Daily Archives: 5 March 2008

Team on the rise…

Does age matter?

The Australian team has a lot of experience. But that also means old and the majority of their players are on the wrong side of 30. In comparison, only Tendulkar ages over 30 for India. Although the Aussies threw themselves in the field, took some brilliant catches and ran between the wickets well, I do wonder if age did play a part in Australia’s loss in the CB series.

I’ll let you make your own judgement –

India Age Australia  
Chawla 19 Johnson 26
Ishant Sharma 19 Clarke 26
Rohit Sharma 20 Hopes 29
Raina 21 Haddin 30
Praveen Kumar 21 Bracken 30
Tiwary 22 Lee 31
Uthappa 22 Clark 32
Karthik 22 Symonds 32
Pathan 23 Hussey 32
Munaf Patel 24 Ponting 33
Sreesanth 24 Gilchrist 36
Yuvraj Singh 26 Hayden 36
Gambhir 26 Hogg 37
Dhoni 26    
Harbhajan Singh 27    
Sehwag 29    
Tendulkar 34    

 

Bowling and batting reserves

Australia played their full strength team in the CB series – their best batsmen and bowlers played and there was no one on the injury list. But compare this to the Indian team. There was no Zaheer Khan and no RP Singh – two stand out performers for India in the tests, who didn’t play the CB series owing to injury. And their new find – Ishant Sharma also didn’t play in the second final. And two of their top batsmen – Dravid and Ganguly were left out in favour of younger players. In spite of all this, India came out on top – it just goes to show that there is plenty of batting and bowling reserves for India.

Sachin still the master

Expectations from Tendulkar are always high and he didn’t quite live up to those expectations in the early part of the tournament and when he had scores of 5, 0 and 2 some doubts were raised on his batting form. Commentators were even suggesting leaving him out for Sehwag. But when it mattered the most, the little master struck form. His final 3 scores of the tournament read – 63, 117* and 91 – scores that were responsible for India’s eventual win in the tournament.

Leading from the front

Ponting seemed distracted through out the series and if you leave out his score of124 in a match that really didn’t matter for Australia, he averages just 7.4 runs. Australia in the past used to operate under the philosophy that if you get the captain, you get the team. In a reversal of roles, the Aussies found themselves on the receiving end this time, with their captain woefully out of sorts and team suffering as a result.

In contrast, Dhoni averaged close to 70 with the bat and often pulled the team out of trouble. His glove work was good behind the stumps and all the moves he made as a captain (like bringing in Kumar or Chawla) seemed to work. He lead the team from the front and Dhoni should take a lot of credit for the ODI series win.

Sydney Test loss, the turning point

The Melbourne test was almost a practice game for India. Fresh of the plane and with the only tour game rained out, the Indians didn’t have a chance for a real hit out prior to the Melbourne test and it is no wonder they lost the game. They made some improvements in Sydney test, but still lost. You can argue endlessly about bad umpiring decisions, sportsmanship and batting collapses, but the truth of the matter is that the distractions off the field somehow seemed to galvanize the team and their performance since then has been on the raise.

Australia on the other hand let the distractions affect their game and somehow found Harbhajan Singh repeatedly getting on their nerves. It seems they are themselves not immune to their own mental disintegration mantra.

Best team in the World?

The Indian team is certainly improving. They did beat the No.1 team in their own country. But claiming that India is the new leader of World cricket is a bit too rich. There is still plenty of improvements to be made and let us not forget that they didn’t even get past the preliminary round of the World cup last year.

The Aussies played good cricket over a prolonged period of time to claim the title of the best team in the World. India also need to win consistently over a considerable duration of time to claim that title. Until such time, I will only consider it as a team on the rise.

One swallow does not make a summer…

-Mahesh-

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Australian captain insults Team India…

Take a look at this picture of Ricky Ponting at the prize distribution ceremony at the end of the CB Series Finals game in Brisbane last night.

It is clear to me from this picture (courtesy CricInfo) that he is showing his middle finger to the dignitaries, the visiting captain and to Mark Taylor the MC of the ceremony (and potential future Chairman of the Cricket Australia Board)! Ponting shows his middle finger…

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, leaders in photographic-evidence-based investigative journalism should look into this matter and thump this photograph on the desks of the ICC Match Referee, Cricket Australia, The ICC, The Australian Prime Ministers’ office and the Ricky Ponting household and proceed to crucify the said culprit till an explanation is found in much the same way as they proceeded to hunt as an unruly pack for the guts of Harbhajan Singh, that recalcitrant serial scratcher in the previous match!

[Tongue-in-cheek off]

— Mohan

Indian Pace Bowling Academy

The end of a long Australian summer was capped by India’s stirring win against Australia in the CB Series Final. At the end of the series, I reflected on the fact that the win in the last game was achieved without the services of India’s front-line pace-attack: Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma. All three were nursing injuries in that game. The fact that Ishant Sharma had propelled himself into the front-line was itself testimony to the impact he has had over the Australian summer!

I then realised that, for the Test Series in Australia, we had two additional pacemen in Pankaj Singh and V. R. V. Singh who made up the numbers.

But then, the heroes of the CB series final match were actually Praveen Kumar, Sree Santh and Irfan Pathan! Munaf Patel can be a very good bowler on his day too!

If you then throw into the mix, Pradeep Sangwan, Siddharth Kaul and Ajitesh Argal — pace-bowling architects of India’s U19 triumph, the Indian fan can smile!

The Indian Pace Academy is then: Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Sree Santh, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, V. R. V. Singh, Pankaj Singh, Pradeep Sangwan, Siddharth Kaul, Ajitesh Argal.

Not a bad pace bowling lineup in my view! India’s pace bowling stocks over the next 5 years will come from this lot of 12 bowlers. There will be, no doubt, a few surprise packages here and there along the way. But my feeling is that the above group of 12 will be the ones doing the rounds over the next few years. If all else fails, there is always Ajit Agarkar! It is quite likely that, of these 12 players, 3-4 will be injured. Team India has to learn to shrug and call up the next bowler in the ranks and if they are as good as Praveen Kumar, Sree Santh or Munaf Patel, it can’t really be too bad, can it?

Team India has to nurture these pace bowlers and ensure that they do not fade away from the scene like L. Balaji did. It is time, in my view, to appoint Venkatesh Prasad as India’s long-term pace-bowling coach. He should be entrusted with the task of developing concrete development plans for each bowler and for these to be conditioned and supervised even when the players aren’t playing for Team India.

Unfortunately, Team India is not that flush with options when it comes to spin-stocks. More on that later.

— Mohan

India win CB Series 2-0

Not since the 1980s has Australia lost the tri-series finals twice in a row. India made sure that Australia lost in straight sets with a stirring victory in Brisbane. The fact that this victory came without India’s first choice pace bowling attack — Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma — made it all the more special. It was a sensational victory by a young and mostly inexperienced Indian team that had to surmount not only the strong Australian team, but also its hostile media and raucous crowds. In the end, the team found the strength to shut out the media and the crowds, focussed on the job in front of them and won a tight series.

Celebrations:

In the end, in the same week the senior Team India as well as the under-19 Team India tasted victories and both teams celebrated these victories; not one of them looked in the direction of Andrew Symonds to enquire whether or not he had a view on the appropriateness or otherwise of these. The victories were well-deserved and losers have no choice but to watch the celebrations.

M. S. Dhoni rated this higher than the T20 win! It just goes to show the depth of focus that this team had. This focus, by the way, was evident in the way Sachin Tendulkar played yesterday. He eschewed the bold strokes and respected the conditions as well as the opposition. The Australians bowled a terrific line and pegged away constantly. The Australians fielded as only the Australians can. However, in the end, that will to win was, I believe, much stronger for the Indians.

Relentless cricket:

The Indian team wanted to win to have that extra time up their sleeves before their next engagement on March 17th. M. S. Dhoni joked at the end that he wanted to seal things in the second game itself because he has not ridden his “motorbike for quite a long time”!

The Australian media talks of non-stop cricket that the aging Australian team has been playing.

It is true that the Australian team has been on the road since October last year. In that time, the Australian team has played in the Twenty20 World Championship, 7 ODI matches against India in India, 2 Tests against Sri Lanka, 4 Tests against India and the CB tri-series.

The Indians have been on the road since July last year and it has been a non-stop ride. In that time, India has played 4 ODIs in Ireland, 1 ODI against Pakistan in Scotland (wash-out), 3 Tests in England, 5 ODIs in England, the Twenty20 World Championship, 7 ODIs against Australia in India, 5 ODIs against Pakistan, 3 Tests against Pakistan, 4 Tests against Australia and the CB tri-series.

I know which team has had the bigger workload. And if you consider that much of the time has been spent in the dreary surrounds of hotel rooms and in a hostile environment where the press and the crowds are constantly at your throats, I do believe this young Indian team needs to be applauded.

Off-field distractions play a part:

Ricky Ponting, on his part, was gracious in defeat. He admitted that his team had been outplayed in the finals series by India. However, even though he said that the off-field distractions did not hamper his team, one can’t help but think that they would have had an effect.

If you look at the off-field events, apart from the IPL which has presumably distracted all players around the world, the single factor that played a distraction-nuisance influence right through this tour has been Harbhajan Singh! When Harbhajan scratched the Australian media twitched. The captain, Ricky Ponting, appeared to have his mind on the off-field incidents involving run-ins that Harbhajan Singh was having with his own team rather than on his own game and form. When Harbhajan Singh fielded, the Australian public held their collective breath. And when he bowled, the Australian players had their minds set on dominating him instead of playing him as another bowler.

Almost single-handedly, Harbhajan Singh became the thorn in the flesh as well as the spot in Lady Macbeth’s hand that just would not go away. He was like a fly around the barbecue that just kept buzzing in the ears of people gathered around it. One could not hear the barbecue conversations; just the buzzing noise of this constant irritant that just would not go away!

That the Australian players did not respect him is not the issue. The fact that they did not respect his game/sport is a matter for much introspection in coming months. Here was a player that stood up to the Aussies and looked them in the eye. The Australians just could not deal with it.

In a strange irony, Harbhajan Singh was directly involved in the wickets of Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden — his two main off-the-field opponents right through this arduous summer — in both the finals matches! In the first match, Harbhajan Singh had the wickets of both players. In last night’s match, he had Symonds out LBW and was involved in Hayden’s run out!

At the end of the match, M. S. Dhoni lashed out at the Australian media for the focus that they have reserved for Harbhajan Singh. He admitted, though, that this focus made his job easier for, with each new article or episode, Harbhajan Singh just got tougher and tougher and did not need to be motivated!

Rankings:

This series win has not altered India’s position on the ICC Rankings table. However, it has taken India closer to New Zealand (3rd place) on the table and has made it easier for South Africa to reclaim the #1 position that it squandered to Australia in the last World Cup.

Meanwhile Sachin Tendulkar has moved to reclaim the #1 ODI batting spot.

Visionary:

I believe that M. S. Dhoni is a terrific leader. With the calm, experienced, gritty and fiercely competitive Anil Kumble at the helm of affairs in the Test arena and with Dhoni to nurture a younger set of players in the shorter form of the game, I do believe that Indian cricket is in safe hands for the moment. It is likely that the captaincy mantle will get another year at least — if not two — from Anil Kumble. The time would be right then for a hand-over of the responsibility to M. S. Dhoni. In that time, with the help of Gary Kirsten, India can form a core of players that can take over from the big-5 as they leave the scene. In that sense, we do have a “visionary” leader at the controls in my opinion.

If Sourav Ganguly was the first leader of men in Indian cricket, in Dhoni, we have a visionary leader. To him processes may not matter as much as it did to Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid. His leadership style is more instinct driven. But he has got most things right! He asks his players to be always ready and throws them into the deep end. They produce every time. This shows that he knows what they are capable of, believes in them, backs them and then extracts the best out of them. He threw the ball to Joginder Sharma in the T20 finals and to Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla in the CB series finals. They delivered. He fought for the inclusion of young players like Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Manoj Tiwary, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla ahead of senior pros. He got them. At crunch moments, he surprised the opposition by including the likes of Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla. They delivered! It is a strategy that could have back-fired. But rather than launch into long explanations, he simply says he is looking at 2011!

He has set for himself a road-map to 2011 success. Rahul Dravid would have cogitated over it in a scholarly manner and produced a strategy paper at the end of it. He would have then used this as a leverage in team selection meetings. He would have gone to great lengths to form a coalition of like-minded souls who would back his vision and roadmap. Dhoni has it in his head and articulates it by simply saying, “Even if we had lost this tournament, we should have stuck with the young boys. This will be the team’s core.”

This was a good victory for India, but much more is needed in the months ahead to build on the hard work that has commenced here. Australia have some work to do of its own. The players need a break from the game and its captain needs to rediscover his ticker.

It has been a long summer and frankly, I am glad it is over.

— Mohan