Tag Archives: Australia

Unacceptable ways of two captains…

In an article on the Umpire Decision Review System, the UDRS, I alluded to the umpires assistance system drawing two distinct and different responses from captains in two countries separated by the Indian Ocean. The Boxing Day Test matches at the MCG and Kingsmead, Durban, saw Ricky Ponting and Greame Smith pull their hair out at the UDRS — the former because it was there and, in his view, implemented wrongly and the latter, because it just wasn’t there! In South Africa and in Australia, we had two captains acting in somewhat strange ways.

Fast forward to the eve of the New Years’ Test matches in Australia and South Africa and we again have two mystifying cases of captains doing things in strange ways.

On the eve of the RSA-India Test match, the hot-headed, ill-tempered, motormouth, Sreesanth received a public rebuke and a dressing down from his captain, MS Dhoni.

On the eve of the Australia-England Test match, it was Ricky Ponting and not Michael Clarke who responded to the Australian Prime Minister Julia Guillard’s speech.

Both of these were examples of bad leadership, in my view.

Mind you, Sreesanth should have his head kicked in (repeatedly). He just does not seem to learn from his past transgressions. He started off as a bit of a maverick when he twirled his bat — lasso-style — at serial-foul-mouth Andre Nel, after he had hit the South African bowler for a six! That was somewhat cute! Most of us tolerated it and put that down to a fiery personality who gave it back as good as he got; a joker who did not take a backward step in coming forward. His track record of offensive behavior since that incident, makes for sorry reading. Make no mistake of that. He sledged an Australian player as a drinks-carrier after which Ian Chappell called for his banning from the game for a period of time! Sreesanth’s own response to all of the brouhaha surrounding him was that he wanted to “find that exact limit between really bad and really good. See how far I can go.”

Right!

One thought he had learned his lessons. But no, a few months later, he got slapped by Harbhajan Singh and immediately broke down and cried on the field.

Subsequent to that the BCCI warned him that he was on a suspended sentence for bad behavior for using foul language against Dhawal Kulkarni in an Irani Cup match. A contrite Sreesanth said we would all see a new-and-improved man on the ground henceforth. A few months later, he was fined for dissent during the IPL.

His is a case of a talented bowler doing more with his eyes and mouth than with his excellent wrists, when bowling. His is an example of an errant boy who just refuses to grow up. His over-the-top antics, which were once “cute” are now becoming an acute embarrassment to a fan of Team India.

At the top of his run up, prior to bowling every ball, Sreesanth pumps his hands two or three times in a motion that seems to suggest “Stay calm and focus”. Somewhere between that motion and when he actually delivers the ball, his brain appears to either get fried or tired. What usually happens then is a stare or a glare or some foul words delivered in the direction of the batsman. The day is not far away when an opposition batsman will hit him with a bat. The BCCI and the Team India captain needs to ensure that their motormouth is adequately insured from such an eventuality.

Story is that in Durban, Sreesanth invoked Greame Smith’s mother in a colorful sledge delivered at the South African captain. An irate Smith waved his bat at the foul-mouthed Indian bowler, lost his head and immediately lost his wicket too!

Dreadfully sad? No. Not really.

My own view is that those who throw stones in an open and filthy drain should not be allowed to dictate the chemistry of the liquid that splashes back at them. However, that said, there is apparently a “line” that cricketers do not cross. Don’t ask me why that line exists. I’d be all for an all-or-nothing approach where one can bring in anything and anyone into a sledge! I am yet to see the Mafia’s published rule book on honorable and dignified methods of killing, for example!

However, the fact is that Graeme Smith was extremely upset that the cricket field was a place where Sreesanth wanted to conduct a discussion on his mother! Smith complained to Dhoni.

Dhoni washed dirty linen in a press conference and reprimanded his player through the media!

I thought that that was a strange case study in bad leadership; strange because Dhoni always comes across as a man who is correct and yet clear in everything he utters. This was certainly very strange. Mind you, Sreesanth, as I said before, does repeatedly cry out to have his head kicked in. But to do that through the media either indicates a bad hair-day for Dhoni or that the India captain is at the end of his tether! Either way this is practice of bad leadership.

Across the Indian Ocean, we witnessed another stark example of bad leadership. Ricky Ponting had just vacated his post as captain of the Australian cricket team. Micheal Clarke was appointed caretaker captain for the last Test against the visiting (and already triumphant) England. Instead of leaving the controls in Clarke’s hands and disappearing from the scene, Ponting indicated that he would hover around the team in the dressing room! This was remote-control leadership. It just does not work. The bus was being driven by Michael Clarke, but Ponting’s hand was firmly on the wheel!

For example, at an official reception to the teams it was Ponting that responded to a welcome by Australian Prime Minister, Julia Guillard.

In my view, these are two examples of questionable leadership on the same day!

— Mohan

Team India are poor travelers?

In the last few days, two very interesting victories have made cricket interesting once again. India won at Kingsmead, Durban and England clinched The Ashes with a famous victory at the MCG.

For sometime now, I have been maintaining a list of some of the most thrilling Indian Test Cricket victories in recent times. I have added to this list, India’s victory on 29 December 2010 at Kingsmead, Durban, South Africa. The addition of “Durban 2010 v South Africa” to this impressive list is because it was once again a come-from-behind victory after a terrible loss in the 1st Test of the series (at Super Sport Park). The Durban victory is an important victory for Team India because it goes a long way towards debunking a myth — yet again! — that India plays badly overseas.

Is it important for India to debunk myths about her ability to play overseas?

No. Not really.

I think it is enough if India plays well every time she takes the field — regardless of where it is. And that is exactly what Team India has been doing in the last decade.

There are trash-talkers who wish to talk with their mouths and then play, sometimes simultaneously and almost always, to their own detriment — as Graeme Smith found out quite rudely in the Durban Test match! Greame Smith can believe the myths he creates to make himself happy about his lot in life. These myths have a strange way of enveloping the myth-creators. When that happens, the inevitable outcome is a simple pin-prick that results in a painful deflation of the balloon of arrogance. The myth-creators are often blind-sided by the myths that they create!

In the last decade, India has won 22 and lost 20 of her 61 overseas Tests for a win/loss ratio of 1.1 and a draw/loss ratio of 0.95. In the same period, when compared with the performance of South Africa, Australia, England and Sri Lanka, the corresponding figures for Australia (for Wins, Losses, Total Overseas Tests, W/L and D/L) are clearly the best at 34, 16, 59, 2.12, 0.56. The figures for South Africa are: 21, 18, 56, 1.16, 0.95. The figures for England are 19, 23, 62, 0.82, 0.86 and those for Sri Lanka are 11, 19, 39, 0.57, 0.47.

Clearly, Australia has the best win-loss ratio, thanks to Australia’s stunning performances when Steve Waugh (and then Ricky Ponting) captained an excellent team with Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Waugh, Martyn, Waugh, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, Gillespie et al. India’s win-loss ratio in the same period compares favorably with that of South Africa and puts into shade, the win-loss performances of Sri Lanka and England.

The draw/loss ratio is not a metric that is often used in comparative analyses of this sort. It is, in my view, as important as the more obvious win-loss ratio that is used almost always. It is a pointer to a teams’ grit and resolve — especially when it plays in unfamiliar conditions. A draw might not be a pretty sight. But it is a pointer to a teams’ grit in tough situations. The above figures might show Australia in poor light as a team that has an inability to grit it out. But this might be more due to the rather refreshing “win at all costs” attitude Australia used to employ in the early part of this decade. But India has drawn almost as many Tests as she has lost in overseas Tests!

Team India has an impressive draw-loss ratio and an acceptable win-loss ratio that is constantly improving.

For example, if we take just the last 5 years, the win-loss and draw-loss ratios are 1.44 and 1.33 for India, 1.66 and 0.89 for Australia, 1.62 and 0.875 for South Africa, 0.6 and 0.86 for England, and, 0.7 and 0.6 for Sri Lanka.

Overall, apart from the impressive Australia team — and that too, in the first half of this decade gone by — India stacks up really well with other top teams in terms of her “overseas” performances. So, in my view, it is time we start debunking these myths about Team India being poor travelers.

To me, with the addition of the latest victory at Kingsmead, this big-list list of recent Indian Test victories reads: Kolkata 2001 (v Australia), Leeds 2002 (v England), Adelaide 2003 (v Australia), Multan 2004 (v Pakistan), Sabina Park 2006 (v West Indies), Johannesburg 2006 (v South Africa), Perth 2008 (v Australia), Mohali 2008 (v Australia), Chennai 2008 (v England), Colombo, P. Sara 2010 (v Sri Lanka), Kingsmead Durban 2010 (v South Africa).

It is fair to say that, with a few days to go to the end of the current decade, the period from 2001 to 2010 has represented an exciting decade for Indian cricket. We have seen some exciting talent explode onto the scene — MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, to name a few. We are seeing a few young turks itching to have a crack on the big stage — Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, M. Vijay, Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma, to name a few. And this entire march has been presided over by the “Famous Five” or the “Fab Five”; five of the best gentlemen to grace Indian cricket together in the same team.

One of this quintet — The Famous Five — was responsible for this sensational victory in Durban. The smiling assassin, V. V. S. Laxman, carefully scripted this impressive victory. And with this victory, the world might start accepting that a green-top is as useful to India as it is to the host.

As Dileep Premachandran says, “If one picture could tell you the story of how Indian cricket’s fortunes have changed in three years, it would be that taken at Kingsmead at 9.58am on Wednesday. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who had tested his captain’s patience in the last game by taking an age to bowl his overs, pitched one just short of a length to Jacques Kallis. The ball spat up like an angry cobra and it said much about Kallis’s skill that he jackknifed and managed to get a glove to it before it rearranged his features. The ball lobbed up gently to Virender Sehwag at gully and four wickets down with another 180 to get, South Africa were out for the count. And, after years of their batsmen copping punishment from opposition quicks, an Indian pace bowler was dishing it out.”

That ball will become part of Indian cricket folklore. As Ayaz Memon said on his Twitter time-line (@cricketwallah), “Sreesanth’s snorter to dismiss Kallis will become as famous in cricket lore as Sandhu’s banana delivery that got Greenidge in 1983 World Cup.”

In conclusion, let us debunk two myths: One, that India are poor travelers. Two, that a lively pitch only assists the home team when Team India visits!

Ps:

While we are on the topic of green-tops, how is it ok for Graeme Smith or Dale Steyn to “request” for green-tops against India while a “request” for a spin-friendly wicket in India by an Indian captain or player is frowned upon when Australia or South Africa visit Indian shores?

I have never heard a visiting Indian captain whine about the state of pitches in Melbourne, Leeds or Durban? Isn’t it time that captains that visit the sub-continent lock their whine-vocal-chords at home before they board the plane?

PPs:

While I exist in this paranoid state, am I the only one to believe that if Ricky’s surname was not Ponting, but either Singh or Kumar or Khan, he would have been suspended for his totally over-the-top antics at the MCG? Had I been the umpire and had an on-field captain carried on like a pork chop the way Ricky Ponting did, I would have searched for a red card and thrown the man out of the park! The fact that Aleem Dar tolerated the Ponting “carry on” was a testament to the umpires’ patience. The fact that the match referee slapped a mere fine on Ponting means that, to me, the Match Referee’s office is, once again, shown up for the disgrace it is. The fact that Cricket Australia did not suspend Ricky Ponting immediately means that the “Spirt of Cricket” document that all Australian cricketers sign up when they get the Baggy Green needs to be torn up immediately and re-written in an environment of grace and humility.

— Mohan

Vale Australian Cricket?

Srikanth Mangalam wrote a brilliant piece on the disintegration of Australian Cricket yesterday. I loved his opening where he says, “If your resume states that you have spun a top atleast three times in your life, you would certainly qualify to play for Australia in the Ashes series.”

I abhor gloating, but I will take the bait — as Srikanth did — this one time. In the 1990s, I lost count of the number of times when I’ve not wanted to go in to work on a Monday (in Australia) for fear of being continually ridiculed by my Aussie colleagues for a(nother) pathetic show by Team India. When I said to one such colleague, “I don’t think it is acceptable to kick a guy when he is down”, his immediate reply was, “When else am I going to do it?”

Funny. But true!

The shoe is on the other foot. We can show a bit of grace, I suppose, but I am happy to stick it to the Aussies for a little while yet! Payback does feel good sometimes.

One aspect of the recent decline of Australian cricket that Srikanth Mangalam omitted is the fact that this entire period of slump has been presided by coach Tim Nielsen! And guess what? He has been awarded a 3-year extension until 2013! Why has he got this extension? Because he is the coach that took Australia from #1 in the ICC Test rankings to #5 — and the slide does not appear to have stopped! How is it possible that the coach gets a 3-year extension before even a single ball has been bowled in the all-important Ashes series? Well, I suppose Nielsen has consistency on his side — he has managed to string together a series of losses quite consistently!

The Australian selectors are panicking. Stuart McGill has come down on the selection panel like a ton of bricks. Soon, others will follow suit. If Australian cricket fans think that there is good news around the corner, please take a look at who is lurking around the dressing rooms: Greg Chappell! And we all know what he did with/to Team India!

I believe the Australian slide started on that fateful day in early-January 2008, when the world of cricket adopted a Gate of its own: MonkeyGate!

Almost since then, the Australian selectors have stolen the revolving door that the Team India selection panel used so effectively in the 1990s! Michael Beer will be the 10th Australian Test spinner used since the retirement of Shane Warne! Krejza looked good and Hauritz has the stats (except in India). But they have been revolved out! The Australian selectors are panicking — much like the Team India selectors did up until the 1990s — and the world of cricket is loving every second of this soap opera that is spiraling downwards and out of control.

The level of panic is so high that the selectors have turned to Michael Beer! I do know that beer is a fine Australian tradition. I am confident that the brown liquid does help the average Aussie drive away most pains, but most Aussies will know that the hangover from beer can linger for quite a while!

I am certain that the world of cricket needs a strong and vibrant Australia. I have no doubt about that. Test cricket is currently going through a slump and that is, in my view, due to the state of Australian cricket.

Rahul Bhattacharya, in an article in the Mint Lounge says it all. His piece starts off brilliantly. The hypothesis is quite clearly stated and Bhattacharya commences his arguments purposefully. He and then slides into a strange cackle, produces an incoherent set of arguments towards the middle and then slides into an immature oblivion — much like the slide in Australian cricket that he so bemoans. I believe Rahul Bhattacharya loses the plot when, in an article on the global slump in Test cricket, he devotes an entire chunk of his article to Ricky Ponting’s predilection for fellow Tasmanian cricketers!

Be that as it may, I believe Test cricket needs a strong Australia. It certainly was exciting when Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Glen McGrath played together.

Test cricket needs that kind of excitement! Today, instead of Marshall-Holding-Garner-Roberts or even McGrath-Lee-Gillespie, the best we have is Steyn-Morkel-Parnell! Instead of Prasanna-Bedi-Chandrashekar we have Harbhajan-Ojha or worse still Beer-North or Hauritz-Smith!

The Australian domestic system is too robust to see the situation slide to a point where Zimbabwe and Bangladesh start licking their lips in anticipation of a series against the Aussies! There is an abundance of talent in the Australian domestic scene. This needs to be, once again, harnessed, toughened and sharpened in a style similar to that which Alan Border adopted in the mid-80s. That fine tradition of tough Australian cricketers, so perfectly instilled by Border, was then carried on by Taylor and Waugh. Today, Ricky Ponting has lost it all. That is primarily because, in my view, Ponting is no Alan Border. Ponting is a good captain of a good team filled with good/strong individuals. The job now requires a tough, no-nonsense guy who is not given to existing in a prolonged and continual state of extreme denial. The job requires someone who has an internal mirror that offers nothing but uncompromisingly candid introspection. Ponting, unfortunately, does not possess mirrors. He is far too easily prone to denial-driven-operations — witness his reactions to criticism after his disastrous decision in the Nagpur Test against India in 2008!

Perhaps the answer is that Ponting has to go as captain. If he goes as captain, Australia may buck the trend and have him continue as a player. That is hard to say. However, what is needed is a no-nonsense captain who is uncompromisingly tough; a captain that can transform boys into men. Just as South Africa made an extremely bold decision in appointing Graeme Smith as captain a few years back, Australia needs to make a tough decision; a decision with tremendous foresight and far-reaching consequences.

And what has this got to do with India and Indian cricket? As I say, the world of cricket needs a tough Australia. To have India as #1 when Australia is weak means a hollow #1 for me.

That said, I am enjoying sticking the boot in right now and perhaps for the next few weeks.

— Mohan

India-Australia ODI Series: A Preview

At the height of the Chennai (South Indian Classical Music) Margazhi Festival, I attended an exhilarating Remember Shakti concert at The Music Academy. It featured a deluge of musical excellence, an amalgamation of the bewitching talents of U. Srinivas, Ustad Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan and Sivamani. I think my hair stood on end for 2 hours after I left the auditorium. The next morning, I found it hard to motivate myself to go watch the performance of a young, talented, upcoming musician. It was my intention to capture Shakti’s exquisite rendition of girirajasudha as my final memory of that ‘music season’, and not have it usurped by a freshman.

Going into the India-Australia ODI series, perhaps I can sniff that same feeling. But hypocrite that I am, apart from a hopeless cricket anorak, I just know that as the clock strikes 00:00 on Sunday, I will be in front of my laptop tuned in to the live streaming video of the first match at Kochi.

Both teams have rested several first choice players, to recharge batteries and allow battle wounds to heal. Shikhar Dhawan of Delhi & the Mumbai Indians has been rewarded with a maiden call-up for a string of consistent performances in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. In all probability, he will open the batting alongside Murali Vijay. Yuvraj Singh is back in his favourite format, and will be expected to don his familiar No. 4 role. He will know that the knives are out for him & his fitness and will be keen to counter criticism. He remains a critical component of India’s World Cup plans. M.S. Dhoni & Suresh Raina selecting themselves leaves Virat Kohli, Saurabh Tiwary and Rohit Sharma to fight it out for 2 batting slots. Tiwary has been in the mix for the last couple of tournaments without quite getting an opportunity. Rohit may find that this is his last chance, with S. Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane & Abhinav Mukund breathing down his neck. The pace attack is not completely innocent of experience. Praveen Kumar will join forces with the enigmatic Munaf Patel and the moody Ashish Nehra. India could still bleed at the death though, and this is where R. Ashwin comes in. He is the lone specialist spinner in the squad, and judging by his performances during the Powerplay in the Champions League, he could steal the show. On comatose Indian pitches, it is highly unlikely that Vinay Kumar will make an impression, and the slot could have been better justified by including either Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav or Abhimanyu Mithun. The biggest mind-boggler, and it has been so for quite a while now, is the unwarranted presence of Ravindra Jadeja. What the selectors see in him, only they know.

Australia will be without Ricky Ponting, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson. The balance that the all round talents of Watson brings to the table, along with his experience of Indian conditions, could be sorely missed. The batting still wears a healthy look. The explosive David Warner, the serene Shaun Marsh and the dangerous Cameron White – all household IPL names – will join forces with the old hands of skipper Michael Clarke & Mike Hussey. Neither Clarke nor Hussey have enjoyed the best of tours, and will look to make amends. Callum Ferguson, a relatively unknown commodity, is an exciting talent. Some of the Indians will have come across him in the Champions League. Doug Bollinger, the hustler, will spearhead an inexperienced attack. His ability to make things happen was sorely missed in the Test series. He will be assisted by the tall rookie Mitchell Starc. Clint McKay & Nathan Hauritz were part of Australia’s setup in the ODI series played in India last year. Both have more than satisfactory records in this format. Hauritz definitely wouldn’t miss Tendulkar, Sehwag & Laxman. Shane Warne’s Tweets might help him more than a coaching manual right now! It will be interesting to watch how the Aussies fit in an all-rounder in the XI. They aren’t short of options though, in the steady James Hopes, the highly reputed Steven Smith (I hope he plays!) and John Hastings, called in as a replacement for the injured James Pattinson. Tim Paine, one of Australia’s success stories from the Tests, has a great opportunity to narrow the gap between him and Brad Haddin.

The venues for the ODI series are Kochi, Visakhapatnam & Goa. One only hopes the attendance mirrors Bangalore and not Mohali. Visakhapatnam will hold special memories for Dhoni, having made his first big splash in international cricket there. In spite of a weakened side, India will start favourites. Dhoni has prior experience of working wonders with young inexperienced cricketers. The leveller will be the greater athleticism of the Aussies, although India, with sprightly personnel in their squad, will be better served than they were in the Test series. Rains across South India will have slowed down outfields, placing greater emphasis on fielding and running between the wickets.

With India riding a Test cricket high, and Australia gearing up for the Ashes, this series will be no more than a filler. Unlike the Test series, its brevity makes it more palatable. I predict India coming up trumps 2-1.

SQUADS

India:
MS Dhoni (Captain & wk), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Saurabh Tiwary, R Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Vinay Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma

Australia:
Michael Clarke (Captain), Cameron White, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, Michael Hussey, James Hopes, Tim Paine (wk),Clint McKay, John Hastings, Nathan Hauritz, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Doug Bollinger

SCHEDULE

1st ODI: India v Australia at Kochi
Oct 17, 2010 (09:00 local, 03:30 GMT)
2nd ODI: India v Australia at Visakhapatnam
Oct 20, 2010 (14:30 local, 09:00 GMT)
3rd ODI: India v Australia at Margao
Oct 24, 2010 (09:00 local, 03:30 GMT)

— TS Kartik (Guest Contributor)

The Australians are here…

The mind games have begun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pity! Because the batting has never been better!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Australians are here? Well of course…

— Mohan

Board Presidents’ XI Team against Australia

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

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

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

Let us get the positives out of the way first:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A curious-mixed-bag indeed!

— Mohan

Ps: Postscript on 14 September @ 1900 IST

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

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

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

The ICC launches into another controversy

As if it wasn’t enough for the ICC to get bogged down by a bankruptcy of ideas and control of the game, the organisation has now found a new way to embarrass itself. It has stumbled to a new low resting point through a shocking mis-management of the process for electing John Howard as President-Elect of the august body!

In his article on Cricinfo, Gideon Haigh states, “Say what you like about the members of the International Cricket Council, they are utterly consistent. No matter how far you lower your expectations, they always find a way to underperform.”

Hilarious opening to an interesting opinion piece. I do not agree with much of what Haigh says in this article, but it certainly paints a mobid picture of a moribund organisation! The problem with Haigh is that he has declared his cards as a person that views the BCCI, IPL, Modi and Indian cricket with suspicion if not disdain! In the past he has stopped short of stating that the only cricket that really matters is that which is regularly held between England and Australia for a little urn. So I certainly have that grain of salt handy when I read anything he writes!

But he does have a point. The ICC finds stunningly innovative ways of repeatedly embarrassing itself in public.

The ICC Presidency chair is a rotating beast. So it cannot and should not really get political. If it is a Boards’ turn to have a crack at the top job, it ought to have all linen washed internally (as New Zealand and Australia did in choosing John Howard) before offering up a candidate who ought to be elected unopposed. That is how a rotating chair ought to work. There is, however, a danger in such a method because, before you know it, when it is Zimbabwe’s turn we may be forced to stare at Robert Mugabe’s smirk on the ICC website for four long and painful years! Hence there has been a proxy election in place. It has never, however, been used up until now.

It has been used now! The result is that Australia feels insulted. New Zealand is probably saying “I told you he sucked as a candidate”. England is embarrassed through no fault of theirs — again! And the ICC is in some disarray as a result of (a) a terrible, terrible choice of candidate (in my view), (b) the organisations’ ineptness in making decisions other than those driven by consensus, and, most importantly (c) the organisation being unable to state to the losing candidate why (s)he lost!

Ever since the International Cricket Council was formed (after its predecessors, the Imperial Cricket Conference and the International Cricket Conference were canned) we have had this rotation system work near-perfectly: England had Lord Colin Cowderey as President of the ICC (from 1989-1993). West Indies had the great Sir Clyde Walcott from 1993-1997. India had that wily combatant, Jagmohan Dalmiya as ICC President from 1997–2000. Australia had Malcolm Gray from 2000–2003 followed by Pakistan’s Ehsaan Mani from 2003–2006. This was followed by Percy Sonn (2006-2007) and Ray Mali (2007–2008), a dual South African act on account of the fact that Sonn passed away while ‘in office’. This then saw an England-India double act in David Morgan (2008-2010) and Sharad Pawar (2010-2012).

The system has been working well in so far as providing a mechanism for tokens and lollipops to be routinely handed out to the member countries as appeasements.

That is up until now, when the word “trust” has started to take on much more of a meaning in our collective dictionary than ever before. Moreover, through a combination of their collective increase in their self-confidence as well as an improved ability on the field and (especially for India) their money power, the word “trust” has also been bandied about more often than necessary. Muscles have been flexed!

John Howards’ rejection has to be seen in this light and should not be seen as a collective insult to the Australian people.

Malcolm Speed has reacted angrily to the insult in his emotional outburst. He even suggests that Australia and New Zealand should give up their automatic right to a lollipop hand-out and, instead, hand it over to the next set of boards in the lollipop queue: Bangladesh and Pakistan!

Gideon Haigh has reacted emotionally and bemoaned the insult to the man who was so loved by the Australian people that they elected him not once, not twice, not three times, but no less than four times! Gosh! Of course, that must mean so much to a rag picker in Southern Mumbai. Right?

Wrong!

John Howard was a brave man when he was in power as Australian Prime Minister. He had views on most things and did not take a backward step in going forward on things he believed in. He routinely commented on things cricket. He loved his cricket. He even bowled once when in Pakistan when on a tour there — never mind the fact that few of the balls even reached the hapless batsmen! He also came out in the open and called Muthiah Muralitharan a “chucker”!

Do you think the people of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Board would trust a man at the top of the ICC tree after his utterances against their beloved son — utterances made by an incredibly honorable man while in a position of the power that was bestowed on him by the good people of Australia no less than four times?

The fact that the good people of Australia showered their love on John Howard — and I have no doubt he is an incredibly honorable man — four times should mean diddly squat to the people of Sri Lanka or officials on their cricket board! However, the fact that Howard ignored the opinions of bio-mechanics experts and chose to comment on Muralidharan’s chucking, would have made the Sri Lankan Board and her people sit up and view Howard with some suspicion. Let us not forget that one of the men close to the officials that run the cricket board in that country is Arjuna Ranatunga, the captain that labored through that awful awful time for Sri Lankan cricket; a time made worse by John Howards’ comments. Sri Lanka simply does not have trust in the ICC-man Australia has chosen. Simple. Ditto Zimbabwe, given Howard’s utterances against that country and its cricket.

Was Howard right with his views? That is not really the issue. The issue is one of trust deficit.

Ultimately, Howard just did not have friends in ICC member countries. This is not an insult to Australians or to Howard.

Gideon Haigh emits his true colors, though, when he yells, “Ultimately, however, responsibility lies with the chaotic, fratricidal, law-unto-itself Board of Control for Cricket in India, for had it chosen to back Howard, the decision would have gone through on the nod. The BCCI likes to think of itself as cricket’s leader – as, indeed, it is, by any economic measure. But where was it when actual leadership was required? Sunk in its own macchiavellian intrigues, busy trying to claw back a facilitation fee from World Sports Group, and poring over Lalit Modi’s hotel and limousine expenses. Suggestions in the Indian media are that the rejection stems from internal upheavals at the BCCI, where ICC president Sharad Pawar, who supported Howard’s nomination, is on the nose with his former colleagues for being too close to Modi. Who knows? And who, ultimately, cares?”

If Gideon Haigh did not care, why would he devote so much eyeball space to the BCCI and its “fratricidal” ways? I have a feeling that Gideon Haigh will soon drop the blame for world hunger and world peace at the door steps of the BCCI!

Yes, there was indeed a report in a few Indian media outlets that the BCCI’s decision not to support Howard stemmed from the current BCCI leaderships’ desire to stick it to Sharad Pawar! And Gideon Haigh, a reputed and thorough journalist, fell for that piece of unfounded and ill-informed junk? The initial story quoted no source nor attribution. Nor did it have a basis. It was a story that I read and discarded. Gideon Haigh must perhaps learn to develop a few filters, especially when reading Indian media — most of whom are story tellers who look at the phrase “breaking story” and pay more attention to the word “story” than the word “breaking”!

Leadership by the BCCI has minimal role to play here in this, in my view.

There was, in my view, a leadership vacuum in Australia and New Zealand when the choice of John Howard was made. I could have predicted this outcome the day John Howard was put up as a choice.

Indeed, let us have a look at what our own Soundar Iyer wrote on i3j3cricket after a conversation with Gideon Haigh. Soundar writes that in the view of Haigh, the decision to back John Howard “largely revolved around the relative merits of each candidate pertinent to their ability to handle the behemoth that was the BCCI. The view was that Howard, the wily politician that he was, was probably the best equipped. Time will tell.”

Time did tell.

An alternative view to that which Gideon Haigh formed above — when he laid the blame for the Howard-shafting on BCCI’s doorstep — could be that the BCCI perhaps showed immense leadership and foresight by saying:

  • We know Australia and New Zealand have selected a candidate that has been expressly chosen to shaft us,
  • We know that that choice is bad because South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka have enough gripes to reject the man without us getting involved in the scrum,
  • We will openly show our support for the choice,
  • We will then protect our relationship with Australia and New Zealand by watching as this terrible choice is torn down by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka!

Unfortunately, if the above hypothesis is correct, the BCCI did nothing more than protecting its self-interest! Protecting self-interest is not wrong in itself. After all, look at what England and Australia did in the formative years of cricket! Moreover, everyone looks after their self-interest.

What is wrong is putting self-interest so high that the game itself is compromised or ruined in the process.

The latter would happen if John Howard was the only human being left in Australia and New Zealand! The last time I looked though, despite negative growth rates, New Zealand and Australia do still have a few people left! I am sure one of them would be an acceptable candidate — and even a strong candidate — for the whole of the ICC. Indeed, before Australia pushed hard for John Howard, New Zealand wanted to pursue John Anderson — former chairman of the New Zealand board and a terrific cricket administrator. Surely, he would have been elected unanimously and we would not have had to assess whether the Australian people had been viscously insulted and victimized!

Therefore, in my view, the mistake lies not in the doorstep of the BCCI or Sri Lanka. The mistake was in the choice of John Howard who had perhaps made many an enemy in the cricketing world.

That said, the ICC, sunk to new lows because it showed again that it is political, moribund and powerless.

The saddest thing about this episode is that it is a clear signal that cricket is divided with England, Australia and New Zealand on one side and with India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh on the other and with South Africa and West Indies developing collective sore backsides from time to time! Despite strong and stellar attempts by Australia, and in particular, James Sutherland, in recent times, the trust deficit exists.

As Sambit Bal says,

But in recent years cricket seemed to have moved away from post-colonial angst into the lap of naked capitalism. Self-interest remained the guiding principle, but alliances based on commerce rather than race seemed far more palatable. The use of the term Asian Bloc – it had a pejorative ring to it – became rarer as India and Australia, the richest board and the strongest team, moved closer.

It’s premature to proclaim an official split or speculate what immediate impact it will have on global cricket, but on the Howard issue it was evident who stood where. Australia and New Zealand stood by their nominated candidate, and they had only England by their side.”

So why is Howard’s rejection at the ICC table wrong? And why do I think the ICC is moribund?

Any candidate is owed the duty of care and the dignity of feedback in any transparent election process. If they are not selected they need to understand why they were not chosen. The only feedback that John Howard will have received, as Sambit Bal has noted, is from the Sri Lankan Board that stated openly that they did not rate Howards’ sport administration skills!

On dear! Really! A man who led a country cannot run a cricket board? Clearly then, Sri Lanka rates Sharad Pawar’s sport administration skills highly. They probably took one good look at him asleep at the wheel while Lalit Modi diddled the IPL books and decided that Sharad Pawar ought to receive their backing! Right!

Clearly, the reason offered by Sri Lanka has much to do with wool and eyes. But at least Sri Lanka offered a reason; albeit one that cannot be countered or defended in such a process. The rest of the members in the cast played some back room games, cast their vote and moved on with the same disdain that England and Australia used to dish out when the only cricket that mattered was that which the two of them played!

Roles have reversed. The owners of the despicable attitudes have changed. Cricket stumbles through darkness yet again!

As Sambit Bal writes, these actions “threaten to drag cricket back to the age of acrimony and mistrust.”

— Mohan

The ICC is heading towards bankruptcy

Well, the ICC is not bankrupt yet — and we all know that! But it is an organisation that is constantly at war… with itself!

Unlike FIFA or any other world sporting body that has taken (or attempts to take) total control of the game that it controls and the direction in which it is headed, the ICC seems to me to be content with being run around when strings are pulled by its members. People come and go in the organisation at regular intervals, but one thing that remains is that, in my view, the ICC seems to be heading towards bankruptcy (of ideas and power). It certainly resembles an organisation that is walking around with a gun pointed at its head.

Interestingly, however, the organisation that holds the gun to the ICC’s head is not always the same. The ICC appears to be so weak that any one of South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Zimbabwe, India, Australia, England, New Zealand, Bangladesh or Pakistan is able to be the owner of that hand that holds the gun.

We saw the existence of the gun but held by different hands when Bangladesh was admitted as a permanent member; when Muralitharan got banned and reinstated; when Shoaib Akhtar got banned and reinstated; when Harbhajan Singh almost got banned by a powerless Mike Procter and had his ban revoked by an Australian judge; when the IPL commenced; when Mike Denness banned Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar; when Hansie Cronje ought to have been banned; when the match-fixing controversy blew; when the ICL players were banned; when Shane Warne and Mark Waugh ought to have been banned but were protected by their host organisation; when Ramnaresh Sarawan asked about the health of Glenn McGrath’s wife; when Michael Slater enquired about the health of Rahul Dravid and Srinivas Venkataraghavan in a cricket pitch in Mumbai at a time when his own world was crumbling around him; when WADA wanted all cricketers to sign up to its anti-doping clause; and much more. A full compilation of a list of ICC-impotency moments will require a tome. Moreover, the ICC has made rabbits and headlights proud on the issue of Zimbabwe.

Now, the organisation is looking like old rabbit in new lamb’s clothing but with sharper headlights when Australia stated her intention of starting a new 50-over-2-inning-format of the game.

Today at a time when FIFA is marching on confidently with a firm grip on the ‘World Game’, the ICC seems to me to be an organisation that gives new meaning to the phrase “rudderless ship”. ICC says it wants to watch the new 2-inning-50-over (or 40-over) experiment that Australia wants to conduct.

Agreed. One has to wait and watch and see and analyse and move forward. There is no point in rushing into something without a proper pilot that measures the effectiveness of any change. But is there a need to wait and watch this experiment for 6 years? What more is a 6-year wait-and-watch pilot of a new 2-inning-50-over format going to tell you that you do not already know about an existing 50-over format that looks tired today?

This wait-and-watch experiment resembles the history of ICC’s involvement in the Twenty20 format. There is a suggestion that a Perth-man, George Christos, claims to have proposed a Twenty20 to the ICC in 1997 — a claim that the ICC has dismissed. However, the format was definitely researched, designed, developed and implemented by England’s Stuart Robertson between 1999 and2001.

ICC watched as the format grew in popularity. ICC’s response was to reacquaint itself with rabbits and headlights! As the game became more and more popular and as the ICL bandwagon grew in its popularity, the ICC was compelled to conduct the first World Championship T20 Cup. That was when Lalit Modi was “waiting and watching”. He waited and watched publicly for precisely 3 months! The IPL juggernaut rolled out of the stables before the ICC could say either “rabbit” or “headlight”! The rug was once again pulled from under the ICC’s feet. They lost control of yet another round of shadow boxing in a game of power politics.

In those three months that ICC spent twiddling their thumbs, an impatient Lalit Modi made a hash of a rebel-league attempt and created 8 extremely rich owners and poured more money (and thereby, more control) into an already bulging BCCI money pot! Modi did this right under ICC’s nose. Five years ago, the ICC with some dynamism could have created its own property.

Of course, the 2-inning-50-over format has problems. But surely, by setting a exit-scenario for mothballing the current ODI format, the ICC could send a stronger signal that it wants control in the development of the game. It is, instead, reacquainting itself with rabbits and headlights; an art form that it has become adept at.

— Mohan

Ponting flounders while Harbhajan Singh is at it again…

Harbhajan Singh and Australia have a history.

It was Harbhajan Singh’s hattrick in Kolkata — which came before VVS Laxman’s 281 — that started the self-belief ride in that epic series between these two sides in 2001. Lest we forget, he hit the winning runs in that nail-biting and tense finish to the Chennai Test, which gave India the series victory in that 2001 series.

In 2007, it was his brilliance with the bat in the company of Sachin Tendulkar, and the later “Maan Ki” episode in Sydney that seemed to spur a somewhat insipid and weak Indian team that had capitulated in Melbourne. The team went on to record a phenomenal victory in Perth in another epic encounter between these two sides.

In 2008, India was down and almost out in Bangalore in the 1st Test of another epic series between the teams. Again, it was Harbhajan Singh (in the company of an unlikely hero in Zaheer Khan) who turned things around for India with the bat. It may have been almost impossible to conceieve an Indian series victory if India had lost in Bangalore and had the momentum shifted to Australia — although one never knows what may have happened, of course. However, that was a momentum changing innings from a man how loves to irritate the Australians.

Such moments can sometimes define a series — like Monty Panesar’s stubborn resistance did, at Cardiff, a few months back!

And much as Steve Waugh, that master of “mental disintegration”, allowed himself to be irritated by Sourav Ganguly’s “toss tactics”, the Australians — including their press — instead of ignoring Harbhajan Singh, fall prey to his antics every time.

In Vadodara, in the first match of the current 7-ODI series, India were almost down and out chasing a not-so-large total. A huge loss would have shifted the momentum completely Australia’s way. Instead we had a cheeky, pugnacious and gritty fight back from that man Harbhajan Singh (in the company of Praveen Kumar) that almost got India a victory!

I have no doubt that that innings changed the way India approached the 2nd match in Nagpur. Although some may point to a depleted Australian bowling attack, I do believe that India would have won even if Brett Lee had played. India played with purpose and determination not often seen by an up-and-down team.

One hopes that this momentum is taken into the remaining games too. However, much as I do not like his antics, one just cannot get over the fact that Harbhajan Singh rises to the occasion everytime he plays against Australia. They say that a great player is one that performs at his best against the best. Perhaps it is time for us to recognise — maybe even reluctantly — that Harbhajan Singh is up there after all?

In ODIs he has a batting average of 16.56 against Australia, when compared to a career average of 13.42, although his bowling stats against Australia is worse than his career average! His highest score while batting in ODIs is against Australia (the 49 he made last week at Vadodara). In Tests, his batting average against Australia is 21.83 when compared to a career average of 17.01. He bowls better against Australia too — 79 wickets at 28.82 as opposed to 300 career wickets at 30.42! His career high Test score of 66 is just 3 higher than his highest score against Australia (the 63 that he made in that “Maan Ki” Test in Sydney). His best Test bowling figures (8 for 84) is against Australia too — in that epic Test match in Chennai in 2001.

It is clear that Harbhajan Singh turns it on whenever he plays against Australia. More power to him.

If India play on the momentum secured thus far and if the team continues to show the passion and the focus that was on display in the 2nd ODI at Nagpur, I think it will be hard for Australia to come back into the series.

And for Australia to bounce back, skin will be important!

Yes! Someone from the Australian team must play out-of-their-skin cricket and the team must not allow Harbhajan Singh to get under their collective skins!

Ricky Ponting said yesterday that he is not a believer in momentum. He said, “I am not a big believer of momentum from game to game. Momentum is all that’s happening in a particular game. I don’t think much of it carries from game to game. I think many of the games that I have played in the past have changed too quickly to be attributed to momentum.”

I am now convinced that, unlike his efforts with the bat, Ricky Ponting is inconsistent with his mouth!

Here is a sample of what Ponting has said (or reported to have said) just in the last few months!

According to Mike Hussey (and he must be a dependable man as well as a reliable source), “Ricky’s been on our hammer already basically about trying to maintain our momentum.” He continued, “Momentum is not something you can turn on and off like a switch. If we can finish this series strongly, that will give us some good impetus going into the Champions Trophy…”

This was precisely 45 days ago. So what’s changed in the intervening period for Ricky Ponting to discard his “momentum theory”?

And some two and a half months back, after Australia’s win at Headingley against England, Ponting declared “The momentum [is] with us”. He went on to say, ”We all get asked about [momentum] after every game, especially in these series that seem to see-saw and swing from one side to the other. For me, the momentum thing is what your individual players get out of the game. There’s not many of our individuals who haven’t taken a lot in this game.”

And at the start of the ongoing series against India, Ponting’s utterances may have led the uninitiated to believe that the Asutralian captain does believe in momentum!

It seems to me that what he has said in the above examples is that he believed in “momentum”. He now does not. Oh well. One theory when you win. One when you lose, I guess?

Despite the newly-laid Delhi track which saw 4 sub-100 scores in the Champions League, I expect India to field an unchanged side.

Australia have to make changes to the side. Tim Paine is back in Australia. Graham Manou is in. This will mean that Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh open the batting. I am not convinced that Cameron White is an appropriate player at #4. But there is something common about Cameron White, Australia and bad choices! Remember the Tests against India in India last year? I have no idea why Cameron White was in that Test side. I am not sure what he is doing batting at #4 in this ODI side. Maybe he will prove me wrong though. Who knows? It is likely that Moises Henriques will get his ODI cap in the Delhi game. He is the sort of bowler that may perform well on the Delhi track.

I will not be surprised if Australia wins the Delhi match. This Ricky Ponting led team is strong and will fight every inch of the way.

And if Australia does win, expect Ponting to say that he was happy to have “reclaimed the momentum”!

— Mohan

Now we yearn for “The Dhoni of Old”… Duh!

Forget the present. Forget the future.

It seems Indians want to continue to live in the past!

Chairman of selectors, Kris Srikkanth, pronounced that we had seen “the old MS Dhoni” after India beat Australia by 99 runs in the 2nd ODI at Nagpur last night.

In the recent past, we have had many a report suggesting that the “Tendulkar of Old” was there or thereabouts. Every time the great champion batsman scores a century, we hear talk of the “Tendulkar of Old”.

As I keep saying to a lot of my friends, if you want to see the “Tendulkar of Old”, buy a DVD! If you want to see the “Dhoni of Old”, buy yourself a DVD!

In the meanwhile, rejoice the present and plan for the future! Duh! Surely that can’t be too hard!

Even Cricinfo’s Siddharth Monga seems to suggest he has a bit of a yearning for the “Dhoni of Old”! Monga writes, “And back the old Dhoni was. Walking down and hitting Shane Watson, heaving and slapping Mitchell Johnson, hitting three bottom-handed sixes in two overs, he scored 54 runs in his last 27 balls, putting it past Australia…”. There is nothing wrong with the current Dhoni. As Monga himself writes, “India need both the Dhonis, but there are other batsmen who can compensate for the old Dhoni, and more often than not it’s the new Dhoni that nobody else evokes. Dhoni, more than anybody else, knows that.”

India needs players who perform consistently in the role that they (a) are able to perform, (b) are best at performing, (c) have been given (or taken on for themselves).

Meanwhile, I do hope the sales of the DVD of Dhoni’s 183 skyrocket for those of us who want to see the “Dhoni of old”. If we do not rejoice the “Dhoni of Now” or the “Tendulkar of Now”, a few years from now, we will yearn for the “Dhoni of the immediate past” and forget that we had just watched but not understood nor relished that phase of a cricketers’ evolving career!

The match last night was a fascinating and clinical performance by India. The manner in which Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir re-built the innings and stabilised it suggested that both batsmen had a plan and knew exactly what was needed and how to get there. They were calm, unflustered, purposeful and measured in their approach. Perhaps Gambhir got out at the wrong time — just before the ball would be changed and probably just before the Batting Powerplay would have been taken (had Gambhir been there). However, his departure meant that Suresh Raina and Dhoni, together, turned on an intelligent and power-packed partnerships in which audacious shots were mixed with sharp running and clever placements. And once the foot reached the pedal, in a very Australian manner, the two of them kept their foot on the pedal to take India to an unassailable total.

The bowling was impressive too. I was particularly impressed with Praveen Kumar’s line-and-length discipline. And it was certainly refreshing to see Ishant Sharma reach the 140-145 kmph mark regularly. He seems to have worked out his problems. He was running in more confidently and with greater purpose.

I will be surprised if India change the team for the next ODI in Delhi (Sunday). Meanwhile, Australia have a few more problems. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine is flying back to Australia with a broken finger!

Meanwhile, the “Adjective Watch” department of i3j3 has woken up from its long slumber! After all, Australia is playing India!

Richard Earle has labelled Harbhajan Singh “infamous”. No. No. Hang on there. Not “rude” or “ugly” or “foul mouthed” or “loutish” or “obnoxious”. This is different: Infamous. In a wonderful piece of exquisite prose in The Daily Telegraph, this celebrated writer, Richard Earle has used the following choice adjectives in his description of Harbhajan Singh: Infamous, wily wind-up merchant, fearless tailender

Apparently in Harbhajan Singh’s 31-ball 49 at Vadodhra “saw the Turbanator trading verbal blows with the Australians.”

And what were the Australians doing when said verbal blows were being traded? Oh! They were knitting, as every good, honest, God-fearing, mother-loving, saintly and pristine Australian cricketer would do. Of course!

The article starts off with a screaming byline “INFAMOUS Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has ignited the showdown for the world one-day crown by predicting India can demolish Australia and snatch the No.1 ranking.”

Phew!

What did the fiesty, wily wind-up merchant and infamous obnoxious weed of an off-spinner actually say?

Harbhajan Singh, the great Indian off-spinner said, “I believe if we play to our potential we will win 5-2,” Harbhajan told The Daily Telegraph. “I am looking forward to the next six matches. It is very important for me to do well, I am most happy when the situation demands that I perform well for my country.”

I read humility. I read dignity. I read respect for the opposition. I also read an element of self-doubt.

Then again, who am I?

I am not an Australian reporter with hatred in my eyes, a chip on my shoulder and an axe to grind.

— Mohan