Monthly Archives: March 2008

A few worries for Team India

An article by a Guest Contributor, S. Hari Shankar

A placid pitch and heartless weather conditions ensured that the Chennai Test match petered out into a tame draw. There was a time in the match — when Virender Sehwag was in full flow — when one felt that South Africa was on the back foot. The subsequent two days plays however put paid to such expectations and overall, it was India who ended up on the back foot and not South Africa.

Except for Virender Sehwag, no other Indian batsman seemed to be in touch. Although Wasim Jaffer and Rahul Dravid did make reasonable scores, given the conditions under which the bowlers were laboring, neither of them appeared to be fluent enough. Sachin Tendulkar, M. S. Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly seemed to be out of sorts, while V. V. S. Laxman seems to have forgotten that he should farm the strike when batting with the tail -– something he forgot in the Perth Test as well. While Sehwag’s brilliant innings allowed team Indian to see a glimmer of victory, more importantly, his positive approach ensured that India would not be troubled by the South Africa’s first innings score of 540.

Sreesanth and R. P. Singh were sad spectacles on the field. Neither of them got the line or the length right at any stage. It also did appear that R. P. Singh was not at his fittest. Harbhajan Singh did clean up the South Africa tail in the first innings, but then in the second innings, he couldn’t do anything useful. The wickets he picked up in the second innings were providential. With Anil Kumble having a groin niggle, India might have a problem with their pack of bowlers.

The Indian fielding was an unqualified disaster. Although the weather was heartless, the manner in which Indians were moving around in the field can only be termed somnambulous. Balls hit almost direct to fielders were let through and lethargy seemed to be the flavor of the day.

The lesson that India should learn from this match is the need to be reasonably positive while batting. While Sehwag was in the middle, the South Africa bowling seemed pedestrian and on the other hand as soon as he got back into the pavilion, Makhaya Ntini and Dale Steyn seemed positively venomous. Even Morne Morkel was impressive. It would be useful, if Gary Kirsten, the Indian Coach, reminded all players on the need to bat positively.

The break that the team got after the long Australian tour seemed to have affected their mental make-up -– there can be no other explanation for the terrible display on the field by almost all the Indians. Most of them did not play any of the local matches except for V. V. S. Laxman and Wasim Jaffar. The team management should get the entire team into a series of physical and mental calisthenics to get them to be physically and mental healthy.

So where does one go from here? The track at Ahmadabad might be of some help to spinners. In the last match India played here in Dec 2005, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh picked up 18 Sri Lankan wickets –- Harbhajan Singh even took the new ball with Irfan Pathan in the second innings! Given the hot conditions at Motera, it would be sensible to go in with five bowlers –- the fifth bowler (obviously a spinner) will help avoid excessive strain on Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. If the selectors think on these lines, they will have to deal with the problem of whom to leave out. Going into the match without two medium pacers would be foolish which almost certainly means they have to leave one of the batsman out. A groin aggravation that Tendulkar picked up might be a “selection” blessing in disguise. Irfan Pathan and either Sreesanth or Ishanth Sharma will make up the medium pace options while Piyush Chawla can help out the spinners.

So are we looking at the following line-up for Ahmadabad?

Virender Sehwag, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, M. S. Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Ishanth Sharma / Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla

— The Saint

Welcome back, Mr. Kaif!

Sachin Tendulkar’s unfortunate pulling out of the Ahmedabad test due to a groin strain has come as a blessing in disguise for the captain of Uttar Pradesh. Mohd. Kaif has had a wonderful domestic season and deservedly gets called back into the test side. We at i3j3had earlier written to the effect that the Indian selectors should identify and show faith in a handful of batsmen as eventual replacements for the fab four and suggested Kaif as one of those. His fitness and fielding abilities should certainly bring some dynamism back to the Indian fielding routine which was quite abysmal in the Chennai test. While some may argue that India would have been better off introducing someone like S. Badrinath or even recalling Gautam Gambhir, I personally think bringing Mohd. Kaif back is a well-informed decision.

It would certainly be interesting to see if Mohd. Kaif does get included in the playing eleven especially with Yuvraj Singh in the fourteen. It is a tough call but my gut tells me that Kaif might just squeeze in. He is in good form, fresh and is carrying no baggage at the moment. Yuvraj might consider himself unlucky but may have to wait a bit longer to get back in the playing eleven. On the playing eleven itself, while there has been talk of playing three spinners, I do not think Piyush Chawla will make it. I think India will go with Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth/Irfan Pathan as the pacemen and retain the rest of the lineup.

Good luck, Mr. Kaif!!

– Srikanth

India Vs RSA :: 1st Test :: 3rd Day

What are some of the main traits of an opening batsman? They have to be patient, disciplined and maybe even courageous. Most importantly they should absolutely not take any risks.  This is exactly what makes them dull and boring as well. There have been exceptions along the way – Krish Srikkanth was one. He was dashing and people loved to watch him, but he was also inconsistent and unreliable. Matty Hayden is another, and there are probably a few more – but none,  in my opinion, come close to Virender Sehwag.

Sehwag – What can I say about him? The selectors should have kept faith with him during his slump and persisted with him. Actually, if you look back at his records, his test form has not been that bad – sadly, his ODI form was used as a measure and he was sacked from the Indian team after just one bad series in South Africa. He was kept away from the team that toured Bangladesh and England and when he was not even short listed for the Australian tour, his test career seemed completely stalled. As luck would have it, Gambhir was injured and Sehwag was picked in his place to tour Australia as the third choice opener and he even ended up playing the last two test matches.

You know what they say – “Form is temporary, class is permanent”. Sehwag did showcase his class under pressure in the last test against Australia with a fine 151, but with today’s knock of 309*, you can safely say that Sehwag is well and truly back. No other Indian has scored a triple century – but Sehwag now has two. There are probably another dozen or so records he broke today, but the important thing is that he managed to keep India in the game and put the team in a commanding position. Wasim Jaffer (73) gave him company and was involved in a solid start of 200+ runs. Rahul Dravid (65*)  gave him good company too in the partnership of 255 runs, but the day belonged to just one player – Sehwag.

At the end of day 2, the match looked like it was destined for a slow death and if India continue to prepare such pitches, Test cricket itself will die a slow death – actually make that a fast death! Virender Sehwag however managed to infuse life into the dull game and India are now in a position where they can even think about winning the game – it all depends on how much lead India take and if the pitch starts crumbling like a cookie when South Africa bat. All three sessions of the day belonged to India and the SBS scorecard reads 4-4.

The biggest threat to Sehwag today was the zapping heat and humidity and it was a relief to see him make it to the end of the day. The whole of India would be hoping that Sehwag bats at least another session tomorrow. If he does, he may end up breaking Lara’s record for highest individual score and more importantly will put India in a very strong position to take the match.

-Mahesh-

India Vs RSA :: 1st Test :: 2nd Day

A match that was destined for a slow death looks headed for a painful death at the end of day-2 of the Chennai Test match between India and RSA. At the end of day-2 on a flat, docile, graveyard of a pitch the South Africans had made 540 all out. In reply, India made a brisk 82 for no loss off 21 overs.

It was a hot, energy-sapping day that saw a continuation of some ill-directed bowling, bad fielding, ill-tempered admonishment between some of the Indian players, some careful batting, a solid (if not spectacular) batting display by Hashim Amla, a solid (if not spectacular) bowling display by Harbhajan Singh and a confident response from Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag. All of this on a pitch that looked less interesting and more dead than it was on day-1 — if that was at all possible!

Virender Sehwag admitted that the Indian fielding was somewhat shoddy. There were times when Kumble remonstrated openly with Laxman; Harbhajan with R. P. Singh; Harbhajan with Sree Santh; Dravid with Sreesanth… It seemed that it was open season on venting frustrations against anyone — and the younger players seemed to cop it more than the seniors!

The India bowlers toiled all day. They had to be extremely patient. It did not help that the umpires seemed to work against them too. I felt sorry for Sree Santh when what looked like a plumb LBW against Mark Boucher wasn’t given by New Zealand umpire Tony Hill. “What was he thinking? Had the heat fried his brains?” were questions that popped to my mind! Replays showed the thinnest of inside edges! Similar questions with some choice expletives popped out when Asad Rauf did not spot a glove-deflection off Paul Harris to Rahul Dravid at slips off the bowling of Harbhajan Singh. The fact that Rauf did not spot the deflection or the accompanying dead give-away (batsman’s head snapping backwards to see if the catch was completed) would have left the already enervated players even more deflated and exhausted.

The South Africans batted extremely well though and battled the hot conditions as well as steady bowling from Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Hashim Amla, in particular, looked solid as a rock. Sree Santh bowled a good morning spell but fell away after that. R. P. Singh continued to bowl like a millionaire.

In reply, thanks to Sehwag’s 61-ball 50 and Jaffer’s patient 21 off 65 balls, India reached 82-0. There is still a huge total to overhaul though and it may be that India need to bat on and on and on for getting even close to manufacturing a result in this game. Either that or the Indian batsmen have to throw their wickets away in a stunning array of rash strokes. I can’t really see the bowlers doing too much on this pitch!

I give the first two sessions of the day to South Africa and the last one to India and so the SBS at the end of day-2 reads: India, 1 : South Africa, 4.

— Mohan

India Vs RSA :: 1st Test :: 1st Day

A flat pitch, bad luck (in the context of the toss result), bad fielding, hot and humid conditions, a four-bowler policy and some good batting from the South Africans all conspired together to leave the South Africans slightly ahead at the end of day-1 of the 1st Test between India and South Africa.

Harbhajan Singh in his post-match-interview said that the Chennai pitch was, “very very flat”. One day… Some day, the BCCI will realise that pitches need to be good to retain the attraction that Test cricket has for many in this world. We live in eternal hope. Many “Pitch Committees” have come and gone. But all we are left with, as a legacy of these successive committees, is a pitch for more jobs for the boys. Former cricketers come and go, but the pitches appear to be the same. Bone dry and boring!

What we saw yesterday was a flat, dry pitch that did nothing for the bowlers. The pitch bore a stunning resemblance to the boring pitches that were prepared for the Pakistan series. This is an early call to make, but it looks very likely that we are set for yet another (yawn!) long, slow and boring series! In his article on Cricinfo, Siddhartha Vaidhyanathan argues that some of India’s best recent victories have come on sporting pitches! It amazes me then that BCCI cannot recognise this and prepare lively pitches in India too!

No doubt, this pitch will take some spin from day-3 onwards, but a look at the pitch yesterday was enough for words like dry, flat, unresponsive, boring and insipid to jump to the forefront!

It is, therefore, amazing that India chose to go into this Test match with only 4 bowlers! On a dry pitch and in hot-humid conditions, a four-bowler policy would have been terrible had India lost the toss. India did lose the toss and it was, indeed, terrible.

The pace bowlers bowled like millionaires and leaked runs! There were fours flying off the bats of Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith. Although India did reign in the rampaging South Africans in sessions 2 and 3, the early damage had been done. South Africa hit a total of forty-five fours on day-1! While the dry, sapping heat and poor fielding could account for some of those fours, I think the bowlers need to put their hands up and admit that they had a bad day at the office! A 5th bowler was called for.

After seeing the fielding-heroics in CB series in Australia, where a young Team India threw themselves around to stop any white object that flew towards them, the fielding standards in the Test team was expected to be poor. But one did not quite expect the shoddy display that we did see! Harbhajan Singh himself admitted, “I think we have given around 20-30 runs in our fielding and that makes a big difference. I hope tomorrow we put in a good performance in bowling, batting and fielding. It would have been nice to stop those 30 runs and see the scoreboard at the end on 270 for 4.” Even Yuvraj Singh, substituting for Sachin Tendulkar, cut a sorry figure on the field. It was ironic that the oldest man on the park had the most spectacular fielding moment of the day when Anil Kumble dived to his left to snatch a return catch!

I score the first two sessions to RSA and score an even third session. So, my Session-By-Session score for this Test would read India, 0 : RSA, 2. India will hope for a better day-2 in this Test match.

— Mohan

India Vs RSA :: 1st Test :: Preview

After a well-earned, short break, India is going to play some cricket; this time at home against South Africa.

This comes a day after Sunil Gavaskar took careful aim at England and Australia in a newspaper column of his!

The South Africans have been smart with their scheduling — they have spent the last month in Bangladesh and are possibly acclimatised. Even though the opposition wasn’t as strong as India, they should have also acquired a feel for the nature of the pitches they might encounter in India. They toured Pakistan not so long ago too. So even though the only practice game that they had (against India ‘A’) was canceled, South African Coach, Mickey Arthur, wasn’t too concerned. As a result of this confidence in the conditions, the team flew back to South Africa on 14 March for a quick refresh before heading back to the sub-continent.

Although some of their players have hit form at the right time — including Greame Smith — the team has been dogged by a colour-based-selection policy. This even saw Charl Langeveldt pull out of the tour — the player did not wish to be included just on the basis of his colour! Greame Smith, the South African captain said, “We need to find a way to deal with these issues so we can concentrate on the cricket.”

Jacques Kallis weighed in to the selection debate and called the selection-saga “frustrating”. He said it is best that “the task of choosing the side is left solely to the selectors in the future.”

Langeveldt was initially included ahead of Andre Nel to fulfill a quota obligation. This has resulted in the charismatic Andre Nel threatening to quit cricket! And now, we have the Langeveldt pull-out! No replacement has been named for Langeveldt!

Amidst this backdrop, the first Test of the three-match series starts in Chennai on Wednesday 26 March 2008.

The Indians have found themselves in a bit of controversy too, since their victorious return from Australia. This has revolved around M. S. Dhoni’s alleged seniors Vs juniors comment as well as the fitness of a few players. A few have also questioned the need to continue to invest faith in Yuvraj Singh in the Test side. Anil Kumble, Team India Test captain, put down the seniors Vs juniors issue as a pure media-play and nothing else.

The two sides, meanwhile, are evenly matched, in my view. The South Africans have done well in India in the past and although they will play against a Team India Test squad that is largely refreshed by the inclusion of a few well-rested “seniors”, this may be a closer series than many Indians would like to accept!

South Africa (possible): Graeme Smith (c), Neil McKenzie, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Ashwell Prince (vc), A. B. de Villiers, Mark Boucher (wk), Paul Harris, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini

Reserves: Jean-Paul Duminy, Robin Peterson, Monde Zondeki

India (possible): Virender Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, M. S. Dhoni, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Sreesanth/Chawla, R. P. Singh

Reserves: Wasim Jaffer, Yuvraj Singh

While the South Africa lineup does not have too many doubts surrounding it, the Indian squad is, as always, punctuated by the opener conundrum and its corollary — the 4-bowler-policy. Anil Kumble has declared emphatically that Rahul Dravid will bat at #3. So, unless the team decides to go with only 4 bowlers — a risk in the humid and hot Chennai conditions — I do think that Pathan will open to accommodate an extra pace bowler (Sreesanth) or spinner (Chawla). The rest of the team picks itself and has, apart from Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni and Tendulkar, a “well-rested” look to it.

This will be a series which will, to me, indicate whether India now has it in them to add the word “consistent” to the adjectives that are used to describe the team. Indeed, this whole year will present an opportunity for Team India to prove that it can be consistently good at the highest level. A good result for Team India will mean that its #2 spot will be consolidated on the ICC Test Table.

— Mohan

The farce called ICL and other things!

Due to all the hoopla surrounding the BCCI/ICL/IPL controversy, I decided to check out the ICL games. I paid $10 to watch the games on the internet via Willow TV. I can tell you with great relief and confidence that the entire ICL set up and the games are no greater than the club games that I tend to dabble with in a place like Toronto. The ICL teams have age-old pensioners, losers, and very ordinary cricketers egged on in an artificial surroundings by big sounding names in the commentary team and coaching line-ups who are probably there more to ogle and flirt with the belly dancers from bollywood and the money that comes with it. The commentary team including tape recordings of Tony Greig and Dean Jones (I was reminded of a cricket video game that I used to play that had Richie Benaud’s background commentary that repeated itself), big time flirts like Mike Whitney and money grabbers like Barry Richards and Pat Symcox.

Now to the games themselves, boy were they ordinary! I was briefly impressed by a couple of Indian players like Abbas Ali, Thiru Kumaran, Mishra and S T Binny but only for fleeting moments. The imports clearly came for the money, yeah, there were big sixes by the likes of Cairns, Kemp et al but that’s not unusual for club cricket. My point of this is that I simply saw no reason why BCCI even feels threatened by this set up. I say that they should just let go, not ban these players (please don’t expect me to believe that somehow Thiru Kumaran is going to make it to an Indian lineup suddenly), and just plain ignore the whole set up. ICL is going to fold up and die a natural death once IPL takes over. There is simply no competition. As Bharath quoted sometime back, what was Lara thinking???

The ICl trivialities aside, I can’t wait for the test matches to begin once again. Hoping for a great beginning in Chennai and wishing for the weather to play good sport through the game. We need an uninterrupted supply of test cricket, something that has been rareity in Chennai these days!

 Cheers,

Srikanth