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