Monthly Archives: December 2008

India win series, but…

OK, India won the series and it is significant in more ways than one. But, what a let down the last day of the 2nd Test between India and England turned out to be? What irks me is not the fact that India didn’t win the match, it’s just that India didn’t try.

Granted, the pitch did not deteriorate as much as people thought it would and England could have still played out a draw. But we will never know, will we? Dhoni as a leader, probably went a notch up in the books of Yuvraj and Gambhir for allowing them to try and go for their hundreds and individual glory. But at what cost? Dhoni’s first duty should have been to try and win the match, not let players play for their personal glory. In an ironic sort of way – both players missed out on their centuries and in a way, I think  justice was served.

I have been a big fan of Dhoni’s captaincy, but I think he got it really wrong this time. There is a lot being said and written about in the media about how India has the potential to become the No. 1 side in the World – but they will never get to it unless they start playing for wins. Hopefully Dhoni realizes that…

But in spite of the last day’s happenings and BCCI’s farce of staging the game in Punjab that lead to the equivalent of just 4 days worth of cricket, India can take a lot of positives from this game and the series. But, more on that later…

-Mahesh-

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A sensational victory…

In a conversation on India’s most famous recent victories, an India cricket fan will invariably allude to Kolkata 2001, Leeds 2002, Adelaide 2003, Multan 2004, Sabina Park 2006, Johannesburg 2006, Perth 2008, and Mohali 2008.

After yesterdays’ sensational, come-from-behind-victory at Chennai the India cricket fan would be compelled to add Chennai 2008 to this growing and impressive list of victories. India’s victory at Chennai ranks right up there with the victories in the above list.

Some victories just fade into history quietly. Some linger for much longer and some — like the list presented above — stay in the memory for specific reasons. For example, regardless of the team they support, few cricket fans will ever forget Leeds 1981, a match that was turned on its head by one man who refused to let the Australians run over him. Similarly, each of the above India victories will have special significance because of an individual brilliance performance or a special team performance.

Chennai 2008 may never acquire the status of a Leeds 1981 or a Kolkata 2001. But in the annals of Indian cricket history, it will rank right up there as one of India’s best ever.

First though, mention must be made of England’s courage and commitment to the game. There will be a few cynics that say that the IPL careers of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff — and perhaps a few other English players — rested on Englands’ decision to return to India to play a Test match after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. But I am not sure Kevin Pitersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood and their mates would be ready to risk their lives in the search of a few IPL dollars.

I do applaud Englands’ decision to not bow down to the terrorists. it was a brave decision. It was a show of solidarity to the people of India and the people whose lives were affected by the cowardly actions of the terrorists. And if Englands’ decision thaws ECB-BCCI relations, gets England a few BCCI-Brownie points and also a few IPL contracts, I certainly will not begrudge them their place in the sun. Courage has to be rewarded. This was certainly a strong and compelling statement from Pietersen and his men off the field.

On the field, England played good cricket for three and a half days.

Just as Australia had blown their series against India at Nagpur in the 3rd session of the penultimate day, in this Test, England blew their chances through slow batting that defied belief.

There are a few reasons make this a special win.

India won after being behind in this Test from the moment she lost the toss. Many visiting teams talk about the toss being all important in India. The hosts showed that the effect of the toss can indeed be nullified if a team believes in itself and its abilities.

The total that India chased was the 4th largest 2nd Innings total that any team has made to win a Test match — that India has won two of the top four largest second innings winning totals says something about the tenacity that is developing in this new team.

But more importantly to me, this win was made on the back of backs-to-the-wall grit from players like M. S. Dhoni (1st innings) and Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh (in the 2nd innings). Furthermore, unlike Mohali 2008, where almost everyone in the team contributed to the victory, this was a Test which was won mainly on the back of performances from a few — Dhoni in the 1st dig, Sehwag, Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh in the 2nd Innings. Amongst the bowlers, only Zaheer Khan bowled with some fire although Ishant Sharma bowled well too. So, from that point of view this was indeed a strong victory.

India march to Mohali for the 2nd Test with Dhoni having won 4 from 4 Test matches that he has captained; not a bad start for him as India captain! The only change I expect in Team India is Laxman coming in at #3 for Rahul Dravid, who must have felt the guillotine drop an inch or two after the Chennai Test match. Harbhajan Singh’s bowling was a disappointment in Chennai. The team will be looking for a spirited performance from the Indian off-spinner.

— Mohan

New BCCI Contracts

BCCI has just announced the new list of contracted players. Players from the previous year not included this year have been struck out in the list and the new ones are in bold –

Grade A:  
Rahul Dravid  
Sachin Tendulkar  
MS Dhoni  
Zaheer Khan  
VVS Laxman Promoted from Grade B
Harbhajan Singh Promoted from Grade B
Gautam Gambhir Promoted from Grade B
Virender Sehwag Promoted from Grade B
Yuvraj Singh  
Ganguly Retired
Kumble Retired

 

Grade B:  
RP Singh  
Munaf Patel Promoted from Grade C
Suresh Raina Promoted from Grade C
Rohit Sharma Promoted from Grade D
Ishant Sharma Promoted from Grade D
S. Badrinath Promoted from Grade D
Irfan Pathan Promoted from Grade C

 

Grade C:  
Piyush Chawla  
Wasim Jaffer Demoted from Grade B
Yusuf Pathan Promoted from Grade D
Praveen Kumar New contract
Pragyan Ojha New contract
Amit Mishra New contract
S Sreesanth Demoted from Grade B
Ajit Agarkar Misses out on contract
Ramesh Powar Misses out on contract

 

Grade D:  
Dinesh Karthik Demoted from Grade B
Robin Uthappa Demoted from Grade C
Parthiv Patel  
Manpreet Gony New contract
Chateshwar Pujara  
Mohammad Kaif  
Virat Kohli New contract
Ashok Dinda New contract
Wridhdhiman Saha New contract
Chetanya Nanda New contract
M Vijay New contract
R Ashwin New contract
Shikar Dhiwan New contract
Sudeep Tyagi New contract
Manoj Tiwary Misses out on contract
Ranadeb Bose Misses out on contract
Akash Chopra Misses out on contract
Joginder Sharma Misses out on contract

 

The new comers

There are quite a few new comers to the list, understandably in Grade C and Grade D. Of the list, Mishra and Vijay have already debuted for India in Test cricket. Although Jaffer has been awarded a Grade C contract and Vijay a Grade D contract, I would expect Vijay to be picked ahead of Jaffer as a standby opener. But Jaffer has had the highest aggregate in domestic cricket this season raking up 896 runs so far.

Mishra has already benefited from Kumble’s retirement and is likely to be the second spinner in the Test squad.

Gony, Ohja, Praveen Kumar and Kohli have also represented India in the ODI squad and find themselves being awarded a central contract. Ojha is currently the second spinner of choice in one dayers, but it is only a matter of time before he makes his debut in the Test arena.

Of the other new comers, Ashok Dinda the fast bowler from Bengal who replaces his team mate Bose in the contract list has taken the most wickets in the Ranji this season. Sudeep Tyagi, another fast bowler (from UP) also gets a central contract on the back of a very productive Ranji season last year. He had also represented India A in the series against Australia A.

R Ashwin, who bowls right arm off-break is a surprise inclusion in the squad. Off-spinners like Mohnish Parmar and Ramesh Powar have taken more wickets than Ashwin in the Ranji’s this season – but he was the most successful bowler in the Challenger Trophy earlier this year, and that would have swung the decision in his favour . Chetanya Nanda, the leggie from Delhi is another surprise inclusion in Grade D.

Wriddhiman Saha, the wicket keeper from Bengal joins the other two wicket keepers Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel in Grade D.

Shikar Dhawan, the promising opener from Delhi is another new inclusion in the contract list.

The losers

Agarkar and Powar are the biggest losers – losing the contract after being in Grade C last year. Tiwary, Chopra, Bose and Joginder Sharma also lose out on the contract – but they haven’t done enough to retain the contract.

Jaffar, Dinesh Karthik and Robin Uthappa have also moved down the grades. But the three have been doing well in domestic cricket though and that is what they need to keep doing to find themselves for consideration again. With Sehwag and Gambhir doing so well as openers and Vijay being their back up, Jaffar will find it extremely difficult to break back into the test squad, though.

Sreesanth also drops down a Grade – but that is mainly due to injury.

Promotions

Laxman, Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir move in the Grade A this year. Sehwag has been the highest scorer for India this year and Harbhajan the highest wicket taker – so, they do not come as a big surprise. Gambhir has been the find of they year and Laxman holds the second highest run aggregate in tests for India this year – So, all four deserve the promotion.

Munaf, Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma have become regular members of the Indian team and deserve to be in Grade B. Badrinath has also moved up to Grade B, and that is a reflection of the faith the selectors have on his abilities.  The biggest surprise in this group is Irfan Pathan – the selectors are probably trying to groom him to be a regular all rounder in the team – but his promotion to Grade B cannot be wholly justified, IMHO.

Yusuf Pathan, also finds himself promoted to Group C – a worthy promotion.

Omissions

When you have rich talent pool, there are always going to be omissions.  Rahane, the right handed batsman from Mumbai should consider himself  a tad unlucky to miss out on a contract. He has had a good run this season, but he is still young. Dhawal Kulkarni and Sidharth Trivedi, the leading wicket takers in the Ranji this season don’t find a place in the contract, either. And if you are looking for up and coming all rounders, you can’t go past Ravindra Jadeja from Saurashtra.

There are several others who are good prospects – Tanmay Srivastava and the young Pradeep Sangawan, for instance – But the fact is you can’t find a place for everyone.

Not being in the list does not mean you will not be considered for “A” tours or even in the senior squad. So, as long as the players perform, there is always a chance…

But all in all, I think it is a pretty good list.

-Mahesh-

Sehwag shows the way in Indian victory…

International cricket returned to India four days ago. After the tragedy on the 26th last month, cricket was the last thing on people’s mind. There were arguments and counter arguments on whether the tour should continue or not. And the distractions off the field could easily have been a good excuse to be on the losing side. Not for this Indian team, though…

For over three and a half days, England was the dominant team. When they declared just three overs after tea setting India a target of 387 to win, England must have thought they had the match in the bag.

Most Indians probably believed that too – but not Virender Sehwag. His blitzkrieg yesterday did two important things that changed the tide of the match – first, it showed his team mates that it could be done and they could indeed win the match and second, it broke the morale of the English team. With around thirty overs to go for the day, England would have hoped to have knocked out 2 or maybe even three wickets and restricted India to say around 80-90 runs. India would then need close to 300 runs on the final day. On a fifth day pitch in India, that would have been a tough ask.

But with Sehwag’s onslaught, the total at the end of the day read 131 for 1 – India had wiped out more than a third of the score needed to win and they needed just 257 on the final day. Suddenly the target seemed so achievable.

And yet, with Sehwag back in the dressing room, there were several things that still pointed towards an Indian loss –

  • A fifth day Indian pitch where no team has made over 276 in the fourth innings to win a match
  • Dravid’s form
  • Tendulkar’s fourth innings average and the constant criticism that he has very rarely batted India to a victory in the fourth innings
  • An unproven Yuvraj Singh (in Tests, any way)

But there has been some transformation in the Indian dressing room under Dhoni’s captaincy that has made this team believe in themselves. This was again evident today.

Gambhir scored 66 and Laxman chipped in with 26, but the key partnership was between Tendulkar and Yuvraj, who scored the bulk of the runs. They put on an unbroken partnership of 163 runs – Tendulkar scored 103* and Yuvraj 85*. They got together when the score was 224 for 4 and a point in time when England probably still thought they could win this game.

Tendulkar hasn’t scored a fourth innings century since that 136 he scored in this very ground a few years ago against Pakistan – when he ended up on the losing side. That loss would have hurt Sachin badly as India needed just 17 runs to win when he got out. It also led to criticisms of his inability to lead India to a victory in the fourth innings. With this win, that monkey is finally off his back now.

At the end of the day, India won the game with 6 wickets in hand and romped home with more than a twenty overs to spare. Although Gambhir, Tendulkar and Yuvraj contributed to the victory, it was only possible because of Sehwag’s 83. It is not often that someone who isn’t the top scorer and who hasn’t taken any wickets is awarded the man of the match award. But such was his impact…

-Mahesh-

Number Trivia

25

That is the percentage of players in the 16 man squad touring India who have origins or links to the Indian sub-continent – Owais Shah, Amjad Khan, Monty Panesar and Adil Rashid. To add to that,  Ravi Bopara, Sajid Mahmood and Samit Patel have been part of the ODI squad or the Performance squad (or both).

Who would have thought that when India play England, the Indians can’t openly discuss strategy on the field in Hindi or Punjabi?

15

The number of years since England have played a test at Chennai. They lost the last game played here by an innings and 22 runs, but they haven’t done too badly here – of the 7 matches played in Chennai, England and India have won 3 each, while one game was drawn.

325

That’s the number of runs that Yuvraj scored in his last 5 ODI innings. Very impressive. But his last 5 test innings have yielded him a grand total of just 49 runs including 2 ducks. The important thing is that he is in rollicking form at the moment and will be hoping to correct the imbalance in his Test statistics.

All that depends on whether he is picked in the XI, though… 

319

Runs scored by Sehwag the last time India played at Chennai. What is more fascinating is that he scored them of 304 balls. Rahul Dravid played a long innings too – he played 13 balls less than Sehwag. His score: 111

Since his comeback, Sehwag has scored 1353 runs at an average of 61.50.  Only Graeme Smith has scored more runs (1363) than Sehwag this year.

55

The number of wickets taken by Harbhajan Singh this year. He has been the highest wicket taker for India this year, but that doesn’t tell the real story. He has been consistent but not spectacular. For most of the year he has bowled flat and quick. He is now the senior most bowler in the Indian team and he has to take his bowling a couple of notches up.

5000

The number of people deployed at the ground, the hotel and other places for security reasons during England’s stay. With Two thousand police personnel at the stadium alone, one does not have to worry about having enough spectators for the match.

I know what you are thinking – With so many police doing Test duty, would the crime rate go up in the city? The answer is No – the crooks would be too busy watching the game… 🙂

-Mahesh-