Monthly Archives: April 2009

Dhoni has got the batting order wrong!

While it was disappointing to see CSK’s bowling department failing to contain the Chargers’ batting onslaught, I put the blame squarely on Dhoni’s strategy with respect to his batting order. I have three major concerns that need to be addressed fairly quickly. Firstly, Parthiv Patel has no place in this line up. With a regular opener like M. Vijay in the side, it is worth trying him out. S. Badrinath is not necessarily in the side as a finisher but as a middle order batsman who can rotate the strike especially when players like Hayden are taking on the  bowling. He is a wasted commodity at number seven, you may as well play an extra bowler. Finally, Dhoni or Morkel should be the ones playing overs 16-2o.CSK is losing them way before that stage and therefore the finishing is quite pathetic.

On a brand loyalty note, I continue to remain a loyal supporter of CSK but my patience is running out especially after watching “God” play his innings today. It is becoming increasing tougher to avoid looking in a different direction as far as franchise loyalty is concerned.:)

– Srikanth

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Has the IPL helped nurture local talent?

At a lunch that I went to Sunday afternoon, I was hauled up by a frequent visitor to i3j3Cricket and was asked to comment on why the IPL could not be thrown wide open to have teams full of international players (if need be)!

To have a lower bound on the number of local players in each squad (or an upper bound on the number of international players in each team) was seen by this gentleman as either a “needless constriction” or “protectionism” or yet another example of India wanting to have it both ways — ‘while India is happy to be the “Back Office to the World” she can’t yet throw her doors wide open to and embrace capitalism’ was the theory that was expounded.

Or at least, that was how I understood the theory that was being postulated.

Each squad in the IPL has to have at least four under-19 players and a (playing) team can’t have more than 4 international players.

I pointed out to the gentleman that this IPL rule was recently lauded by Lawrence Booth in an article in CricInfo.

There is nothing inherently wrong with letting market forces completely dictate the composition of a squad or indeed, a team that takes the park. If that indeed does happen, it would be a first in the world, leave alone India! And maybe that experiment is not too far off.

After all, to the credit of the IPL, the IPL has almost seen more experiments trialled out in the last two years than cricket has seen in the last few decades! Some of these — like (a) the establishment of a transfer market, (b) auctioning of players, (c) establishment of franchises, (d) having a salary cap, etc — have, in my view, been good, while some — like the mid-innings “strategy break” — have been poorly thought through.

However, I must say that I am not a fan of the ‘throw the doors wide open and let market forces dictate squad/team composition’ strategy, even if there is a ‘salary cap’.

Firstly, ‘protectionism’ and ‘capitalism’ have conveniently co-existed even in America, a land that has embraced ‘capitalism’ more willingly than any other. When there are compelling reasons for these two ways of life to co-exist, they do! So, there is no reason for a call for an “either have it all-black or all-white policy or it is a nonsense” judgement when it comes the the IPL. Not everything in life needs to be distinctly and strictly binary for it to be granted legitimacy! Shades of grey have always existed.

Second, I said to this gentleman that, with a strong focus on identifying, nurturing and grooming local talent, the IPL has actually managed to unearth and identify (in some cases) and nurture or resurrect (in others) local talent.

I was challenged to name names of talent that IPL-1 had unearthed. I could cite the names of Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh, but then they wouldn’t be ‘local’.

So here are some names of players whose careers, in my view, IPL-1 assisted through the local-talent-lower-bound principle:

Amit Mishra: His was a career that was going no where. He was always a good bowler. But he had been shunned even by Delhi, his local team. He continued playing in the Ranji Trophy. But his real big break came through IPL-1. The moment he took a hat-trick in IPL-1 was when the selectors sat up and took notice. He was immediately drafted into the India-A side to play Australia. He performed well and was immediately picked for India. He may have made it to the India team. But I have no doubt that IPL-1 and its focus on having local talent helped his career immensely.

Yusuf Pathan: He was always seen as a player who had heaps of talent. Indeed, he played in the T20 World Championship finals too. If I remember right that was the only game he played in the T20 World Championship. However, it was in IPL-1 that he really shone bright. He played many a breathtaking innings for Rajasthan Royals in IPL-1 and this catapulted him into national team selection. Again, I have no doubt that the opportunity he got to rub shoulders with players in the big league was what prompted his growth as a player.

Ravindra Jadeja: Shane Warne called him the “Rock Star” in IPL-1. He may have been a little-known and perhaps even ‘forgotten’ player in the domestic circuit. After all, there are many players like him in the past that died slow and painful deaths in the local circuit. Noel David and Vihay Bharadwaj are two names that spring to mind immediately! They are Ravindra-Jadeja-type players who toiled in the domestic circuit without getting enough opportunities to either promote their talent or shine or polish their talent on a big stage. Although I agree that Jadeja was starting off a much better base, he was helped by the IPL-1 opportunities he had and as an under-19 player, he just had to be included. No doubt he was helped by the huge raps he received from Shane Warne. He displayed his wares and got into the India team.

L. Balaji: I think that the local-inclusion-lower-bound rule definitely helped L. Balaji’s career. To his credit, he used his inclusion in the Chennai team to show that he still had it in him, despite the fact that his pace had slowed down several notches post his injury-scares. He put in a good showing in the IPL and that contributed to his resurrection to the India Test side. He is also in the list of probables for the India T20 team.

Dhawal Kulkarni: He was another bowler that benefited immensely from the local-talent rule. He played many a game for Mumbai in IPL-1 and impressed one and all with his pace and abilities. Soon thereafter, he was selected to tour NZ with Team India. He did not get a game in NZ, but one has to assume that the tour helped him hone his skills.

Manpreet Gony: Another Chennai player who was catapulted to national reckoning was Manpreet Gony. If I am not mistaken, he was even discarded by his local state, but Chennai picked him up and gave him opportunities to shine. He did and, as a result, was thrown into national reckoning. He was in several ODI teams subsequent to IPL-1.

Other players that benefited from the local-player-lower-bound rule in IPL-1 are possibly Siddharth Trivedi, Ashok Dinda, Karan Goel, Venugopal Rao, Yo Mahesh, Pradeep Sangwan, Yogesh Takawale, Pinal Shah and Naman Ojha.

Please feel free to add to this list of players whose careers the IPL-1 had assisted/helped/accelerated.

Several of the above players are good and it is possible that several of them would have made it off their own bat over time. It is also possible that the local-talent-lower-bound would not have been necessary for several of these players to gain recognition and eventual selection in the India team.

They could have made it after ‘slogging it out on the domestic circuit’ and had time taken her natural course. However, I have little doubt that IPL-1 catapulted them into national reckoning and national consciousness faster and in a much more compelling manner.

I am, therefore, an unabashed fan of the local-talent-lower-bound principle.

Sometimes it is not totally wrong to mix a doze of ‘protectionism’ with brazen ‘capitalism’. Morever, in my view, having a few protectionist measures in the IPL is not totally at odds with India’s aspirations and desires.

Finally, what was the first thing that the major pillars of capitalism did when the current global financial crisis hit? They put their bowls out for a protectionist hand out! But that’s another essay for another day!

— Mohan

British Divide and Rule does it for Chennai Super Kings

Dhoni’s lack of awareness that Flintoff’s batting form is not shaking the world,  Badrinath’s good form in domestic cricket, and Ashwin is actually a bowler probably did it for the predicted favorites. I have to say that poor captaincy by Dhoni did it for Chennai. I have never been comfortable with the fact that Chennai acquired Flintoff and that may cost them. I do not want to take away the fact Mumbai played really well under the circumstances. Tendulkar proved that their is no reason why he shouldn’t be playing this form of the game as well, Abhishek Nayar continued to justify the fact that Mohan has been pointing out consistently as to how good an all rounder he is and Malinga certainly is back in good nick. Despite all that, CSK lost due to poor strategy both in the way the bowling was handled and most certainly in the way the batting order was set. It may very well be a frustrated me moaning about the loss of my home team and that it is early days yet for CSK, but they certainly have some work to do to retain their favorite ranking. While I will continue to hope that CSK makes it all the way, I am personally happy to see “God” lead from the front.

– Srikanth

A few old interviews on Sachin Tendulkar…

While we are waiting for the IPL to kick off and while we have been rating and reviewing the various IPL-2 teams as well as on what a “Good T20 Composition” ought to be, I thought we should take a breather and catch up on an old interview of Sachin Tendulkar by Harsha Bhogle!

Here is an interview with Sachin Tendulkar by Harsha Bhogle. I’ve been meaning to post the full collection of the five-part video on i3j3cricket, but somehow never got around to doing it. Most of you will have seen this already; it was recorded and aired after India’s tour of England in 2007. But here it is for completeness, more than anything else.

Harsha Unplugged — Part 1

Harsha Unplugged — Part 2

Harsha Unplugged — Part 3

Harsha Unplugged — Part 4

Harsha Unplugged — Part 5

And for good measure here is what most people believe is Sachin Tendulkar’s first video-interview.

If I am not mistaken, his first media interview was to the Mid-Day newspaper by Sunil Warrier in December 1986. Sunil Warrier is reported to have later said, “I made Sachin famous and then he made me famous.”

— Mohan

Selection criteria for IPL

So the second edition of the IPL is set to begin soon and the final team make up of each and every team member is slowly falling into place. We at i3j3cricket carried out a thorough review of each team’s chances in IPL-2. So, if you are in charge of picking the players for your team, who would you pick (leaving the $ side of things aside)? To rephrase the question, what criteria would you apply?

Here is a bunch of things, that I would consider.

Prefer availability over ability

For the team to perform consistently, you need the same players to be around for the entire tournament – even if you are rotated out/rested from the team. It allows the players to settle down into a role lot more easily and the team to play around them. Teams like Chennai started with a bang and started to struggle once Hussey and Hayden left. It took them a while to get back the rhythm, where as teams like Rajasthan which had Warne and Watson play through the whole tournament had a lot more consistency. There are a few people (from England, Australia and West Indies) playing in the IPL this year too, who will partially be away on national duty and this will affect the teams a fair bit, I think.

Prefer strike rate over average

Unlike other forms of the game where consistency and high average would rank very high as a selection criteria, I would be looking for people with a good strike rate who can come in and score 30-40 runs if required. Obviously, people who can score hundreds would be terrific. If you score a hundred in a 20 over game, you probably have a high strike rate too – but I am being realistic here. A quickfire 30-40 is good enough in this game and that  is the reasons I rate Sehwag very highly in this form of the game – he had a strike rate of around 185 in the last edition of IPL and still managed to score over 400 runs (in 14 games). So, what would be a good strike rate? I reckon anything above 150 is phenomenal if you have an average of over 20. Obviously, average is important too – if you have a strike rate of 300, but average just 6 runs every game (first ball six, second ball out), that is not very good. If you average 40+, then any strike rate of over 100 is good.

Prefer economy rate over wicket taking

I put economy rate ahead of wicket taking mainly because a good economy rate usually leads to wickets themselves. There are people who take wickets in every game, but end up leaking a lot of runs – they are not really well suited for this form of the game. So, what is a good economy rate? If you bowl 4 overs every match and concede less than 6.5 runs every over, I consider that as very good. If you take 2 wickets per match in addition, I would have you play every game 🙂 – Only Sohail Tanwir was able to achieve the feat of conceding just 6.46 runs/over and averaging 2 wickets a match in last year’s IPL – I think this may be a bit hard to beat. On a realistic note, any bowler who concedes under 7.5 runs would be a good pick, particularly if he can complete his entire spell every match.

Right mix of specialists and bits & pieces players

Every team needs a couple of players who can swing the bat a bit, bowl a couple of overs and field really well. These players do not have to be genuine all rounders (like Flintoff or Watson, although I’d take them too), but people who can be thrown in the deep end and be expected to play any role that is given to them – like the Pathan brothers (although I wouldn’t call their fielding electric). At the same time, you need a mix of genuine specialists in your team – like a Gambhir with the bat or a Murali with the ball – who are good just in one role.

So, what would you consider?

-Mahesh-

IPL-2: A Preview…

The second edition of the IPL will now be played in South Africa. Matches will commence at odd times in South Africa to coincide with peak TV audience times in India! Eight teams and all their hangers-on will now be based in various cities around South Africa.

One wonders why Egypt or Russia were ruled out as IPL-2 hosting-country choices! It is fair to say that we (at i3j3Cricket) haven’t been great fans of the IPL’s relocation — away from the people that made IPL-1 such a success! We even wondered out aloud whether India was capable of hosting “major events”!

It will be interesting to see if IPL-2 is as successful as IPL-1.

Be that as it may. The second edition of the IPL will go ahead as planned. If some fans had trouble identifying with a specific team in IPL-1, their difficulty has suddenly increased by an order of magnitude this time around! I can’t see a fan in Nagpur or one in Bowral zeroing in easily on either the Kolkatta Knight Riders or The Rajasthan Royals (say) — they won’t know whether their team is going to be based in Durban or Pietermaritzburg!

Either way, eight teams will line up to face each other barely 3 days from now. The Cricinfo site — one of the most frequently used and updated cricket portals/sites — still says that the games are going to be played in Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi! It is just symptomatic of how Indian cricket is organised and run! Things will fall into place at the last minute, one hopes!

Time to assess the teams and see which one has the potential to come through:

Rajasthan Royals:

No one expected the Royals to come out victorious in the finals last year. They did, thanks to some Shane Warne magic! I did not rate them last year. I do not rate them this year! Without Shane Watson (likely call up for Australia ODI duties) Kamran Akmal and Sohail Tanveer, they are short on a few options. I’d be surprised if they make the semi-finals. if this team does make the semi-finals, it might be due to some Shane Warne magin once again! Shane Warne talks highly of uncapped Kamran Khan, a left-arm seam bowler they picked up from a Mumbai bowling competition/camp.

Below is a possible list of 22 players that the Royals might pick in batting order — with names of possible replacements for each “role” in brackets, remembering that only 4 “foreign” players can play in any team in a match.

Edited on 16 April 2009 in view of the news that Mohammed Kaif and Dinesh Salunkhe have been “let go” by the Royals! This is most surprising. Kaif did not exactly set the world on fire in IPL-1, but apart from his leadership qualities — apparently he was Warne’s go-to man in the team in IPL-1 when he wanted to communicate to some of the younger players who did not perhaps know enough English — one would have thought that he had it in him to make strong contributions to the team! Suddenly, this team looks even weaker to me!

Likely team (22 players):
1. Swapnil Asnodkar, 2. Graeme Smith (Shane Watson, Rob Quiney, Justin Langer), 3. Mohammad Kaif, Raiphi Gomez 4. Niraj Patel, 5. Yusuf Pathan, 6. Ravindra Jadeja (Dinesh Salunkhe), 7. Tyron Henderson (Dimitri Mascarenhas, Morne Morkel), 8. Naman Ojha (Mahesh Rawat), 9. Shane Warne, 10. Lee Carseldine (Shane Harwood, Shaun Tait), 11. Munaf Patel (Siddharth Trivedi, Kamran Khan, Amit Singh)

This is a bits-and-pieces team. I think their weaknesses are #1, #3 and #11 with an additional unknown on the wicket-keeping slot! That is one too many question marks for my liking. From a Team India point of view, it will be interesting to see how Shane Warne whips Munaf Patel into shape in season-2 of the IPL.

Note: Amit Singh’s name was included in the above list after a comment from Chandan in the comments section of this post.

Chennai Super Kings:

Like every other team, CSK has also announced a 25+ member team. I have no doubt this will be trimmed down. I have only taken into account the cohort of players that I think will play in the final mix! Some of the 29-member CSK squad will probably watch the IPL from the comfort of their living rooms! I predict big things of the Chennai outfit in IPL-2. I won’t be surprised if they meet either Mumbai or Delhi in the finals.

Likely team (23 players):
1. Srikkanth Anirudha (Murali Vijay, Abhinav Mukund), 2. Matthew Hayden (George Bailey), 3. Suresh Raina, 4. Subramaniam Badrinath, 5. Andrew Flintoff (Michael Hussey, Jacob Oram, Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan), 6. MS Dhoni (Parthiv Patel), 7. Albie Morkel, 8. Palani Amarnath (Manpreet Gony, Joginder Sharma), 9. Lakshmipathy Balaji (Sudeep Tyagi), 10. Ravichandran Ashwin, 11. Makhaya Ntini (Muttiah Muralitharan, Thilan Thushara) [Coach: Stephen Fleming]

The success of this team will, I think, depend on how the max constraint of 4 overseas players is used. Other than that success will depend on #1 and #8. I do think, however, that there are several sound options and alternatives for each of these two ‘vulnerable’ positions. The rest of the team has a very settled look to it. I therefore rate the chances of CSK quite highly.

Note: Again, thanks to a comment by Chandan, I have included Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan’s name in as a replacement for the #5 “role”. This is because Andrew Flintoff will leave the team in 2 weeks and there is a question mark over the participation of Michael Hussey and Jacob Oram.

Mumbai Indians

Of all teams that did not make it to the big league last year, the most surprising omission was the Mumbai Indians! I did expect them to make the finals of IPL-1. But through a combination of poor form, a rudderless ship, an unfortunate post-match slap and through Sachin Tendulkar’s absence, their season never quite took off. I expect bigger things from this team this year. They have a stronger team this year and have made some smart acquisitions in the break (Zaheer Khan, Duminy, to name two). I expect them to make the semi finals.

Likely team (22 players):
1. Sanath Jayasuriya, 2. Sachin Tendulkar, 3. Ajinkya Rahane (Shikhar Dhawan, Saurabh Tiwary), 4. Jean-Paul Duminy, 5. Abhishek Nayar, 6. Luke Ronchi (Yogesh Takawale, Pinal Shah), 7. Ryan McLaren (Graham Napier, Dwayne Bravo, Mohammad Ashraful), 8. Harbhajan Singh (Chetanya Nanda, Jaydev Shah), 9. Zaheer Khan, 10. Dhawal Kulkarni, 11. Dilhara Fernando (Lasith Malinga, Kyle Mills)

This is a well balanced team. I suspect that their success will be determined by how number 3, 5, and 11 fare in the above list. If the team plays the first named in the above list, it could have as many as 9 bowlers. That is, if Sachin Tendulkar is included as one of these bowlers. These would be Fernando, Dhawal Kulkarni, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Ryan McLaren, Abhishek Nayar, Duminy, Tendulkar and Jayasuriya. Provided Fernando (or his ‘replacements’, Malinga or Mills) bowl well, this is a strong bowling team. Provided Rahane and Nayar click as batsmen, this could turn out to be a really strong team.

One somewhat unfortunate selection is that of a wicket-keeper as an overseas player. Luke Ronchi is a terrific player and I rate him really highly. In matches that he plays, either Sanath Jayasuriya or an overseas bowler has to make way for him. If Jayasuriya sits out in games that Ronchi plays, the ‘keeper can open the innings. He is an explosive bat in the jayasuriya mould. In matches that Ronchi sits out, Takawale or Pinal Shah could keep wickets.

Given its overall balance, I rate Mumbai very highly in IPL-2.

Delhi Daredevils:

This team flattered to deceive last year. They started strongly and then faded away as the competition progressed. It has a strong look to it, especially with their off-season recruitment of Dirk Nannes and David Warner. Moreover, with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir being in such explosive recent form there will be a battle to see who opens for this team. Opposition bowlers should reach for their prayer beads prior to grabbing the ball! This team should be disappointed if they do not reach the semi-finals.

Likely team (22 players):
1. Gautam Gambhir, 2. Virender Sehwag, 3. David Warner, 4. Mithun Manhas (Manoj Tiwary), 5. Rajat Bhatia, 6. Paul Collingwood (AB de Villiers, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Owais Shah), 7. Dinesh Karthik, 8. Andrew McDonald (Dirk Nannes, Farveez Maharoof, Daniel Vettori), 9. Yo Mahesh (Ashish Nehra, Aavishkar Salvi, Pradeep Sangwan, Umesh Yadav), 10. Amit Mishra, 11. Glenn McGrath

In my view, the teams’ success could depend on #4, #5 and #7. The team has some excellent overseas players and it is likely that several of them will be with the team for almost the entire duration. So, much will depend on how these players are used and rotated.

Overall, this looks like a well-balanced team with some explosive batsmen and some sound bowling options. One of the reasons I fancy Delhi (apart from the top-3 batsmen who would drive any T20 nut into bouts of salivation — is because most of their players are available more or less through the tournament. Once Collingwood (and perhaps Owais Shah) leave, they will have de Villiers settled in for the long haul!

I certainly expect Delhi to make the semi-finals and perhaps even reach the finals — perhaps along with Bangalore!

Kings’ XI Punjab:

This team performed much better than I thought it would in IPL-1. It is, in my view, a slightly over-rated team! I’ll be surprised if they make the semi-final cut this year.

Likely team (24 players):
1. Shaun Marsh (Luke Pomersbach), 2. Tanmay Srivastava, 3. Karan Goel (Sahil Kukreja), 4. Mahela Jayawardene (Simon Katich), 5. Yuvraj Singh, 6. Kumar Sangakkara (Uday Kaul), 7. Ravi Bopara (Yusuf Abdulla, Burt Cockley), 8. Irfan Pathan (Ryan Ninan), 9. Brett Lee (James Hopes, Jerome Taylor), 10. Ramesh Powar (Piyush Chawla, Sunny Sohal), 11. VRV Singh (Ajitesh Argal, Wilkin Mota)

This is another team that has 5 o/s players in the list included and presented above and that is because of the presence of Sangakkara. In matches that Sangakkara plays, I suspect that one of the other o/s players will have to sit it out. I suspect that that might be Shaun Marsh (with Sangakkara opening instead). In matches that Sangakkara sits out, Uday Kaul could keep wickets.

This team has too many question marks for my liking. I do not believe it has the right mix of overseas players. With Sreesanth’s injury and with the likelihood of Brett Lee’s early departure, the backup is just not there in my view.

Bangalore Royal Challengers:

This is a team with the maximum number of players on its list prior to being trimmed. I suspect that the list will be trimmed drastically and soon. Even after an initial cull, I am left with 27 players! I have only included in the list below those that I think will make the final cut.

The Royal Challengers was touted as a Test Team in IPL-1. It was a Test team.

Thanks to a few off-season purchases and one clever transfer, the team looks set for a better showing in IPL-2. I have a feeling that the team will make the semi-finals along with Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi with the Rajasthan Royals being the dark horses (again!). Time, as they say, will tell!

Likely team (27 players):
1. Jesse Ryder (Wasim Jaffer, Bharat Chipli), 2. Robin Uthappa (Jagadeesh Arunkumar), 3. Rahul Dravid (Gaurav Dhiman), 4. Kevin Pietersen (Ross Taylor, Jacques Kallis), 5. Virat Kohli, 6. Mark Boucher (Shreevats Goswami), 7. Cameron White (Roelof van der Merwe, Dillon du Preez), 8. Praveen Kumar (Balachandra Akhil, Vinay Kumar), 9. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (Pankaj Singh, Tinu Yohannan), 10. Dale Steyn (Nathan Bracken), 11. KP Appanna (Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi)

I quite like the balance of this team. I can’t see too many weak spots. The teams’ overseas purchases and the acquisition of Uthappa has plugged some glaring gaps. As I said earlier, the team ought to be very disappointed if it doesn’t make the semi-finals.

Like the Mumbai Indians (Luke Ronchi), Punjab (Kumar Sangakkara), Deccan Chargers (Adam Gilchrist) and Kolkatta (Brendon McCullum), Bangalore has also gone for a ‘keeper as an overseas player. This is why I have included five o/s players in the above list for Bangalore.

However, I suspect that Boucher will play or not depending on whether or not Jesse Ryder is used as the opener. Sreevats Goswami, the backup for Boucher is quite solid anyway. I suspect that if Jesse Ryder plays Goswami will ‘keep wickets instead of Boucher. In games that Boucher plays it is likely that Bharat Chipli may open (or Goswami may play as an opener-batsman)! So that may have worked out well for this team.

I would be most keen to see how Bhuvneshwar Kumar goes in the IPL. Last season, he handed Sachin Tendulkar his first duck in domestic cricket in India. He has a nippy action and had a wonderful domestic season last year.

As I said earlier, I don’t see too many weaknesses in this team other than the fact that Pietersen is only available for 2 weeks! Don’t be surprised if this team meets Chennai in the finals of IPL-2!

Kolkatta Knight Riders:

The team looked good on paper in IPL-1. They lost their way. It looks like the team has already lost its way before IPL-2 commences, with signs of infighting or confusion. Chief Coach, Buchanan wants a team full of captains. Perhaps he thinks that a team with “Many Chiefs and No Indians” will work?

Despite its on-paper strength, I’ll be surprised if this team makes it anywhere near the semi finals.

Likely team (24 players):

(Edited on 18 April to record McCullum as captain, replacing Sourav Ganguly. With Ganguly no longer the captain and with McCullum declaring he will open, this opens up a few possibilities and tweaks in the batting order. It is no longer necessary for Ganguly to play all games. Hence the order below sees a change!)

1. Chris Gayle, 2. Brendon McCullum (Wriddhiman Saha, Sheldon Jackson), 3. Sourav Ganguly, 4. Cheteshwar Pujara, 5. Brad Hodge (David Hussey), 6. Gnaneswara Rao (Aakash Chopra), 7. Moises Henriques (Mark Cameron), 8. Laxmi Shukla (Sanjay Bangar, Ajit Agarkar), 9. Ishant Sharma, 10. Ashok Dinda (Murali Kartik, Saurasish Lahiri, Iqbal Abdulla), 11. Ajantha Mendis (Mashrafe Mortaza, Charl Langeveldt, Angelo Mathews)

It is a bit of a mixed bag really. I am not too fond of the look of this team, although they did well by picking up Moises Henriques in the off-season. The team has 5 o/s players in the above list. Again, this will depend on whether McCullum is a keeper/opener or ‘keeper with Gayle opening the batting. For me, however, #6 and #8 are big risks in this team. Investing in Shukla, Bangar and Agarkar does not a T20 competition make!

However, if some of the overseas players in this team click early, we could be in for a bit of fun with McCullum, Gayle and Hodge in the mix! I feel that Brad Hodge is one of the best T20 batsmen going around and it looks like the KKR will have him keep the teams’ company for a long time in IPL-2. It will also be a first sighting of Ajantha Mendis for a lot of the players in the IPL. However, I somehow doubt that this team will make it to the semi-finals. I would be happy to be surprised though.

Deccan Chargers:

The Deccan Chargers commenced IPL-1 as the favourites. The team had a delicious line-up that included Herschelle Gibbs, Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Rohit Sharma, V. V. S. Laxman and Shahid Afridi. Some would have said that that was a dream line-up! However, this was another team that promised a lot, delivered little and then bickered through the off-season.

In the fall-out of all of that, Laxman was replaced by Adam Gilchrist as captain. I am not sure that will make too much of a difference to this team. But I rate them as an outside chance of making the semi finals because of the presence of Gilchrist, Gibbs, Rohit Sharma and Symonds.

The teams’ weak-link is its bowling and in an attempt to bolster that department, the team invested in Fidel Edwards and Dwayne Smith in the off-season. These were not what one would call inspired picks! I’d have expected them to battle hard for an Andrew Flintoff or hit the transfer market hard. But then they sat on their fingers instead!

Likely team (20 players):
1. Herschelle Gibbs (Chamara Silva), 2. Adam Gilchrist, 3. D. Ravi Teja, 4. VVS Laxman, 5. Rohit Sharma, 6. Andrew Symonds (Ryan Harris, Scott Styris), 7. Venugopal Rao (Arjun Yadav), 8. Fidel Edwards (Dwayne Smith, Chaminda Vaas, Nuwan Zoysa), 9. RP Singh, 10. Pragyan Ojha, 11. D. Kalyankrishna (P. Vijaykumar, Shoaib Ahmed)

There are too many weaknesses in this team. Much like KKR, this team has invested far too much in the talent pool from its catchment area. The team has many such unknown players that I have left off the above list. I also feel that it hasn’t invested wisely enough in its overseas recruits to plug some glaring gaps in its pace bowling stocks. I have a feeling that Ravi Teja will have a good IPL-2. He is an attacking opener who might have to come in at #3 because of the presence of Gilchrist and Gibbs/Silva as opening options. But he is an attractive player and is one to watch.

Conclusions:

Overall, it should be interesting to see how IPL-2 pans out. I do not believe it will be as exciting as IPL-1 but I’d be most happy to be proved wrong. I expect the 4 semi-finalists to be Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Bangalore — with Rajasthan being a dark horse in all of this.

— Mohan

Team India Performance in New Zealand: Tests

Much has been written about India not going that extra mile to win the last Test in New Zealand in the last few days. I wrote about India missing a “Tipping Point” moment. Mahesh also wrote about Good Enough not being Enough anymore!

These thoughts were summed up pretty accurately by Samir Chopra, in his CricInfo Blog.

In a two-part article, Samir Chopra says, “Why did Dhoni need 600 plus runs on the board? To set attacking fields? Why were 500 runs not enough? Because New Zealand had scored 600 runs in the first innings of the last Test? And if he wanted to set attacking fields then why didn’t he set them? I didn’t see fields that were consistently the hyper-aggressive fields that a captain with 600 runs on the board could set. (If you want to see aggressive fields for spinners and pacers alike, go find a video of Imran Khan’s field settings during the 1982 series against England, his first as captain). If the idea was to get 600 runs on the board and go on all-out attack, then why was the Indian team’s demeanour in the post-tea session on the fourth day that of giggling schoolboys? They didn’t look like meanies that had put 600 runs on the board and were in your face thereafter. This slackness affected their catching as well; three catches went down on the fifth day itself. (Dileep Premchandran notes that had those been held, India would have won anyway; perhaps; but perhaps the reason they weren’t held was that the team’s mind wasn’t fully set on winning the game as opposed to the series).”

I couldn’t have put it any better!

Some of us Team India fans could not digest the go-slow approach at The Oval against England and still got over that disappointment to savour India doing well subsequent to that in the T20 Championship and against Australia. Some of us could not digest the last Test draw against England in December, but still got over that to savour India’s success against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Similarly, I am sure we will get over the disappointment of a mere 1-0 win against New Zealand!

Setting the expectation bar higher is not necessarily a bad thing!

However, I am confident that the disappointment of a mere 1-0 result in New Zealand will soon be forgotten as we see the dancing ladies, pom-poms and skin-tight lycras of cheer-squads in a variety of T20 and ODI tournaments that India has lined up over the next few months. As we look back on Team India’s tour of New Zealand, we look forward to a year filled with T20 and ODI tournaments.

India does not play a Test match for a while now!

So who were the heroes and the zeroes of the NZ tour?

India’s support cast of M. Vijay, Amit Mishra, L. Balaji and Dhawal Kulkarni did not get a gig. That speaks as much to India’s consistency as well as it does to the faith that the team management reposes in its players. In my view, this is how the rest of the tour party fared in the Tests.

9.5: Gautam Gambhir — The biggest hero to emerge from the tour. He was the biggest find of the tour. He convinced everyone he could bat outside India. He saved the Test match in Napier for India and scored heavily in every Test. Although he had a marginal ODI tournament, he played well enough to emerge as an A-lister! In my view, it is because of him that India has risen to #3 position in the Test rankings. When asked some time back whether he preferred Aakash Chopra or Gautam Gambhir as his opening partner, Sehwag said, “I prefer Chopra because he gives me more of the strike!”, and therein lies the value of Gautam Gambhir. He is a diminutive opener, built in the Justin Langer mould. He has the fighting qualities that Langer brought to his game. But he mixes those fighting qualities with the aggressive mindset of a Matthew Hayden. In my mind, there was a question mark over his stomach for a back-to-the-wall fight. There was also a doubt over how he would perform in seaming conditions. Gambhir has ticked both boxes emphatically and emerged from the tour as India’s biggest asset despite a somewhat lacklustre showing in the ODIs. His poor ODI showing makes his Test performance even better! He shrugged off indifferent form in the ODIs to score heavily in the Tests. Full marks to this impressive lad.

9.0: Harbhajan Singh — He won the Test match for India in Hamilton by taking 6 wickets in the second innings. He bowled well as India’s lead spinner. He also topped the bowling charts in terms of # of wickets. India needs Harbhajan Singh to step up to the plate. Right from his debut series, it is when he has been labelled the “lead spinner” that Harbhajan Singh has emerged strongest. So also on this tour. He emerged as the highest wicket taker in the series. But more than that, he bowled with zip, rip and flight and rarely speared balls in as his wont! Apart from his performance in the Tests, more often than not, it was Harbhajan Singh that turned the screws on in the ODIs too. Apart from his bowling, Harbhajan Singh continues to develop as a bat. A solid #8 is vital to India’s hopes of ascending the Test ladder and Harbhajan Singh has constantly been part of major rearguard fights — Sydney 2008 and Bangalore 2008 spring to mind immediately.

8.5: Zaheer Khan — He had a wonderful tour. He bowled more overs than either Ishant Sharma or Munaf Patel. He shouldered the ace pace bowler responsibility and performed solidly. He made initial breakthroughs almost always and shone with the bat too. A recent analysis of his overseas performances underscored Zaheer importance to this team. He has taken 149 of his 210 wickets away from ‘home’. “His percentage of 70.95 is the highest among all bowlers who’ve taken at least 200 wickets. In fact he is well clear of second-placed Michael Holding, who has a percentage of 65.46.” Impressive indeed. Zaheer Khan had a very good ODI series too. Like Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan too has impressed with the bat lately. It is always comical when Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh bat together — not quite in the Javagal-Kumble mould, but comical nevertheless! Both of them seem to relish making contributions to the team cause with both bat and ball and so get close to full marks.

8.0: Sachin Tendulkar — He also had a wonderful tour. It seems that Tendulkar has found second wind in his career after beating Brian Lara’s record. He seems almost unstoppable these days. I will not say that his fluency reminded us of the “Tendulkar of the old”. I am convinced that the Tendulkar of today is the Tendulkar we see today! The Tendulkar of old is exactly that — Tendulkar of old! His 160 in Hamilton was a gem, but for me, his 62 in Wellington was the score I’ll store on my favourites. It is a pity that India is not playing too any more Test matches in the next 8-9 months. His 160* score in the ODI series has many people still drooling. He would have gone on to make a 200 (perhaps) but for a stomach muscle tear.

7.5: V. V. S. Laxman — Laxman proved his detractors wrog — again! The man has always been fighting off his detractors. But it looks like he is finally comfortable in both his own shoes as well as the role he has in the team. With Sourav Ganguly’s departure, he has moved one slot higher in the batting order. He also seems to draw comfort from the knowledge that he has the dependable and rock-solid Dhoni coming in after him! This has enabled him to play his own game lately. And whether it is defence or attack, he has looked assured, while looking attractive. His second innings century at Napier was fluent, artistic and solid — all at once!He scored 295 runs at 73.75 in the series! A good series which is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

7.0: Rahul Dravid — Although he had hit a century in the previous series, a sword continued to hang over this mans’ head! With the recent retirement of Sourav Ganguly, the clarion calls were growing for Dravid’s imminent departure or announcement. Dravid did make an announcement! It was that he was not in a tearing hurry to leave the scene! The chapter is still incomplete! He will be disappointed that he did not convert his starts of 66, 8*, 83, 62, 35 and 60 to much more. However, he will take the 314 runs he made @ 62.8 any day although he will rue the poor umpiring decisions he received! But these were strong returns for this Gentleman of Indian Cricket. He also signalled that he will be around for a while longer. And judging by the way he played, who would begrudge him his opportunities? It would do him and Team India good, however, if the selectors sat him down and worked out his plans for the future. Again, his good series is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

6.0: Virender Sehwag — Virender Sehwag puts fear into the opposition when he walks in. He showed how dangerous he could be in the ODIs. His amazing ODI century was breathtaking in its audacity as well as its brutality and skill. And that is purely why Sehwag is higher in the rankings than Dhoni. In the Tests, Sehwag missed out after making some explosive starts. He had a terrific start at Hamilton and missed out. He received a lot of flack for the shots he played against Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel in Napier. But we have to perhaps learn to accept that that is how he plays his game. He lives for today and it perhaps does not hurt to have a player like him in the midst, especially since India has, in Gautam Gambhir, one of the more dependable openers in recent memory.

5.0: M. S. Dhoni — He had a funny tour, in my opinion. He still hasn’t lost a Test match as captain. He brings that X-factor to his captaincy and his team. He is positive and fearless and his energy seems to rub off on his team — even the “seniors” in it. His absence was noticeable in the Napier Test. Virender Sehwag, the next best leader-option in the team — assuming that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will not take up that responsibility — was shown up quite badly. Sehwag seems to lack a strategic bone in his body and, to his credit, does not seem to really want one or need one! But Dhoni was missed in Napier. His wicketkeeping was missed in Napier. His batting was also missed at #7 and I personally missed his almost non-stop Hindi commentary from behind the stumps! I seriously think that the TV station should run a separate “Dhoni Channel” when the cricket is on! But that’s another matter for another day… He keeps it simple and uncomplicated. When asked about why the team arrived “late” into Napier (only the afternoon before the Test match), he said, “The mind doesn’t know if it’s Napier or not. You come and say this is Napier it believes it’s Napier, you say it is day it believes it is day because it’s about how you treat the mind… We think more about the small steps rather than have a look at what we want to achieve in the longer run. We know that if we achieve the small milestones what we want to achieve in the longer run will take care of itself. We think about a series, and we break the series into games. And every game is a different game in which we start from scratch.” By the way, this is exactly what Greg Chappell was saying too! But he made himself out to be a pontificating Guru. He was constantly challenged, continually ridiculed and then shown the door! Dhoni brings that earthy matter-of-fact approach to leadership. But despite his X-factor captaincy and despite his solid showing in both ODIs and Tests, he scores low in my books because of his wrong decision on the 4th morning of the 3rd Test — my view on this was recorded at the end of day-4 of the Test match itself (well before rains turned the 2-0 party in Wellington into a mere 1-0 party!).

4.0: Ishant Sharma — Ishant Sharma promised more than he delivered. He is still a work-in-progress. He will improve. He will get better and stronger. India needs to invest more on him. He had a good match at Hamilton but struggled to bowl into the wind at Wellington. Of course, all bowlers struggled at Napier! He bowled well in patches and it is fair to say that he will have learned from this outing.

3.0: Munaf Patel — I really do not know when players like Munaf Patel will realise that it is not enough to just rock up on the park and assume that “she’ll be right, mate”! The fact that the entire team applauded a dive that Munaf Patel put in on the boundary rope is symptomatic of his problems. A dive must be de rigueur. If your team mates are surprised that you can actually dive, that is cause for concern! He blows hot one day and cold the next. He lacks consistency and I suspect that it is because he either does not “put in” enough to his game and his preparations. Or maybe he just leaves his thinking cap behind in the Hotel room every morning! He had a terrific match in Hamilton. He played the 3rd bowler card perfectly and performed his role to perfection. He kept it tight and took wickets too. However, when the batsmen got stuck into him at Napier, he dropped his bundle and his tour went South from there on! He looked completely disconnected from proceedings subsequent to that point. He dropped catches, could not bend down to field regular shots and just missed the point of being part of a team! He needs a wake up call or a kick up his backside. He needs to work on his fitness, period. You are not going to teach him to be a better fielder and dive around the park. Not now. He has missed that bus many years ago! However, what he has to learn is complete commitment to his fellow bowlers — if not the entire team. A good, mentally strong, fit and committed Munaf Patel is important for India if she is to challenge the #2 and #1 spots.

2.0: Yuvraj Singh — What I wrote about Munaf Patel could be said about Yuvraj Singh too. He had several opportunities to not only cement the #6 spot, but make it his own. Instead, he used the tour to default on his loan repayments. His line of credit has been extended. But only just! He had a poor tour. For me, it was less his ability with the seaming ball and his low returns that made me give him such a low score. It was due to his overall lethargy in the field. He just did not seem to belong in this company. A few years ago, he was the touted as the great hope of the Indian infield. He was! He was seen as the messiah that would inspire a generation of Indian cricketers to throw themselves around on the park like a Jonty Rhodes or a Ricky Ponting. Today he is already a pale shadow of what he was even yesterday! Unfortunately, this means that he might need to start all over again! I think he can do it. He has to sharpen his fitness and lose those needless excess kilos. He also has to fix that ‘dodgy knee’. He seems to me to be a man pre-occupied by that weakness. We may then see a better, fitter and a more free Yuvraj Singh.

1.0: Dinesh Karthik — The only positive contribution from Dinesh Karthik on this tour is that he has ensured that Yuvraj Singh does not get lined up at the rear of the class! I would not be surprised if Dinesh Karthik played his last Test at Napier. The only good thing about his ‘keeping in the 1st Innings of that Test was that he made the Kiwis wonder if he had been selected for his batting! Once they saw him batting, they were left scratching their heads! I strongly believe that it is time the team and the selectors invested in Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha and Srivats Goswami.

Overall, this was a steady tour for Team India. I’d have preferred a 2-0 result, but will take this in the hope of better things in the future.

In conclusion, I must say that the pitches as well as the schedule worked in India’s favour. Gautam Gambhir was “allowed to fail” in the ODIs without allowing it to form a ‘mental block’ for him. The bowlers — particularly Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh — got used to the conditions. So a big tick to the BCCI for drawing up a schedule. A big tick too to the BCCI for also organising for Dravid, Laxman, Kulkarni and Laxman to play a few provincial games in New Zealand. It can’t have hurt India’s preparations.

— Mohan