Monthly Archives: July 2008

Where to from here for India?

So India lost the first Test at the SSC in Colombo. Correction. They did not just lose the 1st Test. They were mauled by what Sri Lankan captain, Mahela Jeyawardane called “the perfect Test“. It was indeed a “perfect” performance by Sri Lanka. Muthiah Muralidharan had a terrific Test match and Ajantha Mendis — I was a fan of his style of bowling from the moment I saw him in the Asia Cup Final — had a perfect debut Test. The Sri Lankan batsmen kept their foot on the pedal when they batted and made the most of shoddy fielding, bad catching and a lacklustre bowling performance by the Indians.

So where does India go from here?

Unfortunately, given the team composition that India has gone with, and given the captain’s proclivity to back his peers, nothing much can really be done!

Dinesh Karthik had an awful match. He made several blunders in his ‘keeping and his batting made Devang Gandhi look like a better alternative! It was that bad! However, I do not believe that the team will dare risk Parthiv Patel as a replacement! So it begs the question: Why did Parthiv Patel go in the first place? Would it not have been better to take a youngster like Srivats Goswami?

In the bowling department, Zaheer Khan bowled like a millionaire and Ishant Sharma was largely ineffective. Having said that, it is not like the team would risk swapping them with R. P. Singh and Munaf Patel? Munaf Patel bowls just a tad faster than Chaminda Vaas’s slower ball these days — which, in turn, is just marginally slower than Anil Kumble’s normal delivery! 🙂

It is likely that R. P. Singh might replace Zaheer Khan and if the team management had courage, this swap may be profitable. It does not mean that R. P. Singh is a better bowler. But given the listless ineffectiveness of Zaheer Khan’s approach in the 1st Test, it may be that a shake-up is needed!

The spin bowling department presents more serious questions. Anil Kumble cannot be dropped. He is the captain. Harbhajan Singh was pedestrian in his approach and quality. It may be a good idea to swap him for Pragyan Ojha? But is this a viable option? It isn’t as if Ojha has a Mendis-like reputation behind him. And having not been in a pressure situation in the past, it is unlikely that India will risk losing pressure-cooker-situation experience for a debutant. For, however ineffective Harbhajan Singh was, he does have pressure-cooker-situation experience on his side. It will take a brave — very brave — captain to swap Harbhajan Singh for Pragyan Ojha for the 2nd Test!

The only way Ojha (or another pace bowler) can slot in is if one of the Fab Four batsmen is dropped (either that or Gautam Gambhir is dropped to allow Dinesh Karthik to open the innings). These are unlikely scnarios.

So, in the bowling and ‘keeping department, apart from a possible swap of R. P. Singh for Zaheer Khan, I do not foresee any change that India can make!

The batting is even more interesting! Given the absence of an all-rounder in the team, India is forced the hand it has been dealt by the selectors! Given the balance of the team and given that the batsmen capitulated so meekly in the 1st Test, nothing dramatic is going to happen with the batting — either the composition or the line-up! So, I predict the same batting line-up that India took to the 1st Innings of the Colombo Test — with Dravid at #3. In my view, there is nothing wrong with Dravid at #3. He is struggling, but I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that Laxman is in the form of his life either!

It will require some courage for Kumble and the Team management to swap Sourav Ganguly for Rohit Sharma. In my view, this will be a welcome change and the commencement of a gradual phase-out of the Fab Four. However, in my view, it will not happen now. Kumble is perhaps too much of a traditionalist and peer-group-camaraderie-captain to go down that route. These are hard decisions that require a hard, relentless and uncompromising leader. In this regard, Kumble is no Steve Waugh.

So I suspect that the batting order will be the same too!

All an India fan can hope for is a better showing from its ‘stars’.

We live in hope of a bounce-back by India. It is possible. It has been done before. It needs the team to step up to the plate and play with the aggression and intent that it can.

— Mohan

Spin – A forgotten art for the Indians

At the risk of being criticized for being critical of Indian team after the defeat, I am going ahead and writing my views on the just concluded test match. Indians lost the game simply because we have forgotten to play spin bowling. The Indian batsmen have not encountered spin bowling in India for more than 10 years now. We have lived under the pretext that Anil Kumble is a spinner all this while. How pathetic can it be when the Sri Lankan spinners have claimed 20 wickets between themselves and Kumble did not even manage to get one. The big four rarely play games in Indian domestic cricket and even if they do so, they get exposed to mediocre spin bowling. The Indians have fallen to Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Shahid Afridi and Arshad Khan in recent times leave alone the quality of Muralitharan and now, Mendis.

Tendulkar (partially in the second innings) and Laxman seemed to be the only players to have the ability to play out some of the quality bowling and, I guess, more out of memory than real practice.

India cannot simply rely of fast bowlers to get them out of trouble and win test games. The current pacemen are good, exceptional in exceptions, but not world class. They are certainly not a dependable bunch. India can still pull out victories from nowhere in other countries with the pace battery but a win in Sri Lanka is only possible if we match spin with spin. We need spinners, quality spinners. Kumble and Harbhajan don’t seem to cut it.

Expecting grenades,

– Srikanth

Sri Lanka Presidents’ XI warm-up game…

India play a 3-day game starting Saturday 19th July, ahead of their first Test against Sri Lanka, which commences on Wed 23 July 2008.

India’s last Test match was in April against the South Africans. Since then the Indian players have played a few Twenty20 games and quite a few meaningless one-dayers!

India will want to test out a full-strength side for the game — if nothing else, to help players like Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble, Dinesh Karthik and Zaheer Khan shake off some of the rust that may have collected over the last few months of cricket-inactivity.

It may be a good idea to give Virender Sehwag a bit of a break and get Gautam Gambhir to open with Dinesh Karthik! This will allow India an opprtunity to tes out a Sehwag-Karthik opening opportunity. In my view this combination is required in this team to develop a better balance to the side.

With that in mind, my India team for the Board Presidents XI game would be:

Gautam Gambhir
Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly
VVS Laxman
Anil Kumble (captain)
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Ishant Sharma
Pragyan Ojha / RP Singh

This could well be the Test team too, if the opening combination with Karthik works well. If not, Karthik may have to drop down the order to #7 with the team losing a bowler (the Ojha / RP.Singh spot).

The Sri Lankan Board team is a strong one. It will be led by Jehan Mubarak and includes Dilhara Fernando, Chamara Silva and Upul Tharanga.

— Mohan

England whinge about ground selections…

England have had a whinge about the choice of venues for their tour of India in December 2008. The ECB has expressed disappointment! It is now becoming a bit of a habit. Prior to their previous tour in 2005, the ECB had a similar whine about the venues that they were to play in. I wrote about it back then!

The reason for the ECB whine is the same this year: Ground selection

The method has been, quite annoyingly, the same: Negotiations played out through the media!

The reasoning is the same: The England supporters need better ground facilities and would like to see the match at places like Eden Gardens, etc.

The response from the BCCI has been the same: Grounds are allocated on a “rotation policy”.

I get the feeling that sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same!

The England itinerary for their tour of India, for the record, is:

November 6, 2008 England arrive in Mumbai
November 9 One-day warm-up match, Mumbai
November 11 One-day warm-up match, Mumbai
November 14 1st ODI v India, Rajkot
November 17 2nd ODI v India, Indore
November 20 3rd ODI v India, Kanpur
November 23 4th ODI v India, Jamshedpur
November 26 5th ODI v India, Cuttack
November 29 6th ODI v India, Guwahati
December 2 7th ODI v India, Delhi
December 5-7 Three-day warm-up match, Baroda
December 11-15 1st Test v India, Ahmedabad
December 19-23 2nd Test v India, CCI Mumbai

The ECB is concerned about the facilities in the grounds where the ODIs are being played. Sometimes, I feel that the BCCI takes perverse pleasure in making the ECB twitch a bit! The way the scheduling game was played out in 2005 had me in splits. It is likely that the game will be played out similarly in 2008! Back in 2005, England had even made an informal request to Pakistan to see if their practice games could be held in that country — even though Pakistan is always thought of as an “unsafe country” to visit by the ECB!

As in 2005, the ECB is right to ensure that its team and its fans are well looked after. I wrote about it in great detail in 2005! It is the ECB’s method that appears shocking.

It would be interesting to see how this game plays out!

— Mohan

Anil Kumble censured…

The BCCI has slapped Anil Kumble’s wrist for divulging selection matters in the media.

In response to a question from a Mumbai Mirror reporter on why two wicketkeepers were chosen, Anil Kumble indicated that he insisted on two ‘keepers for the tour. He added — and this is perhaps where the BCCI has developed a rash under its collar — that while the selectors pumped for Rahul Dravid as a second ‘keeper, he insisted on a second ‘keeper and got Parthiv Patel picked for the job.

His comment on this was:

“As captain I am aware that there could be problems if the specialist were to pull a muscle or have a runny stomach on the morning of a Test. There was a suggestion that Rahul (Dravid) be the second wicketkeeper, but I persuaded the committee to view things from Indian cricket’s point of view and advantage.”

Is this wrong? Perhaps. Does this deserve a public censure from the BCCI? Perhaps not.

I think the BCCI would do well to issue an open letter to anyone that seeks and gets a BCCI media accreditation pass that the media are to refrain from asking questions on selection. Plain and simple. The BCCI wants to control what gets said, written and reported in the media. Surely, the only way to control this would be to control it at the source!

Views?

Team India for Sri Lanka series

India will play 3 Tests and 5 ODIs against Sri Lanka in a one-month tour that commences with a tour-game on July 18th.

The 16-member India Team for the tour has been announced.

The major surprise is that Virender Sehwag is vice-captain of the Test team!

After his comments on the idiocy of back-to-back games in the Asia Cup and after his comment that he was “running on reserve”, not unexpectedly, M. S. Dhoni, Team India Test vice-captain, has opted out of the Tests citing fatigue. Dhoni has been playing almost non-stop since India’s tour of England last year this time! He played in a long and arduous 80-day tour of England that commenced in June last year. This was immediately followed by the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in which he captained Team India for the first time. He barely recovered from the celebrations that irked poor Andrew Symonds so much before he played the ill-tempered ODI series against Australia as captain of the ODI team! This was immediately followed by a Test and ODI series against Pakistan in India. Even before the Pakistan team had left Indian shores, Dhoni and his men were off on a fraught and testy two-month tour of Australia. The tour included 4 Tests and too many banal ODIs. This was immediately followed by a Test series against South Africa. We hardly had time to draw a collective breath with the IPL hit all metros in India! This was followed by a meaningless ODI tri-series in Bangladesh and then, the Asia Cup! This is a tremendous workload by any stretch of the imagination.

When Dhoni talked about the idiocy of back-to-back matches, the BCCI — always trigger-happy at the best of times — jumped up and down in unison and snorted that “any tired player should inform the Board”. Dhoni did and made himself unavailable for Sri Lanka.

The break would do him good. It would certainly save him from a burn-out situation.

While this may dent India’s chances in the Tests, it certainly provides an opportunity for Dinesh Karthik to step up to the plate. Interestingly, Parthiv Patel is Karthik’s deputy!

Apart from that forced change, there were a few smart inclusions, a few smart exclusions and one or two surprises!

Rohit Sharma comes in for Yuvraj Singh. I do think that that is a smart move. Yuvraj Singh, one feels, must regain his mojo. And a good place to start would be to get his dodgy knee fixed. It is, one feels, affecting his confidence. One rarely sees him diving around on the park these days. A fully fit Yuvraj Singh is also a confident Yuvraj Singh.

Irfan Pathan has also been axed. Once again, I think this is a good move. It may be better for him to head back to the MRF Pace Foundation for running repairs when he feels that he may be losing form and shape than when it has already fallen apart at the seams.

A surprise inclusion was Pragyan Ojha, in my view. Dilip Vengsarkar has always retained his fascination for left-arm spinners and has bemoaned the lack of quality left-armers in India. This may be an attempt to get Ojha into the frame in a major way. While I do like the look of Ojha, I am not sure he will play. So he may end up being a passenger on this tour. The experience will do him good though.

And finally, after a string of stirring performances in ODIs, Gautam Gambhir gets the nod ahead of Wasim Jaffer who, one felt, messed up one chance too many!

The one gripe I have is over the selection of Munaf Patel. I am not really sure what he has done to deserve this selection. Maybe he has shown signs of improved fitness. In any case, unless Zaheer Khan breaks down mid-tour (always a likely scenario) I do not see Munaf Patel do much else other than carry drinks and towels.

Overall, I do feel that this is a good selection effort. The team (in possible batting order) is:

Virender Sehwag (Vice-captain)
Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly / Rohit Sharma
Vangipurappu Laxman
Dinesh Karthik (‘keeper) / Parthiv Patel (‘keeper)
Anil Kumble (captain)
Harbhajan Singh / Pragyan Ojha
Zaheer Khan / R. P. Singh
Ishant Sharma / Munaf Patel

It is good to see India go on a tour with 16 players.

If India want to include an extra bowler option — an option that may well be necessary — Gambhir would have to make way for Karthik at the top of the order.

— Mohan

Carrom bowler blows India…

The Asia Cup final was dominated by two Sri Lankan performers: One who has been around for a long time (Sanath Jayasuriya) and another who has potential to be around for a long time (Ajanta Mendis). It also marked an interesting moment when one heralded Sri Lankan freak-genius bowler (Muthiah Muralidharan) can start to think about stepping aside as another potential Sri Lankan freak-genius (Ajanta Mendis) steps up to the mark.

As a Team India fan, I was disappointed to see India surrender meekly. But as a fan of world cricket, I was certainly excited to see this 23-year old freak bowler, Ajanta Mendis, zip, zoot, scoot, shoot, flick and slap the ball at and mesmerize the Indian batsmen! None of them had much of an idea of what he was actually doing with the ball. Several of them caught the rabbits-in-headlights disease and a few more caught the brain-fry disease. The end result was that Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup by 100 runs with about 15 overs still left in the game!

At the start, I felt that M. S. Dhoni had made two mistakes — going in with only 4 bowlers and electing to bowl first. Soon enough, I felt that Sri Lanka had blown a perfect opportunity by being 66-4 before anyone could say “Jack Robinson”! Ishant Sharma was bowling well, but not that stunningly on a flat pitch to suggest a 66-4 scoreline! Then we were treated to the Sanath Jayasuriya show! It was a spectacular show with shots all around the park. Although Irfan Pathan bowled in a manner that suggested that he was, once again, losing his grip on his pace as well as his rhythm, and although one felt that R. P. Singh was bowling like a rich man who had suddenly become much richer through an unexpected inheritance, one felt that Sri Lanka were about 30 runs light.

We then had the awesome Virender Sehwag show that got India off to a screamer. He had 60 runs off an India total of 76 in the 9th over. Mahela Jayawardane, the Sri Lankan captain, was desperate at that point in time it seemed. It was a dice-throw, one felt. But then he perhaps knew a thing or two that the rest of us did not know! He had rested Ajanta Mendis from India’s last game against Sri Lanka! India did not get to “see” this freak bowler.

And so, he came on in the 10th over inside the first power play and changed the structure, nature and complexion of the game. He induced a brain fuse in Virender Sehwag (stumped) and clean bowled Yuvraj Singh who did not have a clue. Instead of defending a straight ball spat out from the front of the young magician’s hands, Yuvraj Singh tried an ugly hoik, only to be embarrassingly bowled! Suresh Raina said he could better Yuvraj Singh’s effort! He too was bowled! And thus the procession commenced. M. S. Dhoni hung on, but it was more grit than capability that kept him there! None of the India bats were able to pick Ajanta Mendis.

A future star was born!

Ajanta Mendis runs straight and bowls from close to the stumps. His bounding run up is similar to a Stuart McGill run up. From close to the stumps, he brings his right arm straight up by his right ear and then performs his “Carrom Board” magic.

It appears as if his ring-finger tucked in behind the ball. His index finger and middle-finger grip the ball in the usual manner of a split-finger leg-spin bowler a la Anil Kumble. This allows him to bowl the leg-spinner and also a “carrom board flick-spit ball” (the best way I can decribe it) with the same action! The “carrom board” flick-spit ball arrives more rapidly and skids on after pitching in the time-honoured traditions of tennis-ball bowlers in the maidans of the sub-continent. However, with the same action, he is also able to bowl the googly-spit ball too!

It will be interesting to see how Ajanta Mendis will travel. As Osman Samiuddin says, the video analysts will have gathered gigabytes of video data to analyse. I am sure he will be analysed to death. But suffice to say that, despite India’s loss, it warmed the cockles of my heart to realise that I had witnessed the potential birth of a future star bowler.

— Mohan

It is an India Vs Sri Lanka Final…

India beat Sri Lanka in another high-scoring encounter at Karachi to storm into the Asia Cup Finals. The hosts, Pakistan, will be left with much to ponder and dissect. Already there is talk of Pakistan sacking Geoff Lawson as coach!

This tournament has been a bowlers’ nightmare. Scores of 300 are being regularly hacked down with several overs to spare. So also in last nights’ game. Despite the early loss of the in-form and dangerous Kumar Sangakkara and despite Sanath Jayasuriya’s departure before much serious damage could be inflicted, Sri Lanka got to a score of 308-8 in their 50 overs. Like India had the day before, the Sri Lankan innings never quite took off. Everytime the batsmen threatened to go into orbit speed, India would take a wicket and peg those ambitions down. Not that the bowling or fielding was good, mind you! It is just that the Sri Lankan batsmen could not quite take off. Just when Jayasuriya seemed set, he departed. Similarly Mahela Jayawardena, Kapugedera, Chamara Silva and Tilakaratne Dilshan. They never quite got going. In the end, 308 was, one felt, about 20 runs short.

The Indian fielding effort was lazy. Pragyan Ojha let one go through his legs although he did dive smartly in the middle overs to convert a sure boundary into a two. Ishant Sharma messed up a few on the boundary ropes! R. P. Singh had a wild throw that resulted in over-throws. Sehwag was late in getting a dive in. Even Suresh Raina messed up a few dives and a few throws. Yuvraj Singh, however, remains a serious concern on the field. It is not as if he has become slower in the field. He has. It seems as though his dodgy knee prevents him from being totally alive in the field. This condition enabled him to make an absolute dogs’ breakfast of a Sanath Jayasuria chance at mid-on early in the piece! This must be a concern for the team management. A fit-and-fighting Yuvraj Singh is an asset to the team.

When batting, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir started as though they were either at a hit-and-giggle cricket-camp or, at best, the nets! They laughed and joked their way to 92 off 11 overs before Sehwag tried a cute paddle-scoop, only to flush the ball down Dilhara Fernando’s throat! They batted in a cavalier manner with gay abandon. Gautam Gambhir has grown in confidence as an impact player. And with Sehwag, he is a more complete player, one feels. They have a very good understanding between themselves and this shows in the way they play their cricket. Although Suresh Raina looked a bit shaky early on, he too settled down to play smart cricket. Against the run of play, it seemed, Gambhir got out to Muthiah Muralidharan’s second over.

Dhoni then made a bold move. He promoted himself at 2-down! I thought this was a smart move. Both he and Suresh Raina had played the dangerous Muralidharan in the nets in the IPL — all three played for Chennai SuperKings. Moreover, Yuvraj Singh is not that comfortable, one feels, taking guard against an in-form and ticking Muralidharan. So the decision to elevate himself in the batting order showed both courage as well as flexibility on the part of Dhoni.

Nearly 100 runs later, when the match was almost sealed and in the bag, both Raina and Dhoni got out. But Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Shrama carried India home with 3 overs to spare! The 30 runs that Sri Lanka could not score mattered in the end.

The final is between the two best teams in the tournament.

India took Pragyan Ojha instead of Piyush Chawla. This move paid off. Ojha bowled better than Chawla, in my view. India also played R. P. Singh instead of Yusuf Pathan. They would be tempted to stick with the same team for the final.

– Mohan

India run risk of crash-and-burn out of Asia Cup

India lost to Pakistan in last nights’ game in Karachi. The Pakistanis put up a spirited performance and out-batted and out-bowled India.

India started as if Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had more concerns for the tournaments’ carbon credits. It looked like they wanted to finish the game off before the lights came on in the evening. But that frenetic start was always going to be hard to maintain and when Sehwag, Gambhir, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh fell quickly, it took some effort for M. S. Dhoni and a-somewhat-out-of-sorts Rohit Sharma to rebuild the innings.

The two Indian batsmen did rebuild, thanks to the strategy of the stand-in Pakistan captain, Misbah Ul-Huq, who strangely did not attack at that stage. Dhoni and Rohit Sharma compiled the easy singles and twos and kept the scoreboard moving till a rush of blood saw Rohit Sharma depart at a crucial time — just when the accelerator was being engaged! That dismissal and the immature dismissal that followed — of Yusuf Pathan — may have meant that India fell short by about 20 runs in the end. That was perhaps what mattered most in the end result. Yusuf Pathan came out and had a huge heave against debutant off-spinner Saeed Ajmal who looked quite tight and impressive in his first game. Given the number of doosra’s Ajmal bowled though, it may be more appropriate, perhaps, to catalog Ajmal a “Doosra” bowler who occasionally bowls the off-spinner as a wrong ‘un! Dhoni and Rohit Sharma had some difficulty picking his doosra.

The Pakistanis came out purposefully and batted brilliantly to take the game away from India. In particular, Younis Khan and Misbah Ul-Huq were excellent, controlled and effective. Younis Khan appeared to be a man in control. He came in when a solid foundation was ruined by a needless runout. He shepherded a somewhat frisky, young Nasir Jamshed to a 50, saw the youngster retire hurt and just kept motoring on through it all. His was a terrific innings.

The Indian bowlers did not really come to the party. Praveen Kumar bowled tragically. After a wayward first over Ishant Sharma did manage to bowl reasonably well in his subsequent overs. And although Irfan Pathan bowled steadily for most part, he did bowl at least one “hit me” ball every over. And that, really, was the difference. Piyush Chawla was also largely ineffective.

At the end of the game, M. S. Dhoni said, “On flat tracks like this one, scores like 300 or 310 is just not enough if you don’t have an experienced spinner. There is not much help from the pitch for the spinners and it’s rather easier for the batsman to go after the spinner than rotate the strike. There you need experienced spinner.”

Hmmm! Let’s see. The spinner in the winning team had bowling analysis of 10-0-47-1. His name? Saeed Ajmal. Experience? Debutant.

It is, in my view, not experience that mattered most. It was attitude that was the difference. The Indians batted in two modes when they batted. They swung from “reckless abandon” to “caught in the headlights” and never really settled the pendulum in a safe and controlled zone in the middle. That allowed even the inexperienced debutant bowler — Ajmal — to bowl with control and dictate terms. India perhaps went into the game thinking that they would win it. Pakistan, on the other hand, went into the game with a hint of desperation and a heck of a lot of grit and attitude. The results showed. The better team won on the night.

India have to win tonights’ game against Sri Lanka or risk bowing out of the Asia Cup finals. Strangely enough, I am not too fussed either way! I suspect that an early exit may be a bitter pill for most Team India fans to swallow!

I can’t believe that India can go in with the same team sheet that it presented against Pakistan. However, there don’t appear to be too many options. One option may be to swap Manpreet Gony for a somewhat listless Praveen Kumar. But that could be somewhat of a risk in what is essentially a do-or-die game for India. I’d go with R. P. Singh for Praveen Kumar who has looked somewhat out of sorts in these listless tracks.

Yusuf Pathan has blown a few opportunities to express himself. He needs to come good. He had a perfect opportunity with both bat and ball last night and messed up both facets. His heave that he affected against Ajmal in last nights’ game is not quite a reflection of his batting capabilities. He is better than that and has to make his appearances and opportunities count. India has the opportunity to bench him for a regular, front-line bowler. It is an option that they may well exercise in what is essentially a knock-out semi-final.

On another note… Having already played and beaten Pakistan in the preliminary rounds and having carried over the points into the Super-League, pray why did India have to play Pakistan again? Is this just so that the organisers can collect more gate revenue?

— Mohan