Monthly Archives: September 2010

“Disputed” #1 Ranking?

I keep hearing that India is not the “undisputed” #1 ranked team in the World. Even, Mohan in his post, maintains that India has to beat Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa to be ranked #1.

When Australia became the #1 ranked team in the world, they had one of the best teams – they had beaten every team in their own backyard and for some reason, we now believe that to be ranked #1, you have to do the same. This is where I have an issue with.

India has earned the #1 rank based on it’s own rise and the decline of other teams. The decline of other teams (notably Australia) and the rise of other teams (India, England and Sri Lanka) have made it a more level playing field. One of the key things to remember is that the ranking takes into account the results of the last three years and the quality of the opposition (based on the points differential).

In the last three years, Australia has drawn a series with Pakistan (ranked below them), lost a series to England (ranked below them), lost a series to South Africa (who were ranked below them at that time), lost a series to India (who were again ranked below them). Clearly the Aussies have declined.

India on the other hand, ended up having either a drawn series or had won against teams that ranked higher. That is how they got their ratings up.

The rankings do not take into account whether the series win was at home or away. Should it? I used to argue that this was the case, but I am now in the other camp. Over the course of a home and away series against the same team, this evens out. Do I want to see India beat Australia or South Africa in an away series? Hell, yeah! Do I get more satisfaction then beating them at home? Undoubtedly. But, I think this should have no bearings on the test ranking calculations.

In my view:

  • India is currently the #1 ranked team in the World and whether you like it or not/agree or disagree with it -  it is a fact and they’ve earned it. Sure, the decline of other teams has helped India’s cause. But no one complains about this in any other sport (Imagine someone saying that Nadal doesn’t deserve to be #1, as Federer isn’t as good as he used to be). So, get over it Smile
  • The #1 ranking in no way means that the team is indestructible or that they’ve won playing against every team – it means that over a period of three years, they have won enough to be ranked higher than other teams. (Using the same tennis analogy, you don’t have to win all tournaments or achieve a grand slam to be the #1 ranked player)
  • The test championship idea seems interesting, but I am not sure how it would work out. If the championship was played today – Australia wouldn’t even be in it! But hey, that is OK….if only the top four teams qualify for it, so be it. I would like to wait and watch the first championship, before I pass judgement on it. I don’t think this event would take the gloss of the existing ranking system, though…it would even strengthen it.

On an interesting side note, did you know that even if India lose the series 2-0 to Australia, India would still be ranked #1?


The Australians are here…

The mind games have begun.

Mitchell Johnson wants to play chin music and Ricky Ponting thinks Indians are suspect against bounce! In particular, Mitchell Johnson thinks that Virender Sehwag is suspect against the short ball. Either the Australian ideas-chest is bare or they are actually planning on bowling a bagful of yorkers, but throwing a few red-herrings around so that the Indians get confused! Do the Australians think they are going to be bowling at a few school-kids? Oh, and meanwhile, Nathan Hauritz says he is going to target Sachin Tendulkar. Great. Now we can all sleep easy, for he is not going to target Ishant Sharma, India’s secret batting weapon! Phew!

So clearly the Australians must be in town! There’s a lot of talk; a lot of pre-game chirp…

And what are the Indians doing? They are quietly practicing ahead of an important series. And some of them have been involved in the Champions League T20. Is MS Dhoni saying much at all? Yes he is saying, “Well, of course it is Tuesday today” and “Well of course, my name is Dhoni” and “Well of course, cricket is a game played with bat and ball”. This lad is straight from the “say a lot and yet say nothing” school of communications!

The chirp is back in town and in our troubled times of spot fixing and T20, cricket cannot have wanted a tough and engaging Test series more than right now.

To be honest though, the pre-series-chirp from the Australian camp has not been as viral and feral as it has been in previous tours. I remember Ricky Ponting talking about “New Age” cricket ahead of the last series in India in 2008. They left India thinking they ought to sharpen up their “present age” cricket before even thinking of moving onto the “new age”!

The chirp and pre-series mind-games are of a different tone this time around. And I think the IPL has a lot to do with it. I also think that now, more than ever, Australia believes other teams can play cricket too. There is respect and there is definitely a greater understanding.

This will make this series a cracker of a series, in my view.

In the times of Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Waughs, Gilchrist, Warne and McGrath, the fact that teams would lose to the #1 placed Australia was always a given. The question was more one of how badly teams would lose to Australia, the then world champions.

India, as the #1 ranked team, do not have that air of invincibility about them. Although Ricky Ponting conceded that India deserved her #1 ranking, I think he was being unusually coy, somewhat needlessly diplomatic and rather polite. I still maintain that unless India wins a series in Australia and South Africa, in my view, India cannot be ranked as the #1 team in the world. Australia, by the way, has won a series in India.

India lacks that air of invincibility because of her bowling. India just does not have a McGrath-Warne. Yes. Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan are good. They are better in Indian conditions. But they are not in the same class as a McGrath or a Warne. In my opinion, as a result of that lopsided strength (when compared to her batting) Team India is still in development phase.

Pity! Because the batting has never been better!

I say the batting has never been better because the opening combination (despite Gautam Gambhir’s recent “dip” in form) is lethal. Sehwag looks menacing each time he goes out to bat. With a steady Gambhir at the other end, this is the opening combination in world cricket today. Rahul Dravid is… well… Rahul Dravid. Not a single brick in that wall has had to be replaced over the years. Sachin Tendulkar is looking hungrier this year than he did last year and he was quite mean last year! VVS Laxman is in the midst of one of his best (batting) years in Test cricket! Suresh Raina has stepped into the #6 role as though it was meant for him. Raina demonstrates a hunger as well as a “continual willingness to learn” (in Sunil Gavaskar’s words). I do believe he will make a solid and strong #6 for India. And if all of that is not sufficient, India has MS Dhoni in at #7. This batting list is not only impressive, it is formidable. If one or two of the above gets injured, the replacements are M. Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara — and these lads can hold a bat!

The Australian bowling will have to be at its very best to shake that batting line-up.

So, in these times, the lopsidedness (in terms of bowling-strength) is, indeed, a pity for a fan of Team India. It is no wonder that the team lacks that air of invincibility that is thrust upon champion teams.

So any team — and in particular, Australia — does have a chance, in my view. The door is ajar.

That said, I think Australia will need to play exceedingly well.

I might be wrong, but I think this series will claim Nathan Hauritz like it did Shane Warne, Jason Krejza and Gavin Robertson. There is a fixation that Australian cricket has with off-spinners whenever they tour India. Even at the height of the Shane Warne express, the Australians brought Gavin Robertson along with them! He played a few games too. I think Australia has got it wrong. In recent times, India has demonstrated a particular inexplicable weakness against left-arm spinners. Even Ashley Giles and Paul Harris did well against India! The fact that Australia does not have a good left-arm spinner is another story altogether. But my view is that, unless Nathan Hauritz bowls out of his skin, or unless the Indian batsmen commit hara-kiri against him, Hauritz will have a nightmare-series. In my view, Michael Clarke has to bowl much more than he did in the last series. Whether his back will allow him that luxury is quite another issue altogether.

The real weak-link in the India team is the bowling. I believe that Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha will play the 1st Test. There is a chance that Sreesanth will play ahead of Ojha, given that the first Test is going to be played at Mohali — a track known for its even bounce and carry.

However, I think India should shave all grass off the Mohali track and chuck Harbhajan and Ohja at the Australians. A view that I have held for long is that the day Perth becomes a spinning track, India can prepare a bouncing green-top for the visiting Australians.

The Australian batting is good without being sensational. What the team lacks in runs and experience, it (always) makes up in discipline, determination, application and preparation. Shane Watson and Simon Katich hold the key to this series in my view. If Ricky Ponting walks in with the scoreboard reading 191-1, I think the Australians will have a terrific series. If he routinely walks in at 12-1, he will probably perform worse in this series than he has in past tours to India.

Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid have proved, time and time again, that they deserve to be amongst the worlds’ greatest batsmen (like Brian Lara, Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar before them) because they have made runs in all conditions. Ricky Ponting’s CV in Indian conditions represents a big hole occupied smugly by Harbhajan Singh!

Unless Ricky Ponting does well in Indian conditions, he will certainly not feature in my list of best batsmen in the world! Time is running out for this excellent cricketer to make the walk from being excellent to great. This is probably his last chance to take that walk. He will have a greater chance to make that walk if Shane Watson and Simon Katich give him (and Australia) a good start.

Michael Hussey had a relatively poor series last time around. He is too good a player to have two poor series in India. To me, apart from the openers, Michael Hussey is the key.

The Australian bowling sports a similar kind of look to it. The presence of Shane Watson as a batsman and a 5th bowler adds sensational dimension to the team. That and the presence Micheal Clarke as a left-arm bowler means that this bowling line-up should do much better than previous bowling attacks have! The fact, however, is that this attack has presided over the worst period in Australia’s recent cricketing history.

So, what is the conclusion? I am going to have to sound like Dhoni here (sentence spoken without a stop for breath)… “Well of course, each day is a new day the past is the past and the team that plays best on the day will win and well of course the boys are raring to go and are really keyed up for this important series and well of course Australia is a terrific team and they keep coming at you like a steam train and well of course we have to stay alert at all times and play our best cricket and well of course the team that plays the best cricket on the day will win!”

The sledge is back in town. There is a chirp in the air. There is some excitement.

The Australians are here? Well of course…

— Mohan

Rest of India team for the Irani Trophy

Yuvraj Singh (capt.), Abhinav Mukund, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, S Badrinath, Saurabh Tiwary, Parthiv Patel (wk), Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin, Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, R Vinay Kumar, Manish Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun and Ravindra Jadeja

Some things to chew about:

1. I am happy that Yuvraj was dropped but kept in the reckoning atleast for the near future.

2. The inclusion of Badrinath shows that the selectors have not given up on him and rightly so. I am a big fan of Badri and I think he really should be in the ODI squad as well.

3. I cannot understand the inclusion of Parthiv Patel. If they think he is the next best wicket keeper in the country after Dhoni and Saha, why Dinesh Karthik even picked consistently? If Dinesh Kartik after a poor series is not good enough to be in a Rest of India side because of a patchy tri series then how come Yuvraj is good? If they can still consider Parthiv in the scheme of things then Wasim Jaffer could have also been picked ahead of Shikar Dhawan!

4. We will have to get used to seeing Saurabh Tiwary in every representative side for the next year atleast. So no comments on that, but he is just not good enough to warrant selection for the longer version.

5. As for the bowling I would have liked Sreesanth in this side and Mithun in the India XI. As it is we have Harbhajan to hot things up against the Aussies 🙂

6. Manish Pandey is a better pick than the one I expected in such teams – Mohammed Kaif!!


Board Presidents’ XI Team against Australia

The Team India selectors announced the Board Presidents’ XI Team to play against Australia. The tour match will be played 25-27 September in Chandigarh prior to India’s series against Australia — a series that includes 2-Tests and a few ODIs.

The team, which was announced a few days back, is a curious-mixed-bag. Mainly because, in my view, the selection is a curious bag of tricks that delivers some mixed reactions!

The team is:
Gautam Gambhir (capt), Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), R Ashwin, Piyush Chawla, Abhimanyu Mithun, Sreesanth, Jaidev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav, Abhinav Mukund, Ravindra Jadeja.

Let us get the positives out of the way first:

  • The elevation of Gautam Gambhir is a good sign for him and should fortify his hand in a future Team India. He is already dealing with captaincy of the Delhi Daredevils. So this is a step in the right direction for him.
  • The presence of emerging batting stars like Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara and Abhinav Mukund is again to be applauded. The above three have been consistent performers in the Ranji circuit (and representative teams like Under-19, India-A and Emerging Players) for the last 2-3 years and their consistency has been noticed and rewarded.
  • The elevation of bowling talents like Abhimanyu Mithun (notwithstanding the fact that he has already made his Team India Test debut), Jaidev Unnadkat and Umesh Yadav is certainly a positive step in the right direction.
  • The return of Sreesanth has not been rushed and that must be seen as a positive! Sreesanth has to last this game and bowl well before being considered for national colours again. The last thing we would want is for this lad to break-down (again) on the eve of a crucial Test match and run off to the nearest Ayurvedic Clinic!

And that is precisely where we have to draw the line on the positives. If we include Wriddhiman Saha as a “no brainer”, that leaves 9 positives in a team of 14.

And so, why do I consider the selection of the remaining as border-line or negative? The “others” are: Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, R. Ashwin, Piyush Chawla and Ravindra Jadeja.

  • As pointed out by CricInfo, The Airtel Champions League concludes on 26 September and this BPXI Tour Match commences on 25 September. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli play for Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore respectively. Do the selectors know a priori that Dhawan and Kohli will not play in the Champions League Finals? In these days of heightened interest in pre-ordained results of even no-balls in games, any demonstration of prior-knowledge of a result might be a dangerous admission for the selectors to make! And this might attract unwanted attention from various quarters! So I think this is really a lame decision. Unless the selectors wanted to just send a signal of intent to these two lads — to tell these two lads that they are the next best in the land, that they are in contention and that the BPXI team will make-do with 12 players instead of 14! Either way, this is a silly inclusion in my view
  • Given that Harbhajan Singh will most likely play the Test matches against Australia, would it not have been a wiser move to give Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha — possibly the next best spin options for India — an opportunity to get match fit before the Test matches commence? Furthermore, R. Ashwin is currently playing the Champions League too. So again, I am not sure what the selectors are trying to say here! Are they saying that the 14-member team-sheet that Gautam Gambhir has been handed might actually only contain 11 players? Of course, given that even the BCCI cannot organise a three-team finals for the Champions League, and given that Dhawan, Kohli and Ashwin play for three different teams, it is likely that at least one of them will be available to play for the BPXI team. Even so, I believe either Pragyan Ojha or Amit Mishra (or both) should have been in the BPXI team.
  • I have no idea what Ravindra Jadeja is doing in this team.
  • Why is Rohit Sharma not in this team?

So there you have it: a curious-mixed-bag

I’d expect the BPXI team to be:
01. Gautam Gambhir
02. Abhinav Mukund / Shikhar Dhawan (*)
03. Ajinkya Rahane
04. Cheteshwar Pujara / Virat Kohli (*)
05. Wriddhiman Saha (wk)
06. Piyush Chawla / R Ashwin (*)
07. Abhimanyu Mithun
08. Sreesanth
09. Jaidev Unadkat
10. Umesh Yadav
Reserve: Ravindra Jadeja.

Yes, I know that the above team list contains only 10 players and a cricket team should normally contain 11 players! However, given that we do not know which one of Dhawan, Kohli and Ashwin will be available and given that, in my view, Ravindra Jadeja ought to be a reserve regardless of the availability of Dhawan, Kohli and Ashwin, we only have 10 players available to play!

Expect a few last minute additions, chops and changes to this team.

A curious-mixed-bag indeed!

— Mohan

Ps: Postscript on 14 September @ 1900 IST

Given that Ashwin, Virat Kohli and Shikar Dhawan are involved in CLT20, I think a better 14-member BPXI team would have been:

01. Gautam Gambhir (captain)
02. Abhinav Mukund
03. Ajinkya Rahane
04. Cheteshwar Pujara
05. Yuvraj Singh / Rohit Sharma
06. Wriddhiman Saha (wk)
07. Irfan Pathan
08. Abhimanyu Mithun
09. Sreesanth
10. Jaidev Unadkat / Umesh Yadav
11. Amit Mishra / Pragyan Ojha

I do believe quite strongly that India needs to look at the Irfan Pathan option again. Not for Tests, but with a view to the ODIs later on in the series (and of course, with a view to the World Cup). Irfan Pathan must be thrown into the deep end and must be made to sink or swim!