Monthly Archives: October 2009

Ponting flounders while Harbhajan Singh is at it again…

Harbhajan Singh and Australia have a history.

It was Harbhajan Singh’s hattrick in Kolkata — which came before VVS Laxman’s 281 — that started the self-belief ride in that epic series between these two sides in 2001. Lest we forget, he hit the winning runs in that nail-biting and tense finish to the Chennai Test, which gave India the series victory in that 2001 series.

In 2007, it was his brilliance with the bat in the company of Sachin Tendulkar, and the later “Maan Ki” episode in Sydney that seemed to spur a somewhat insipid and weak Indian team that had capitulated in Melbourne. The team went on to record a phenomenal victory in Perth in another epic encounter between these two sides.

In 2008, India was down and almost out in Bangalore in the 1st Test of another epic series between the teams. Again, it was Harbhajan Singh (in the company of an unlikely hero in Zaheer Khan) who turned things around for India with the bat. It may have been almost impossible to conceieve an Indian series victory if India had lost in Bangalore and had the momentum shifted to Australia — although one never knows what may have happened, of course. However, that was a momentum changing innings from a man how loves to irritate the Australians.

Such moments can sometimes define a series — like Monty Panesar’s stubborn resistance did, at Cardiff, a few months back!

And much as Steve Waugh, that master of “mental disintegration”, allowed himself to be irritated by Sourav Ganguly’s “toss tactics”, the Australians — including their press — instead of ignoring Harbhajan Singh, fall prey to his antics every time.

In Vadodara, in the first match of the current 7-ODI series, India were almost down and out chasing a not-so-large total. A huge loss would have shifted the momentum completely Australia’s way. Instead we had a cheeky, pugnacious and gritty fight back from that man Harbhajan Singh (in the company of Praveen Kumar) that almost got India a victory!

I have no doubt that that innings changed the way India approached the 2nd match in Nagpur. Although some may point to a depleted Australian bowling attack, I do believe that India would have won even if Brett Lee had played. India played with purpose and determination not often seen by an up-and-down team.

One hopes that this momentum is taken into the remaining games too. However, much as I do not like his antics, one just cannot get over the fact that Harbhajan Singh rises to the occasion everytime he plays against Australia. They say that a great player is one that performs at his best against the best. Perhaps it is time for us to recognise — maybe even reluctantly — that Harbhajan Singh is up there after all?

In ODIs he has a batting average of 16.56 against Australia, when compared to a career average of 13.42, although his bowling stats against Australia is worse than his career average! His highest score while batting in ODIs is against Australia (the 49 he made last week at Vadodara). In Tests, his batting average against Australia is 21.83 when compared to a career average of 17.01. He bowls better against Australia too — 79 wickets at 28.82 as opposed to 300 career wickets at 30.42! His career high Test score of 66 is just 3 higher than his highest score against Australia (the 63 that he made in that “Maan Ki” Test in Sydney). His best Test bowling figures (8 for 84) is against Australia too — in that epic Test match in Chennai in 2001.

It is clear that Harbhajan Singh turns it on whenever he plays against Australia. More power to him.

If India play on the momentum secured thus far and if the team continues to show the passion and the focus that was on display in the 2nd ODI at Nagpur, I think it will be hard for Australia to come back into the series.

And for Australia to bounce back, skin will be important!

Yes! Someone from the Australian team must play out-of-their-skin cricket and the team must not allow Harbhajan Singh to get under their collective skins!

Ricky Ponting said yesterday that he is not a believer in momentum. He said, “I am not a big believer of momentum from game to game. Momentum is all that’s happening in a particular game. I don’t think much of it carries from game to game. I think many of the games that I have played in the past have changed too quickly to be attributed to momentum.”

I am now convinced that, unlike his efforts with the bat, Ricky Ponting is inconsistent with his mouth!

Here is a sample of what Ponting has said (or reported to have said) just in the last few months!

According to Mike Hussey (and he must be a dependable man as well as a reliable source), “Ricky’s been on our hammer already basically about trying to maintain our momentum.” He continued, “Momentum is not something you can turn on and off like a switch. If we can finish this series strongly, that will give us some good impetus going into the Champions Trophy…”

This was precisely 45 days ago. So what’s changed in the intervening period for Ricky Ponting to discard his “momentum theory”?

And some two and a half months back, after Australia’s win at Headingley against England, Ponting declared “The momentum [is] with us”. He went on to say, ”We all get asked about [momentum] after every game, especially in these series that seem to see-saw and swing from one side to the other. For me, the momentum thing is what your individual players get out of the game. There’s not many of our individuals who haven’t taken a lot in this game.”

And at the start of the ongoing series against India, Ponting’s utterances may have led the uninitiated to believe that the Asutralian captain does believe in momentum!

It seems to me that what he has said in the above examples is that he believed in “momentum”. He now does not. Oh well. One theory when you win. One when you lose, I guess?

Despite the newly-laid Delhi track which saw 4 sub-100 scores in the Champions League, I expect India to field an unchanged side.

Australia have to make changes to the side. Tim Paine is back in Australia. Graham Manou is in. This will mean that Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh open the batting. I am not convinced that Cameron White is an appropriate player at #4. But there is something common about Cameron White, Australia and bad choices! Remember the Tests against India in India last year? I have no idea why Cameron White was in that Test side. I am not sure what he is doing batting at #4 in this ODI side. Maybe he will prove me wrong though. Who knows? It is likely that Moises Henriques will get his ODI cap in the Delhi game. He is the sort of bowler that may perform well on the Delhi track.

I will not be surprised if Australia wins the Delhi match. This Ricky Ponting led team is strong and will fight every inch of the way.

And if Australia does win, expect Ponting to say that he was happy to have “reclaimed the momentum”!

— Mohan

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Now we yearn for “The Dhoni of Old”… Duh!

Forget the present. Forget the future.

It seems Indians want to continue to live in the past!

Chairman of selectors, Kris Srikkanth, pronounced that we had seen “the old MS Dhoni” after India beat Australia by 99 runs in the 2nd ODI at Nagpur last night.

In the recent past, we have had many a report suggesting that the “Tendulkar of Old” was there or thereabouts. Every time the great champion batsman scores a century, we hear talk of the “Tendulkar of Old”.

As I keep saying to a lot of my friends, if you want to see the “Tendulkar of Old”, buy a DVD! If you want to see the “Dhoni of Old”, buy yourself a DVD!

In the meanwhile, rejoice the present and plan for the future! Duh! Surely that can’t be too hard!

Even Cricinfo’s Siddharth Monga seems to suggest he has a bit of a yearning for the “Dhoni of Old”! Monga writes, “And back the old Dhoni was. Walking down and hitting Shane Watson, heaving and slapping Mitchell Johnson, hitting three bottom-handed sixes in two overs, he scored 54 runs in his last 27 balls, putting it past Australia…”. There is nothing wrong with the current Dhoni. As Monga himself writes, “India need both the Dhonis, but there are other batsmen who can compensate for the old Dhoni, and more often than not it’s the new Dhoni that nobody else evokes. Dhoni, more than anybody else, knows that.”

India needs players who perform consistently in the role that they (a) are able to perform, (b) are best at performing, (c) have been given (or taken on for themselves).

Meanwhile, I do hope the sales of the DVD of Dhoni’s 183 skyrocket for those of us who want to see the “Dhoni of old”. If we do not rejoice the “Dhoni of Now” or the “Tendulkar of Now”, a few years from now, we will yearn for the “Dhoni of the immediate past” and forget that we had just watched but not understood nor relished that phase of a cricketers’ evolving career!

The match last night was a fascinating and clinical performance by India. The manner in which Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir re-built the innings and stabilised it suggested that both batsmen had a plan and knew exactly what was needed and how to get there. They were calm, unflustered, purposeful and measured in their approach. Perhaps Gambhir got out at the wrong time — just before the ball would be changed and probably just before the Batting Powerplay would have been taken (had Gambhir been there). However, his departure meant that Suresh Raina and Dhoni, together, turned on an intelligent and power-packed partnerships in which audacious shots were mixed with sharp running and clever placements. And once the foot reached the pedal, in a very Australian manner, the two of them kept their foot on the pedal to take India to an unassailable total.

The bowling was impressive too. I was particularly impressed with Praveen Kumar’s line-and-length discipline. And it was certainly refreshing to see Ishant Sharma reach the 140-145 kmph mark regularly. He seems to have worked out his problems. He was running in more confidently and with greater purpose.

I will be surprised if India change the team for the next ODI in Delhi (Sunday). Meanwhile, Australia have a few more problems. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine is flying back to Australia with a broken finger!

Meanwhile, the “Adjective Watch” department of i3j3 has woken up from its long slumber! After all, Australia is playing India!

Richard Earle has labelled Harbhajan Singh “infamous”. No. No. Hang on there. Not “rude” or “ugly” or “foul mouthed” or “loutish” or “obnoxious”. This is different: Infamous. In a wonderful piece of exquisite prose in The Daily Telegraph, this celebrated writer, Richard Earle has used the following choice adjectives in his description of Harbhajan Singh: Infamous, wily wind-up merchant, fearless tailender

Apparently in Harbhajan Singh’s 31-ball 49 at Vadodhra “saw the Turbanator trading verbal blows with the Australians.”

And what were the Australians doing when said verbal blows were being traded? Oh! They were knitting, as every good, honest, God-fearing, mother-loving, saintly and pristine Australian cricketer would do. Of course!

The article starts off with a screaming byline “INFAMOUS Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has ignited the showdown for the world one-day crown by predicting India can demolish Australia and snatch the No.1 ranking.”

Phew!

What did the fiesty, wily wind-up merchant and infamous obnoxious weed of an off-spinner actually say?

Harbhajan Singh, the great Indian off-spinner said, “I believe if we play to our potential we will win 5-2,” Harbhajan told The Daily Telegraph. “I am looking forward to the next six matches. It is very important for me to do well, I am most happy when the situation demands that I perform well for my country.”

I read humility. I read dignity. I read respect for the opposition. I also read an element of self-doubt.

Then again, who am I?

I am not an Australian reporter with hatred in my eyes, a chip on my shoulder and an axe to grind.

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Seven exciting ODIs are here…

As the Champions League draws to a close (yawn!), we have the exciting and thrilling prospect of seven — Yes! Not one. Not two. But seven… woo hoo! — ODI’s between India and Australia!

Yawn!

Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, has already made his views known on meaningless and long-drawn-out bilateral ODI series. But unfortunately for him, it is the Lalit Modis of the world that run cricket and not players who want good things happening for cricket!

When Australia last visited India for a long-and-meaningless 385-match bilateral ODI series (well, it seemed like that series went for 385 matches!), India had just won the inaugural T20 World Championship! Symonds, who was later targeted with reprehensible chants by crowds in India, fired the first salvo in the traditionally conducted pre-series war of words, by saying that Australians were more humble (cough, splutter!) in the way they celebrated their victories!

However, in this edition, there has been mutual respect and admiration instead of barbs and cutting remarks from both teams!

Ricky Ponting has said that he is in admiration of a tough opponent! Brett Lee has indicated that he is wary of an “unpredictable side in the nicest way possible [who] are capable of beating any side on their day”!

In this video clip, it is reported that Harbhajan Singh said that Australia will be a tough team to beat and looks forward to giving off his best against the #1 team in the world. A very un-Harbhajan like comment indeed!

And despite suggesting that the Aussies need to be wary of Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, that other unstoppable mouthpiece for Indian cricket, has advised the, “Indian batsmen to be wary of Australian seam bowling attack”.

Hello! This is an India-Australia series we are talking about, aren’t we?

I do think that “products” (sic!) such as the IPL and CLT20 have created greater harmony amongst players — particularly from India and Australia. Who knows? Peter Lalor may not feel the urge to write about Harbhajan Singhs’ mother any more!

After a spate of injury-driven absences, the Indian team has the services of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh again. The team has also cleaned up the bench and sent Rahul Dravid and Yusuf Pathan into hibernation, although, unfortunately, Abhishek Nayar got caught up in the clean-up! I can’t quite fathom the absence of Rohit Sharma though. His time will come, I am sure.

I do agree with Sourav Ganguly when he says that M. S. Dhoni is being wasted at #6 or #7 and in a “circumspect” role in the batting order. He must bat higher up the batting order.

Although my preference would be for Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag to open, I do not believe Sachin Tendulkar will let go of the spot he covets! This will mean that Gautam Gambhir probably comes in at #3!

I expect the following team to walk onto the park in Vadodhra on Sunday Oct 25 2009.

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
M. S. Dhoni
Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina / Virat Kohli
Ravindra Jadeja
Harbhajan Singh / Amit Mishra
Ashish Nehra
Praveen Kumar / Munaf Patel
Ishant Sharma / Sudeep Tyagi

The Australians will gun for Ishant Sharma, a bowler who has had a below-par start to the season. He is probably low on confidence and the Australians will need no invitation to get stuck into a bowler who has performed well against them in the recent past. But this is probably just the fillip the youngster needs. He needs to think through and visualise how he was successful against the best team in the world and recreate that rhythm and magic. This series might just be the tonic his career needs at this point in time.

If the above team is free of injuries, niggles and fielding worries and if Ishant Sharma can find his rhythm again, I expect this to be a close series.

Despite the absence of Callum Ferguson and Micheal Clarke, The Australians look formidable. They have a steady (new) opening pair in Tim Paine and Shane Watson. The middle order looks a tad shaky for Indian conditions — given Ricky Ponting’s run of poor form there. However, Ponting and the two Hussey brothers are in good form. With Cameron White also performing well lately, and with a good clutch of ODI bowlers in Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz, this team is going to be hard to beat.

Yet, despite the portents and the potential excitement, I can’t get myself to be thrilled to bits about this series! The prospect of 7 ODIs between these two — no doubt — quality teams is no longer a mouth watering prospect. If this is the view of a sworn cricket tragic before the start of a series between the current #1 and #2 on ICC’s ODI rankings table, it is time the ICC does something about the game. The ODI format looks a bit tired at the moment!

— Mohan

— Mohan

Indian team for Oz ODI’s announced

The selectors have announced the Indian team for the 7 match ODI series against Australia. The squad is

MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Sudeep Tyagi, Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Amit Mishra.

The big news of course is that Dravid has been dropped. This was definitely on the cards and personally I am happy that the selectors decided to right the wrong they did by selecting him in the first place. Here is my logic for the Dravid selection and subsequent axing. The Indian middle order failed against the bouncing ball in the recently concluded T20 World Cup. They wanted some experience in the middle order and brought in Dravid. The second and in my opinion, more significant reason, was Dravid’s recent performance for Bangalore Royal Challengers at IPL2 in South Africa. Dravid was batting with a carefree abandon rarely seen and this definitely convinced the selectors of his utility. The thing that upsets me most is that the picking of Dravid for the ODIs was on the basis of T20 cricket and nothing else. If ODIs were the only consideration then why was Dravid dropped in the first place? Easily answered becasue Dravid was considered too slow for one day cricket. He had the habit of eating up a lot of dot balls and could not keep the strike rotating when he got bogged down. Also the profile of the Indian team was getting younger and he did not fit in. But if a couple of middle order failed, again in a T20 match, then they call up Dravid. Again if the current ODI series was played in Australia would they have dropped Dravid? I don’t think so. In hindsight it would have been better if they had taken Laxman instead of Dravid if they had wanted experience. But then Laxman did not score in IPL2 you see!

Coming to the other selections. Poor Abhishek Nayar finds himself dropped. He hardly got a chance! In fact even during the Champions Trophy I was surprised at how Virat Kohli made the playing XI ahead of Nayar. If Kohli was that good, he would have been in the team first and not Nayar as is the case now! RP Singh has not been that impressive and got dropped. So too were Yusuf Pathan and Dinesh Karthik. In come Jadeja, Munaf and Sudip Tyagi. Jadeja is a good all rounder and has performed well in the Challengers. Tyagi is a very good selection especially after an impressive Challenger series. Munaf continues his in/out routine with the Indian team. Ishanth has been retained only because no other medium pacer has been impressive. If only Dhaval Kulkarni, Siddharth Trivedi or L Balaji had picked up a few wickets! I like the look of the team though especially with Sehwag and Yuvraj back.

There is also an interesting sidelight that Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh, the bowling and fielding coaches have been sacked. The Board has not announced any replacements, so nothing is known at the moment on that front.

Sanjay

Some observations on the Champions League T20

If Lalit Modi and Dean Kino had added the word “International” to the Champions League T20, the tournament that is currently taking place in India could have replaced the now defunct ICL. Players from the now dead-and-buried ICL have scattered to different teams. Some ICLers, like Shane Bond, are back playing for club and country.

Meanwhile, the tournament that has been christened CLT20 is up and running. After the first edition was scrapped in the wake of 26/11, the CLT20-2009 has been in progress for almost a week now. While the cricket has been ok, CLT20 has certainly been providing air time to Lalit Modi and Bollywood!

Never mind the absence of Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan, Shilpa Shetty and Preity Zinta, whose teams — respectively Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings — were not good enough to be featured in CLT20. This despite the largesse — out of the goodness of Lalit Modi’s heart — to accommodate a 3rd team from the Indian IPL in CLT20 (as opposed to only two teams from Australia and South Africa, the trinity of countries that co-started the CLT20 concept).

But no worries! This edition of CLT20 continues its links with Bollywood, thank you very much! I wouldn’t have known that this was a deliberate ploy till I watched an interview with Bipasha Basu who was at one of the early games; I forget which one! Was this yet another Bollywood Super Bod trying to buy a team, I wondered? Alas no! This was just another one of Lalit Modi’s plans to continue the link between Bollywood and masala cricket. What do they call it now? Co-branding?

T20 and Bollywood are made for each other. Each idiom features a lot of dancing, some colour, some great bodies, lots of song, a booty shake or two, celebreties coming out of your ears and nostrils, a few tears, skimpy-glitzy clothes, some acting, loads of emotion (throw in a slap or two!), plenty of rah-rah, LOADS of money and some talent on view — that is, if you can be bothered enough to pay close attention amidst the chaos, the din, the fake drama and the sheer escapism of both idioms! Both idioms are tailor-made for marketing executive boardrooms. The talent is but secondary. The brand, package and product needs to be sized-right, segmented-right, targetted-right and sold-right.

So the nexus between Bollywood and T20 is totally inevitable. And indeed, talking of cross-influencing each other, nowadays there are quite a few Bollywood movies with a cricket theme. In the recent few months, we have seen the release of movies like Victory, Dil Bole Hadippa and 1999! The latter focuses on the betting scandal that rocked the cricketing world that year!

So in the CLT20 product — See! I am getting into the swing of things too! It is not a game or a match or a tournament, but a “product”! Duh! — that features the T20-Bollywood nexus, some matches feature stars from a soon-to-be-released Bollywood movie. Stars from that movie are featured in the crowd and interviewed on the sidelines. Bipasha Basu was there as a cast member from a movie called “All The Best” there! The cast from “Blue” was there a few days back at the Bangalore Royal Challengers must-win game.

Meanwhile, there has been some cricket action worth noting in the CLT20. In particular, J. P. Duminy’s spectacular century for Cape Cobras against Royal Bangalore Challengers — and by the way, one cannot talk/write about T20 games unless one adopts adjectives like “SpecTACular” and “StuPENDous” and “CRACKing” and “SMASHing” from the Ravi Shastri book of adjectives.

It looks like the following teams will make it to the Super-8 stage:
Group-A: Deccan Chargers (provided they beat T&T) and Trinidad & Tobago
Group-B: NSW (already qualified) and possibly Sussex (Piyush Chawla plays for Sussex)
Group-C: Cape Cobras and Bangalore Royal Challengers (already qualified)
Group-D: Delhi Daredevils and Victorian Bushrangers (already qualified)

Disclaimer:

Despite the above, I still do like the T20 format. Like Bollywood films, you watch it, feel good about it, complete your ironing at the same time, remember nothing of it, shake a leg and move on to the next thing. However, I am utterly convinced that it was a terrible shame that

(A) India won the inaugural World T20 Championship,
(B) that (A) above woke up the product-packager in Lalit Modi
(C) that ICL, a pre-cursor to Lalit Modi’s product-package was a flop.

I am also utterly convinced that, with Lalit Modi (and now Dean Kino) and the apparent success of IPL, CLT20 and the Bollywood-T20 package, the T20 format cannot co-exist with Tests and ODIs. Something has to give. Wiser cricketing minds than I have talked about the easy co-existence of these three different “products” (Sic! Get me a bucket, quick!).

I am not convinced. Something has to give.

The recent spate of meaningless ODIs have come at a time when the attractiveness of T20 is on the rise. Witness the meaningless set of 7 ODIs between England and Australia! The Champions Trophy had as much fizz as a bottle of coke left open for a few months in the heat of Chennai! We now face the prospect of 7 ODIs between India and Australia on the conclusion of the CLT20 tournament. I am certainly not looking forward to that series of games. The recently concluded Challenger Trophy in India had an audience of about 25 at most of the games — and that number includes the groundsmen, the cops and those wishing to emulate the SpecTACular Ravi Shastri and invade our living rooms through the ubiquitous idiot box!

The ODI format has to give, in my view. And it is time for our administrators to get their collective heads out of the sand that surrounds said heads!

But then that is another debate for another day!

— Mohan

Abhinav Mukund turns it on!

What Subramaniam Badrinath has not done successfully in key opportunities, Abhinav Mukund has begun to achieve. His unbeaten 86 not out following a score of 46 in the first innings and his century partnership with his state partner M. Vijay has put Rest of India in a strong position. Hearty congratulations to him and best wishes to carry on to make a well deserved hundred.

Mumbai blew a big opportunity to take the initiative away from the Rest by batting poorly in response to a low first ininings total set by ROI. ROI’s strong batting lineup came up croppers as they scored on 260 runs in the first innings thanks largely to an inspired spell of bowling by Ajit Agarkar. Ravindra Jadeja continued his good form with the bat while the rest barring Mukund failed. Mumbai’s workhorse, Wasim Jaffer, continued to make major contributions domestically while Rohit Sharma had a forgettable return to the game. Munaf Patel manages to keep the selectors continually interested by picking up wickets in crucial games as he did so in this one with a five wicket haul.

ROI should go on and set a huge target for Mumbai making it difficult for the Ranji champions to succeed. Having said that, Rohit Sharma is a big match player and may very well take up the challenge and score big. All in all, an interesting couple of days ahead as we kick off the domestic season.

– Srikanth