Monthly Archives: February 2009

Is the Indian fast bowling cupboard bare?

A little more than a year back when the IPL was going on the general feeling among fans of India cricket was that there was an embarrassment of riches as far as fast bowling goes. There was a resurgent Zaheer Khan, the exciting young Ishanth Sharma, quality swing bowling options in RP Singh and Praveen Kumar, the workmanlike Munaf Patel, the unpredictable yet exciting Sreesanth and the guy we all loved Irfan Pathan, all with decent international experience and performance. Then there was the likely comeback men like L Balaji and Ashish Nehra and the young uncapped Dhaval Kulkarni, Manpreet Gony and Ashok Dinda besides the likes of Siddharth Trivedi and an ageing Ajit Agarkar.

After a year the picture is not looking as rosy as it was. The domestic season ahs taken its toll. RP Singh and Praveen Kumar hardly impressed though the altter has hung on to his ODI place. Sreesanth was out becasue of injury and has hardly created an impact to warrant selection now. Munaf Patel, though a talented bowler, defies logic in this modern age of stress on fitness, with his lethargic and inflexible body that gets injured often. After today’s performance and his recent bowling efforts I am not convinced if Irfan Pathan can make it to the Indian team as the third seam bowling option behind Zaheer and Ishanth. Manpreet Gony flattered to deceive and Siddharth Trivedi could probably at best be considered a poor man’s Munaf Patel who gets by with a keen cricketing brain. Nehra and Garkar are not in the picture any more. So that leaves the last 2 selections L Balaji and Kulkarni, the remaining names from that bunch who made it to the team on the strength of their domestic performances. Dinda will probably get a look in this year if he continues to impress in the IPL.

So where do we go from here in the next couple of years. Zaheer will bowl for a couple of years atleast and Ishanth is developing very nicely. After that the cupboard is bare. Balaji’s comeback after that back operation is nothing short of a miracle and he gets by today more with his experience and intellect than with any pace. So where are the faster men? Will we able to produce a set of bowlers who can amintain a pace of 140 komh plus for atleast 5 or 6 years? Of course there is the usual complaint of batsmen friendly unhelpful tracks that will never improve becasue of the way our domestic cricket system is run. Right from the senior division leagues every pitch is doctored to such an extent that it is very very difficult to produce sporting pitches.

The other side of the argument when asked how other teams manage to get fast men regularly is that they don’t get as many spinners as we do. But then are we producing quality spinners atleast? The only area where I see consistent improvement is in the batsmen and the centuries they keep piling up. If India needs to target the no 1 spot and hold on t it for decent length of time it needs to gets its fast bowling act together quickly.

— Sanjay

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Teams for NZ Tour

The Indian cricket selectors have, I think, done well to pick good/strong teams for Indias’ tour of New Zealand. Some selection highlights for me are:

  • Continuing to invest in Ravindra Jadeja — he gets a gig in the T20 team.
  • Investing in Dhawal Kulkarni.
  • Re-investing in Lakshmipathy Balaji.
  • Continuing to invest in M. Vijay in the Test team.

The teams are

Test squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

ODI squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Twenty20 squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Is there a TN-bias to the selection?

The presence of L. Balaji is seen by many as TN-bias on the part of Kris Srikkanth, the Chief Selector. That would be unfortunate as well as unnecessary, although somewhat understandable. The Test team has provided passage for three TN players in the form of M. Vijay (ahead of possibilities such as Wasim Jaffer, Aakash Chopra, Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa), L. Balaji (ahead of Pankaj Singh, Ashok Dinda, Irfan Pathan and Praveen Kumar) and Dinesh Karthik (ahead of Parthiv Patel).

However, Vijay did shine in the one Test opportunity he got and must be persevered with, in my view. One can feel sorry for Ajinkya Rahane. He was the 2nd highest scorer in the Ranji season (with an aggregate of 1089 runs @ and avg of 68.06 that included 4 centuries). He has had a stunning domestic season and is, along with Cheteshwar Pujara, one to watch for the future.

Dinesh Karthik has had a stunning year with the bat and has pipped Parthiv Patel at the post. The Gujarat ‘keeper has done nothing wrong and must just continue to put in the hard-yards in the domestic circuit. Dinesh Karthik has done everything right. He was the 10th highest scorer in the Ranjis with an aggregate of 634 (3 centuries) and an average of 63.4 runs. Having said that, Parthiv Patel wasn’t really too far behind (with 526 runs in aggregate, @ 47.81, including 1 century). But when the cards fell, Dinesh Karthik just had the right number on his side. He was also the highest scorer in the Duleep Trophy with two centuries in three Duleep Trophy games for South Zone. The fact that Karthik had opened well in England may have also counted in his favour. Both Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel are very young. Karthik is only 23. Both of them will have hurt badly from the experience in Sri Lanka. Karthik played badly in the first two Test matches. He batted poorly and his ‘keeping also fell apart. However, Parthiv Patel, who played in the 3rd Test fared worse! So, both of them needed a strong domestic season, lest upstarts like Wriddhiman Saha usurp their position. Both of them did put in a good showing. However, when the cards fell, Karthik had the numbers.

L. Balaji has been, in my view, somewhat lucky. Yes, he was the 4th highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Season and also had a good Duleep Trophy outing. Given that the highest wicket-taker was already rewarded with a ticket to New Zealand (Kulkarni) and given that 2 and 3 on the pecking order were spinners (Ravindra Jadeja and the now-banned Mohnish Parmar!), his ticket could have been seen as reward for a good showing. My own view is that he need not have been rushed into the Test arena. Its just been a year since his comeback from injury. His first major step on the big stage was the IPL. Since then, he has, no doubt, been bowling well. But to get him straight back into the Test side may have been a bit too much.

But then, these are the rewards of a good showing in the domestic circuit. The current selectors seem to be rewarding strong domestic showing quite consistently — set in the context of long-term team-development — and for that, they do deserve some credit.

Bits-and-pieces players:

I have been saying for sometime now that players like Abhiskek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja are the future of India’s ODI and T20 mix. It is good that these guys are getting a clutch of games at the highest level to prove their mettle. The press in India tags them with the moniker “bits and pieces players”. This is erroneous. It is also a disrespect to the quality that these guys bring to the table in the T20 and ODI arena. They are not “bits and pieces players”. They are clever players who bat and bowl well! I’d like to see opportunities given to players like Abhishek Nayar and Rajat Bhatia in the near future too.

Experimentation

M. S. Dhoni has shown the way in handling players like Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina in recent ODI games. In the final ODI against Sri Lanka, I felt he took it a wee-bit too far by bowling as many as 9 bowlers in the game! That’s a bit much. But you need those kinds of options in the middle overs. Even though the pitches may not turn much in New Zealand, I think the middle-overs bowled by Virender Sehwag, Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma will be quite crucial.

From that point of view, it is good to see the selectors invest strongly in Jadeja. Yes, he is not part of the ODI Team. After the two T20 games at the start of the series, Jadeja makes way for Sachin Tendulkar. That is fair enough!

I think the selectors will only drop Tendulkar from the ODI scene when he himself says that he has had enough! I suspect he won’t say that until after the next World Cup. He seems to want that silverware in his cabinet more than anything else! Given that he has served Indian cricket in the manner that he has, one could afford him that luxury, I think!

What we have seen in recent T20 games and ODIs is that Dhoni is really his own man when it comes to executing batting plans, setting the batting order and exploring bowling options. In a recent interview, he said that this was because he wanted each player to experience different roles in order to have an appreciation for what a #3 needs to do and what a #6 needs to do in different match situations.

In a perverse manner, this is exactly what Guru Greg Chappell tried to instil in the team when he was at the helm! The difference was that Guru Greg, instead of just doing it, wanted to preach his ideology, convert everyone to his way of thinking, convince everyone that he was right and then hail him as a messiah and a saviour! He started the “process is more important than the outcome” mantra. He was subsequently lambasted and lampooned in the media for “experimenting” too much! The word “experimentation” was taboo during his reign. Guru Greg choked on his own mantra and was caught in the headlights, with nowhere to go.

Instead of aspiring to be a messiah and a saviour, Dhoni just does it and lets others write about his method! The outcome is a more flexible Team India! Ironically, Guru Greg’s method survives after he has been buried!

Possible Teams:

The T20 and ODI teams select themselves:
Possible Twenty20 squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar
Subs: Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Ishant Sharma and would take Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Rohit Sharma. But these are possibly the only two debatable spots in my view. There are questions being asked about Pragyan Ojha’s selection in the T20 and ODI teams, given that pitches are unlikely to offer too much spin in New Zealand. However, from a team-development point of view, I think this is a good move. Ojha did bowl really well in recent ODIs. He should be part of the team mix and should get a gig, in my view.

Possible ODI squad: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar.
Subs: Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma,

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Irfan Pathan. And I’d take Raina ahead of Rohit Sharma. Who knows? With a lot of cricket around the corner, should India go ahead in the series — as it did in Sri Lanka — it would be an opportunity to play Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Dinesh Karthik instead of (respectively) Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and M. S. Dhoni.

Possible Test squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel
Subs: M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

The Test team is the one that selects itself most emphatically. There can’t be too many doubts or questions in the composition of this team. It is unlikely that the team will go with more than 4 main bowlers (with Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Tendulkar as other possible bowlers to relieve the strike bowlers). The only question, in my view, is whether Munaf Patel gets the gig ahead of Dhawal Kulkarni. I’d go for experience ahead of raw pace for the first Test. Moreover, Munaf Patel does seem to have the ability to swing the ball more in conditions that are likely to be presented in countries like NZ, South Africa and England. So, he might get the nod ahead of Kulkarni. But it may not be a bad idea to give Kulkarni a go in one of the Test matches.

The selectors have continued to invest in Rahul Dravid — as they should — in spite of his poor showing in the Duleep Trophy finals. Having said that, I am not sure they would be as patient with him after yet another poor tour. They have also sent a clear signal to Yuvraj Singh that he is in the mix for a long stint in the Test middle order. This should settle him down and should allow him to cash in on this opportunity.

Overall, this has been a good selection effort by the selectors.

— Mohan

India challenge ODI #1 spot…

Today’s ODI games between Sri Lanka & India and Australia & New Zealand have become a land-grab for the top spot on the ICC ODI table.

As a result of the recent brilliance of South Africa in both Tests and ODIs (combined with an unusually long-spell of lackadaisical play by the Australians) the top spots on the ICC rankings table in both Tests and ODIs represents a tightly bunched group.

The ICC ODI Rankings Table has South Africa on 125 points, India on 122, Australia 3rd on 121 and New Zealand 4th on 117.

It has been a while since the rankings table was this closely grouped. I have a feeling that things are going to remain this way for a while now — perhaps even till the World Cup in 2011. There is little that separates these top-4 teams. And this can only be good for the ODI form of cricket — a form that, I feel, needs a kick in the backside to ward off the threat from the more exciting Twenty20 format — especially with the excitement that is being generated by the IPL these days.

Given the closely packed nature of the rankings table, the two ODI games that are being played today take on a special significance. If India and New Zealand win, it would be the first time since rankings commenced that India will occupy the top spot on the table. I suspect that this occupation will be short-lived. But if India does make it there, it will be a huge credit to M. S. Dhoni (captain) and Gary Kirsten (coach).

India, however, appears still intent on blooding some of its bench-players. With a view to the longer-term, it is imperative that India has players like Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma and L. Balaji match-hardened and sharp.

As I said earlier, it is likely that the next year or so will see the ODI rankings move and slip a fair bit between these top four teams. So a capture of the top spot for a few days or even a few weeks will be neither here nor there. What should be more important for the India fan is how Team India shapes up towards the 2011 World Cup!

After the comprehensive recent victory against Sri Lanka in the 4th ODI even with a team that did not include Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan — its talismen in batting and bowling respectively — it is likely that Team India will continue with its strategy of resting one or two key players for todays’ last game of the series.

It appears that the team is not too keen to rest more than 2 “key players” for each match. For the previous match, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan earned a rest. For this 5th ODI, it appears that Yusuf Pathan and Pragyan Ojha are the ones that got a tap on the shoulder.

With that in mind, it is likely that Team India for the 5th ODI against Sri Lanka will be:
Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji, Ishant Sharma.

It would be great for Jadeja and Balaji to get a game. I really like the look of Jadeja. He followed up a good IPL outing with a strong domestic season and has continued to impress everyone. He gets an opportunity to strut his stuff on the big stage now. After a few years in the wilderness, Balaji get an opportunity to once again walk on the big stage. His career too received a boost in the IPL theatre. He too followed it up with a strong domestic season and gets a well-deserved call to the India team.

Despite picking a few wickets, Irfan Pathan did have a bad game in the 4th ODI and will be keen to put that behind him. Sanath Jayasuriya took to him like a duck would to water. Although it may be tempting to drop him for Yusuf Pathan in the above team list, I think it would be good for Irfan Pathan to get another match to get his game back in shape.

— Mohan

Was Tendulkar Dropped?

Unfortunately, I did not follow the fourth one day international well enough to find out if Tendulkar was actually dropped. If so, is this the first in many, many years? Typically, in the past, an out of form Tendulkar would take an “injury” break if needed. Is the first of many “interesting” Dhoni decisions. Clarifications on this topic are urgently needed before I go crazy speculating.

On a brighter side, the Indians seem to be intent on literally destroying the opposition. Sri Lankans have been decimated out of the series by some spectacular batting and very good spin bowling. Ojha seems to have delivered well and the part-timers have done a wonderful job.

New Zealand, here we come!

– Srikanth

Australia to join Ranji Plate League

Australia will join Afghanistan and Uganda in the Ranji Plate League with immediate effect. In a dramatic turnaround of events after the pathetic loss (on all counts) to New Zealand, Australia in an effort to salvage any remaining pride will try and regain some form by playing against the minnows of the Indian league. Cricket Australia officials stated that they reached an understanding with the BCCI in this regard. CA expects Ponting to regain some behavioral form and the new players get accquainted to competition of an international sort. CA is also expecting that Brad Haddin start keeping behind the wickets as opposed to being in front of them. This agreement comes as a big relief to the Aussies as they try and maintain their official status as “champions once upon a time”. This also gives them an opportunity to witness in person the humanitarian efforts by multilateral agencies to increase public awareness of cricket in Afghanistan, Uganda, Vidharba, Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Services. Our best wishes to the Australian team and their newfound desire to qualify for the Ranji Super League.

– Srikanth

Please note that the above article is pure work of fiction and does not in any way reflect any form of reality…..I think……

India march on as Australia falter

India recorded its second straight victory against Sri Lanka on Saturday. Thus India has won its last 7 ODs (five against England and now, the first two ODI’s against Sri Lanka).

Meanwhile, Australia’s recent “free fall” has continued as the recently dethroned ODI champion team lost narrowly to New Zealand. Australia has now lost 5 of its last 6 ODIs.

Ricky Ponting had a horror 2008. Yet, early signs are that, in comparison to 2009, perhaps 2008 was a good year for him! Already, he has lost the Test series and an ODI to a rampant and attractive South Africa. He has now lost an ODI at Perth. Since that infamous game at the SCG in early-2008, Australia has lost 2 Tests (to India and South Africa) and 2 ODIs (to South Africa and New Zealand). In that period, Australia has beaten Sri Lanka at Perth in an ODI. These are poor returns indeed! After last nights’ game, Ponting has had to defend his wicket-keeper was was accused by Vettori of being less than above board!

We live in interesting times!

India’s game against Sri Lanka at the Premadasa stadium was closer than the first ODI.

Once again, Sachin Tendulkar got a shocker of a decision. Yuvraj Singh was also given out off a huge inside edge! After he was given out, Yuvraj Singh appeared to mouth, “Heck! I played the ball!” leading me to comment that he would be hauled up in front of the Match Referee! He was after Gamini Silva (the Sri Lankan umpire who sent him packing) and Brian Jerling (Silva’s colleague) and third umpire Kumar Dharmasena (former Sri Lankan player, who sent Sachin Tendulkar packing in the 1st ODI) charged Yuvraj Singh for dissent under Level 1.3 of the ICC CoC. However, Referee Chris Broad let Yuvraj Singh off.

“After reviewing video evidence of the incident, I am of the opinion that there was no conclusive evidence that Yuvraj showed dissent at the decision,” said Broad.

Clearly Chris Broad has been smoking that stuff again! If that wasn’t dissent, I am banana!

The Indian batting faltered and went through in bits and spurts to reach 256. In the end, I felt the the total was about 30 runs shy of a defendable target. But Sri Lanka made it into a good total by showing India that they could do better at fits-and-starts than India could!

The Indian innings suffered from the two erroneous umpiring decisions and also two bad run outs. Virender Sehwag took Muralitharan on in the field and lost out. At that time, Sehwag, who was toying with the bowling, had reached 42 off just 26 balls! He was on course for a big one and one felt that only Sehwag could get Sehwag out. Sehwag did get Sehwag out! Yusuf Pathan was also run out by a strange call from Dhoni, who seemed to admonish Pathan in the previous over for not being responsive in backing-up. India stumbled to 256 in the 50 overs.

I felt that it would require, both, a terrific bowling effort and some help from Sri Lanka for India to win the game. India got both and in the end, despite a fighting 93 from Kandamby, the wheels fell off the Sri Lanka bus. Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma bowled brilliantly to halt the Sri Lankans. The other bowlers contributed effectively. India won the game with 15 runs to spare!

I feel India played its best combination at the moment. However, I still have concerns over Pragyan Ojha’s place in the team. If he is only going to be used 5-7 overs in each game, would the team not be better off with either Irfan Pathan — who would give you more overs of pace and some runs with the bat — or even Ravidra Jadeja? Although it is disappointing to see a player like Rohit Sharma not get a chance, I feel that Suresh Raina just pips him at the post in the ODI format.

— Mohan