Tag Archives: Abhinav Mukund

Good horses in unfamiliar courses

In an earlier post, Sanjay Subrahmanyan writes about how Team India’s middle-order hopefuls have performed in recent years in the glories, chaos, catastrophes, and convulsions of Indian cricket.

One of these “hopefuls” is Yuvraj Singh. He is once again a Test middle-order “hopeful”. Fourteen years after making his First Class debut and some 8 yeas since making his international debut, Yuvraj Singh is still a “hopeful”. That is a story in itself and is cause for him to be the protagonist in this essay. But the larger plot is the rationale behind his selection in a Test side. The more important inquisition is about how T20 and ODI performance continues to influence selectors when they sit down to select a Test side.

India is, ironically, in a good situation. This moment in time represents a compelling opportunity to build for the future. It should be an opportunity to be clear and strategic in thought and action. Instead, what we are left with is an impression of a selection group that is chaotic, disorganized and muddled in its thinking.

India has been thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated in England in a tour in which nothing went right for the team. In a year from now, the team might have one or perhaps even two or three departures through retirement. For example, I cannot see VVS Laxman’s body last beyond mid-2012. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid cannot be too far from hanging up their bats. Zaheer Khan is not going to be around for ever. This was, therefore, an opportunity to commence a definite freeing of the many strong Atlases that held the team aloft in an impressive journey. The time was ripe for strategic thinking.

Ironically, the situation that the team faces now has parallels with 2007.

The tour of Australia in 2007 was an important one for India. The team had had a captaincy change after the triumph in England, which wiped out a disastrous World Cup performance. The team had also unexpectedly lifted the inaugural World T20 Championship under the captaincy of MS Dhoni. India would play a series against Pakistan prior to embarking on a defining tour of Australia. Here was a team on the ascendancy; but she had to win in Australia.

Prior to this tour, Yuvraj Singh was selected in the India Test team. After all, how could you drop a player who had smashed Stuart Broad for 6 sixes in an over? Yuvraj Singh proceeded to hit a brilliant century in Bangalore against Pakistan. The selectors had no other choice. Yuvraj Singh’s name was etched in the team sheet for Australia in December 2007. In order to accommodate him in the middle-order, Rahul Dravid had to open the batting along with Wasim Jaffer in the first Test at the MCG. Yuvraj and India had a miserable Test match. The same mistake was repeated in that infamous Test in Sydney. Once again, Rahul Dravid was sacrificed in order to accommodate Yuvraj Singh in the middle-order. Yuvraj made an embarrassing 12 in the first innings and did not trouble the scorers in the 2nd innings. Good sense prevailed in the 3rd Test in Perth when Wasim Jaffer opened with Virender Sehwag.

Now I am not saying that Yuvraj Singh is a poor player. Not at all. He is one of the sweetest timers of the ball in world cricket. He has a lazy elegance about his stroke play that whispers “Brian Lara”. He burst onto the scene by hitting some of the best bowlers out of the park. He had the swagger, power, timing, hunger, attitude and charisma. At one stage, he was even talked of as a future captain of India. He looked like he wanted to belong. He belonged. He played a wonderful hand in India’s 2011 World Cup win. He seemed to be fit and hungry in the 2011 World Cup. After sulking and moping his way through the previous year — including, famously, in the IPL Edition 3 — it appeared as though Yuvraj Singh had arrived once again. He played like a team man. After a spate of sorry injuries, he was even throwing himself around on the cricket field once again.

But that was in the ODI arena. His exploits in 2007 were in the T20 arena. The question must be asked. Is Yuvraj Singh a Test batsman?

Since 2003, Yuvraj has played 35 Test matches, scoring 1709 runs at 35.60 with 3 centuries and a highest of 169! All of Yuvraj’s centuries have been made on the subcontinent. Indeed his average in ‘Home Tests’ is 45.31 against an average of 29.24 in Tests away from the ‘Home’.

Contrast this with a “contemporary” of his. Since his debut in 2000, Wasim Jaffer played 31 Test matches, scoring 1944 runs at 34.10 with 5 centuries and a highest score of 212. Three of Jaffers’ five Test centuries have been made overseas: how can we forget that brilliant 212 at St Johns’ in the West Indies and his fighting 116 in South Africa.

Alas! Jaffer only played 2 ODI games (in South Africa) and never played a T20 for India. So he wasn’t able to showcase his latent flamboyance and ability to “thump” the ball hard and far. We like that. We like opposition to be pummeled into submission. We like our batsmen to be in a Colosseum battling the opposition with a mace instead of a bat. So flair and flamboyance wins.

Mind you, I am not pushing for Jaffer’s inclusion in the Indian Test team. All I am saying is that Yuvraj Singh has a record that is on par with Wasim Jaffer as a player. I agree that such comparison fail at various levels. I am not advocating a StatsGuru based analysis of player worth. And as a person who is not heavily pro-StatsGuru, the last thing I would advocate is a StatsGuru compliant iPad for all members of the Team India selection committee!

My point here is that Yuvraj Singh’s massively significant ODI and T20 performances continually propel him into our peripheral vision when it comes to selecting Test teams. He is always there in our faces, asking to be selected in Test matches too; because he thumped 4 boundaries in an over in an ODI or pummeled India to victory in a T20 or took Kevin Pietersen’s wicket… Again! We do select him in Tests. He fails. We fail. We do not learn. Another IPL comes around. Another ODI series comes around. He performs well in these. We select him again.

I have shone the spotlight on Yuvraj Singh because we make the same mistake with other players too.

In the team that has been chosen to play West Indies in the forthcoming Test series (if we rule out quota-based selections as a plausible reason), we have Rahul Sharma and Varun Aaron who have got in on the basis of their T20 and ODI performances. The First Class records of the above two players makes shabby reading.

Rahul Sharma has played 10 First Class games and has taken 18 wickets at an average of 44.66 a piece! I am not joking. This is true! And the only good thing about Rahul Sharma’s selection is that he makes Varun Aaron’s selection look inspired! Varun Aaron has played just 12 First Class games and taken 26 wickets at 41.50 a piece!

Both of these players may well be the future of Indian cricket. I have nothing against them and hope that they have a brilliant career in whites as well as in the blue of the Team India ODI/T20 teams. That is not my point. My point is that they have found a place in the Indian Test Team through IPL/T20 and/or ODI routes. This is a selection process that has lost direction.

Another curious selection is that of Ajinka Rahane. And to explain why, our protagonist must make a reappearance!

Rahane is a fine player, mind you. I was always confident that he would play for India one day. That is not my issue. My concern is (a) the route the selectors have chosen for him and (b) the person he has displaced in the team.

Rahane has replaced Abhinav Mukund in the Test team mainly because of his domestic record but also because he played reasonably well in one ODI in England. He also had a reasonably good T20 gig.

Rahane is a class act. He was always marked for a Team India spot at some point of time in his career. In four Ranji seasons since 2007, he has played 49 First Class matches and scored 4838 runs at an average of 69.11 including 18 centuries. After opening in his first two seasons, he has been coming in at #3 in subsequent seasons, for reasons best known to him and the Mumbai team management. This a record to be proud of. Once a player accumulates as many runs as Rahane has in first class games, the real issue is one of “when” rather than “whether” — unless of course, Rahane also responds to the name “Badrinath”!

Abhinav Mukund was in Virat Kohli’s U19 Team that won the World Cup, although he played only one game in that particular journey. Since then he has had an impressive run in domestic cricket — Ranji and the Irani Trophy. Since his debut in 2007, he has played 47 First Class matches and scores 3880 runs at an average of 54.64 with 14 centuries and a high-score of 300*.

Clearly, players like Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund and Cheteshwar Pujara are the future of Indian cricket. They are young. They have made plenty of runs in first class cricket and have also made big hundreds. I have always felt that more then hundreds, what matters most when you look at domestic records of players is the number of big hundreds a player has made. All three have made many big scores.

Now, let us look at Yuvraj Singh! In all the time since he made his debut (in the late 90s) Yuvraj has played a mere 97 first class games, scoring 6114 at an average of 44.62 and with just 18 centuries to his name.

So, essentially what has happened is that, on the back of a good World Cup ODI and a good IPL season, Yuvraj Singh has squeezed himself back into the India Test Team! The result of this is that the selectors may have wanted a player who could play in the middle-order in the event of a Yuvraj Singh failure or injury — both of which are equally likely — who would also double as an opener in an injury situation to one of Gambhir or Sehwag — also likely given trends in recent series.

Enter Ajinkya Rahane who edges out Abhinav Mukund, the incumbent in the openers’ slot! So one T20/IPL/ODI based shoehorning has resulted in the forced eviction of the future. It is clear that IPL/T20 performances have influenced Test selection. Surely, Varun Aaron and Rahul Sharma have been selected on that basis. Yuvraj Singh’s selection is reward for a stellar World Cup. These selections may pay off for Team India. But I do not see either clarity or consistency. There is much muddled thinking.

Part of the problem here is with communications. The selectors do not communicate with players. Younger players do not know what plans the committee has for them. Would it not be good (or indeed necessary), for the selectors to talk to Suresh Raina and set targets/goals for him? Would it not be necessary for them to talk to Abhinav Mukund to explain why he was dropped? But that does not happen, for it appears that the selectors job in India is to merely select; not to nurture talent. Even in selection, their job seems to me to be to select good horses for somewhat unfamiliar and uncomfortable courses.

A significant part of the problem here is that selectors are barred from communicating their decisions to you and me. It may not be necessary. But it would help identify how these decisions are thought through. The result, therefore, is an extremely unclear, hazy and murky environment in which no one is really sure what is going on.

Meanwhile, we have several other distractions like a dog on a race track and broken barricades in a rock concert and an array of similar goof ups to distract us from transparent and cogent decision making!

— Mohan (@mohank)

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What is Suresh Raina doing in the Indian Test team?

The selection of Suresh Raina in the Indian Test team to tour Sri Lanka is a clear indication that the IPL and subsequent ODI performances are influencing the selectors much more than other more conventional parameters.

Nearly all international teams include a player in their Test team based on 2 important criteria:

  • Indications of a solid domestic record with a penchant for scoring centuries (an indication of temperament), or
  • Pointers to a prodigious talent that is capable of doing well at the highest level as evidenced by a few sparkling performances.

Around the world, these broad criteria apply. Michael Hussey got into the Australian Test Team after scoring a mountain of runs in the domestic circuit, while Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting got in because they showed glimpses of immense talent at a very young age.

This can be seen clearly in the well chronicled success stories of Indian cricket in the last 20 years — the Fab Four! Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had scored tons of runs — including many centuries — in domestic cricket before moving on to Test team selection. They have since proved their mettle on the international stage.

We are not going to even mention the case of God in this context!

On the other hand we have had batsmen like Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag who have done well over the years because their talent was identified early. They were then given opportunities to hone their talent on the world stage.

The success and hype surrounding the IPL has given a sudden boost to the fortunes of many cricketers who have been suddenly pitchforked to the Indian ODI team and then, the Test team, strictly on the basis of their T20 performances.

A clear example of such hubris driven folly is the case of Suresh Raina, in our view.

There is no doubt in our mind that Raina is a talented cricketer. But what has he done in domestic cricket that sends shivers down the spine of opponents the world over? Nothing much. Nothing spectacular.

He has played 51 matches (86 innings) and scored 3684 runs (6 centuries and 25 fifties) with a high score of 203 at an average of 44.38 per game. His last big domestic season was 2005-06 when he scored 620 runs in six games and guided Uttar Pradesh to winning the Ranji Trophy.

In direct contrast, we have S. Badrinath who turns in solid performances year-in-year-out. He has played 85 matches (123 innings) and scored 6252 (22 centuries and 27 fifties) with a high score of 250 and at an average of 57.35!

What? You don’t like the structure of Badrinath’s cheek bones and the colour of his eyelashes?

Look at Cheteshwar Pujara then. The man has played almost as many games as Suresh Raina has and so, may be a more compelling comparison perhaps. Pujara has played 49 First Class matches (78 innings) and scored 3925 runs with a top score of 302 (not out), at an average of 60.38. He has made 14 hundreds and 13 fifties.

Ok. So you think anyone with the name Pujara shouldn’t be trusted?

So, let us look at Rohit Sharma then?

Rohit Sharma has played 36 First Class matches (52 innings), and scored 2641 runs with a top score of 309 not out at an average of 55.02 that includes 8 centuries and 11 fifties.

We can also have a look at other players like Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund, et al.

We have no doubt that Suresh Raina is a good player. He has performed well in ODIs and T20s for India and has done well for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. He is an electric fielder and has tremendous commitment and nous.

But, the question remains: What is Suresh Raina doing in the Test team ahead of Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Abhinav Mukund?

— Sanjay & Mohan

L. Balaji and a Leggie Chuck?

As India prepares to take on Sri Lanka in a tri-series final in Bangladesh, I stumbled on this extremely odd piece of cricket news that former India seamer, Laxmipathy Balaji has been called to a action-rectifying rehabilitation camp at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) Bangalore from January 18 to 24, 2010.

He is one of 35 bowlers — Yes! Thirty five bowlers — with a suspect action that have been asked to report for the camp. I looked and looked again to see if the names some well-known International cricketers who do chuck were included.

But apparently this set of invitations is just for Indian players!

While I laud the BCCI for trying to put in some measures to rectify actions early, I was quite shocked to see the name Abhinav Mukund feature in the list!

Left handed opening batsman, Abhinav Mukund, bowls leg spin occasionally. He has been used reasonably consistently as a partnership breaker in this seasons’ Ranji Trophy and met with some success.

To the best of my knowledge, Abhinav does not bowl off spin at all.

A leg-spinner can chuck? How?

The full list of “invitees” to the BCCI “rehabilitation camp” at the NCA HQ at Bangalore are:

Siddharth Trivedi, Amit Singh, Jayesh Makla, Rujul Bhatt, Anupam Patel, Dipesh Bhandari, Sanket Tandel (all Gujarat), G. V. S. Prasad (Andhra), S. Sriram (Goa), K. P. Appanna and Manish Pandey (Karnataka), H. Khadiwale (Maharashtra), Rajesh Pawar and Salim Veragi (Baroda), Yogesh Nagar (Delhi), Sarandeep Singh (Himachal Pradesh), Kulamani Parida (Railways), Rahul Kanwat (Rajasthan), L. Balaji and A. Mukund (Tamil Nadu), Shivkant Shukla, Parvinder Singh and Mohammad Kaif (Uttar Pradesh), Arlen Konwar (Assam), Tejashvi Yadav (Jharkhand), Basant Mohanty (Orissa), Jayanta Debnath, Debbhakta Jamatia and Abhijit Dey (Tripura), Murtaza Hussain, Vikrant Yelliugatti and Aniket Redkar (Mumbai), Vishal Joshi (Saurashtra), Sandeep Singh and Harshal Shitoot (Vidarbha).

The list of “invitees” to the camp does include some batsmen like Mohammed Kaif and Manish Pandey. So, in my most generous mood, I can only assume that Abhinav Mukund has been invited to the camp as a batsman. If not, I hope the NCA is being run by someone who knows his/her cricket!

— Mohan

Irani Trophy and Challengers

The teams for the Irani Trophy and the Challenger Trophy, the traditional curtain-raisers for the cricket season in India, have been announced. By and large, the teams are good and sound in what is expected to be a good season in India; one in which several Team India stars are expected to turn out, somewhat unexpectedly, for their home states.

Irani Trophy

The Rest of India team features two Team India players who are on their comeback from injury: Virender Sehwag and Sree Santh. Zaheer Khan is still on the mend and so it appears as though it will be a while yet before we see him in action for India.

Cheteshwar Pujara is another notable absentee. He had an amazing run in last years’ Ranji Trophy and went onto the injury bench just prior to this year’s IPL. He misses out because he he is till injured.

A notable and exciting inclusion is young TN opener, Abhinav Mukund, who gets a call on the back of a successful Ranji season. He may not play, given the presence of M. Vijay and Virender Sehwag as openers. However, this is a step in the right direction for this young left-hander.

Two notable exclusions are Parhiv Patel and Mohammed Kaif! The former has been edged out by the exciting talents of Wriddhiman Saha and the 22-year old, Punjab ‘keeper, Uday Kaul. However, this non-selection must come as a rude shock for Mohammed Kaif in both the Irani game as well as the 3 Challenger teams! Remember that Mohammed Kaif is a contracted Team India player! This non-selection, on the back of the fact that he did not get selected for the Rajasthan Royals in this year’s IPL, must be a blow to the young man, who must wonder where his career is at.

Kaif has probably been edged out by 24-year old Pune batsman, Kedar Jadhav. Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel get a chance to reconstruct their Team India prospects through this Irani game.

I expect the following Rest of India (probable team):

M. Vijay / Abhinav Mukund
Virender Sehwag
Virat Kohli
S Badrinath
Manoj Tiwary / Kedar Jadhav
Ravindra Jadeja
Wriddhiman Saha / Uday Kaul
Irfan Pathan
S Sreesanth / Sudeep Tyagi
Munaf Patel
Pragyan Ojha

The Mumbai team for the Irani Trophy sports a healthy look under the leadership of Wasim Jaffer and with the presence of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. Prashant Naik gets a look in given that Amol Muzumdar has moved in the off-season to Assam! The probable Mumbai Team is:

Wasim Jaffer
Sahil Kukreja
Ajinkya Rahane
Rohit Sharma
Prashant Naik
Vinayak Samant / Sushant Marathe
Ajit Agarkar
Ramesh Powar
Dhawal Kulkarni
Rahil Shaikh / Murtuza Hussain / Saurabh Netravalkar
OJ Khanvilkar / Iqbal Abdulla

This should be a cracker of a contest and should set the scene for the rest of the India season.

Challenger Trophy:

The Challenger Trophy squads:

India Red:
M Vijay
Sunny Sohal
Shikhar Dhawan
Yuvraj Singh (capt.)
Saurabh Tiwary / Harshad Khadiwale
Ravindra Jadeja
Wriddhiman Saha (wk)
R Ashwin / Ishank Jaggi
Sudeep Tyagi / Bhuvneshwar Kumar
Munaf Patel
Ishant Sharma

India Green:
Parthiv Patel / Uday Kaul (wk)
Tanmay Srivastava
Ajinkya Rahane
Suresh Raina (capt.)
S Badrinath
Manoj Tiwary / Ravi Inder Singh
Irfan Pathan
L Balaji
Dhawal Kulkarni
Pankaj Singh
Chetanya Nanda / Sadab Jakati

India Blue:
Sachin Tendulkar
Wasim Jaffer
MS Dhoni (capt.)
Naman Ojha
Kedar Jadhav / Dhiraj Goswami
Abhishek Nayar
Yusuf Pathan / Jalaj Saxena
Harbhajan Singh
Siddharth Trivedi
Sreesanth
Ashok Dinda / Suresh Kumar

A few surprises here. First, while it is nice to see Suresh Raina’s elevation to captaincy, is it a bit too early for him? Does he really have captaincy material? Second, it is interesting to note that, as I have pointed out before, Mohammed Kaif can’t find a place amongst the best 42 players in the land! Mind you, this set of 42 players does not include players from The Bangalore Royal Challengers players (like Robin Uthappa, Praveen Kumar and Rahul Dravid) and The Deccan Chargers players (like V. V. S. Laxman, R. P. Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma, Tirumalasetti Suman and Venugopal Rao) who are playing in the Challengers because the Champions League will be on at the same time as The Challengers. This means that Mohammed Kaif is not amongst the 51 best ODI players in the land? And he still carries a central contract? Baffling…

The teams look well balanced and will be a nice selection platform for the endless series of ODIs against Australia.

— Mohan

How are the hopefuls going?

While all the action has been around India’s tour of England, India-A has been playing in Kenya and India U-19 has been playing in Sri Lanka.

In Kenya, Parthiv Patel is batting like a dream while Mohammed Kaif has been stuttering. Parthiv Patel has pushed himself up the order and is batting at #1 and even opened in one match raising the distinct possibility of India playing 3 ‘keepers in a game soon! After a rather insipid start, Irfan Pathan looks like he is coming good. He has been taking wickets in most matches. After strong initial contributions with the ball from Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha has stepped up to the plate as a convincing bowling left-arm-spin alternative for the future. One standout in the entire tour has been S. Badrinath. He has been making the runs steadily and he has been making them in quick time too! Of course, India has been winning everything on this tour of Zimbabwe and Kenya!

The real test will come when these lads travel to England, South Africa, West Indies and Australia. But it is certainly nice to follow the travails of the India-A team.

We have kept our eyes focussed on the U-19 tour of Sri Lanka too. There, one of the key interests was in the travels of Tanmay Srivastava and Abhinav Mukund. They both travelled well in the second match of the series, with Abhinav Mukund scoring a double century and a century in the same game!

— Mohan

India’s future – Hopes stay alive

On an otherwise disappointing couple of test cricket days for India, its future has silently delivered a massive victory in the first game at the tri-nations in Sri Lanka. The Indian colts trashed the Sri Lankan team by 159 runs with the UP ranji player and captain of the side, TM Srivastava scoring big. Iqbal Abdullah, the left arm spinner from Mumbai, who has been spoken highly off by Tendulkar himself, captured three wickets for 14 in his seven over spell. Ironically, as I happened to just get off the telephone with my cousin arguing vehemently in favor of at least two of the seniors in the Indian side to stay on for a little longer, one part of me wants to see some of this future talent a little sooner in the current side. On a related note, Abhinav Mukund, briefly mentioned in a previous post of mine, had a modest start to his career as an Indian prospect scoring 13 of 13 balls. Our best wishes to him.

– Srikanth