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Catalyst for change

Close to 5 years ago, India sent its “best” team to the West Indies to play the World cup. Expectations were high – the team had Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sehwag, Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni, etc, etc. We had forgotten that India had taken quite a beating against South Africa in South Africa in the one day series (4-0), but a ODI series against WI and Sri Lanka at home, which India won somehow convinced everyone that everything was OK. As we all know, that was India’s worst World cup performance, crashing out in the first round.

In a way, that was one of the best things that happened to Indian Cricket. The loss hurt India so much that it became the catalyst for a turn around. In the next four years or so, India managed to win the World T20 cup, the #1 ranking in tests and finally finishing up with the World Cup last year.

I can see some similarities with the World cup in 2007 to the current Australian tour. Before this series, India were white washed in England, but then beat West Indies convincingly at home. Suddenly, the defeat in England was forgotten and everyone were convinced that this was the team that was going to beat Australia in Australia. The current defeat in Australia has been quite humiliating, and although we haven’t seen the effigy burning and stone throwing at players’ houses (Thank God for that) or the kind of mass anger against the players that we saw after the World cup result, I still hope the Australia tour result can become a catalyst for change.

Before the start of the 3rd Test, I was trying to sound positive and indicated that it wasn’t as bad as it was made to appear, and India could still salvage some pride in the series. The end result, however was quite the opposite and India lost the match in just 3 days. I don’t want to dissect the result and comment on what went wrong – there were just too many starting with the team composition (I think we should have just gone with the same team as Sydney).

(I can point out though that none of the things I mentioned in my previous post were carried out or triedSad smile)

However, it was interesting to read some of the comments in this blog during the course of the game Smile – There was one comment in particular I found quite interesting, and I agree with quite a few things said. But here are a few of my thoughts –

  • I find people asking for Dhoni’s resignation of captaincy absurd. Just 6 months ago, he could do no wrong. Suddenly Captain Cool has become Captain Indifferent. It is easy for people to ask for Dhoni to be sacked without specifying a replacement. Who would you replace Dhoni with? Sehwag? Gambhir? Both their batting form is questionable too.
  • Everyone want the seniors in the team to be dropped. I agree that the seniors have failed in this series, but if you look at the averages of the batsmen since the beginning of 2011, then Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman top the list – the next best is R. Ashwin!
  • But that doesn’t mean the seniors have to continue on. The failure of the seniors have finally given India the opportunity to start thinking about a succession plan. The first “senior” that needs to go is Laxman (who has the poorest record of all three – and also the poorest in terms of fitness).
  • We don’t have an overseas Test series coming up any time soon. The next  one  outside of the sub-continent isn’t until November 2013 against South Africa – it gives a perfect opportunity for us to get the “seniors” to retire at home this year (the sooner the better) and start blooding the next generation of players.
  • If things work according to plan, we should have bid farewell to Laxman, Dravid, Zaheer and Tendulkar by then. It would be really sad to see them go, but it just needs to happen.
  • There is plenty of talk about IPL being a bad influence – I disagree. It has both good and bad bits to it, and is a good place to start picking players to play in International T20 matches or even in ODIs.
  • To pick players for the Test team, we need a strong domestic competition, with good sporting pitches, that give results (the kind of pitch that was made for the Ranji Trophy final is a good example of a bad pitch). I think the domestic competition is still not good enough.
  • We also need plenty of India A tours. Why can’t an overseas tour be preceded by a India A tour? It would be a really good place to try out bench strength just before the actual tour starts.

-Mahesh-

Its not as bad as it looks…

Did the Indian team take a beating in Sydney? Hell, yeah! Will India square the series? Most likely not. Is the Indian team as bad as the media and former players make it sound? I don’t think so. But it is not as bad as it looks…

I’ve been going to the MCG for every Test match India has played there since I moved to Australia in 1998 and in most of these cases, very well knowing India would lose. Yet, I went there, waved the Indian flag, took some abuse at Bay 13 and cheered for my team. There is no shame in losing to a better team – all we fans ask is for our team to try its best and play with pride.

The test played this year was probably different because I honestly believed the teams were matched evenly and India had a chance of winning. In fact, one could argue that the end result of the match doesn’t truly reflect how close the game was. India was in with a chance even at the end of Day 3. The fourth day performance cost them the game.

At Sydney, we took a solid beating – there was probably not one session that India dominated, and even when we did fight back with the bat to get to 400, it was just too late. But again, India lost the match because of their performance on one day of the match – Day 1. If India had lost the toss and if Australia had batted (or if we had put them in), things could have been very different – the pitch did flatten out by end of the day, and Australia were presented with one of the best surfaces to bat on. I am not taking anything away from Australia – they truly were the better team and deserved to win, and personally think India should have fought harder but the fans shouldn’t totally write the team off or think of it as the end of the road for this team. I think we can still fight back.

What do we do?

Sometimes we just need to be reminded of the basics. Here is what I think India need to focus on:

  • Get through the early 20 overs without losing a wicket: I know it sounds like common sense, but we just aren’t doing it. We need to be 45 – 50 for no loss at the end of those 20 overs, and see the new ball through. Once the new ball bowlers have all bowled their first spell, they are less likely to be big threat. With Sehwag batting, it is likely the score could be a lot higher than 50 at the end of 20 overs, but I’d rather have no wickets fall in the first period than have a flurry of runs. The main job of the openers would be to see the new ball through. Just stick to it.
  • Think partnerships: At Sydney, India had only one 50-run partnership, and that too the 7th wicket. We did a lot better in the second innings with one 100-run partnership and three 50 run partnerships. At Melbourne, we had one 100-run and one 50-run partnership in the 1st innings, and none in the second! We’ve got to start working on these things. I’d say that to get to a 300+ score, we need a few good partnerships – at least one 100+ partnership and two 50+ partnerships.
  • Play session by session: A session is roughly about 30 overs. India needs to stop worrying about the over all game and play session by session. If they are batting, they’ve got to think about getting through that session without losing too many wickets. If the main batsmen are playing, we have to think about losing not more than 2 wickets in one session. So, if we lose 6 wickets in one day, but have scored about 260-280 all up, I’ll take that in Perth. If we are bowling, our target should be pretty much the same – 2 wickets/session if the top 6 are playing and try and get the rest out in one session. Having said that, we shouldn’t get bogged down if a session doesn’t go according to plan – the next session is a new session; plan and play accordingly.
  • Australia effectively are playing with 3 bowlers: Pattinson/Harris , Siddle, and Hilfenhaus. Lyon is not a threat – I repeat, not a threat. He has not troubled our batsmen one bit – but the thing is that India are already  in trouble before he comes in to bowl! Between Harris, Siddle and Hiflenhaus, they can probably bowl 60-65 overs in a day. Of that only about 30 are with the new ball. We also need to play these bowlers spell by spell. If Siddle has a good spell, see him through the next 5-6 overs; he will have to be replaced. The batsmen just need to keep this in mind. Also, Hilfenhaus is a lot more dangerous with the new ball than with the old one – we just need to keep these things in mind.
  • Tactical changes: Sometimes plans just don’t work. And if they don’t, there is no point in persisting with it. The first thing is to recognise that something isn’t working – we seem to be in denial mode and keep plugging away with the same plans. For instance, if the batting isn’t clicking as a unit, we need to do something about it. Perhaps open with Dravid and Sehwag, get Laxman to come in at #3, and get Gambhir to bat down the order. Maybe we need to try something different with the bowling too. I may not have the right suggestions, but I do know that if something isn’t working, we need to change it.
  • Take inspiration from the Perth win from the last tour: I do not have anything more to say on that. Green top. Steep bounce. Whatever. If it is going to trouble the Indian batsmen, it will trouble the Aussie batsmen too. Keep that in mind.
  • Shut out the negative comments/vibes: Gavaskar thinks X, Akram says Y and Chappel chirps in with Z. “The Indian team’s body language is bad”. “There is tension with-in the team”. “Blah, Blah, blah”. The Indian team just needs to ignore what everyone else thinks and just go out there and play the best cricket they possibly can. They may still lose, but I can forgive them for that….as long as they give their best.

It ain’t over till its over

The series isn’t over yet. We took a beating in England and we’ve taken a beating in the first two tests. But the team isn’t as bad as it is being made out to be.

We have an awesome, aggressive opener in Sehwag and a great fighter in Gambhir to open the batting. We have one of the best middle orders in the world (aging or not). And a great captain and WK to boot. We also have the best bowling attack that we’ve taken to Australia in recent times. Just concentrate on the positives.

C’mon Team India. Let us see some fight! And on that note, I leave you with this song for inspiration…

Chak de, India!

 

-Mahesh-

Cricket Australia and their VodaFAIL “Meet the players” event

We have relatives visiting us from Singapore, and we’ve got tickets booked for the Boxing day Test.

But the plan today was to go to the Werribee Zoo. Nice warm day, and the kids were looking forward to it. And then, last night I got a mail from Cricket Australia (the Australian Cricket Family, to be precise) – it talked about an event being organised where the public could meet the players between 1 and 2:30 in Melbourne.

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My wife’s nephew (age: 13) from Singapore was really excited. The zoo was suddenly a boring place, and he wanted to go see the Australian and Indian players – get some autographs and just see them up close. So, the plan to go to the zoo was suddenly dropped, and we decided to go see the players instead.

We reached the place around 12:45 only to find a huge line already in place to meet the players. It was announced that the players would make their way at around 1:30 and advised people to stand in line if they wanted to see them close.

FAIL #1: The sun was beating down and there was no shade – families probably didn’t expect a huge line and were clearly not prepared for this. There was a time when CA promoted the Slip-Slop-Slap campaign, but this time they just didn’t care. Excited kids just ignored the hot sun and UV rays to just stand in line to get a chance to see their cricketing idols close up. Any shop nearby selling sunscreen and a hat would have probably made a killing, but would you risk losing your place in that big line to go get it? Probably not. And we stayed on too…

FAIL #2: There was an announcement that if you were a Vodafone customer, you could get into the VIP area and meet the players before the others – all you had to do was show your phone. I decided to give up my place in the queue, pulled out my phone and ran ahead. When I got there, they said, come around the other side. But when we did get there (along with a few others), they said – “Sorry! Too many people – We aren’t letting anyone in.”  Talk about chaos.

FAIL #3: We were now ahead in the queue, thanks to the Vodafone announcement, and I bumped into my friend’s son who was standing right behind me. He said he had been standing there from 11:00 am, and he thought it wasn’t fair that they let a few people ahead of him. I agreed with him, but selfishly stood my ground – I just wanted the 13yo to be in with a chance to get his autograph.

FAIL #4: When the players eventually arrived, we couldn’t even get a glimpse of some of the players. We could have given up our spot and gone to the front of the stage and lose our spot or stay put and hope we get a closer look. We decided not to give up our spot in the line. The whole setup was flawed.

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The awesome view (not) from where we were standing.

FAIL #5: The players that turned up for Australia were Clarke, Ponting, Hussey, Warner and the two Victorians – Siddle and Pattinson. Good choice. For India, the players that turned up were Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Kohli, Ojha and Saha. Apart from Dravid and Zaheer Khan, the others wouldn’t even be known to the Australian public. I am sure CA would have tried their best to get the better known players in Australia – Sehwag, Laxman – or even Tendulkar. But none of them turned up. Arguably though, this is more meant for the Australian public than the Indian supporters (although the Indians probably outnumbered them 3 to 1) and the aim is to get the popular Aussie players not the Indian ones. I still classify this as a FAIL.

FAIL #6: By the time we got up close to the stage, the players had already left. So, there was no seeing players in close or getting autographs. At least getting so close to the stage, we realised that the players had left, but there was no announcement. I decided to leave, but most people were just hanging around in the line.

The media got their coverage of a few Indian fans turning up and cheering for their team and CA would have patted themselves in the back of another well organised event. But talk to the fans, and they were just left fuming and annoyed.

I was a little bit embarrassed by the whole event as I had had earlier told my relatives from Singapore that CA was very professionally run unlike BCCI, but the show they put up was anything but…

Rather than just criticise CA, I would like to suggest a few things to make the event better the next time around (the event is a great idea, just not executed well) –

  • Give out a finite number of tickets – just don’t let people queue up and be disappointed after waiting a few hours.  Use some kind of queue management system that dispenses tickets so that we have first in, best dressed without the actual standing-in-line part.
  • Get some shade for the Aussie families and the kids coming out to see the cricketers. Or put in a covered place. I am sure CA can afford it. It would have been worse if there was heavy rain.
  • I am sure Vodafone as a sponsor wanted to give their subscribers a better opportunity to view the cricketers, but this shouldn’t be done in this chaotic fashion. Run some kind of contest or something.
  • Set up the “Meet the players” in such a way that all the people who come over can actually get a good view of the players and feel satisfied.
  • Don’t get unknown players from the opposite camp to just make up the numbers. (No offence to Saha, Ojha and Kohli – we all know who you are, but the Aussies just don’t know)
  • Get players to mingle with the crowd a little bit, just not sit on stage and sign autographs.

-Mahesh-

India Australia team comparisons…(part 1)

The Aussie fan –

India can only play in India – they can’t win anywhere else

The Indian retort –

At least India can play in India, the Aussies can’t even win in Australia anymore…

And so goes the exchange between fans of these two countries on the web and elsewhere. The funny thing is that these two former No.1 ranked teams  are nowhere as strong as they were a few months ago, in spite of what the fans think.

The Aussie decline has probably been the greatest, but they were a much better team to start with. With injuries, retirements and lack of form taking over, the Aussies no longer have the air of invincibility they once had – not even at home. Who would have thought that they would lose to a NZ team that doesn’t even contain a Vettori ?

India is a slightly different story, they came up the rankings due to combination of self-belief, improved performance and the decline of other teams. They had the #1 Test ranking, and the ODI World Cup in its trophy cupboard, before the reality check in England.

One thing is certain though – both teams are equally matched, IMO – even if form guide and one on one comparisons says otherwise.

One on one comparisons

Let us go with the team that is likely to play in the Boxing day test:

Australia: Warner, Watson, Khawaja, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, Haddin, Siddle, Pattinson, Starc, Lyon

India: Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Kohli, Dhoni, Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav

It is of course too early to call the exact team – particularly the Aussie team makeup is still unclear. Will Watto play just as a batsman, or would they bring in someone like Ed Cowan? If Cowan plays, would it be a good idea to play an all rounder like Christian in and drop Khawaja?

Similarly, for India would Zaheer be fit enough to be an automatic selection? Will Ishant’s ankle recover on time ? Would Rohit Sharma be a better choice than Virat Kohli? Would you play Ojha instead of Ashwin?

But if we go with what we have now, here is my list on who holds the edge:

India

Australia

Who holds the edge?

Sehwag Warner There is a lot of similarity in the way both players bat. I personally think Warner will be a better Test player than a ODI or T20 player; but Sehwag with his experience definitely holds the edge
Gambhir Watson Watson if he can bowl, but it appears that he is still not fully fit to bowl, so I would rate this matchup as even
Dravid Khawaja Dravid. His resurgence in form this year has been brilliant, but even if he wasn’t amongst runs, he would still rate higher than new comer Khawaja
Tendulkar Ponting This would have been an even match a couple of years ago. Not anymore. Tendulkar clearly holds the edge.
Laxman Clarke This one is a hard matchup, but I would have to give it to Clarke because of the additional things he brings on to the field – his bowling and fielding. But Clarke just edges Laxman out. Just.
Kohli Hussey Hussey would a be clear favourite against newcomer Kohli, even with the slight dip in form he has had in the last 2 series.
Dhoni Haddin Their wicket keeping skills are probably even, but I’d rather have Dhoni batting to save or win a game than Haddin any day.
Z Khan Siddle An uninjured Zaheer would tip Siddle, but given he is coming back from injury, I would say the scales would tip towards Siddle
I Sharma Pattinson I would call this even. Pattinson is the in form bowler, but Ishant bowled well in West Indies.
Yadav Starc There is nothing to pick here. Even.
Ashwin Lyon Again, hard to make a call. Ashwin is probably a better bat than Lyon, but I’d call this even.

So, my one on one comparisons, put India slightly ahead of Australia.

Form guide, stats and other trivia

Let us first look at the form of the team and some additional stats.

 

India

Australia

Played in last 12 months 13 games – 4 wins, 5 losses 10 games – 4 wins, 4 losses
Last 5 games DWWLL
(2 wins, 2 losses, 1 drawn)
LWWLD
(2 wins, 2 losses, 1 drawn)
ICC rank 2 (Rating – 118) 4 (Rating – 103)
Debuts in the last 12 months Unadkat
Kohli
P Kumar
A Mukund
R Ashwin
U Yadav
VR Aaron
MA Beer
U Khawaja
TA Copeland
NM Lyon
SE Marsh
PJ Cummins
Pattinson
Warner
Starc
The aging club Dravid (38)
Tendulkar (38)
Laxman (37)
Ponting (37)
Hussey (36)
Haddin (34)

There is nothing much separating the two teams on wins and losses in the last 12 months – If it weren’t for India’s series against England, their record would have looked a lot better than the 4-5 win-loss ratio this year.

India are also higher on the ICC Ranking (which I don’t think adds any value to the actual team comparisons). An interesting statistic is the fact that India have tried out 7 new players in their 13 games, whereas Australia have tried out 9 in their 10 games. Of this list, there are 3 people still in the Indian team (Kohli, Ashwin and Yadav) and 5 in the Australian team. What this means is that nearly half the Australian team is new to Test cricket!

Have the doors closed on the Singhs?

Yuvraj Singh is probably one of the most frustrating cricketers in India at the moment. You look at the way he plays ODIs and you would think he *has* to be on the Test team – alas, the two formats are like chalk and cheese. And Yuvraj the ODI specialist and Yuvraj the test batsmen are two completely different players.

Yuvraj burst into the International scene with a bang while still in his teens, and showed so much potential – everyone knew he was a future super star.

He has still got it in him. Just look at his performance in the 2011 World Cup – Player of the tournament, 362 runs at an average of 90.50, and four man of the match awards to boot. Did I mention he also took 15 wickets in the tournament? You just can’t fault him…

But move over to Tests, and it is a completely different story. An average of 35 in 56 innings is barely passable and if you watched Yuvraj scratch around for his 25 in the first innings, you would start to wonder what he is doing in this team.

With Raina (is he another Yuvraj in the making?), Rohit Sharma, Pujara, Rahane, Kohli, Jadeja, etc knocking on the door, his position is the shakiest in the team. And considering the fact that he was an utter failure when India toured Australia last time around, would you pick him? He hasn’t scored a century in tests in close to 4 years. Sure, he has been in and out of the team in those fours years (which itself tells us something, right?), but 27 innings without a 3 figure score is just not good enough.

Four years ago, when the Indian team was picked to tour Australia, there was one notable absentee – Virender Sehwag. Back then I blogged about why he should be in the team in spite of his poor form (he eventually was included in the squad, but I digress). In the case of Yuvraj, I feel the exact opposite, he should not be picked in the Test team for the Australian team.

(BTW – You also need to read these previous posts – Good horses in unfamiliar courses (Oct 2011), the contenders (Nov 2008), the case for (and against) Yuvraj Singh… (Nov 2007) and you’ll realise that nothing has changed in all these years – Let’s just put an end to this persistence with Yuvraj and drop him from the Test team)

Having said all this, Yuvraj has one big supporter in the team – captain MS Dhoni, and that may just be enough to pen his name in the team selection. He could also end up scoring a century in the next game against the West Indies and find himself on a plane to Melbourne. I guess, the door hasn’t entirely closed on him yet.

For the other “Singh”, Harbhajan Singh, the door is closing a lot faster. Dropped from the team for the first two tests, is in itself an ominous sign. And add to it, good performance from his replacement, Ashwin and poor Ranji performances (none for 92 in the first game and one for 50 in the second match) don’t help either.

We all know that Harbhajan and Australia have a history, and some of his best performances have been against them. When Australia toured India last year, I blogged that Harbhajan needs to step up, but nothing has changed in the last 12 months to indicate that he has. If you take out his 7/120 against South Africa at the beginning of the year, he averages around 40 in the last 12 months. Not figures to be proud of. More importantly, he looked totally ineffective in England. Being in the top 10 wicket takers of all time doesn’t mean automatic selection if you can’t back it up with performance.

I will surely miss his fiery bowling when he is on a roll, combative spirit in the field and even his never-say-die batting abilities – particularly against the Aussies, but I am afraid he just needs to be left out of the team that tours Australia this time Sad smile

-Mahesh-

Top 10 reasons why Sachin Tendulkar hasn’t scored a century of centuries…

10. What? Another hundred? Aren’t you satisfied with ninety nine? Hundreds just get boring after a while…

Maybe to you Sachin, but not to the nation. Did you know that Jack Hobbs has 199 centuries to his name – Okay, Okay! They are just first class hundreds, but still?

9. Nervous nineties!

Hmm…I can see how that can be an issue. You have after all been out in the nineties 26 times in your career (not to mention the one occasion when you were 96 not out and Malinga bowled a wide to concede the game to India – Damn you, Malinga!) . But, you also crossed the nervous nineties 99 times – surely you can do it one more time.

8. I want to feel the way mortals do – and go through a lean patch of no centuries…

You’ve already been through a lean patch once, remember? We want you as a God, not a mortal. Common and get on with that hundred!

7. I want to get it against Pakistan

Oh, dear! I know you made your debut against them, but it might be a while before we have another match against them, and the nation can’t wait that long!

6. Waiting for Ricky Ponting to catch up

Ok. He was close to your record at one stage (at  least on test hundreds); but you’ve just left him too far behind. Did you know that your closest rival has only 69 international hundreds? And have you seen his form lately?

No way is anyone going to catch up with you. Just go ahead and get the hundred, dammit!

5. India has already seen a #1 Test ranking, ODI World cup win, World T20 win – the only thing remaining is this record. Don’t they need something to look forward to?

Puh-lease, let us worry about that. Just go ahead and get your damn hundred so that we as a nation can focus on something else.

4. I want to score it in a T20 international

Haven’t you retired from International T20s already? We don’t want to see you in that format ever again. (Ok, maybe just in IPL) – so, don’t even think about it…

3. Every time I score a hundred, India loses!

Not sure who came up with that. India have lost 24 of the 99 matches you’ve scored a hundred – so that makes for 75 matches that we’ve either won or saved. I’ll go with the .25 probability of India losing the game when you score a hundred.

2. I want to have the unique double of 200 international wickets and 100 international hundreds in tests and ODI’s combined. And do it in the same match!

Oh, yes – you’ve got a combined total of 199 wickets in ODIs and tests together. Let me talk to Dhoni and arrange for you to bowl in the next game you get a hundred.

But wait a minute, haven’t you got a wicket in a T20 international as well? That should make 200 in total. You’ve got no excuses any more!

1. I want to get to the century with a 4 or 6. Six hundred may be a bit ambitious, so waiting for the right opportunity to score 400!

Ok. That I can wait for. Is that going to be at the next game in Mumbai – in your home ground?

-Mahesh-