Monthly Archives: March 2011

Did India deserve the win?

Some of the “great critics” of Indian cricket maintain that India did not deserve to win yesterday and here’s why. Of course I being a die hard India fan will give my own counters in brackets just to even the equation and justify the win!

1. Dhoni picked the wrong guy in Nehra instead of Ashwin. (He came in, Dhoni wanted options and he came good so..)

2. Umar Gul packed the off side and bowled too straight to allow Sehwag to get a great start. (Gul wanted to get Sehwag out LBW but it happened after the man had got 38 runs in double quick time. Finally they did get him LBW and just in case people forgot Sehwag also hit some through the off side.)

3. How many catches can a team miss? (So what? The 85 runs were still worth their weight in gold and the strokes played to get them … I leave that to the experts!)

4. Too many extras were given away in the end by Pak. (They bowled badly. How many extras did India give away? They bowled well!)

5. Hafeez played a bad shot when he had just settled nicely. (Handling pressure in the name of the game! Sorry but Indians handled pressure much better yesterday)

6. Umar Akmal should have been promoted ahead of Misbah. (That is where the captaincy of Dhoni makes the difference)

7. Afridi should have asked for the power play as soon as he came in. (Read counter in point no 6 above)

8. Misbah should have timed his charge atleast a couple of overs earlier. (Ok we deserve to win so no more counters!)

Sanjay

Men in Blue – Champions in the Making

They are almost there. The glorious men in blue, this special Indian team is one game away from repeating history. And that they will do, mark my words! Dhoni and his men are special; they are talented, ambitious, inspiring, strong mentally and physically, and above all driven to succeed. They showed it all at Mohali. Yes, Tendulkar had survived 7 times, but survive he did and scored the most precious runs of the game. Even the real God (if there is one) wasn’t willing to let him out of sight. Sehwag blunted Umar Gul’s pre-match rhetoric in no time. Gambhir, Kohli and Dhoni contributed valuable runs while occupying the crease. Suresh Raina topped it off with a special innings.

I had tweeted early on in the game that 275 was going to be a winning total. While I felt India were about 20 runs short, I also knew that Pakistan had a fairly ordinary batting lineup and 260 was absolutely defendable. And defend they did. Dhoni made a controversial call at the start of the game, leaving Ashwin out for the out-of-form Nehra. That turned out to be brilliant move. Nehra bowled outstandingly well, fielding sincerely, and helped Raina add a few at the end of the innings. The Indians have fielded out of their skins in the last couple of games and what a refreshing sight that has been!

The Pakistanis bowled superbly as expected. Their fielding was a mockery and going back to the basics would be an understatement. Their batting, I have always felt, was mediocre. While I am a big fan of Younus Khan, his days in one dayers have long been over. Misbah Ul Haq is as mysterious as previous namesake captain. The Akmals are never known to carry their innings long enough to finish off. Afridi is a pale shadow of his past. Any total above 230 was going to be tough ask. Here is a team that was bowled out in the 180s by an associate nation consisting of part time cricketers (sorry Canadians!).

This world cup could not have been scripted better than what it is. It has been a dream journey. Sachin Tendulkar will grace Wankhade in the finals and win it for India. I also predict that, if this happens, God will announce his retirement from one day internationals. Strong statement that, but as Ravi Shastri would say, I have a feeling!

Game on!

– Srikanth

Random Thoughts 27th March

Rankings mean nothing

The four countries in the semi-final happen to be India (ODI rank #2), Sri Lanka (#3), Pakistan (#6) and New Zealand (#7). Which means the countries ranked 1 (Australia), 4 (South Africa) and 5 (England) didn’t make it. At the start of the World cup, the bookies had the favourites in this order – India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia, Pakistan, England, New Zealand and West Indies. So, even the bookies didn’t get it right with South Africa and Australia not even reaching the semis.

I guess the unpredictability is what makes events like this exciting. But being an Indian fan, I hope India does live up to its top billing Smile

Indian team composition

What is the team composition for India going to be like? Would they stick to the same winning combination that beat Australia? Or change it according to the opposition and the venue (Mohali traditionally favours pace)?

I guess Raina has done enough to keep Pathan out. Or would you consider Pathan because he is good against spin (and Pakistan do play a number of spinners, unlike Australia). If you want to play him, who would you leave out? Kohli??

And after Munaf’s bad performance against Australia, would you pick Nehra ahead of him? But wasn’t he the one who gave away those 14 runs against South Africa in that last over….?

Lots of questions…but if you ask me – Don’t make any changes. What would you do?

The Batting side vs the bowling side

As I mentioned in my previous post, India can be considered more of a batting team, while Pakistan is more of a bowling team. It is going to be an interesting contest between the Indian top order and the Pakistani bowling line up. At the same time, the contest between the Indian bowling and the Pakistani batting will be one between two week links. So, it is going to be very balanced. Or is it?

In any case, the semis between the two teams is going to be a cracker of a game – as Shastri would say.

Sehwag against Pakistan

Apart from that one game against Bangladesh, Sehwag really hasn’t played to his potential. But, he loves playing against Pakistan. Will we see another big innings from him this time? I sure hope so…

-Mahesh-

Was it a tight match?

Everybody was willing it to be a tight match. This will go down to the wire they said. India’s bowling was not good enough they said. India keeps collapsing in the powerplay they said. This is Australia and they don’t give up easily they said. Personally I was confident of a comfortable victory, and even though India tried its best to make it as tense as possible we won easily in the end.

1. The Australian batting at the end of the 1st over decided that 260 was a good enough score for them to defend. They did not take into account the depth and form of India’s batting and the inadequate nature of their own bowling.

2. India bowled well and fielded well almost above par. This ensured that Australia did not get 280. We have to remember that this was a Ponting playing for pride. They kept saying he played his part. The fault lay with the others. Haddin hit his par score. Hussey failed. Clarke and White were unimpressive. An out of form White should never have batted so high up yesterday in the first place.

3. India batted easily. The Oz bowling never threatened. Lee was consistent. Tait and Johnson were consistently bad. Krezja is their best spinner? Sorry not enough for the best batting team in the world. There never was a real fight from the Aussies. No fantastic catch, no match turning direct hit run out, no pressure to prevent singles in the middle overs. This was not a typical Aussie trench fight. A bad shot from Kohli and some mad running made the game more interesting than what it actually was.

4. Finally when Yuvi and Raina smashed the winning runs it finished a “supposedly” tight match.

5. Some thoughts from the match – Raina was a good pick over Yusuf after all the chances he was given. Munaf is getting predictable but should be persisted with I think. Bhajji needs to step up with a few wickets. Dhoni did a great job by getting Sachin and Kohli to bowl. That should help in case one of the main bowlers get hit. Sehwag & Raina can also able to chip in if necessary, the team looks more settled. I just hope Mohali does not encourage Dhoni to pick Sreesanth for the next game, but then who knows what he can come up with!

Sanjay

 

Random thoughts 23rd March

India – Batting team?

So, everyone keeps saying that India is a batting side. We do have one of the best opening pairs in ODIs – Tendulkar and Sehwag. And they have added over 650 runs and have 3 centuries between them. Following them at No 3 and No 4, we have Gambhir and Kohli. Gambhir has a couple of half centuries and Kohli has a century and a half century to his credit. And then comes Yuvraj Singh – with one century and 3 half centuries in his five outings.

But after that – nothing. Take the minor teams out of the equation (Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands), and India have lost all wickets in their allotted 50 overs to all other teams. I am not so sure now that we should call ourselves a batting team – although the batting really is our strength. Apart from Zaheer Khan, our bowling has been weak. And the fielding – well, there is nothing much to write about it.

Pakistan – Bowling team?

Unlike India, I would classify Pakistan as a bowling team – apart from that performance against New Zealand, their bowling has held out quite well. They have Afridi and Umar Gul in the top 5 wicket takers of the tournament, and as I write this blog, they have skittled out West Indies for 112! And their bowlers have had good economy rates too.

And like India, they seriously need to improve in the other areas. The question is – Is being good in just one area enough to win the World cup?

Batting Powerplay

The batting powerplay has really been India’s curse this tournament. IMO, India should take it straight after the bowling powerplay.

Would love to hear any other opinions out there Smile

Last ODI?

Depending on who wins, the India Australia game could potentially be the last ODI game for two people who have really made a difference for their teams. Gary Kirsten for India and Ricky Ponting for Australia. Kirsten has already announced that he is finishing up after the World cup, while Ponting keeps insisting that he won’t retire – maybe not, but something tells me that the selectors will give Ponting the nudge if he doesn’t go himself….unless of course he wins the cup another time for his country.

-Mahesh-

Team India coach after Gary Kirsten

Gary Kirsten has decided to return to South Africa at the end of the ICC World Cup, 2011. He was the exactly that Indian cricket needed at the time he was appointed. As Ravi Shastri might say, “He was exactly what the doctor ordered!”

When Gary Kirsten took over the controls as coach, India had suffered an embarrassing first-round exit in the 2007 World Cup.

Greg Chappell, the then coach, may have been the right man for a job that was about 10 years ahead of its time. India was not ready for Greg Chappell — “Guru Greg” as he was known in the Indian media — and Greg Chappell wasn’t ready for India. His reign started off with the drafting, declaration and acceptance of a “strategic blueprint for the future of Indian cricket”.

In my view — and I my be in a minority here — that blueprint was about 10 years ahead of its time!

What Greg Chappell started with was visionary. What he had left behind in his wake was a dogs’ breakfast!

Interestingly, MS Dhoni is saying exactly what Guru Greg tried to instill in his players! Today, Dhoni says that it is important to pay more attention to the processes and less on the results/outcomes. That was Guru Greg’s approach too!

However, let it be said that Greg Chappell had indeed left a mess behind; a mess that needed cleaning up. Numerous leaks and counter-leaks had messed up the minds of players. Trust was lost. Systems and processes — the very pillars of Greg Chappell’s method — lay crumpled.

A restoration was required. And soon.

India traveled to Bangladesh with Ravi Shastri as temporary “manager”. India then traveled to England with Chandu Borde as coach/mentor. The choice of Borde was ridiculed by many, including us at i3j3Cricket. We even carried out a satirical piece, called “Ford Gate” on how Chandu Borde may have been selected — remember that Graham Ford was the front runner for the post of Team India coach at that time!

India won in England, Rahul Dravid resigned as captain. India won the ICC World T20 Championship. Anil Kumble was appointed captain of India. India then played Pakistan in a home series. India was just about to embark on a tough tour of Australia. Throughout the year, there were a series of speculations, leaks and counter-leaks on who would be coach of Team India. Yet there were no announcements. Other teams had made their appointments quietly and thoughtfully. Sri Lanka appointed Tom Moody. Pakistan appointed Geoff Lawson. India traveled at India’s pace.

Ultimately, Gary Kirsten was appointed.

And what an appointment it has been. From early-2008 onwards, Gary Kirsten has worked with Anil Kumble and with MS Dhoni to help build a Team India that is strong, resilient and robust. India has slowly climbed to the top of the ICC Test rankings and is close to the top of the ICC ODI rankings.

Now, some three years later, the end of Gary Kirsten’s tenure could be anything from 1 match to 3 matches away.

It is appropriate that we salute a man who has quietly achieved what his predecessor could not do. He brought method to his coaching. He afforded players much rope. The results are there for all to see. Many players have gone on record to say that they owed their recent successes to the coach.

At the end of his tenure, it is likely that Kirsten will take up the job of coaching South Africa (although there is no word on that from anyone) once Corrie van Zyl departs as coach of RSA — Corrie van Zyl also quits the scene after the ICC World Cup 2011.

But what of India?

I hope we do not see another period of dithering uncertainty when a sequence of band aids are applied. I am not aware of the establishment of a BCCI search committee for scouting and sounding out appropriate candidates for cricket’s most prestigious — and risky — post. I am not aware of a job description that lists out the key qualities of an ideal coach. As with anything BCCI, we cannot do anything other than assume that someone is “looking into the matter” somewhere and that “some appropriate modalities” are being “worked out” by the “responsible person”.

If the BCCI wants to draw up a position description (PD) it ought to be easy. The BCCI should copy everything contained in the “Key Attributes and Qualities” section from the CVs of John Wright and Gary Kirsten. They will then have many of the elements of the PD. They would also need to ensure that the PD does not contain any elements that might also be contained in Greg Chappel’s CV! They would then have an optimized PD to work with and they could then look for people who display those characteristics.

It is likely that the search space is small and terribly finite. I can think of a few coaches who might fit the bill. Stephen Fleming and Tom Moody spring to mind immediately.

However, an early indication is that Justin Langer might be coach.

All of the recent attention has been on the World Cup. Soon, the BCCI functionaries will be absorbed in counting the money that flows in as a result of IPL-4. In all of this, my hope this that the BCCI occasionally takes its hands off the till and trains its collective eye on a suitable Team India coach. India has an extremely busy year ahead and needs a smooth transition from Gary Kirsten to the successor.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

World Cup – The way ahead for India

Having watched most of India’s games in the current WC (I can actually watch it from my WC too, but thats a topic for another post 🙂 ), I am not that unhappy with Dhoni’s approach thus far. Here is what I have learnt thus far (I can feel Mohan reaching for his keyboard…)

  1. 5 batsmen pick themselves . VS, SRT, VK, YS and MSD
  2. so too do ZK and MP in the (lack of) pace department
  3. Harbhajan Singh has not quite set the world on fire, but any talk of dropping him might get me being clubbed with Navjot Sidhu, so he stays 🙂
  4. After watching the Ashwin bowl all his overs in Power Plays yesterday, he gets my nod for the 4th bowler’s spot

That leaves 2 spots. The skills required are

  • A pace / Seam up bowler
  • A spinner
  • A power hitter

Given that Yuvraj has been bowling quite effectively, he more or less fills the spinner’s role. Combining him with Yusuf / Raina ticks the last 2 bullet points. On yesterday’s evidence, Yusuf gets my vote, but I agree he has not quite filled the power hitterr’s role convincingly.

That leaves us with one spot to be filled in by a good pace bowler. Here is the rub. Dhoni has generally picked an extra batsman (on current form, GG) leading to a lot of criticism with regards to lack of balance (Mohan has definitely started to type 🙂 ).

Oddly enough, I find myself agreeing with Dhoni. I think this reflects the lack of confidence in the third pace bowling option (Neither Nehra nor Sreesanth fills me with confidence, specially trying to defend a small total  when the batsmen havent quite delivered). This sort of, be default, leads to …..lets bolster the batting idea!

So, in summary, for this world cup, I think the first XI has to be

VS, SRT, GG, VK, YS, MSD, YP, HS, RA, ZK, MP

Paddy

My problem is not with Navjot Sidhu…

For some time now I have been quite substantially irritated by Navjot Singh Sidhu’s cricket ‘commentary’ on TV.

He does appear in non-cricket TV shows too. Whenever he guffaws his way to silliness in the many reality TV comedy shows that he appears in as judge — and he does — I do not reach a heightened state of paroxysm. I just switch to another channel. I do. I have a choice.

I do not have the luxury of such a choice with my cricket viewing. And for that, I do not blame Navjot Sidhu. I lay the blame squarely on the broadcaster, ESPN-Star Sports.

Avirook Sen wrote a brilliant piece in DNA on Navjot Sidhu’s ‘commentary’. I do not intend repeating what he has articulated exceedingly well. I wish to comment, instead, on the broadcaster’s responsibilities in thrusting Navjot Sidhu down my throat.

My cricket viewing commences with the pre-match analysis, the pitch report, expert’s views on team composition, the toss, the respective team captains’ reading of the pitch and their comments on team composition. My viewing experience then moves through the game and into the mid-point review of the game situation and ends with the end-game analysis. In the above, I am talking of cricket’s ODI and T20 formats — topical now because of the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. I suspect there are many like me in India that suffer the need to be continually engaged with the game. It is also quite likely that not every cricket fan is like me and that I am in a substantial minority.

When I watch the game, I need the match commentary. I cannot watch a match with Kishore Kumar, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Lata Mangeshkar, A. R. Rahman or Pink Floyd singing in the background. I know I am at fault here. To me, watching a cricket match on TV is akin to a religious experience. I have to have the frills, the bells and the whistles that adorn a match. It is, to me, almost as important as the match itself. I cannot hit the mute button on my TV. I need the crowd noise. I need the commentary. I also need the commentary that tells me the things that I cannot see; that opens my eyes to that which is not obvious; that explores possibilities through anecdotes and personal experiences of the commentators. I need additional insights that can be derived from listening to perspectives from experts who have either played the game or who understand the game differently, if not better, than me.

Over the years, this need in me has been appropriately satiated by radio and TV commentators who have made cricket the game it is for me. I have listened to Henry Blofeld, Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Alan McGilvray, Geoffrey Boycott, Richie Benaud, Tony Cozier, Ian Chappell, David Gower… and more recently, Nasser Hussain, Mike Atherton, Kerry O’Keefe, Geoff Lawson, et al.

I am now pained, grated, numbed and tortured by Navjot Sidhu.

Is Navjot Singh Sidhu the best that India can produce in terms of commentary?

I do not wish to explore and expose Navjot Sidhu’s limitations — and I can fill many pages writing just about his limitations. He has many! To ridicule these limitations in a medium like this would be inappropriate. I am confident that he has a constituency which loves his studio clowning. It is likely, too, that he has an incredibly astute marketing brain. He may have struck a personal brand formula — a USP — whereby he only allows himself to operate in that branding space which a few (perhaps even many) of his constituents find attractive. If that is the case, more power to him.

So, the aim of my post is not to expose Navjot Sidhu’s limitations or to question why he has developed in the way he has, so as to please his fans and constituents.

Having said that, I wish someone would tell him that it is not necessary to start every sentence of his with “Goodness Gracious Me” or “Good Lord”! Further, I wish his producers will request him to stop using phrases like “my friend” or “you knowwwweee” in every sentence. I either know or I do not know. If he is not stating the obvious, it is likely that I might not “knowwwweee”! The alternative, of course, is that I already “knowwwweee”. In which case, he states nothing more than the obvious!

And therein lies my main problem with Navjot Sidhu. The man appears incapable of rising above the obvious. If he is capable, I must grant that he is incredibly intelligent at masking and hiding his own intelligence from us. And because he is only able to state the obvious, it is likely that he masks the resulting shallowness by doing two things incredibly well: (a) he shuts up everyone by shouting over every thing that breathes in the studio, and (b) he peels off an unrelated string of hackneyed banalities that the world refers to as “Sidhuisms”!

Instead of composing his thoughts and addressing questions in a considered manner, he launches immediately into answers (even if the question is not directed at him), that draw on trite nothingness. In a match involving Sri Lanka, he launched into an analysis on a bowler and mid-way through the sentence, forgot which bowler he was talking about! He clicked his fingers and asked everyone in the studio, “What’s his name… Karuppusekara?”, and had to be told, “No. Kulasekara” by the enormously patient, gentle and sedulous anchor!

A direct contrast to Navjot Sidhu is the surprisingly calm, informative and erudite Sourav Ganguly. Yes, he might be boring in the studio. He may not send the TRPs soaring. He may not get the heartbeats thumping. But he is a studious man. He has studied the game and enters the studio like a diligent kid might, an exam! He knows what he has to talk about and prepares meticulously for it. When he entered the studio prior to the India v West Indies game, he must have known that he would have to talk about R. Ashwin. He had done his homework. He knew that R. Ashwin bowled well and grabbed a 5-wicket haul at Chennai in the Ranji Trophy match in November 2010 between Delhi and TN. He does his homework and comes across as a zealous professional who is quietly forthright. He speaks calmly and adds to our collective body of knowledge.

When Sourav Ganguly said what he did about Ashwin’s bowling, Sidhu immediately pounced on this nugget of information and bellowed, “My friend, you knowwwweee, this man sitting next to me was once referred to as the Prince of Kolkata, but now, my friend, you knowwwweee, he is the King of Kolkataaaaaaaaaah”! The resulting frown on Sourav Ganguly’s face was larger than the frowns he threw in the direction of opposition players who sledged him!

But as I said before, the aim of my piece is not to paint a picture of Sidhu’s limitations or the many ways in which he irritates me. Many of you might say that I have a choice. I can switch off or mute the commentary.

But that’s my problem! I cannot. And I do not have a choice of another channel that shows me my cricket in the way I wish to see it!

Enter, the broadcaster.

The broadcaster has a responsibility here. And that responsibility cannot be just to increase TRPs, for if that were the case, the broadcaster could fill the screen with obscene pictures of scantily clad men and women in the pre-game show; that might send TRPs soaring!

It is the broadcaster’s duty, I believe, to stamp their identity on a program. Just like Test Match Special, or ABC’s “Summer of Cricket”, or Channel-9’s “Wide World of Sports” — brands with a strong identity and commitment to their listeners/viewers — ESPN-Star Sports has a responsibility to build and develop a brand: preferably one that speaks quality.

If, however, their marketing indicates that thumping tables, studio shouting and “Sidhuisms” sell and that “mindless banter and vociferous raillery” is the brand that they wish to project, then that is fine too. The broadcaster should get a few more people in there that shout in a raucous and disorderly manner. They could throw in a few cleavages too. They would thereby announce to the die-hard cricket fan that s/he need not bother rocking up to the pre-match show! I can live with that.

Instead, they try and lure the cricket fan like me by having scholarly commentators like Harsha Bhogle, Ian Chappell, Dermott Reeve, Sourav Ganguly, Pat Symcox, Simon Hughes, Nasser Hussain in the studio. The broadcaster takes a bet both ways, drags me in and assaults me by thrusting on me a madman who leaps into my living room with a machete!

So, my problem is not really with Navjot Sidhu. He is what he is and he has become who he is!

My issue is with the broadcaster who lures me with the scholastics of Harsha Bhogle and Sourav Ganguly, only to leave me at the mercy of a lunatic who shouts and numbs my senses!

Hence I plead with the broadcaster: Please have two parallel programs. After all, you have several channels on which you can pipe parallel pre-show programs. Please have one for people like me who are boring and old and one more for the more interesting people of this world who need their testosterone levels (re)charged by a sword brandishing man who thumps tables and shouts!

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

One match to go…

A week ago I wrote that there were more ‘positives’ emanating from India’s loss to South Africa in the Cricket World Cup 2011. One of these ‘positives’ related to India’s possible QF opponent. If India had finished top of Group-B, her opponent would have been Pakistan (according to my prediction then). I had attempted a prediction of the results of the remaining games and hence, a prediction of the QF line up too.

All of these were correct calls, I believe, apart from my prediction of last nights’ game between Pakistan and Australia. I should have listened to the heart and not my mind when I made that call. You never know with Pakistan. I should have stuck with the heart and predicted in favor of the mercurial unpredictability of Pakistan.

I did just that several weeks back when I had primed Pakistan and South Africa as the eventual finalists of WC2011. That early, risky and flame-worthy prediction is partially vindicated at the half-way stage of the World Cup because Pakistan and South Africa have topped their respective groups.

So why the change of heart/mind from Pakistan to Australia in last week’s result predictions?

The change of heart/mind was mainly because of Michael Hussey’s presence in the Australian team. Hussey lends stability to a middle order that is struggling with a weak Ricky Ponting an unsure Michael Clarke, a ‘lost’ Cameron White and an over-rated Steve Smith. Michael Hussey, who entered the squad as a result of Doug Bollinger’s departure, offered stability and sanity where there appeared to be neither.

That was the only reason I had changed my original prediction from Pakistan to Australia. However, even Hussey wasn’t able to prevent a Pakistan win in last night’s game.

I do believe that this Australian team needs a lot of re-work to be resurgent in world cricket. Change is necessary. And that change is right at the top. Ponting must morph himself or he must go.

Australia’s woes run deep at the moment. They could still win the World Cup from here. However, despite the proud and significant 34-match run of World Cup victories — interestingly, sandwiched by two losses to Pakistan in 1999 and 2011 — the chinks in Australia’s armory are worse than Ponting’s scowl might reveal. The scowl has now deepened into a semi-permanent fixture on his face.

Ponting is not just going through a rough patch. It is now a horrible patch. He is a proud man who protects his significant impact on the game with the fierceness of a terrier under attack. The now dreadful series of Ashes losses look terrible on his CV. He would like to redress that imbalance by visiting England again. And for that he must win the World Cup. He must know that only a World Cup win will protect his place in the Australian team. I doubt he will play under another captain — that is just not the Australian way.

Moreover, there was a time when Ponting appeared to be catching up on Sachin Tendulkar’s career aggregate, average and number of centuries — somewhat meaningless first-order measures of a batsman’s impact on the game. My sense is that Ponting worries a lot about things like that too. Over the last 18 months Sachin Tendulkar has hit a surreal patch of sublime resurgence. He has put daylight between himself and Ponting in these stats tables. I think that that daylight and the Ashes losses are weighing heavily on the mind of the Australian captain. He is just not playing like he can (or indeed, has).

A few months back, Ponting alluded to Sachin Tendulkar’s sublime form and indicated that he would draw inspiration from that resurgence. I personally think he has put too much pressure on himself. He is playing with less authority and composure these days than ever before. He reminds me of the unsure Ponting that suffered in India in 1998. And that lack of confidence reflects on his team.

Meanwhile, India has a somewhat important match coming up in a few hours’ time. I say “somewhat important” because the result doesn’t really matter as far as I am concerned. If India wins she will play Australia in the quarter finals (QF). If India loses, she will play Sri Lanka in the QF. Although I would have preferred India to meet New Zealand in the QF, she must either beat Sri Lanka or Australia in Ahmedabad to progress to the semi-final.

Either of these QF opponents will do. Both Sri Lanka and Australia are terrific teams — I say that, despite Australia’s batting woes. Sri Lanka suffers from the same woes, in my view. Apart from Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, there is nothing much in the Sri Lankan batting. So as a result of todays’ match against West Indies, India will face either a strong bowling attack (Australia) or a slightly stronger bowling attack (Sri Lanka). In either scenario, India’s batsmen will have to do the job of scoring a large number of runs and put the opposition under pressure.

In today’s game, India needs to sort out her team balance and commit to it regardless of the result.

There are some doubts over Sehwag’s fitness. I cannot see how Ashwin can be left out. India has a 15-member team in which two players rule themselves out due to “confidence” problems. One player — Sreesanth — does not appear to have the team captain’s confidence and another player — Piyush Chawla — who, by his own captain’s admission, does not have self-confidence. So that automatically makes this a 13-member team with two players fighting to be drinks’ carriers!

Therefore, given Munaf Patel’s reasonable performance, through a process of elimination, the only choices that need to be made are which ones of (a) Suresh Raina or Yusuf Pathan, (b) R. Ashwin or Ashish Nehra. It appears that the current choice is for Suresh Raina and R. Ashwin. Interestingly, both play for Chennai Super Kings! Call it luck or the whatdoycallit-red-dot-on-forehead syndrome.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

More positives from India’s loss to RSA…

At the risk of getting my nose out of joint, let me state at the outset that I am quite glad India lost to South Africa. South Africa played exceedingly well over 60-overs of the match. However, they were aided commendably by India’s Bollywood-style “glamour” batting. The result was that Group-B becomes quite interesting — if it wasn’t enticingly poised already!

For the first 40 overs of the game, it appeared as though the only question worth considering was the margin of India’s victory. Then the wheels started falling off the India innings. India lost 9 wickets in 29 runs. After being 267 for 1 wicket after 39.3 overs, in the end, India did not even bat out the full quota of 50 overs! Moreover, India captain Dhoni — probably one of the best finishers in the World ODI scene — was left not out on 12 off 21 balls! It was more than mayhem. It was daylight thuggery. India had fallen some 40 runs short of what would have been a competitive total. More importantly, India fell about 70 runs short of what I thought the team would make — at the 30-over mark, India was 197 for 1!

South Africa needed 297 to win. Although India bowled and fielded well, the total was never going to be enough.

Much of the post-match commentary and analysis in India has focussed on whether Yusuf Pathan ought to have been promoted; whether Gautam Gambhir ought to be in the team; whether Harbhajan Singh ought to have bowled the last over instead of Ashish Nehra; why Ashwin is not in the team… yada yada yada.

Some unkind reports have said that South Africa did not win the game — that India lost it. That is not only blind, but rude at the same time! The South African’s played really well. They pulled it back from over-40 and then batted sensibly.

In general though, the papers have got stuck into MS Dhoni.

As for me, I am very happy India lost the game. For me, there are more positives than negatives from India’s loss last night.

Three reasons really:

  • Final Group Standings: If India had won, India would have, in all likelihood, topped Group-B (barring a disaster against West Indies). If India had topped Group-B, the team would have, in all likelihood, faced Pakistan. Australia and Pakistan (despite recent results and despite the baffling and continued presence of Kamran Akmal in the team) are the only two teams that I believe Team India fears in Group-A. My sense and prediction is that Australia will top Group-A and Pakistan will come in at #4 in Group-A. So, as long as India finish either 2 or 3 in Group-B India will be fine. India will do well against New Zealand or Sri Lanka, in my view.
  • Team Balance: I think India team management — what is a “think tank” anyway? I just abhor that phrase and refuse to use it — needed a kick up its stubborn backside. The team balance is wrong and the current “imbalance” compromises and exposes her bowling terribly.
  • Batting approach: The team’s approach to batting — especially in the batting Power Play — is totally wrong and that exposes the rest of the batting. India does not play the power overs well — not because India cannot. The approach needs a re-think that is not really too hard. Especially from a team that wants to “win it for Sachin”, a more considered approach was required in a game in which the Master had scored 111! This was no way to “win it” for anyone! So, I was happy with this kick being delivered in a match that India could afford to lose.

Each of the above factors deserve a bit more of an analysis and that is precisely what I shall attempt below…

Final Group Standings:

At the time of writing this, New Zealand has beaten Canada. In Group-A, the remaining games (along with my prediction of the winner of the game in parenthesis) are:

  • Australia v Kenya (Australia)
  • Pakistan v Zimbabwe (Pakistan)
  • Australia v Canada (Australia)
  • New Zealand v Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)
  • Australia v Pakistan (Australia)
  • Kenya v Zimbabwe (care factor?)

So I expect the final Group-A standings to be: Australia (11), Sri Lanka (9), New Zealand (8), Pakistan (8) since I expect New Zealand to have a better NRR than Pakistan. The two “tricky” games to predict are Australia Vs Pakistan and NZ Vs SL. But I have gone with Australia and Sri Lanka winning these games, respectively.

In Group-B, the “Group of Death“, the remaining games and my predicted results for these are:

  • Bangladesh v Netherlands (Bangladesh)
  • Ireland v South Africa (South Africa)
  • England v West Indies (England)
  • Ireland v Netherlands (Ireland)
  • Bangladesh v South Africa (South Africa)
  • India v West Indies (India)

The results for this group are a bit harder to predict. For example, the England Vs Windies and the India Vs Windies results are hard to call. But I expect the results to be as above.

Either way, I do not expect Bangladesh to beat South Africa. So, I do not see a danger of India not qualifying even if she loses the game against West Indies next weekend. If India loses to West Indies (and Bangladesh loses to South Africa, as expected), it is likely that India might end 4th in the points table and meet Australia. Oh well. Them’s the breaks.

However, I expect the final Group-A standings to be: South Africa (10), India (9), England (7), West Indies (6) and Bangladesh (6), with West Indies qualifying because of superior run rate. Of course, any number of apple carts will be turned if West Indies beat England and if Bangladesh beat South Africa.

Let us assume that the final standings are as per my simulation above. In that case, India will play New Zealand. I reckon that this is an easier game than either Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. So, in a strange way, I am glad India lost to South Africa last night!

I am not saying that India cannot beat Pakistan or that India needs to “fear” Pakistan. The problem is that one can never be sure which Pakistan team turns up on the day! I would, therefore, much rather prefer India meeting Pakistan in the Finals, if both teams get that far!

Team Balance:

I am even happier India lost because the team’s balance and batting approach are horrible, in my view.

I just do not accept that a powerful batting line-up should (or can) mask poor bowling resources. This is an utter fallacy. If we take that proposition to its logical conclusion, why then would we not stack the team up with 11 batsmen or with 5 batsmen, a wicket-keeper and 5 “bits and pieces” players?

Any team has to be balanced and at the moment it is just not balaced. The closest the team got to achieving that bowling balance was in yesterdays’ game against South Africa! If only the Indians had scored 20-50 runs more (easily possible, in my view) the bowlers would have defended it. Of course, that is a speculative assertion and in this space, any assertion that you make to the contrary is as good as the assertion above! But the fact is that, with a more considered batting approach, India could have scored 330 runs. The fact is that a lopsided bowling attack was not able to defend 330 in Bangalore (and the Bangalore and Nagpur conditions/pitches were similar). Hence my hypothesis that with the additional bowler that India had in yesterdays’ game, with an additional cushion of 30 runs, the bowlers may/would have been able to defend such a total. The South Africa batsmen would have had to take far more risks and may have folded!

But really. All of these are speculative still. I would like to be a bit more considered and firm in my analysis and conclusion.

The team just cannot afford to go in with 2 pace bowlers, 2 spinners and leave that 5th bowling resource to Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli (or Suresh Raina) and Yusuf Pathan. The Indian spin bowlers do not bowl well in the bowling powerplay — although they did do the job in yesterdays’ game. If Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel get taken to the cleaners by Chris Gayle or Brendon McCullum, you have to have another pace bowler to fall back on. Moreover, I have generally observed that Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh bowl a more attacking line — even when they are attacked — if they know that the team has additional bowlers to depend on.

So I would like India to go in boldly with 3 pace bowlers and 2 spinners.

This inevitably means that one of Yusuf Pathan or Virat Kohli or Gautam Gambhir have to make way for a bowler.

I would rest Yusuf Pathan for the next game and bring in a spinner for the game against West Indies.

So in my view, the team for next Sunday’s game against West Indies (and for all other games after that) should be: Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni, Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel

That certainly weakens the batting. But with all the top batsmen in good form — everyone in that top 6 has scored well recently — if we cannot do it with those 6, the 7th bat will be useless too, in my view.

So India has to bite the bullet and go with the above, more well-balanced team. I have only been saying this for the last 2 months or so! And I will continue to say it till someone listens to me!

And for my money Ashwin is a better bowler than Chawla because, apart from being very good at his craft, he is apparently mentally stronger too!

Batting approach:

There is no point in blaming Ashish Nehra for the last over debacle. There is no evidence to suggest that Harbhajan Singh would have done a better job. One has to trust the instincts of the leader in the middle. However, with just 14 runs to get in the last over, that becomes a 50-50 situation whoever the bowler is. So discussion on who ought to have bowled the last over is simply quite futile. The captain made a decision based on his knowledge of the game, the opposition players out in the middle, his knowledge of his bowlers’ strengths and the game situation. He made a decision. It did not work. If it had worked, we would have hailed him as a genius! Chances are that it might have worked!

Nehra might learn from this that the yorker has not yet been banned from the game, yet! Generally, it is a good ball to bowl in the last over. Bowling it “just slightly back of a length” is not a smart idea when there are only 14 runs to get; when the batsmen are looking to smash it to mid-wicket! If his confusion persists all he needs to do is see that ball Dale Steyn bowled to Harbhajan Singh!

Ditto, Dhoni’s decision to promote Yusuf Pathan. He made a call. It did not work. What Pathan might learn from his sad outing is that he does not have to go for “glamour shots” off each ball. As far as I know, the “defensive stroke for a single” has not been banned from the game, yet!

But (I feel a Sidhu moment descending on me) one cannot drive forward by looking continually at the rear-view mirror! We do need to move on, really…

The main learning for the Indian batsmen is that they continued to go for “glamour shots” (in the words of Sunil Gavaskar). After being 267-1 in the 40th over, it was nothing short of professional negligence to fold from that point on for a mere 29 runs! In Dhoni’s words, the batsmen “don’t need to play for the spectators – they love sixes and fours in India but at the end of the day….,”.

In my book, a spot-on assessment by a smart captain. Was he right to call it that way? I think so. Tendulkar, Gambhir, Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan all went for “Bollywood” shots to please the crowd and the assembled Bollywood stars! Sometimes, it is useful to be boring. Dhoni was being boring. The game had changed in front of his eyes. He had to set aside his ego and machismo to pull things back. Sadly, several other Indian batsmen could not see past the end of their noses to realize that there was a world out there (Oh dear! Have I been listening to Sidhu far too much?).

Conclusion:

So in conclusion, I think there are silver linings all around. India will not top Group-B, and that is good. The team management will look hard at team balance and the inclusion of an extra bowler, and that is good. The batsmen will have learned from the game and will, I believe, try less to be “winners on their own”, and that can only be good.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)