Monthly Archives: July 2008

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

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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