face once the honeymoon period is over. Will he overcome these to make an imprint on Indian cricket?

I sure do hope so.

— Mohan

Knock Knock…

Heard this joke. Could not resist:

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Misbah

Misbah who?

Mis bah 5 runs!!

🙂

— Mohan

BCCI prize announcement

BCCI announced that the WC winning team would get USD 2 Million. I do not have any problems with the board giving out money to the players, but I thought singling out Yuvraj Singh for his hitting 6 sixes (which is no doubt a great feat) and offering him 1 Crore (10 Million) Rupees was a bit much.

India won the tournament on the back of some fine consistent performances from the likes of RP Singh, Gambhir, Pathan etc and I feel that rewarding Yuvraj alone is not right. Am I alone in feeling this way?

Your thoughts ??

-Mahesh-

India Pak Final Highlights

For those who missed out the game, here it is –

Indian Innings

Selectors must invest in youth…

The Twenty20 World Championship win by M. S. Dhoni’s Men in Blue has provided a much-needed breath of fresh air for Indian cricket. After the disappointment of the early and embarassing exit from the World Cup 2007 this was what Indian cricket needed. And it was secured by a fearless captain who does things his way. It was secured by a young team that played in the spirit of its captain. And this, I believe, is the blueprint for future success for India. The team has to dismantle the shackles — some self-imposed, some imposed by the ‘system’ that the team is part of and some imposed by history — and play with self-belief and mental stregth.

And this investment in the future has to commence now.

The selectors have named a 15-member squad for the ODIs against Australia which reads (in possible batting order):

Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly
Robin Uthappa / Gautam Gambhir / Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid
Yuvraj Singh (vice-captain)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt)
Irfan Pathan
Piyush Chawla
Ramesh Powar / Harbhajan Singh
RP Singh / Sreesanth
Zaheer Khan

Two things need to happen immediately, in my view.

First Piyush Chawla, who is injured, needs to be replaced. I would be very surprised if this replacememt is not Joginder Sharma.

Second, as a significant policy-shift the selectors need to, from now on, name 17-member teams for ODIs and further stipulate that only a maximum 2 of the seniors can play in any game! First, this would prolong the careers of the Tendulkar-Ganguly-Dravid troika. Second, it would also provide a platform for youngsters to express themselves.

M. S. Dhoni, when asked about the absence of the Big-3 in an interview that I read earlier on, made two important statements I thought. Firsty he said that it was important for his wards to get the appreciation of the seniors back home. And he has received that with Sourav Ganguly immediately recognising and applauding the teams’ efforts. But he also dealt with the issue of their absense with poise when he said, “I am sure if they had been here, they would have taken us to the final. If we do win the final, they can say that they couldn’t have done more than what his team has done. The way we have performed has been amazing.

With the above suggested changes to the ODI team to play Australia, I’d like to see the following team chosen (along with the rider that only 1 or 2 of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid can play any game):

Sachin Tendulkar / Vierender Sehwag
Sourav Ganguly / Gautam Gambhir
Robin Uthappa / Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid / Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh (vice-captain)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt)
Irfan Pathan
Joginder Sharma
Ramesh Powar / Harbhajan Singh
RP Singh / Sreesanth
Zaheer Khan

From the India team that won the Twenty20 World Championship, Ajit Agarkar, Piyush Chawla and Yusuf Pathan would, therefore not be chosen. Ajit Agrakar needs to decide which side of the bed he wants to get up — if he does! Piyush Chawla is injured and Yusuf Pathan would be, in my view, unlucky to miss out.

The first India-Australia ODI match is in Bangalore on Friday 29th September at 2.30pm IST (7pm Australia time).

Bring it on…

— Mohan

The Indian fan can dream again…

It was a scrap alright; a scrap on a pendulum. The match swung one way then the other and back and back again. Even in the penultimate over of the game, the pendulum swung India’s way first when Umar Gul was bowled by R. P. Singh. Then the pendulum swung Pakistan’s way immediately when Mohammed Asif tickled the first ball he faced for 4 through the vacant slips area. With 13 runs needed from six balls, the pendulum defied gravity and stayed, almost irrevocably, on Pakistan’s side when Misbah-ul-Haq danced down the pitch and straight-swatted — there must be a special Twenty20 term for this almost improbable shot — a full-toss from Joginder Sharma for six! And then, when Misbah-ul-Haq decided a deft paddle-sweep was needed, and when the resulting catch was taken, the pendulum rested with India.

India were crowned the innaugural Twenty20 World Champions because they just refused to lose. They held their nerve in an edge-of-the-seats final. It was a fitting finale for an impressive tournament that had erased the bad memories of a badly organised, badly planned and badly played World Cup 2007 in the West Indies.

But right from the time of the toss, the match swung one way and then the next. It perhaps swung Pakistan’s way when Virender Sehwag was declared unfit to play. One would have thought that Dinesh Karthik would have played. But M. S. Dhoni is his own man. He does things his way and he went with Yusuf Pathan, the older brother of the more famous Irfan Pathan. And what’s more, Dhoni declared that the older Pathan would open the innings — it was a like-for-like replacement, for Yusuf Pathan, like Virender Sehwag, gives the ball one heck of a tonk in domestic cricket and also bowls off-spin.

India started well with Pathan hitting a six and a 4 to race to 15 off 8 balls. But had the brakes put on them when Pathan skied one to Shoaib Malik. The pendulum had swung again. And it did this right through the match until that last moment. The two teams were evenly matched. Pakistan were the better bowling side. India were the better batting side. The two captains were innovative and inventive.

In the middle overs, I thought Umar Gul and Yasir Arafat bowled excellently well. Umar Gul has grown in stature as the tournament has progressed and will serve Pakistan cricket very well in the years to come. Mohammed Asif apparently does not like bowling in the death. In Yasir Arafat Pakistan found a bowler who could do that aptly. Shahid Afridi kept things really tight in the middle overs. While most teams had a weak 5th bowler, Pakistan had Mohammed Hafeez and Yasir Arafat — a specialist death-overs bowler!

Through all of this, one batsman — Gautam Gambhir — shone brilliantly. I have often questioned his role and place in the team. But in this tournament he has batted with rare flair and in an totally unfettered manner. His method has been simple. His strokeplay has been elegant. I think his time has come and I am quite willing and indeed, happy, to eat humble pie. Gautam Gambhir has proved many of his detractors wrong and I would be surprised if he doesn’t score an extended run in the Indian ODI and T20 scene. In the finals, Gambhir stroked his way to a well-crafted 75 off 54 balls. He hit some good cricketing strokes and in those difficult middle-overs, when Yuvraj Singh was finding it hard to get Shahid Afridi and Mohammed Hafeez away, Gambhir even managed to take the pressure of his poster-boy partner by scoring some delectable boundaries. He was my Man-of-the-Match.

The captaincy was excellent too. Two moments stood out. First when Shoaib Malik brought in Hafeez and Afridi the moment Yuvraj Singh came in to bat. The clear signal was that he respected Yuvraj Singh’s hard hitting but wanted the Indian to make the running. By taking the pace off the ball, he posed the question. And on this day the question wasn’t convincingly answered. Full marks to Shoaib Malik for his method as well as his instincts. The other moment was in the middle overs when he had a slip in place! Here was an attacking captain who continually threw the gauntlet at the opposition. He kept asking the questions at crucial junctues and his team also responded. All of these combined to restrict India to a smallish total. At the break between the innings, I talked to 3-4 friends of mine and said that India were probably 15 runs short of where they ought to have ended up. At the toss, M. S. Dhoni indicated that the Indian team was aiming at a score of 180! They ended at 157, about 23 runs short of that mark.

Pakistan, on the other hand would have thought that India, thanks to some belligerent and fear-free strokeplay from young Rohit Sharma, scored abdout 10 runs more than they would have wanted India to score. Shoaib Mallik indicated that they wanted to restrict India to less than 150.

Either way, India had to bowl and field well to defend 157.

As M. S. Dhoni said at the end, he asked the fielders to back the bowlers and add at least 15-20 runs to the total. And the team did that. R. P. Singh bowled brilliantly. Sreesanth was wayward and it looked like the occasion had gotten to him. But every time he sprayed, M. S. Dhoni ran to him and appeared to calm him down. Here was a young man exploding on the inside. He needed tough love and I think he got it. He delivered India a crucial wicket of Sohail Tanveer who had hit a breezy 12 off just 4 balls!

Dhoni handled his bowlers and his fielders very well. At one point in time, he had two slips for R. P. Singh and Sreesanth. It was important to take wickets! He bowled Yusuf Pathan for an over and Joginder Sharma for 3 in the middle when Pakistan were struggling to bring a semblance of stability in the middle order when wickets crashed and fell at the top. This was opportunistic and tactical cricket. Dhoni kept the screws on by bringing in the field and keeping things tight. He invited Pakistan to take the aerial route to take the risks. They did that and paid the price — both Shoaib Malik and Younis Khan perished to ugly hoiks that did not come off. This was smart captaincy.

And then, just when the match was firmly in India’s grasp — or so it seemed — Misbah-ul-Haq, Yasir Arafat and Sohail Tanvir threated to take the game away. That was until that last pendulum-movement.

India had won an improbable victory. The scenes of madness that followed will live with the Indian cricket fan for a long time. It was a brilliant spectacle and was richly-deserved jubiliation for a young team that played in the spirit of its fearless leader.

The future for both India and Pakistan looks bright. The investment in youth and a clean-slate-start had paid off for both teams.

But more importantly for this blogsite, the Indian fan can dream again!