Monthly Archives: April 2011

A birthday present for the little big man

I was saving this for when Sachin Tendulkar retires, but this seemed as good a time as ever to bring it out.

Hope you like it.

IPL and leagues..

We are two weeks into IPL and there have been some interesting results. After India winning the World Cup, IPL somehow does not excite much this time. It does not help that most teams have gone for a complete changeover so its really a trying time for any fan to remember who is playing for whom.The only familiar looking teams are Chennai SuperKings and Mumbai Indians.

The points table also has a new look with Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI occupying unfamiliar positions at the top of the table and Chennai Super Kings at bottom.Think what’s worked out for the teams doing well is not having too many players from the World Cup teams. Most of the World Cup stars have been delivering jaded performances especially the batsmen and pacers.

Meanwhile there is talk of other player leagues similar to IPL by Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I highly doubt cricket can sustain league competitions across countries. Football leagues work because the sport is followed allover the world unlike cricket whose primary fan base is the subcontinent. And despite its international players IPL remains primarily a Indian tournament.Cricket needs to grow to much more internationally and have a more astute ICC to have successful international leagues like Soccer.

Also If IPL continues to affect schedules of international matches, BCCI may not be able to enforce its clout in pushing boards like SL for long. Cricket boards are not going to tolerate watching their key players choose  IPL  over their country or retiring early to prolong their IPL career. On the positive side IPL proves again to be a great platform to discover a talent like Valthaty.


MS Dhoni: An Assured Level-5 Leader…

This post first appeared in Clearcricket. The idea of a piece on MS Dhoni was initiated by Subash Jayaraman, founder and contributor to Clearcricket (@thecricketcouch on Twitter).


I remember the day very very clearly.

It was the 8th of November 2008. A Saturday. It was the third day of the final Test match of the series (at Nagpur) between India and Australia. I had watched the most gripping session of Test cricket in my Melbourne home. Having commenced the day on 189 for 2 off just 49 overs (at 3.85 runs per over), chasing India’s first innings total of 441 all out, Australia had ended the previous day on an aggressive high. The first few balls of that first session of play on day-3 set the scene for that session, and that day.

My jaw hit the floor. “Was this Team India I was seeing?”, I asked myself.

I did not move from my place on the couch in that session — it produced just 42 runs from 25 overs at a run-rate of 1.68 runs per over! Dull cricket? Yet, I remember that session so vividly.

So what made it a gripping session?

Through the morning session India captain MS Dhoni set a 8-1 field with 8 fielders on the off-side and a lone leg-side fielder at square-leg. The bowlers who had been slapped around the previous evening, curbed their attacking lines and bowled a disciplined line to Mike Hussey and Simon Katich the two Australian left-handers. At the time this was thought of as a “defensive” tactic. The Australians were shackled. Their attacking shots were curbed. And they did not quite know how to combat India’s strategy — it took them a while to figure out that there was, indeed, a strategy! An Indian team did not just “rock up”. They were playing “thinking cricket”. The Australians were like rabbits caught in the headlights. In the process, Australia had lost a wicket too; Simon Katich lost his composure and got out — he had been out-foxed.

Rather than remove his foot from the pedal, in the post-lunch session, Dhoni continued his strategy in a ruthless and clinical manner. For Clarke he set a 6-3 field but still bowled a “defensive line”. In that post-lunch session, Australia scored 49 runs in 29 overs and had lost 3 wickets.

Many commentators — including Ian Chappell and Alan Border — attribute the loss in this Nagpur Test match to Ricky Ponting’s strange captaincy in the India second innings, when he had Michael Hussey and Cameron White bowling in tandem in a bid to catch up on Australia’s bad over-rate! However, I strongly believe that it was those opening sessions of Day-3 that led to Australia losing that Test Match. India acquired an Australia-like attitude, caught the match by the scruff of its neck, and did not let go. It called for mean-mindedness; an Australia-like bloody-mindedness. It called for a surrender of ego and pride. It called for discipline.

MS Dhoni’s tactics were rubbished by Ian Chappel, who asked for a rule-change to curb defensive and “boring cricket”.

For me, that was “exciting and gripping cricket” and not “boring cricket”. I had watched every single ball. There was drama and emotion. There was a battle; a battle of nerves; a battle for survival; a battle for supremacy; a battle to ascertain who would blink first. They remain the most gripping sessions of Test cricket I have seen in the last two years! Both sessions were “attacking sessions” in my view.

Dhoni had a clear strategy. He had a firm plan in his mind. He appeared to have communicated his plan very clearly to his personnel and got them to buy into his vision. His players responded to his plan, even though it meant that they had to swallow their ego and pride. The plan could backfire badly if it failed. Dhoni had to ensure that it was executed to perfection. Whether Dhoni had a plan-B or not, we never know. But his plan-A worked to perfection. And once he saw that it was working, he did not relent. He had placed his foot on the jugular and kept it pressed there. He had done to the Australians what they did to so many teams in the previous 15 years!

This was Test match cricket at its very best.

A few years back, in 2001, in that series, Sourav Ganguly had asked left-arm spinner, Nilesh Kulkarni, to bowl a negative line outside leg-stump from one end (especially in the second innings) while he attacked the Australians with Harbhajan Singh at the opposite end, in a must-win match at Chennai.

This was similar. Only better!


MS Dhoni seems to have an astute, canny, discerning and incisive sense of his place in Indian cricket history. He comes across as an extremely perspicacious individual. Perhaps it is because of his small-town upbringing. Perhaps it is because a sense of sagacious, earthy and incisive unpretentiousness is ingrained in him due to his roots and upbringing.

That Test match in Nagpur witnessed two other moments that are enduring, stirring and indelible in my memory.

Towards the end of the Nagpur Test match, MS Dhoni handed over the captaincy reins to a man who had started India’s march towards the top of the tree at the start of the decade. Sourav Ganguly marshaled the troops and rang in the bowling changes as India marched towards a Test and series victory in that 2008 series. It was a wonderful and honest gesture of extreme appreciation and perhaps even respect by Dhoni towards a man who had been nudged towards retirement. Ganguly was playing in his last Test Match. The match report reads, “A less secure man would have wanted to hog the limelight, but by ceding space to one of Indian cricket’s all-time greats for a couple of overs, Dhoni showed just how aware he was of the bigger picture.”

If that was emotionally stirring and if that was a signal of a man who was totally self-assured, what followed at the post-match ceremony tugged at the heart-strings even more. Dhoni called Anil Kumble to the victory dais to accept the Boarder-Gavaskar trophy. After all, it was during the series that Anil Kumble had retired.

Dhoni had scripted the strongest and most compelling farewell gestures to Ganguly and Kumble. This wasn’t, in my view, false humility. This wasn’t, in my view the act of a man devaluing his own accomplishments for the sake of receiving applause, accolade or adulation from others. His humility in these actions were real. He expected neither praise nor favors. These were, I believe, anchored in a strong and calm sense of assuredness.

And so, the baton had passed so wonderfully during that exciting Test match at Nagpur. India had commenced the decade with a strong statement against the Australians in 2001. In 2008, the baton passed to a man who would take the team from being just good to perhaps being great.


I have long held the view that Sourav Ganguly was the first leader of men in Indian cricket. He had a vision for the Indian cricket team. He developed short-term and longer-term goals for the team. He wanted India to be competitive in world cricket; not just good at ‘home’. He believed passionately in this vision and committed to it with fervor. He had a road map to get him to the goals along the way. This included a professional coaching setup and an army of support staff. He was able to argue his case for adequate resources and quickly established himself as the leader of the team. He was able to rise above regional politics and demonstrated his will and commitment through his actions. He demonstrated that he was unbiased. He was quick in identifying talent and supported players through (sometimes multiple) failures. What he built was a systematic meritocracy where players would go to many lengths to give their all for him and for the team cause.

Of course, he did build his team at a time when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Saourav Ganguly himself formed the backbone of an evolving good team. There were still questions on how they would be “replaced” to affect a transition from short-term good to long-term great!

Meanwhile, all of Ganguly’s good work was somewhat undone in his latter years through a dip in his own personal form, which coincided with the arrival of Greg Chappell — right man at the wrong time and at a very, very wrong place.

Indian cricket, which had started the decade with much promise and hope, was suddenly hopeless again. Through Anil Kumble, some balance was restored.

It was in this context that MS Dhoni took over the captaincy of the T20 and ODI teams and finally the Test team.

The road from good to great had not yet been traversed. The plan for this road was yet to be developed. What was urgently required was assured leadership, a vision and an organisational setup.


As a player, Dhoni had transformed from being a flamboyant thumper to being an ungainly, yet effective artiste. His wicket-keeping was steady, if not brilliant. It was as a batsman, though, that he made his mark.

Initially, he was type-cast as an ODI player. After announcing himself with a 123-ball 148 against Pakistan, he made his big announcement with a massive 183 against Sri Lanka. Pundits wrote him off as a failure in Tests even before he had started. But then he made a terrific century in a high-scoring drawn-match in Faisalabad against Pakistan. He then made a fighting knock against England at Lords’ to save a Test match. Suddenly, he was a Test match player too.

From there on, a new and re-invented Dhoni played with maturity and calmness. It seemed as though he was comfortable in the team. He became a player who was able to play in many gears. He sometimes curbed his natural instincts to become a grafter, but young-India identified with the buccaneering marauder in him. They wanted him to play his trademark helicopter shot every match, every over, every ball.

That shot itself became symbolic of the rural rustic fighting for his space in a complex modern milieu, fully armed with a sackful of attitude, a satellite TV and many mobile phones! Dhoni represented the man he wanted to be. They wanted Dhoni to be the pillager that would plunder and raid runs from the opposition. They saw in Dhoni the big-city boldness and brashness that they aspired to.

But he was equally at home in the bright lights. He had the flamboyance, the long hair and the party life-style of a city lad. He even spoke English with the panache and confidence of a city lad! When his “Well of course” opener to any question became a trademark, he was assured enough to realize it and use it to mock himself! Today, he uses “Wellofcourse” in self-deprecation and smiles through it, knowing that many out there are having a guffaw. He blended into the city and the city men wanted to be like him.

Here was a common man from rural India who led a massive team with an earthy and grounded set of pragmatic sensibilities. Yet, he was a shining and suave diplomat under bright lights on the world stage. He had become a hero to both rural India and urban India.

Slowly, India accepted him as a very clever cricketer who could sum up the situation and play the way the game needed him to play. They enjoyed his barbs and exhortations from behind the stumps. They loved it when he asked Amit Mishra to bowl “udhar se” (round the wicket) in the Mohali Test against the Australians in 2008 to Michael Clarke. Clarke was out off that last ball of the day, leaving the Australians in disarray! They loved it when he said to Sreesanth to move in the field and when the speedster didn’t pay attention, he said, “Your girlfriend is not there… just move a bit” (or words to that effect) in a Test match. They loved it when he announced to the world and also exhorted his team to put in extra effort because Badrinath’s wife had just had a baby in Chennai!

So, slowly, one could see his steady and assured ascent to a leadership role. It is true that he seemed to posses that special Midas Touch that leaders crave for. Perhaps he had that auto loan calculator luck. Perhaps he made his luck. I never saw him as an accidental tourist. His was, in my view, a calculated assault at the top job in the Team India. In Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, he had his ‘seniors’ in the team. He first became ‘one of them’ and then surged ahead as a perceived leader. It helped that while Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh had occasional lapses in ‘form’ and/or focus, Dhoni kept improving as a player and a potential leader.

When the time came, it was almost natural that he would be anointed leader of the ODI team and the T20 team. The victories came… He led India to a famous victory in ICC’s inaugural T20 World Championships. It came at a desperate and desolate time in the post-Chappell and post-Dravid months and a few months after India had been knocked out of the 2007 ICC World Cup!

It was an important time and an important victory for Team India.

That T20 victory gave birth to the IPL — admittedly, some fans may not agree that this was a desirous outcome. However, in a year that was a disaster from most other perspectives, the rise of Dhoni as a leader in the T20 world cup was an unmistakable positive. He was the future. He was the alternative. Even though Yuvraj Singh had smashed six 6s off a hapless Stuart Broad over and despite all the machismo surrounding that, Dhoni emerged tall as the leader of a young-bold India.

From then, his ascent to the top of the summit was strong, assured, dignified and steady. He was marked as an under study to Anil Kumble, the statesman. When the time was right, the reins were handed over.

Today, Dhoni is the leader of three India teams: Test, ODI and T20.

Over the last many months, I have had many debates with friends — fans of Indian cricket — who maintained that MS Dhoni, the captain of Team India, has been extremely lucky as captain.

Initially, I would have been quite happy to agree with them. Not lately. Not now.

He is, to me a Level-5 Leader who works hard at identifying where he wants to be and works harder at getting there!


Jim Collins, in his article, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve”, [The Best Of HBR, HBR July-August, 2005, p.136-146] studies many successful companies. Collins concludes that perhaps the most important component of the transition from “good-to-great” is what he termed “Level 5 Leadership“. [I have extracted the concise summary below from here]

  • Level 1 is a Highly Capable Individual who “makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills and good work habits.”
  • Level 2 is a Contributing Team Member who “contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.”
  • Level 3 is the Competent Manager who “organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.”
  • Level 4 is an Effective Leader who “catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.”
  • Level 5 is the Self-assured Executive Leader who “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and strong professional will.”

In his study, Jim Collins found that every one of his “good-to-great” companies had Level-5 leaders in the critical transition phase. Interestingly, none of the comparison companies did!

To me, though, a Level-5 leader is one that has many paradoxes embodied in the one person. They can be timid and ferocious, hesitant and fearlessly-adventurous, modest and pompous, diffident and audacious. More importantly, they might demonstrate an ability to focus on the small things while demonstrating a fierce, unwavering and uncompromising commitment to big goals, large vision and high standards.

Dhoni has demonstrated that he is highly capable. He has a strong work ethic and makes stunning and compelling contributions to the team. He contributes as an individual and sets an example for everyone else in the team to follow. They do. He ensures that he has the people and the resources and backs them. He backed Yuvraj Singh through all his troubles. He sometimes backs players a bit too much, but that is his method of catalyzing commitment. He is a big vision guy for whom the smaller details are important too.

The way MS Dhoni has gone about his task of leading this team is, in my view, a living example of an evolving Level-5 Leader. Even during the World Cup 2011 journey, he was at times shy-audacious, modest-brash, hesitant-bold. He was honest enough to admit his mistakes — and that effectively shut up the pack of loud jackals that were baying for his blood when they were not singing paeans of acclamation! By the end of the tournament, when the cup was won, there was no doubt that it was his team and he had done it his way.

He made decisions and made it clear that these were his decisions. After experimenting with several team-balance-options, he was certain that he wanted 3 pace bowlers for his team. He stuck to that format. He admitted that he experimented with various options along the way. He demonstrated honesty, when there was no need to do so. He demonstrated that he wasn’t quite sure of how to do it although it was quite clear what he wanted. In the end, he demonstrated immense personal courage and personal responsibility by coming up the batting order in the final match, at a time when the spinners were on. He didn’t place his gun on someone else’s shoulder and fire. He demonstrated extreme personal courage in the line of fire. It was a bold decision. It could have backfired like the 8-1 field. But he was determined to leave his stamp on the win. And if you doubted that, see the look in his eyes as he hits those winning runs, followed by that bat twirl.

He was very clear that he stood on broad and impressive shoulders when he thanked Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, for building the solid platform on which he stands today (although I would have liked it more if he had added Laxman’s name to make it a quintet rather than a quartet, but that is only a minor quibble).

Today Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly have already acknowledged Dhoni’s exemplary leadership. In Ian Chappell’s view Dhoni is amongst the great modern captains.


The World-Cup victory did not actually mean much to me! At the risk of being stoned to death by unforgiving Team India fans, let me state again that it would not have mattered to me if India had lost in the quarters or the semis or indeed, the finals.

For me, it was a small — albeit important — step in a much more important journey. The road ahead for this team is hard and there are significant challenges as Dhoni takes this team from good to great. I am much more interested in seeing how this wonderful leader is going to take Indian cricket along that important journey. For, unlike Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, other outstanding leaders of excellent cricket teams in the recent past, Dhoni leads a team of committed players rather than a set of some alarmingly stunning players who could win a match on their own, if the situation demanded it!

In that sense, he is cut from the cloth that Imran Khan and Alan Border were made of. And that excites me tremendously. He seems to posses the dogged and unwavering occidental determination of Alan Border that allows Dhoni to focus so intensely on “methodology, standards and process” while retaining the oriental mystique of Imran Khan, which allows him to focus on the “absolute value of and need for individual expression”. This is a heady mix.

And that is why I have hope. I think back to that day when I watched two gripping sessions of Test cricket when an Indian captain was calm, mean-minded, inventive and fiercely determined. For that was the day my admiration for MS Dhoni commenced.

I think back to that 8-1 field that started the journey of fascination that I undertook with him. I also look at everything he has achieved in the 2 and a half years since that day. I then say to myself, “With Dhoni around as a Level-5 leader, there is much hope for this Team India fan.”

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

IPL4: Four more teams on display

As predicted, Rajasthan defeated Deccan and RCB defeated Kochi Tuskers in yesterdays’ games. Both losing teams in yesterdays’ matches were captained by former Sri Lankan captains. Both were, in my view, led badly. If KKR were let down by Gautam Gambhir, a captain that did not want to bat higher in the order — strange, considering he is an opener himself — a few strange selections and bowling changes led to the loss of Deccan and Kochi.

Today’s games promise to be closer and more exciting.

Delhi Daredevils Vs Mumbai Indians:

Delhi is led by Virender Sehwag, a somewhat laid back and almost unwilling captain. He often gives the impression that he would rather be whistling a Kishore Kumar tune to himself than be worried about bowling changes or field placings. He has an exciting team that can go far in IPL4. His team is up against one of the best teams in the business, and is led by Sachin Tendulkar, a man who is keen, this year, to collect trophies he hasn’t stocked up in his trophy chest!

For Delhi, I would like to see Varun Aaron bowl. After MS Dhoni, Saurabh Tiwary and Ishank Jaggi, Aaron is the latest Jharkhand player to hit the national limelight. I’d like to ascertain if this lad is for real or is a product of marketing hype. He is once reported to have clocked 153kpmh and regularly bowls at speeds in excess of 140kpmh.

The likely Delhi Daredevils team is:

V Sehwag*
DA Warner
CA Ingram / AJ Finch / Travis Birt / Michael Wade
Y Venugopal Rao / S Sriram
RE van der Merwe
NV Ojha (wk)
R Bist / U Chand
IK Pathan
M Morkel / JR Hopes / AB McDonald / R Frylinck
AB Agarkar / S Nadeem / AM Salvi
VR Aaron / AB Dinda / U Yadav

Others: Vikas Mishra, , TP Yadav, Vivek Yadav, Ramesh Pawar, A Chandila, Y Nagar, PT Naik

I believe this team will struggle with its middle order batting. The bowling looks solid though.

The likely Mumbai Indians team is:

SR Tendulkar*
Davey Jacobs / Aiden Blizzard
Andrew Symonds
AT Rayudu (wk)
Rohit Sharma
Rajagopal Sathish
KA Pollard
Tirumalasetti Suman / Abu Nechim Ahmed / Ali Murtaza
Harbhajan Singh
SL Malinga / Dilhara Fernando / James Franklin / Moises Henriques
MM Patel / DS Kulkarni

Others: YS Chahal, S Kanwar, AG Murtaza, P Suyal, AP Tare†, BSK Yadav, SA Yadav

I think this is a solid team. They have strengthened their middle order significantly and loaded it up with good young Indian batsmen. I expect this team to join CSK and RCB in the semi-final lineup.

Pune Warriors Vs Kings XI Punjab:

Pune Warriors India (PWI) is the most expensive team in the competition and they splurged at the auction too. The team they have looks solid on paper. As with previous years, KXIP looks like KXIP — all glitz but with much fizz.

The likely Pune Warriors team:

TD Paine (wk)
Greame Smith
Robin Uthappa
Yuvraj Singh*
Nathan McCullum / Jesse Ryder / Callum Ferguson
Mithun Manhas / Manish Pandey / Harpreet Singh / Harshad Khadiwale
Abhishek Jhunjhunwala / Mohnish Mishra
Mitchell Marsh / JE Taylor / Angelo Mathews / Wayne Parnell
Murali Kartik
Ashish Nehra
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar / Kamran Khan

Others: Imtiyaz Ahmed, ER Dwivedi, GB Gaikwad, DS Jadhav, SS Mundhe, S Rana, R Sharma, AC Thomas, SB Wagh

While the batting looks solid for this team, the problem for this squad is going to be its bowling. Don’t be surprised if Uthappa starts keeping wickets. It needs Angelo Mathews and Parnell/Marsh playing to bolster the bowling stocks.

The likely Kings XI Punjab team:

AC Gilchrist* (wk)
Shaun Marsh
Dinesh Karthik (wk)
Mandeep Singh / Sunny Singh
Paras Dogra
David Hussey / David Miller
Abhishek Nayar
Piyush Chawla
Bhargav Bhatt
Ryan McLaren / Ryan Harris / Nathan Rimmington
Praveen Kumar / Love Ablish / Salabh Srivastava

Others: Amit Yadav, Bipul Sharma, SD Chitnis, VS Malik, N Saini, PC Valthaty

I am not sure this Punjab team will trouble anyone too much. This edition of KXIP is likely to give us as much excitement and fun as the teams from previous editions.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

A quiet beginning…

The 4th Edition of the IPL started with much less fanfare than earlier versions. A few mostly rotund men and women strutted their stuff for a brief period before the first game got under way. We did not see too much of the chest-thumping openings of previous editions. This was quieter. Instead of Lionel Ritchie, we had some Raghupati Raghav Rajaram or some such performer, whose name I didn’t quite catch — appropriate, considering a Gandhian was fasting at Jantar Mantar, in Delhi, at about the same time.

Unlike the opening ceremony of IPL3, which was witnessed by a clutch of A-list celebrities, IPL-4 got off to a much more subdued start. Perhaps that has more to do with the fact that Chennai is mostly under-stated when compared to Mumbai, the venue for the opening of IPL3. However, I strongly suspect that the sober start had more to do with the fact that, after a horrible year, the IPL itself must rebuild and re-establish itself.

In an article in The Age today, Peter Roebuck tears into the IPL. He will be lampooned and castigated for this article. India fans will hate him for his rant and tirade. But I do not believe he is getting stuck into India. As far as I know he loves Indian cricket. He loves India. That does not necessarily mean he has to accept all things India. He is a cricket purist and to him, the IPL is everything cricket should not be.

His article contains too many doomsday scenarios for me to accept it too seriously. Sample this: “Cricket is finished as an international game. It faces a long and slow decline caused by an international cricket board that lacks vision and integrity, a board of knaves and fools that makes one-star decisions while staying in five-star hotels.”

And he gives away his biases completely when he writes, “Through no fault of the ICC’s admirable employees…”. Eh? Since when did the ICC have admirable employees?

Nevertheless, it is clear that, after a torrid year, the IPL must repair the wounds caused by its successes and its excesses. And these wounds must heal appropriately. Perhaps last year was the “norming” that was necessary in the storming-norming-performing cycle. Who knows? But this must be a year of quiet re-establishment for the IPL, if it is to be anything more than a spark that fired once and briefly.

In last nights’ opening game, Chennai Super Kings manage to get throughjust, against a strong Kolkata Knight Riders. KKR presented a a new team, a new captain, a new year. However, the same-old Kolkata Knight Riders mindset meant that the South Africans now look like kindergarten students in the School of Panic.

Today, we see two matches.

Deccan Chargers Vs Rajasthan Royals

Unlike CSK, The Deccan Chargers team has a very different look to previous years. The players I am most looking forward to seeing is Daniel Christian. I’d like to see why he was worth $900,000 when a proven player like Manish Pandey could command no more than $40,000!

Unfortunately, I look at the Deccan Chargers team and say, “Who are some of these guys?” In previous editions, Deccan were at best “They Can”, but certainly not “They Will”. Mostly because their Indian players were not quite there. That problem seems to persist. However, with a strong bowling line-up, it is likely that they will do much better this year.

Possible Deccan team:

S Dhawan
MJ Lumb
KC Sangakkara*†
DB Ravi Teja / S Sohal / AS Yadav
JP Duminy / KP Pietersen
DT Christian / CA Lynn / J Theron / CL White / Dale W Steyn
Harmeet Singh / B Chipli
MS Gony
A Mishra
PP Ojha
Ishant Sharma

Others: A Ashish Reddy, Anand Rajan, Ankit Sharma, AA Bhandari, KH Devdhar, IR Jaggi, I Malhotra, JN Shah

The Indian player strength of this squad is really quite weak in my view. As a result, despite a strong bowling attack, it could be a struggle for Deccan.

Rajasthan Royals have always believed in making ordinary talent do some extra-ordinary things. This year’s team appears to stick to that Royals tradition.

Possible team:

SA Asnodkar
Aakash Chopra (Shane Watson is not available for the first few weeks)
R Dravid
LRPL Taylor
AL Menaria / AM Rahane / FY Fazal
Pinal Shah (wk)
J Botha / Jacob Oram
SK Warne*
DL Chahar / Siddharth Trivedi /
Pankaj Singh / STR Binny
SW Tait

Others: Amit Singh, AA Chavan, AP Dole, ND Doshi, SM Fallah, S Narwal, AG Paunikar, , AS Raut, D Salunkhe, DH Yagnik

Kochi Tuskers Kerala Vs Royal Challengers Bangalore

The evening game today between KTK and RCB promises to be a cracker.

The Kochi team has a reasonable balance to it. Again, it is likely that the pace bowling stocks in this team will be largely Indian.

Likely team:

Parthiv Patel
M Klinger / BB McCullum
DPMD Jayawardene*
Tanmay Srivastava / VVS Laxman
Brad Hodge / Thissera Perera / Owais Shah / Steve Smith
RA Jadeja
M Muralitharan / John Hastings / SNJ O’Keefe
R Vinay Kumar / B Akhil
RR Powar
S Sreesanth
RP Singh

Others: DA Chougule, Y Gnaneswara Rao, RV Gomez, KM Jadhav, C Madan, SH Marathe, P Padmanabhan, Yashpal Singh

The Royal Challengers have retained a look-and-feel that is not too different to their image from IPL-2 and IPL-3. They have pinned a lot of their hopes — as they have in previous editions — on South African players. This may have been motivated by availability considerations.

Likely team:

CA Pujara / MA Agarwal
TM Dilshan / Luke Pomersbach / JJ van der Wath / JD Vandiar
Virat Kohli
AB de Villiers
SS Tiwary
CM Gautam / Mohammed Kaif
DL Vettori*
A Mithun
Zaheer Khan
Dirk Nannes / ANPR Fernando / CK Langeveldt / RR Rossouw
S Aravind

Others: KB Arun Karthik, BN Bharath, RR Bhatkal, AA Kazi, R Ninan, AUK Pathan

Do not be surprised if RCB make the finals. This is a strong team. There is dash and solidity to the batting and there are some strong bowling options too. Most of the players will be with this team for the entire duration. So this team should start working together towards the middle part of the tournament. I like the balance in this team. The composition above means that de Villiers will have to ‘keep in every game. RCB do not have any other keepers in their roster. This can’t be a bad thing. With de Villiers and Vettori (as captain) playing all games, this leaves just 2 other overseas-player spots to pick — a batsman and a bowler. These choices are clear. The local talent that works around this selection is also strong.

More fun and merriment. Four more team previews to go and then we will be done with the previews.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

IPL-4 will start tentatively…

The 4th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL4) is now a few hours away from a mild kick-off. I say mild because India is yet to recover from the World-Cup-2011 victory celebrations. Even as those celebrations were on, much of the attention in India has been directed at a hunger fast against corruption.

So it is against this backdrop that IPL4 kicks off this evening.

After 6 weeks of non-stop World Cup action, the 50-over variety of cricket gives way to the 20-over circus. With India’s win in the World Cup 2011, and with the resulting outpouring of national frenzy in India, the organizers of IPL will perhaps be a bit tentative in the first few days of IPL4.

The next 6 weeks will tell us whether IPL has a future in this country. The BCCI will need to combat the post-World-Cup fan hangover, a swelling anti-corruption movement and much more.

The last year has been annus horribilis for the IPL in which we saw a litany of disasters for a league that had become the fastest growing sports brand in the world! Suddenly, lawyers made a lot of money mounting cases or fending them off. If the manner of Lalit Modi’s ouster was bizarre, it was balanced wonderfully by the many conflicts of interest of the key players in the drama that unfolded. It appeared that much of the Board was asleep at the wheel — a practice that many in the BCCI are quite adept at — in the years that preceded the unfolding drama. There were more raids on offices than mosquito-repellent cans on a supermarket shelf.

Suddenly, two teams were axed; Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab were barred. More lawyers were dragged in. More fighting through the media.

Kochi, the new team in the IPL, and incidentally, the team that started IPL’s slide towards apparent obscurity, was suddenly back in the news. Its formation had already led to the resignation of a cabinet minister after “much sweat and not that much equity” — I read that lovely phrase on Twitter, but cannot remember who to credit it to! Ironically, it was a simple Tweet that signified the beginning of the slide for the IPL! Team Kochi could not pull together a governance team or its investment assurances. And then suddenly they did, a few days before the auction took place.

The auction itself was a bit of a farce! The order in which player-groups would be opened up for auction was changed at the very last minute — apparently to suit one team. Indian domestic players were unfairly disadvantaged in the process.

Brand IPL had suffered through the year and took a severe beating. Up until then, the IPL property had grown into a marketer’s delight. There were more eye-ball opportunities than you could poke a stick at. IPL had become a heady and intoxicating mix of Bollywood, late night parties, head-banging music, peanut throwing ladies trying to attract the attention of able-bodied men and of course, some on-field cricket action too.

Fan Loyalty programs were being carefully developed. It was possible for a Team India fan to support Rahul Dravid against Sachin Tendulkar! Previous editions of IPL had busted the myth that city-based rivalry could not flourish when faced with the pressure of fierce national loyalties.

But all that was undone by a terrible year for the IPL. The organizers and team owners must climb that mountain again. And they will need to do it without the biggest lisp in the business.

Set against that backdrop, I believe IPL4 will start tentatively. It cannot afford a loud start especially after the hangover from 2 April still lingers and especially as Anna Hazare appears to be mounting an austere campaign against the parliamentary establishment in the land. But over the initial few weeks of IPL4, we will know if these tentative steps reach the cacophonous chest-thump levels of IPL-3.

CSK versus KKR:

Tonight, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) will take on Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) after an opening ceremony.

The KKR Team that is likely to play today is (in batting order):

Gautam Gambhir*
Shreevats Goswami (wk)
Jacques Kallis
Manoj Tiwary / Manvinder Bisla
Ryan ten Doeschate
Eoin Morgan
Yusuf Pathan
Rajat Bhatia / Laxmi Shukla
Iqbal Abdulla / Sarabjit Ladda
Pradeep Sangwan
Jaidev Unadkat / Lakshmipathy Balaji / James Pattinson

Not available because of national duties: Brad Haddin, Brett Lee, Shakib Al Hasan
Others: Shami Ahmed

This is not really a bad team in my view. In Sangwan and Unadkat, the team has a decent new-ball attack. I am looking forward to seeing Shreevats Goswami have a good season. In previous editions, he struggled to get a game at Royal Challengers Bangalore. He should shine at KKR, at least for the initial few weeks when Brad Haddin dons the green-and-gold for Australia. I’d also like to see how Iqbal Abdulla shapes up. In terms of batting, this is going to be a make-or-break season for Manoj Tiwary — a batsman who has always over-promised and under-delivered. The overseas players in the team select themselves for the initial few games — Kallis, Doeschate, Eoin Morgan and James Pattinson will probably play all initial games; and that is not a bad lot of players!

The good thing about this team (as listed above) is that all of Jacques Kallis, Manoj Tiwary, Ryan ten Doeschate, Eoin Morgan, Yusuf Pathan, Rajat Bhatia, Iqbal Abdulla, Pradeep Sangwan and Jaidev Unadkat can bowl!

The CSK team remains largely unchanged. Its owner, who is also a BCCI chief poo-bah, went to great lengths to ensure that the winning team composition from IPL3 was largely undisturbed. The fact that it remains undisturbed is disturbing because of the manner in which the potential disturbance was unerringly protected. But that is the subject of another debate for another day.

The CSK squad is likely to be:

M Vijay
S Anirudha / A Mukund
SK Raina
S Badrinath
F du Plessis
MS Dhoni*
JA Morkel / SB Styris
R Ashwin
SB Jakati
KMDN Kulasekara / TG Southee / S Randiv
VY Mahesh / Joginder Sharma / S Tyagi

Others: GJ Bailey, WP Saha (wk), K Vasudevadas, G Vignesh
Not available: DE Bollinger, MEK Hussey, DJ Bravo, BW Hilfenhaus,

In my view, a lot will depend on how S. Anirudha and Yo Mahesh (or Sudeep Tyagi) go. The third pace bowler weakness in earlier editions had been sandpapered somewhat by the collective brilliance of the rest of the team. However, with Bollinger and Hussey absent for the first few weeks and Bravo still under an injury cloud, a lot will depend on the local players to come to the party.

Well, the scene is set for yet another edition of the IPL. Let the games commence…

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

A bit too much?

(I am most likely a minority in what I’ve got to say next, and it is likely I may get flamed for this post, but here it is anyway)

Yes. Indian cricketers have won the World cup – it is a great achievement. No doubt about that. And we as a country are proud of what our cricketers have achieved.

But I am somewhat disturbed about the amount of money that is being splurged on them. I don’t have a problem with BCCI giving 10 Million Rupees (or Rs. 1 Crore) to the players – after all they employ them. It is like a bonus for a wonderful achievement. But some of the other announcements, IMHO, is a bit much.

I don’t live in India anymore, and I don’t pay taxes over there – but if I was still living there, I wouldn’t like the money I pay as taxes to the government be splurged around to cricketers who are paid well anyway. There are surely other ways of showing our appreciation to them, don’t you think?


Combined squad

One can argue that you should never compare two teams from two different eras. Different rules, different opposition, different  standards, etc, etc. So, it just not fair to compare the 1983 team with the current bunch. It is also not fair to pick a combined World XI from all the teams that have played – sometimes the sum is greater than the parts, as some people complement others within the team. It is fun activity, nevertheless…and I’ve seen various combined eleven or fifteen that people have propped up in the last couple of days.

I thought I’d take a slightly different approach and pick an Indian 15 from the two World cup winning teams.

But first, here is the team that won the World cup in 1983:

And the team that just the world cup is:

…And my combined XV is follows:

  • Sachin Tendulkar
  • Virender Sehwag
  • Gautam Gambhir
  • Mohinder Amarnath
  • Yuvraj Singh
  • Sandeep Patil/Suresh Raina
  • Mahendra Singh Dhoni
  • Ravi Shastri
  • Kapil Dev
  • Zaheer Khan
  • Munaf Patel/Harbhajan Singh/Roger Binny

What is yours? Smile


Top Ten Reasons why the Cup is ours

  • Australia may still be #1 in ODI rankings, but the only teams they beat in the World cup were a NZ team, that wasn’t in the right frame of mind after the earth quake and teams that were ranked below 10 
  • South Africa choked. Again.
  • England lacked consistency. They would get beaten by Ireland and Bangladesh, but then turn around and beat South Africa. In the end, they just weren’t good enough.
  • There were only 3 good teams in the sub-continent, so we had to allow NZ to play in the semis. But only in the semis.
  • Thanks to Dhoni’s prayers and Pakistan’s self-destruction. Who else would let Tendulkar play again and again and again and again. And again.
  • Sri Lanka could ask for a re-toss, but couldn’t ask for a re-match.
  • Tendulkar stopped scoring hundreds. If he scored a hundred, India just couldn’t win. Remember the games against England and South Africa.
  • My mum decided not to watch the game. Talk about Butterfly effect.
  • Poonam Pandey – Should I say more? Or is it less? I am confused
  • India just played well Smile


An Architect, a Few Builders and a Decade…

On 22 March 2001, India made a compelling statement to the world of cricket. On that day, on a dusty track in Chennai’s M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, a week after that match in Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly’s men stopped Steve Waugh’s Australian juggernaut in its tracks in a Test match.

India had won against the Australians and other major teams before — mostly on Indian soil. So what was it about this victory in Chennai — almost exactly 10 years ago — that inserted a special marker on an important journey? The victory in Chennai in 2001 felt different. It tasted different. The victory somehow meant more than just a victory to me.

That victory came after Indian cricket had plunged to its worst lows — and that was off the field with the betting scandal. There was no place to hide for the proud and yet tragic Team India fan!

The first article I read this morning — the morning after the night before — was by @sidvee! In a piece titled, “The Baton Passes”, he writes about the 28-year wait for the baton to be passed to a new generation. This excellent writer, who is 29 years old, is a part of “young India” that has not suffered through being a Team India cricket fan as much as fans of my generation have. That does not give me bragging rights. It just provides a different perspective.

For many of us who are part of “older India”, the 1983 win was almost a one-off. We supported a team that often flattered to deceive. We supported a team that had few men who had the stomach for a fight. We supported a team that would crumble at the first sign of trouble. We supported a team that in-fought so much that it almost did not need to see an opposition to wave the white flag! We supported a team that was run by corrupt individuals (It still is, but that’s besides the point — a victory like last night’s victory serves as a good sandpaper!) We supported a team that had a Board that suddenly found money in the mid-90s through television money and a sudden realization that they had something that few other nations had — a billion adoring fans! We supported a team that was run by a Board that suddenly had power and did not not know how to use it!

So, we could only talk about the exquisite grace of a GR Vishwanath square cut, the steely resolve of a Mohinder Amarnath forward defense, the athleticism of Kapil Dev (“that catch“), the technique of a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive or the loop of a Bishen Bedi ball.

But all of that changed for me on 22 March 2001. I felt that, as a long-suffering cricket tragic, I could start thinking about that dream house I wanted to live in as a fan of Team India. I had seen my architect in that landmark 2001 series! On 22 March 2001, it was almost like I had reached a final agreement with the architect on the design of my dream home.

I could not wait for that home to be built.

It has taken a decade for that home to be built.

And finally, that home was built last night, when India won the Cricket World Cup, 2011.

If Sourav Ganguly was the architect with John Wright as his chief consultant, then MS Dhoni was the final builder with Gary Kirsten as his chief consultant. Along the way, we have had a senior engineers who have toiled assiduously and bravely. Considerate, careful and composed men like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid — ‘The Wall’ which is quite appropriate in the context of this building analogy!

For a keen follower of Indian cricket, this has been an exciting decade when brick has been laid carefully upon another brick by the above players. All of them knew that India could build that home for an ardent fan. And build it, they did! And credit to last night’s World Cup win must go to each and every one of them. I wrote about these architects and initial builders a year ago.

It was Sourav Ganguly who changed the relationship between the BCCI and players. He fought for all that Sachin Tendulkar had pleaded for, before him, but could not get: a physio, a professional coaching set up, and more. But more importantly, he built a team in his image. A team that had a stomach for a fight; a team that wanted to win it; a team that was not scared of boarding a plane!

And the core elements of his team are still there — Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan are his proteges and represent the start of that so very non-Indian generation of cricketers that loved a fight; a generation that did not back down; a generation that did not give up at the first sign of danger.

But that initial blueprint, which was first stabilized by Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, is now Dhoni’s team!

Apart from the reassuring constancy of Sachin Tendulkar in Indian cricket, Dhoni’s team contains the key elements of the team that Sourav Ganguly architected so carefully. A team that took the fight to the opposition. A team that had a point to prove.

However, today, it is an India team that is built on Dhoni’s image. He is self-assured. He is completely centered and is not there to prove a point. He knows that the men who traveled the path before him have proved a point or two! He does not have a point to prove. He acknowledges that he stands on impressive shoulders. Witness the manner in which he invites Anil Kumble to the presentation ceremony to lift the Border-Gavaskar trophy in the 2008 series against Australia.

Today, Dhoni stands on broad shoulders and admits it. But it is his firm hand on the wheel of the bus that takes Team India forward. It is his team. He takes decisions. We may not like some of them. But he does what he thinks is best for the team and cops it on the chin when it goes wrong. He is about building a strong team that will keep winning comfortably, compellingly and conveniently. He is about consolidation of a considerable strength. His is a team with young individuals who are cut from his cloth. It has individuals like Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina who will take the baton forward (as @sidvee says so eloquently and compellingly).

In yesterday’s game, Dhoni promoted himself in the batting order. It was a strong statement. If Ganguly had a point to prove in Brisbane on 7 December 2003, Dhoni read a book — not just a statement — last night by coming ahead of Yuvraj Singh in last night’s game. It may have been to keep the left-right combination going. However, I think Dhoni wanted it. I believe he wanted to make that statement. He also knew that the spinners were on at that time. With Yuvraj Singh’s initial shakiness against spin, it needed someone who could nullify the spinners. He walked in purposefully.

Here was a proud leader of a proud team. He did not have a point to prove. He wanted to make a statement. Team India had changed right before our eyes in the last decade from proving a point to making a statement.

It was therefore fitting that Dhoni hit the winning runs yesterday. The steely eyes that stay transfixed on the trajectory of the ball as it crosses the boundary line for the winning runs communicates to all of us the sharpness and ferocity of his intent. Please watch this (thanks again to @sidvee). It tells a story on its own and does not need a commentary. As the ball reached the fence, the bat twirl at the end of it communicated that he was satisfied that the job had been done. He was there at the end as the leader. He had completed the job that had been started by the fabulous architects and the fastidious builders before him. He was leader of a team filled with potential leaders who not only just prove a point — that chapter has been written — but, who will go forth and make a statement.

And how fitting was it that, at the end, when asked what it felt like to hold Sachin Tendulkar aloft on his slender shoulders, Virat Kohli — a future Team India captain perhaps — said, “Sachin carried the burden of the entire nation for 21 years and now it is our turn to carry him on our shoulders.

Sachin carried by Team India

It has taken a decade for me, the average Indian fan to see this house being built brick-by-agonizing-brick. At times, it looked as though the house might get blown away — for most Team India fans, for example, the year 2007 did not happen! There were times when we were ragged. There were times when we were completely pear shaped.

But the last decade has been a thrilling decade of dreams which have now become a compelling reality.

It is now time to enter that dream home. Do enter this beautiful house with me…

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)