Monthly Archives: September 2008

New look BCCI…

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has a new look to it. It has a new President, a newish set of office bearers and a new website — http://www.bcci.tv!

BCCI’s website was launched quietly during the week. Incidentally, BCCI, the worlds’ richest cricket board, is the last of the ICC member country cricket boards to get its own website! It is actually quite an informative website, if one has an interest in State cricket associations and the like. Yesterday, the site had quite a few glitches. These seem to have been sorted out. For example, West Zone was declared as the zone “Abutting the Arabic Sea”. Arabic? Today, it reads, “West Zone: Abutting the Arabian Sea”. What has a butt got to do with it? I have problems with arcane english usage, I guess! It presents the Memorandum of Association of the BCCI, if one is interested in such matters. The landing page has video clips from “The Greatest Series”. No prizes for guessing that this features Australia in India in 2001! Good for a read and about time too.

Shashank Manohar, a self-proclaimed “benevolent dictator” is the new BCCI President. He steps in as Sharad Pawar steps up to take on the ICC Presidency when David Morgan vacates that chair soon.

Kris Srikkanth has assumed control of the new “paid” selection committee as its chairman. He is joined by Yashpal Sharma (North), Raja Venkat (East), Surendra Bhave (West), Narendra Hirwani (Central), with N. Srinivasan as Secretary/Convenor.

Fortunately, we will stop receiving sound bytes (bites) from Niranjan Shah. Now in case you missed his last pearl, I reproduce it below! Just 2 days prior to handing over the reigns to Srinivasan, Niranjan Shan dropped this beauty on us unsuspecting souls when urging Team India seniors to announce their retirement plans to BCCI! Shah said:

“The senior players, who can be phased out in two or three years, should make their own (retirement) plans and inform the BCCI or selection committee. Like Rahul (Dravid) had done when quitting India captaincy. Like Anil (Kumble) did when retiring from ODIs.”

That statement was somewhat harmless, given that it came from Niranjan Shah! However, he did not disappoint us with his usual foray into clanger-territory! He proceeded to say that it was not practical in India for the selectors to ask a player about his retirement plans. That’s right! It was not practical! The exact quote:

“It’s not possible in India for the selectors to ask players about their retirement plans which may lead to arguments.”

Phew! Now that is the reason then! Clearly we need selectors that love arguments then!

For those that thought that we had seen the last of Niranjan Shah, there is, however, some bad news. He is going to stick around. Niranjan Shah has been named Vice-Chairman of the now-influential IPL Governing Council! While Lalit Modi has been retained as Chair of the IPL Governing Council, there are suggestions that Niranjan Shah is there to hover around as a shadow in case the young turk gets too far ahead of himself! All of these speculations are fuelled by Modi’s recent generosity towards the visiting Australians. Modi, a good friend of Guru Greg Chappell, invited the Australians to use the extensive and impressive training facilities at the Rajasthan Cricket Association a full week before the official start of the Australia tour of India. This has set the proverbial cat amonst a colony of some confused pigeons who don’t quite know what to do! The easiest thing to do was, presumably, to aim and fire at the host who extended the generous hospitality.

Another pointer to a suggestion that Lalit Modi has been slapped on the wrist is that Sharad Pawar has assumed chairmanship of the influential Marketing Committee, a post that Modi had held with some panache.

Will any of this make a dent in India’s chances against the visiting Australians? Will any of this make a difference to cricket in India? We don’t know, but if past committees are anything to go by, I will not be holding my breath in a tearing hurry!

— Mohan

Pointers from the Irani Trophy game…

Unless Gautam Gambhir and Aakash Chopra are able to pull a rabbit out of the hat, the 2008 edition of the Irani Trophy seems to be headed irrevocably to the cabinet of Team RoI.

The Irani Trophy has, in the past, been of significance for several players. I remember Dilip Vengsarkar and Kapil Dev using an Irani edition to propel their international careers.

With the Australia tour just around the corner and with some questions being asked of the Indian middle order, there was a similar opportunity in this edition for S. Badrinath and Mohammed Kaif. While I cannot say that Badrinath blew his chances, I don’t believe he enhanced his reputation too much. Having said this, he did make a composed 36 in the second dig. However, Mohammed Kaif, it must be said, has something missing in his internal circuitry. After getting out to an ugly hoik in the first innings, he had few answers in the second dig in a very short stay at the crease (out for a duck off his second ball). Wasim Jaffer did make a composed 50 in the first innings. However, I can’t see the selectors dislodge the Sehwag-Gambhir opening combination.

It was odd to see Rahul Dravid walk in as the RoI opener! As I mentioned in this blog a few weeks back when the RoI team was chosen, the team did not have a regular opener to partner Wasim Jaffer. When the initial team was announced, Parthiv Patel looked the likely opener. However, that option was discarded in favour of Dravid walking out with Wasim Jaffer.

Munaf Patel impressed for RoI. In Delhi’s first innings, Munaf Patel had fire, fluency and pace that made him a sit-up-and-notice bowler when he first hit the scene. He ran through the crease really smoothly and was nagging in his accuracy almost always. He suddenly looks to be an improved bowler. I am not sure what he has been doing, but it has worked. With Zaheer Khan bowling well and with Ishant Sharma not flagging in the wake of the many shampoo adverts he has had to appear in, the India pace bowling stock looks reasonable. In Delhi’s first innings, Munaf Patel sledged out Aakash Chopra. For some reason, in that spell, Munaf Patel was constantly mouthing off at the Delhi batsmen. The umpire got involved too and seemed to have a word with Anil Kumble, the RoI captain. Soon after that, Aakash Chopra and Munaf Patel exchanged words. In the very next over Chopra edged to the slips and Munaf Patel proceeded to execute a war-dance in front of the departing batsman! This incident is not mentioned in Aakash Chopra’s blog post on the game — I must say that I like Chopra’s writing and am looking forward to reading his soon-to-be-completed book.

Delhi has lodged a complaint against Munaf Patel. The hearing on Saturday morning, to be held by match referee Rajinder Jadeja, will attended by Virender Sehwag and Anil Kumble.

And so, it may be tempting for Anil Kumble to go in with 5 bowlers and restrict the batting order to 5 batsmen and Dhoni (Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni) for the 1st Test against the visiting Australians! This would be a risky option, especially with Laxman’s poor-show and Tendulkar’s no-show in the Irani trophy! I’d still go with the Badrinath option to provide some cushion in the middle order. Aaah! If only Irfan Pathan knew how to hold his bowling together for 6 consecutive months!

Meanwhile, here is a thought! Aakash Chopra seems to be playing with hunger and determination. He also appears to be a different cricketer these days. He has brought in an urgency to his batting and is more keen to keep the scorers engaged and involved, when previously, they would have reached for the pillow when he came in to bat! Now, if he produces a stunning knock on day-4 of the ongoing Irani Trophy game to assist Delhi to pull one out of the hat, would it not be conceivabe to imagine the following Team India line up for the Tests against Australia?

Chopra, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Laxman, Dhoni, Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Ishant

I do remember saying earlier on in this post, “I can’t see the selectors dislodge the Sehwag-Gambhir opening combination.” So yes. This is the romantic in me speaking. I do like Aakash Chopra’s gutsy approach to batting and fielding and would like to see him back in the mix for India one day.

Meanwhile Australia ‘A’ thrashed India ‘A’ in the tri-series final. The only thing this series confirmed is that Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik imploded totally. The two of them need a fair bit of time off the limelight with their respective clubs and state teams.

— Mohan

On ICL-bans and bombing-hypocrisy…

Sampath Kumar, in his usual style, tried to bait me into an argument on ICL, Pakistan’s security-related isolation and other issues. I took the bait! I will try and address these here. These are just my opinions, of course.

On the banning of ICL players:

I do believe that the BCCI was partially right in seeking — and enforcing — a ban. The coming months will test the BCCI’s resolve totally in this regard, especially with the actions of the Sri Lanka Board to lift their ban on ICL-contracted players. But I do believe that the BCCI was partially right in seeking this ban. In saying this, I must say that I am approaching this purely from an academic perspective and am not being an apologist for the BCCI. I do not like the way they function (that being an operative word in this case and I would normally wash my mouth after using “function” and “BCCI” in the same breath!). I do believe that they need a big scare before they get their house in order on most things to do with cricket — and I do believe that they are getting just that.

I’d like to separate my argument along two modes (a) Players from India, (b) Players from other countries. I am clear that Indian players that are contracted with the BCCI ought to banned if they play in the ICL. The waters get a bit muddy when we deal with non-Indian players contracted by the ICL. I reiterate that mine is a non-legal opinion on this issue.

Indian ICL-players

I do not often agree with the directions, approach and strategy of the BCCI. However, I do believe that the BCCI is right to seek exclusivity as the body that governs cricket in India. You can’t — just can’t — have two bodies that govern and run cricket in India. That doesn’t mean that the ICL is wrong to organise cricket — anyone can organise a game in their backyard or local park. It is a free world after all.

However, a player who is contracted to play in ICC-approved tournaments in individual countries cannot and should not be allowed to play in competitions that are organised by bodies other than the officially recognised representative body in that country.

Suddenly there is talk of restriction of trade practices? Well, I am not a legal expert and would need to read up on this material a bit before commenting with authority. However, I can’t imagine too many employers giving all of its employees free reign to work with its competitors! If you are contracted to a company — and all players in India have some form of contract with BCCI, the official governing body that is recognised by the ICC for organising and running cricket in India — then, I suspect your contract would say that you have to stick with that company and offer your services to that company.

As an employer, your contract would ask for exclusivity of your services to your employer in return for monetary and other considerations, so that your employer (in this case, the BCCI) can maximise — in a tightly governed manner — the deals that it can make with TV companies and marketing companies. Its contracts with its employees — its players, ground staff, coaches, et al — assure the organisation that it is able to satisfy the exclusivity clauses that would dominate such external contracts.

Indian Players are contracted to the BCCI to play in BCCI-approved tournaments — from Buchi Babu Trophy to Tests. So, the moment they play in a tournament that is not “approved”, they can be deemed to have reneged on their contract. That much is clear to me!

Why is this exclusivity important?

Let us imagine that the ICL is recognised by the ICC as a body that also runs and organises cricket in India. Apart from TV and marketing deals with sponsors which would fall through, is it not conceivable then, if we take the argument to its logical conclusion, that the ICL would put up an alternate “Team India” to the “Team India” that the BCCI put up? Which India will Australia (for example) face when it tours India? Will it ask the real ‘Team India’ to stand up every time it tours?

So the ICC should only recognise one governing body in each country. The fact that the market in India is large enough to allow for 3-4 bodies for organising cricket is, in my view, irrelevant.

Now whether or not the BCCI should have actively negotiated with the ICL in talks around when the ICL was being set-up is a different matter altogether.

And whether or not the BCCI is disorganised and bad is also a different matter.

My point is that there can only be one governing body for cricket in each country, just as there is only one governing body in each country that is a part of the International Olympic Association (or FIFA, etc).

So let us accept that there can only be one representative governing council in every country for any sport. Further, let us also accept that all employees of that governing council’s jurisdiction sign-up to the policies of that governing council (no performance enhancing drugs, fair play, will not play for an unauthorised body, etc) when they sign their employment contracts. Then, logically, all Indian-players should expect a BCCI-ban if they play in the ICL.

Overseas ICL-players

The waters get terribly murky when dealing with overseas ICL-contracted players — say Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or England.

The argument here is that the bleeding of talent from Bangladesh to the ICL would erode the talent-base in that country. And that is fair enough. The Bangladeshi cricketers took the opportunity for a quick pocket-fill before their careers crash and burn. However, if the ICL did not exist, the only way the Bangladeshi cricketers would have been able to do a pocket-fill would have been to be good enough to be playing in the IPL, the officially-recognised tournament.

Clearly, the BCCI has no contractual basis for stopping players contracted with the ECB, say, from playing in the ICL. Nor does the BCCI have an automatic right to seek the home Boards to impose a ban on ICL-players by using its financial muscle-power. The only way it can impose some implicit pressure is by banning players with ICL contracts from playing in one of BCCI’s own torunaments — like the IPL. And that, to me, is fair enough.

The BCCI should stop being negative about all things ICL. They should, instead, concentrate on making the IPL brand stronger than it is. And if that brand needs the protection of bans, then that is fine as long as it is all above-board and as long as it affords a “duty of care” that an employer has to afford its employees.

The ICL could and should exist, in my view! In a way, it is good that it exists. Why not? After all it keeps the BCCI honest. Moreover — and I say this without a tinge of either sarcasm or patronization in my tone — it provides safe passage to a few geriatrics and some not-so-good players to earn some moolah before they exit the game completely. Who would really care if some unheard of and long-since-retired Bangladeshi player plays in the ICL and makes some money before retiring? In my view, it is good that there exists this cash-grab opportunity for a few not-so-good players! Do we really care that a now-retired Mohammed Rafique, Manjural Islam, Mohammad Sharif and Tapash Baishya play in the ICL? With the successful launch of the IPL, the BCCI has shown that it can get its house in order — and that is the space and brand where most good players will be attracted to. It is worrying, however, that the ICL is hastening the retirements of players like Habibul Bashar, an attractive and dashing player. But them’s the breaks. One has got to live with the fact that, occasionally, a Bashar or a Rayudu may get lost to the rebel-league.

Incidentally, the ICL season kick-starts on October 2, a day after India take on Australia in the 1st Test. Clearly, the ICL has India’s cricket excellence top-most on its priority! Not!

However, in a bid to strengthen its own Flagship brands (IPL, Champions League, etc) it can and should rule that no ICL-contracted can play in any tournament that it organises. Clearly, all Indian ICL-contracted players cannot play in the IPL or Ranji Trophy or Buchi Babu or anything else. This has been extended to non-Indian ICL-contracted players too. And that is fair enough. After all, it is the BCCI that is organising the tournament.

Once you accept the above argument — that it is ok for the BCCI to ban any ICL-contracted player (Indian or overseas) from playing in BCCI-approved-and-run tournaments like the IPL — then, the argument can be extended to say that, any team that includes an ICL-contracted player will also be excluded from BCCI-run tournaments like the Champions Trophy. So, if for example, Durham or The Colombo Titans (hypothetically) includes ICL-contracted players, while the BCCI cannot demand that Durham or The Colombo Titans bans these players, it can say that these teams just cannot play in BCCI-approved tournaments. That is totally above-board, in my view.

That is the only way the BCCI can apply implicit pressure on Boards like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, England, etc. The ICC does not function in a manner that allows these rules to be formulated at the top! That is the unfortunate state of world cricket, in my view!

This is just the start of the debate. I jotted down some of my views and thoughts. Let the arguments begin!

On Australia’s bombing-hypocrisy:

Sampath Kumar’s point is that Pakistan is right in making claims that Australia has double standards. While Australia shunned Pakistan as a destination for the Champions Cup (or whatever that tournament was called) due to a worsening security situation in that country, Australia has decided to continue on with its tour of India despite recent bombings in India.

This is too much of a political hot-potato for me to comment on in depth. However, I’d like to think that the ability, the capacity and willingness to deal with such security threats is different in each country. Therefore, I’d like to believe that we are not dealing with a level playing field when comparing security risks! And to suggest that we have a level-playing-field is, in my view, nothing short of immature naivety. Any security and threat assessment should take into account the preparedness and capacity of the authorities on the ground to be able to deal with threats.

I hope I would not be accused of double standards for not rushing to my travel agent in a tearing hurry to book my next holiday in Dafur although I might book one in Bali — after all, both places have seen security troubles in the recent past! I’d like to believe my own assessment of the threat to my personal security might lead me to conclude that, just at this moment, Bali is a place that would offer me greater security than Dafur! No doubt, I will visit Dafur when my own assessment of the security-risk improves!

— Mohan

Possible India ‘A’ and Delhi Teams

Now that the Rest of India Irani Trophy team has been announced, it is opportune to turn our sights on to the India ‘A’ team to take on Australia ‘A’ and New Zealand ‘A’ in the tri-nation competition.

Meanwhile, Delhi takes on Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) first, and then RoI in the Nissar Trophy and Irani Trophy respectively.

The Nissar Trophy is an annual fixture between the winners of the Ranji Trophy (India) and the Quaid-e-Azam (Pakistan) domestic competitions. Previous winners were UP (in 2006) and Mumbai (in 2007).

The 2008 instalment shapes up as bit more of a stern test, perhaps, for the Ranji champions. The SNGPL team includes Mohammad Hafeez (captain), Misbah-ul-Haq, Samiullah Niazi and Yasir Arafat, who’ve played at various times for Pakistan.

However, Delhi is a strong team. Although the Kotla ground often takes spin even early on in any match, Delhi have relied strongly on their pace bowling stocks to get them through. In all likelihood, the Delhi team would be (in batting order, perhaps):

Virender Sehwag (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Aakash Chopra, Mayank Tehlan, Mithun Manhas, Virat Kohli, Rajat Bhatia, Puneet Bisht (wk), Ishant Sharma, Pradeep Sangwan, Ashish Nehra. The subs are likely to be: Chetanya Nanda, Amit Bhandari, Narender Singh, Gaurav Chhabra

Ashish Nehra is on the comeback trail. After missing much of last season through injury, he had a strong showing in the IPL and is now back in the Delhi team. Sangwan has impressed one and all with his showing in the U19 World Cup and other outings. Ishant Sharma is one of the rising stars of world cricket. I’d therefore, find it hard to leave Sangwan, Nehra and Ishant Sharma out of the bowling line-up! It is certainly a good selection problem to have, in my view!

India ‘A’, meanwhile, have a strong team to take on Australia ‘A’ and New Zealand ‘A’.

It is likely that the team will be (in order):

Robin Uthappa
Swapnil Asnodkar
Suresh Raina
Rohit Sharma
S Badrinath (capt)
Dinesh Karthik (wk) / Wriddhiman Saha (wk)
Yusuf Pathan / Abhishek Nayar
Irfan Pathan
Praveen Kumar
Dhawal Kulkarni
Piyush Chawla / Ravi Teja / Jaydev Shah

It is interesting to note that the team has 4 spinners — Chawla, Teja, Shah and Pathan Sr. I do not believe more than two will play.

This is a strong India ‘A’ team with as many as nine players in the mix that have played for India in ODIs (Uthappa, Raina, Rohit Sharma, Badrinath, Karthik, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar and Piyush Chawla)! Of these, two (Karthik and Chawla) have played Tests for India!

It would be good to see how things shape up in this series. Who knows? It may open a door or two for some of these hopefuls in the Team India Test and ODI teams in the immediate future.

— Mohan

Does Ganguly have to retire?

This is written in response to a comment that Chandan made in an earlier thread. I started this in the “Comments” section of that post and then, when it grew too big on me, I thought I’d post it here as an article.

In his comments, Chandan says: “Secondly the decision to drop Ganguly can’t be long overdue because in March-April he had made a fighting 87 in a match where none of the other Indians batsmen clicked on a green track in Ahmadabad against SAf quicks and again made a match winning 87 in the final test on a minefield of a track where no other batsman from either side could score big. Failure in Lanka has been his first complete failure in a series.”

Sure. One can’t deny the fact that Ganguly has scored an 87 here and a 80 there in the recent past. But I said even back then that Ganguly has to step aside and let others occupy his place in the team.

My view is that one should not build for the long-term by just looking at the immediate past!

Steve Waugh made a gutsy 80 not out in his last Test. Indeed, in his last series, Waugh made 267 runs at an average of 44.50! Not bad returns! Does that necessarily mean that he should have played on for another 20 years! If he had, he may have made more runs even after his legs and eyesight had deserted him! Who knows?

Only in India do we — fans and administrators — look just at the last game or the last series before making an attempt to look at the future! Only in India do we ask petulantly, “So what ra? You think Rohit Sharma would be better than Ganguly-aaa? Prove it raaa. Look at Yuvraj. What he has done raaa.” in response to a postulation that Ganguly should make way for a future-build.

One can’t wait till a CEO has passed away to think of grooming the next CEO! We have succession plans in industry. So why are we insulating our sport from succession planning? Such succession planning should take into account future aspirations of the enterprise, the current state of resources and talent, the current capability that exists and future needs. Succession plans should also take into account current stability and continued sustainability of the fundamental proposition — an ongoing strong unit! Plans will then need to be drawn up for intercepting that aspirational future in a systematic manner!

In the position we find ourselves in, if we only looked at the last two series as the only thermometer for future-build decisions, I am sure we can mount a case for a perpetual stay-order on the axing of any of the fab-four until they lose their legs completely at age 86! After all, one could always point out that “X and Y failed ONLY in the last series but did well in the immediately previous series before that”!

Moreover, an argument around “Why bring in youngster X? Will he be better than Y?” does not hold water either. Few new CEOs of companies are immediately successful. Over time, they will develop their own character, develop their own bags of experience and chart their own path. Over time, a new fab four will emerge. Similarly in cricket!

India cannot afford a state where all four of the fab-four depart at once. Youngsters need to be phased in. Over time, a new and different Fab-Four will emerge!

Of the current Fab-Four, Ganguly looks the most dodgy. He looked lethargic and lackadaisical in Sri Lanka. His fielding is worse now than it ever was. The only saving grace in all of this is that, with Ganguly’s departure, Laxman is no longer the second-worst fielder in the team! This is not to suggest that Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble are amazing fielders. However, it is inconceivable to me that Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag are the three best fielders in a national Test side, with Harbhajan fielding at cover-point!

Moreover — and this is no more than a hand wave — while I can see continued contributions from Tendulkar and Dravid into the future, due to their over-reliance on technique, given his predominant reliance on hand-eye coordination, I see Ganguly as the potential first-cab-off-the-rank in a drip-by-drip spill-and-fill operation. In other words, I do see the potential for Dravid and Tendulkar to clear their Mendis-induced-cobwebs and bounce back. They have the luxury of falling back on their technique. One feels — and this is no more than a hand wave — that with the loss of that dogged determination that he so used to have and with the advancing of age — as evidenced by his lethargic fielding in Sri Lanka — Ganguly has to make way for a younger, smarter player.

I have been an ardent fan of Ganguly for a long time. And I still believe that he was Indian Cricket’s first real leader of men. But it is time for him to hang up his boots and quit the Test and ODI scene gracefully.

— Mohan

Irani Tropy Team :: A preview to the India Vs Australia series…

The Irani Trophy match between The Rest of India (RoI) and the Ranji Trophy Champions (Delhi), the traditional season-opener, will be played between Sept 24 and Sept 28 this year.

The match takes on additional significance this year because it is just prior to an important series in India between India and Australia.

The Australians have been gearing up for this tour since the start of the year. After the tour of Australia by India from December 2007 to March 2008, it seems like much of Australia has trained its sights on this “revenge” tour.

Phrases like “the last frontier” have disappeared from the dictionary, to describe an India tour by the Australian cricket team! New phrases have been coined to give additional meaning, extra edge and significantly more teeth to this cricket tour! In recent days, Michael Hussey has termed the India tour as the “Everest” of cricket encounters! Brett Lee has fast-tracked his return from a self-imposed exile subsequent to his separation from his wife in order to declare himself mentally fit to tour India — a country where he is immensely popular despite the fact that he has not played a single Test match in that country!

After India’s tour of Australia in 2007-2008, Australia undertook a somewhat easy tour of the West Indies and played a meaningless ODI series against Bangladesh! India has had a busy time with a home series against South Africa, the IPL, a few ODIs against Pakistan, the Asia Cup and, more recently, a series against Sri Lanka.

There is clearly feeling in the Australia camp. India’s tour of Australia still rankles with folk in Australia! Truth be said. Australia won the Test series 2-1, although India did win the last instalment of the ODI Tri-Series that will be played in Australia! That must have hurt! But Australia did win the all-important Test series and retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, the nature of Australia’s victory in Sydney and MonkeyGate, the cliched-label that marked the aftermath of that victory in Sydney still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of most people associated with cricket in Australia and India! Why? Andrew Symonds’s alleged lackadaisical approach to his cricket since those infamous post-Sydney-Test spats have been put down to the aftermath of that Test match!

There are scores to be settled here! And so, this tour assumes greater significance. Despite Stuart Clarks’ posturing that notions of tension between the Australia and India players is just a creation by the media, one must assume that there is feeling in both camps.

Not that all of this is necessarily bad for world cricket. In my view, a good fight is good for cricket as long as it is all above board!

Australia’s preparation lead up to the tour of India has not been that great. Australia is in the search for a spinner — any spinner! Ricky Ponting and Matthew Hayden are on the injury list. It is not clear that they will be fighting fit before the start of the tour. Brett Lee has been shaken up recently as a result of his own personal issues. Andrew Symonds is currently AWOL. Australia also has a new wicket-keeper and its pace bowlers did not exactly set the ground alight in Darwin against Bangladesh!

The only saving grace for Australia is that India has as many questions to ask of its own stock as Australia has! Most of these questions surround the Fab Four — or Five!

The tour of Sri Lanka asked these searching questions. Although most of these questions were asked by a young novice spinner bowling in tandem with a wily old fox of a spinner, the questions were indeed asked. Sadly there weren’t (m)any convincing answers from India! Surprisingly, the Fab Four lapsed into a journey of extreme and inexplicable introspection, self-doubt and self-inquiry. This showed in the tentativeness of their collective batting. Anil Kumble, too, had more questions than answers; more frowns than smiles!

But the establishment in India has taken its first, tentative steps towards finding a way out to the future. The selectino committee, in what is perhaps a pointer to the future, has dropped Sourav Ganguly from the Rest of India team to take on Delhi in the Irani Trophy.

This was a brave move. A long-overdue move, in my view. But still, a brave move. Effigy makers in Kolkata are possibly rubbing their hands in glee already!

Given that Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma are almost sure to make Team India from the Delhi side, there could be one middle order place up for grabs in the Team India line up. And that person could be Mohammed Kaif who grabbed an opportunity to make an impression last week, with a stylish 94 for India ‘A’ against Australia ‘A’.

Interestingly, apart from Wasim Jaffer, the RoI side is without a regular ‘opener’! This perhaps gives rise to the suggestion that the selectors aren’t really keen on disturbing the Sehwag-Gambhir combination that did so well in Sri Lanka. Perhaps Wasim Jaffer is there in the RoI side just to make up the numbers! In all likelihood, Parthiv Patel will walk out with Jaffer to open the batting for RoI. I would like M. S. Dhoni to sit out this match. This will give the team an opportunity to test out Kaif in the #6 spot against a strong Delhi bowling attack. A surprise pick to the RoI side is Ashok Dinda from Kolkata! He makes it ahead of Pankaj Singh (who went to Australia as part of the Test team), Praveen Kumar and a bevy of others. Perhaps this is so as to keep the effigy makers in Kolkata a bit confused and unsure!

Wasim Jaffer
Parthiv Patel (wk)
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
VVS Laxman
Mohammed Kaif
Harbhajan Singh
Anil Kumble (Capt)
Pragyan Ojha
Zaheer Khan
Munaf Patel / RP Singh / Ashok Dinda

12th Man: MS Dhoni (wk),

Overall, in my view, this is a necessary step in the right direction. A brave step too…

— Mohan

Gary Kirsten in the wars with BCCI!

Team India cricket coach, Gary Kirsten, has been warned by BCCI secretary, Niranjan Shah, to stay away from the media!

This, after an interview that Gary Kirsten gave to Times of India, in which he commented on the different styles of captaincy of Anil Kumble and M. S. Dhoni.

Niranjan Shah reacted angrily to this interview and retorted that “it is selectors’ job to decide about the captaincy issue.”

Sure it is the selectors job to decide on who will be Team India Test captain, but I, for one, do not believe that Gary Kirsten was saying anything profound that would sway the decision on the captaincy issue one way or another!

So, what did Gary Kirsten say?

He said,

“(Dhoni) is ready for (Test captaincy) but there is no need to rush as of now. Anil (Kumble) has done an exceptional job. He is a great leader and he is toiling in many overs for India. He is prepared to do 30 overs in a day. But he is on the other side of the physical side of the game. MS is a great thinker. He has got fantastic skills in terms of understanding the situation. He is the best ODI batsman in the world. He plays every situation really well. He is a very good keeper as well.

Their characters, their strategies are different. Their thinking is different but they both are exceptional cricketers and in different formats of the game they have proved their worth. They lead from the front and lead by example.”

It seems to me that that is a Coach’s assessment of the relative strong suites of Dhoni and Kumble! It seems innocent enough to me except, perhaps, the comment around “there is no need to rush as of now”. But surely, that is not a “let us get our knickers in a knot” moment! Perhaps Niranjan Shah’s knickers are perhaps made of thinner material.

Would it not be in the best interest of Indian cricket if BCCI issue a gag-order on Niranjan Shah?

— Mohan