Monthly Archives: August 2008

Team India for ODIs in Sri Lanka and Champions Trophy

As expected, MS Dhoni has returned from a self-inflicted “rest” and has been selected as captain of the Team India ODI side to take on Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the Test series.

Ishant Sharma has been “rested” for the Sri Lanka ODIs, but will return for the Champions Trophy. Munaf Patel, who has been picked for the Sri Lanka tour, will only play in Sri Lanka.

Parthiv Patel has been included as MS Dhoni’s understudy for the Sri Lanka tour. However, Parthiv Patel will return to India after the Sri Lanka ODIs and will not take part in the Champions Trophy.

Is this then and indicator to Parthiv Patel playing instead of Dinesh Karthik in the 3rd and final Test between Sri Lanka and India? Time will tell.

As expected, Sachin Tendulkar comes back into the side that played the Asia Cup. He will most likely open the innings with Virender Sehwag, with Gautam Gambhir at #3. The Gambhir-Sehwag combination will need to wait a while before exploding in ODIs!

Interestingly, no vice-captain has been announced!

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Suresh Raina / Virat Kohli
Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt)
Irfan Pathan
Harbhajan Singh / Pragyan Ojha
Praveen Kumar / Munaf Patel
Zaheer Khan / RP Singh

with

Parthiv Patel (drinks!)

Yusuf Pathan gets the flick! It is unfortunate, but perhaps understandable! He did not really set the ground alight. But the man has enough potential to bounce back into reckoning.

Piyush Chawla has also been shown the door. Now, Chawla, who bowled quite brilliantly in the ODIs in England last year and in Australia earlier in 2008, was quite rudely exposed when bowling to Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup. He would probably benefit from refining his trade. With Harbhajan Singh returning to the fold like the prodigal son, and with Pragyan Ojha seizing his Asia Cup opportunities, it is appropriate, perhaps, that Chawla cools his heels a bit.

Another player that has been shown the door is Robin Uthappa. Once again, the case could be made that he perhaps did not deliver on the many opportunities he has been afforded. In his place, Virat Kohli comes in, on the back of his U-19 exploits and his strong showing in the recently concluded Emerging Players Tournament in Brisbane. S. Badrinath, who also had a strong Emerging Players tournament, would be perhaps justified in feeling a bit desolate at being overlooked — again!

Given the combination that the team has gone with, unless one of Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh sit out (quite unlikely), India will go in with only 4 mainline bowlers — possibly Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh! Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh will need to bowl out the 5th bowlers quota. This lack of balance has always been India’s weak suit — especially considering that Irfan Pathan is one of these 4 frontline bowlers! If any of these 4 bowlers has an an off day — and Irfan Pathan can have them easily — the bowling can get taken to the cleaners!

The tough alternative would be to replace Suresh Raina with a bowler. It is unlikely that the team would do that, particularly after Raina’s good showing in the Asia Cup!

Interesting days ahead…

— Mohan

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Anil Kumble: The perfect man for the job…

Contributed by CWO

A couple of years ago, I came across an article about a corporate business man and his leadership skills. Although I do not remember the article’s name or the person who was quoted in it, a certain aspect of that article stays with me even today. The six qualities that he listed as imperative to define a good leader were:

  • Integrity
  • A deep understanding of the business
  • Consistency
  • Willingness to admit a mistake
  • The ability to listen
  • Decisiveness

Let us set our sights on Anil Kumble and see how he measures up against the above criteria. His is a hard gig. After all, he has, as Team India’s Test Captain, one of the most challenging assignments in International cricket! Anil Kumble started his career seventeen years ago, at the age of twenty. He has played under five captains; including Sourav Ganguly — India’s most triumphant Test captain. After seventeen years in the game, at the ripe age of thirty-six, Anil Kumble became India’s 30th Test captain in Team India’s 76-year history of playing Test cricket.

Integrity
Anil Kumble always had integrity, but he had to prove this under the pressures of leading. Being the captain of India brings more pressure than any other Test cricketing nation. The watchful eye of one billion passionate fans dissects every decision made, scrutinises every loss, and rewards every achievement. Indian cricket fans are among the most — if not the most passionate fans in the world. The perfect opportunity for Anil Kumble to show his integrity came after the second Test at Sydney against Australia in 2008 where India suffered a very controversial loss in a Test that was boiling over with controversy. It was Anil Kumble’s second Test series as a captain, and perhaps his hardest Test. It was up to him to decide what route to take: whether defend his player, his country, his loss; whether to demonstrate restrained integrity or petulant anger. Anil Kumble epitomized the definition of integrity when he revealed his apology to Ricky Ponting over the Harbhajan Singh controversy. He even pointed out that Australia had not played that Test in the right spirit, and addressed the umpiring controversy. He said what had to be said without offending his hosts. He made up his differences with Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting; and withdrew charges against Brad Hogg.

A deep understanding of the business
Does Anil Kumble have a deep understanding of the business? Of course he does. He has played in over one hundred Test matches, and based on his experience, he quickly embraced the Team India Test captaincy. He won the first Test series he captained against Pakistan. He then went on to achieve a phenomenal victory against Australia in India’s 3rd Test against the Australians at Perth. In doing so, he had conquered the lion in its own den! He also denied Australia a new record in the number of consecutive Test wins. He also helped redeem India’s honour. Anil Kumble has shown a great understanding of Test cricket.

Consistency
This is the reason why many Test captains fail. They tend to lose the consistency of their own performances when they become captain! Partly, this could be ascribed to them caving under pressure. Partly, this is justifed by the distractions that one has when one is a player as well as captain. Unlike a soccer captain, say, a cricket captain makes many on-field tactical decisions and the focus on this can often take consistency away from their own game. However, Anil Kumble has not caved. In fact, he has done quite the opposite. Since becoming captain, he has taken 46 wickets in 11 matches. He has been India’s lead wicket taker as well as a match winner. For years, many an Indian victory has resulted from great performances by Anil Kumble. Since becoming captain he has not disappointed. Anil Kumble is as consistent as ever.

Willingness to admit a mistake
Anil Kumble has always made it a point, since his reign of captaincy started, to take the blame and admit his mistakes. He berated himself for his poor performance in the first Test against Sri Lanka where he went without a wicket. He showed this in his post game interview where he blamed himself by saying, “I take it [my lack of form], but we all tried hard”, and supported the efforts of India.

The ability to listen
There is no greater example of his ability to listen than when India played Australia for the Border-Gavasker Trophy. It was the third Test at Perth. Ishant Sharma was at the conclusion of a huge spell where he had bowled seven overs on the trot on a hot and sticky day! He was bowling a terrific spell and had Ricky Ponting in all sorts of trouble. Anil Kumble was about to take him off. Just then, Virender Sehwag talked to Anil Kumble and suggested that he allow Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Anil Kumble was receptive to the suggestion and let Ishant Sharma bowl another over. Ishant Sharma did not miss the opportunity! He dismissed Ricky Ponting in that over.

Decisiveness
So far we have seen every quality of a leader encompassed in Anil Kumble. The final and the most important quality, perhaps, is decisiveness. Has Anil Kumble been decisive, and has he shown us that he can win games with smart decisions on-and-off the field? It may be a little early in his captaincy-career to decide if he has made many correct decisions or not, but his Test match results so far show us that he has indeed made many correct decisions. His decisions have led him to one series win, one series loss, and one series drawn.

When Rahul Dravid resigned, after taking the Indian Test team to new heights, the leadership responsibility was placed on the shoulders of Anil Kumble. According to many experts and media outlets, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the leading candidate at that stage. However, it boiled down to a decision around what was best for Indian cricket; especially for Test cricket. While M. S. Dhoni has had a lot of success in other forms of cricket as a captain, when it came to Test cricket, Anil Kumble was always the perfect man for the job.

— CWO

Preview: Sri Lanka vs. India, Third Test

The following article was contributed by CWO.

Sri Lanka (1-1-0) vs. India (1-1-0)
Friday, August 8 2008 – Tuesday, August 12 2008
10:15 local, 04:45 GMT
P Saravanamuttu Stadium, Colombo

It all comes down to this, mono e mono. As much we may analyze the last two Test Matches, Sri Lanka is not the clear-cut favourite to win this 3rd Test. Sri Lanka has a great track record on their home grounds; however, they just lost a Test which at one point looked like the continuation of the first Test at SCC. Sri Lanka needs to get its act together and play to win this series.

Sri Lanka has many things in its favour. To list a few obvious ones:

  • They have the home field advantage.
  • India is without a coach for the rest of the series.
  • Indian middle order has not proven to be any more than a minor inconvenience for the Lankan bowlers.

But this does not mean Sri Lanka has what it takes to win the Test and series.

This game could be Sri Lanka’s for the taking, with the exception of one major factor: the confidence that India now seems to have, and Sri Lanka’s lack there of. The Indian team is hungry for a win. They have just come off a great come-from-behind victory in which one player has seemingly found an answer for the Ajanta Mendis surprise factor. And for once, the whole Team India seems to be jumping on the bandwagon of Anil Kumble cricket (I will post this in more detail another time). India is playing without a coach, which gives Kumble more incentive to step up and play with a lot of fire. Ishant Sharma seems to be getting a grasp of the Sri Lankan pitches, and he did very well extracting bounce from a four day old pitch — and there is no reason why he wouldn’t continue his phenomenal form. The Indian batsmen will have practice and they will concentrate at playing spin from Mendis and reacting to his different variations — especially given that one Team India player has seemingly conquered the surprise.

Sri Lanka will be on their back foot to win this series; the pressure is all on them. They have questions to answer on how to get a good start in the innings. In the last Test, the Sri Lankan openers had partnerships of 4 and 4. This does not bode well for the Sri Lankans. They also have a weak opening bowling attack. The team misses the potency of Lasith Malinga — amply shown by the opening stands (of 167 and 90) between Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir at Galle.

Now for the good news, Ajanta Mendis and Muthiah Muralidharan have taken 34 of the 40 wickets in the first two Tests. This means that as long as the Sri Lankans keep their spin going, they will continue to give themselves their best chance of a win.

India on the other hand has the confidence and quite possibly one of the better bowling attacks to match that of the Sri Lanka’s, giving them a great chance to win this 3rd Test and the series. India will not have to change their second Test game plan too much to win. They will use the track which is suited for spin, and expect the new ball brilliance to continue from their two spearheads, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan. With a well balanced bowling attack their only question will be around the middle-order stepping up to the plate. Will Sachin Tendulkar finally let go of the pressure of becoming the #1 accumulator of runs in Test cricket? Will Tendulkar play the way he did in Australia? Will Rahul Dravid once again become a “Wall” and frustrate bowlers as he did in the England series last year? Will Sourav Ganguly step out of his cocoon and become the prolific scorer he has been in the past decade? If these questions answer positively for India, then we will witness something special, as India has not won a series in Sri Lanka in 15 years!

At this stage, it is anybody’s series, but India has the upper hand, even if just slightly.

— CWO

Courage, the need of the hour…

India’s sensational victory at Galle after the humiliation of Colombo posed more questions than answers, in my view!

This is not the first time in the recent past that Team India has scored a remarkable come-from-behind victory. But perhaps this is the first time that a come-from-behind win has left the India Fan posing several questions about the future of Team India!

As has been pointed out by Srikanth Mangalam, this victory, unlike India’s more famous past come-from-behind victories, does not taste as sweet. While this should not diminish either the sweetness of the victory or our appreciation for the team, there are many questions that need to be answered by the selectors.

In recent years, India has tried hard to dispel the bad-travellers tag that the team has acquired. They will make the leap from good to great only if they dispel the bad-starters tag too. In recent overseas tours, South Africa was the only tour when India started with a famous win at Kingsmead. In that series in 2006-2007, India disintegrated after that stunning victory. In India’s 2007 tour of England, Bucknor and bad-light saved India from a morale-dissipating loss at Lords’. India then came back strongly to finish the series with a victory. In Australia last year, under Anil Kumble’s feisty leadership, India lost badly in Melbourne and then had a most sensational, yet disappointing loss at Sydney. The team was written off as a combination of whingers, whiners, no-hopers and more. The Australian fans as well as the sports writers were divided over the brouhaha that surrounded the strange and largely incompetent decision making by Bucknor and Proctor. Just as everyone had completely written off the team, India rose from the dead to score an incredible victory in Perth. That was possibly the defining moment for this team. Of course, Kolkata in 2001 was where most Team India fans would say it all started. And that was a come-from behind victory in more ways than one — India had been mauled in the 1st Test of that series in Mumbai and was facing a mountain to climb after having been asked to follow-on in Kolkata!

So, Team India has had more than its share of come-from-behind victories. “Resilience” is a word that Anil Kumble uses as often as “Fantastic” these days, when he is asked to describe his team! And yes, one would have to agree that this team has demonstrated resilience. Personally, Perth was enough for me. If any team could bounce back from the nonsense of Sydney, it would have to have developed not only the temperament and ability, but also the self-pride, resolve and determination.

But, as Srikanth Mangalam has pointed out, this victory in Galle was a bit hollow. He puts it down to the fact that it was mainly 3 Delhi players (Sehwag, Gambhir and Ishant Sharma) and a Punjabi (Harbhajan Singh) who achieved this victory. The rest of the team contributed precious little.

One aspect of India’s victory that pleased me (and surprised me) the most was Harbhajan Singh’s huge hand in the victory. He has had a somewhat dismal overseas bowling record and had to start contributing when the conditions are not that favourable. Muthiah Muralidharan does it day in and day out. It requires an ability to adapt as well as dogged determination. In the past Harbhajan Singh would have just crumbled if he did not get a wicket every other ball. Here, he showed patience and was willing to bowl to a plan. This augurs well for India’s future and one certainly hopes that this maverick bowler has learned his lessons well in the self-inflicted time-off that he has had out in the cold.

The concern for me is three-fold:

  • Most Team India fans know that there is an urgent need for more strategic thinking around team composition.
  • In this match at Galle, most of the “older” players did nothing much.
  • It is much harder to institute change when one has just won!

To move from here on a change-path requires much courage; a quality that the BCCI, games’ administrators in India, do not have in spades. And if they do, they have hidden it away quite well from us! The selectors are part of the BCCI system and they have not shown too much inclination to think strategically about issues of importance to the team.

A look at the manner in which Australia has phased-out-phased-in would be sufficient to put the issue beyond the pale! Over a period of 2-3 years, players like Justin Langer, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Damien Martyn, Glen McGrath, Michael Kasprowicz, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, et al, have been slowly and systematically replaced. The players who have left could well form a team today and they would give the second best team a run for their money! Such is the quality that has been replaced in a strategic manner! Apart from Shane Warne’s replacement — more due to paucity of available options than anything else — one would like to think that the Australians have got it more right than wrong! The point, however, is that the Australian selectors look way beyond their immediate task of picking a team for the next match! They look beyond the ends of their collective noses to see what they need to do to work on a team that will take the park 2 years and 5 years from today.

As Wayne Gretsky, the champion ice-hockey player used to say, strategic thinking, “is not about where the puck is, but about where it ought to be”.

So what is required is extreme courage, especially given that the Indian team has just won an incredible come-from-behind victory! But such courage is desperately needed.

What India needs desperately is a blue print for the road ahead which would have to include a transition plan for Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar (perhaps in the above order) to be replaced by (respectively) Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Piyush Chawla/Pragyan Ojha, S. Badrinath and Suresh Raina.

And that transition has to start now. Sourav Ganguly has to make way for Rohit Sharma for the 3rd Test starting in 4 days’ time! Yes, it is quite likely that Rohit Sharma won’t rock the world on debut. It is likely that he would make less runs than what Ganguly made in the Galle Test match. And yes, it is harder to make changes when the team has won. But that’s exactly what longer-term sustainability demands.

Will the BCCI act? I do not have much hope. After all, it is only just realising that it needs a web presence!

– MOhan

Sri Lanka lose second test (to Delhi!)

The two Delhi openers and their opening fast bowler (on the final day) with a significant contribution from their Punjabi neighbor won the test for India handsomely. The Sri Lankan batting looked very ordinary on the final day as the Indians through some lethal pace bowling and good catching ran through the line up. It was a good team performance on the final day but it is impossible not to recognize that this test match was hardly an Indian victory but for the fact that Sehwag single handled carried the Indian batting. While it bodes really well for the future that we have a really good opening pair, Ishant Sharma is not a one series wonder, and that Harbhajan can still trusted as a test winner, the famous five did not make it count.

The top Indian batting has to absolutely click in the final test if India wants to consider itself as serious contender for the test championship title. The Indians should consider playing Rohit Sharma in the next test match. I am not going to speculate as to who should be replaced but the replacement should happen if India has any long term plans. Also, I do not think it is a bad idea to test Parthiv Patel out in the next test match. Realistically, I fear, India will claim to play it safe and play the same eleven in all the three test matches.

This post is not to meant put a dampener on the victory but the victory did not seem to taste as sweet as the ones in England or at Perth! Interesting days ahead!

– Srikanth