Tag Archives: Balaji

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

Advertisements

Has the IPL helped nurture local talent?

At a lunch that I went to Sunday afternoon, I was hauled up by a frequent visitor to i3j3Cricket and was asked to comment on why the IPL could not be thrown wide open to have teams full of international players (if need be)!

To have a lower bound on the number of local players in each squad (or an upper bound on the number of international players in each team) was seen by this gentleman as either a “needless constriction” or “protectionism” or yet another example of India wanting to have it both ways — ‘while India is happy to be the “Back Office to the World” she can’t yet throw her doors wide open to and embrace capitalism’ was the theory that was expounded.

Or at least, that was how I understood the theory that was being postulated.

Each squad in the IPL has to have at least four under-19 players and a (playing) team can’t have more than 4 international players.

I pointed out to the gentleman that this IPL rule was recently lauded by Lawrence Booth in an article in CricInfo.

There is nothing inherently wrong with letting market forces completely dictate the composition of a squad or indeed, a team that takes the park. If that indeed does happen, it would be a first in the world, leave alone India! And maybe that experiment is not too far off.

After all, to the credit of the IPL, the IPL has almost seen more experiments trialled out in the last two years than cricket has seen in the last few decades! Some of these — like (a) the establishment of a transfer market, (b) auctioning of players, (c) establishment of franchises, (d) having a salary cap, etc — have, in my view, been good, while some — like the mid-innings “strategy break” — have been poorly thought through.

However, I must say that I am not a fan of the ‘throw the doors wide open and let market forces dictate squad/team composition’ strategy, even if there is a ‘salary cap’.

Firstly, ‘protectionism’ and ‘capitalism’ have conveniently co-existed even in America, a land that has embraced ‘capitalism’ more willingly than any other. When there are compelling reasons for these two ways of life to co-exist, they do! So, there is no reason for a call for an “either have it all-black or all-white policy or it is a nonsense” judgement when it comes the the IPL. Not everything in life needs to be distinctly and strictly binary for it to be granted legitimacy! Shades of grey have always existed.

Second, I said to this gentleman that, with a strong focus on identifying, nurturing and grooming local talent, the IPL has actually managed to unearth and identify (in some cases) and nurture or resurrect (in others) local talent.

I was challenged to name names of talent that IPL-1 had unearthed. I could cite the names of Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh, but then they wouldn’t be ‘local’.

So here are some names of players whose careers, in my view, IPL-1 assisted through the local-talent-lower-bound principle:

Amit Mishra: His was a career that was going no where. He was always a good bowler. But he had been shunned even by Delhi, his local team. He continued playing in the Ranji Trophy. But his real big break came through IPL-1. The moment he took a hat-trick in IPL-1 was when the selectors sat up and took notice. He was immediately drafted into the India-A side to play Australia. He performed well and was immediately picked for India. He may have made it to the India team. But I have no doubt that IPL-1 and its focus on having local talent helped his career immensely.

Yusuf Pathan: He was always seen as a player who had heaps of talent. Indeed, he played in the T20 World Championship finals too. If I remember right that was the only game he played in the T20 World Championship. However, it was in IPL-1 that he really shone bright. He played many a breathtaking innings for Rajasthan Royals in IPL-1 and this catapulted him into national team selection. Again, I have no doubt that the opportunity he got to rub shoulders with players in the big league was what prompted his growth as a player.

Ravindra Jadeja: Shane Warne called him the “Rock Star” in IPL-1. He may have been a little-known and perhaps even ‘forgotten’ player in the domestic circuit. After all, there are many players like him in the past that died slow and painful deaths in the local circuit. Noel David and Vihay Bharadwaj are two names that spring to mind immediately! They are Ravindra-Jadeja-type players who toiled in the domestic circuit without getting enough opportunities to either promote their talent or shine or polish their talent on a big stage. Although I agree that Jadeja was starting off a much better base, he was helped by the IPL-1 opportunities he had and as an under-19 player, he just had to be included. No doubt he was helped by the huge raps he received from Shane Warne. He displayed his wares and got into the India team.

L. Balaji: I think that the local-inclusion-lower-bound rule definitely helped L. Balaji’s career. To his credit, he used his inclusion in the Chennai team to show that he still had it in him, despite the fact that his pace had slowed down several notches post his injury-scares. He put in a good showing in the IPL and that contributed to his resurrection to the India Test side. He is also in the list of probables for the India T20 team.

Dhawal Kulkarni: He was another bowler that benefited immensely from the local-talent rule. He played many a game for Mumbai in IPL-1 and impressed one and all with his pace and abilities. Soon thereafter, he was selected to tour NZ with Team India. He did not get a game in NZ, but one has to assume that the tour helped him hone his skills.

Manpreet Gony: Another Chennai player who was catapulted to national reckoning was Manpreet Gony. If I am not mistaken, he was even discarded by his local state, but Chennai picked him up and gave him opportunities to shine. He did and, as a result, was thrown into national reckoning. He was in several ODI teams subsequent to IPL-1.

Other players that benefited from the local-player-lower-bound rule in IPL-1 are possibly Siddharth Trivedi, Ashok Dinda, Karan Goel, Venugopal Rao, Yo Mahesh, Pradeep Sangwan, Yogesh Takawale, Pinal Shah and Naman Ojha.

Please feel free to add to this list of players whose careers the IPL-1 had assisted/helped/accelerated.

Several of the above players are good and it is possible that several of them would have made it off their own bat over time. It is also possible that the local-talent-lower-bound would not have been necessary for several of these players to gain recognition and eventual selection in the India team.

They could have made it after ‘slogging it out on the domestic circuit’ and had time taken her natural course. However, I have little doubt that IPL-1 catapulted them into national reckoning and national consciousness faster and in a much more compelling manner.

I am, therefore, an unabashed fan of the local-talent-lower-bound principle.

Sometimes it is not totally wrong to mix a doze of ‘protectionism’ with brazen ‘capitalism’. Morever, in my view, having a few protectionist measures in the IPL is not totally at odds with India’s aspirations and desires.

Finally, what was the first thing that the major pillars of capitalism did when the current global financial crisis hit? They put their bowls out for a protectionist hand out! But that’s another essay for another day!

— Mohan

Teams for NZ Tour

The Indian cricket selectors have, I think, done well to pick good/strong teams for Indias’ tour of New Zealand. Some selection highlights for me are:

  • Continuing to invest in Ravindra Jadeja — he gets a gig in the T20 team.
  • Investing in Dhawal Kulkarni.
  • Re-investing in Lakshmipathy Balaji.
  • Continuing to invest in M. Vijay in the Test team.

The teams are

Test squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

ODI squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Twenty20 squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Is there a TN-bias to the selection?

The presence of L. Balaji is seen by many as TN-bias on the part of Kris Srikkanth, the Chief Selector. That would be unfortunate as well as unnecessary, although somewhat understandable. The Test team has provided passage for three TN players in the form of M. Vijay (ahead of possibilities such as Wasim Jaffer, Aakash Chopra, Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa), L. Balaji (ahead of Pankaj Singh, Ashok Dinda, Irfan Pathan and Praveen Kumar) and Dinesh Karthik (ahead of Parthiv Patel).

However, Vijay did shine in the one Test opportunity he got and must be persevered with, in my view. One can feel sorry for Ajinkya Rahane. He was the 2nd highest scorer in the Ranji season (with an aggregate of 1089 runs @ and avg of 68.06 that included 4 centuries). He has had a stunning domestic season and is, along with Cheteshwar Pujara, one to watch for the future.

Dinesh Karthik has had a stunning year with the bat and has pipped Parthiv Patel at the post. The Gujarat ‘keeper has done nothing wrong and must just continue to put in the hard-yards in the domestic circuit. Dinesh Karthik has done everything right. He was the 10th highest scorer in the Ranjis with an aggregate of 634 (3 centuries) and an average of 63.4 runs. Having said that, Parthiv Patel wasn’t really too far behind (with 526 runs in aggregate, @ 47.81, including 1 century). But when the cards fell, Dinesh Karthik just had the right number on his side. He was also the highest scorer in the Duleep Trophy with two centuries in three Duleep Trophy games for South Zone. The fact that Karthik had opened well in England may have also counted in his favour. Both Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel are very young. Karthik is only 23. Both of them will have hurt badly from the experience in Sri Lanka. Karthik played badly in the first two Test matches. He batted poorly and his ‘keeping also fell apart. However, Parthiv Patel, who played in the 3rd Test fared worse! So, both of them needed a strong domestic season, lest upstarts like Wriddhiman Saha usurp their position. Both of them did put in a good showing. However, when the cards fell, Karthik had the numbers.

L. Balaji has been, in my view, somewhat lucky. Yes, he was the 4th highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Season and also had a good Duleep Trophy outing. Given that the highest wicket-taker was already rewarded with a ticket to New Zealand (Kulkarni) and given that 2 and 3 on the pecking order were spinners (Ravindra Jadeja and the now-banned Mohnish Parmar!), his ticket could have been seen as reward for a good showing. My own view is that he need not have been rushed into the Test arena. Its just been a year since his comeback from injury. His first major step on the big stage was the IPL. Since then, he has, no doubt, been bowling well. But to get him straight back into the Test side may have been a bit too much.

But then, these are the rewards of a good showing in the domestic circuit. The current selectors seem to be rewarding strong domestic showing quite consistently — set in the context of long-term team-development — and for that, they do deserve some credit.

Bits-and-pieces players:

I have been saying for sometime now that players like Abhiskek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja are the future of India’s ODI and T20 mix. It is good that these guys are getting a clutch of games at the highest level to prove their mettle. The press in India tags them with the moniker “bits and pieces players”. This is erroneous. It is also a disrespect to the quality that these guys bring to the table in the T20 and ODI arena. They are not “bits and pieces players”. They are clever players who bat and bowl well! I’d like to see opportunities given to players like Abhishek Nayar and Rajat Bhatia in the near future too.

Experimentation

M. S. Dhoni has shown the way in handling players like Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina in recent ODI games. In the final ODI against Sri Lanka, I felt he took it a wee-bit too far by bowling as many as 9 bowlers in the game! That’s a bit much. But you need those kinds of options in the middle overs. Even though the pitches may not turn much in New Zealand, I think the middle-overs bowled by Virender Sehwag, Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma will be quite crucial.

From that point of view, it is good to see the selectors invest strongly in Jadeja. Yes, he is not part of the ODI Team. After the two T20 games at the start of the series, Jadeja makes way for Sachin Tendulkar. That is fair enough!

I think the selectors will only drop Tendulkar from the ODI scene when he himself says that he has had enough! I suspect he won’t say that until after the next World Cup. He seems to want that silverware in his cabinet more than anything else! Given that he has served Indian cricket in the manner that he has, one could afford him that luxury, I think!

What we have seen in recent T20 games and ODIs is that Dhoni is really his own man when it comes to executing batting plans, setting the batting order and exploring bowling options. In a recent interview, he said that this was because he wanted each player to experience different roles in order to have an appreciation for what a #3 needs to do and what a #6 needs to do in different match situations.

In a perverse manner, this is exactly what Guru Greg Chappell tried to instil in the team when he was at the helm! The difference was that Guru Greg, instead of just doing it, wanted to preach his ideology, convert everyone to his way of thinking, convince everyone that he was right and then hail him as a messiah and a saviour! He started the “process is more important than the outcome” mantra. He was subsequently lambasted and lampooned in the media for “experimenting” too much! The word “experimentation” was taboo during his reign. Guru Greg choked on his own mantra and was caught in the headlights, with nowhere to go.

Instead of aspiring to be a messiah and a saviour, Dhoni just does it and lets others write about his method! The outcome is a more flexible Team India! Ironically, Guru Greg’s method survives after he has been buried!

Possible Teams:

The T20 and ODI teams select themselves:
Possible Twenty20 squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar
Subs: Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Ishant Sharma and would take Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Rohit Sharma. But these are possibly the only two debatable spots in my view. There are questions being asked about Pragyan Ojha’s selection in the T20 and ODI teams, given that pitches are unlikely to offer too much spin in New Zealand. However, from a team-development point of view, I think this is a good move. Ojha did bowl really well in recent ODIs. He should be part of the team mix and should get a gig, in my view.

Possible ODI squad: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar.
Subs: Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma,

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Irfan Pathan. And I’d take Raina ahead of Rohit Sharma. Who knows? With a lot of cricket around the corner, should India go ahead in the series — as it did in Sri Lanka — it would be an opportunity to play Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Dinesh Karthik instead of (respectively) Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and M. S. Dhoni.

Possible Test squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel
Subs: M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

The Test team is the one that selects itself most emphatically. There can’t be too many doubts or questions in the composition of this team. It is unlikely that the team will go with more than 4 main bowlers (with Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Tendulkar as other possible bowlers to relieve the strike bowlers). The only question, in my view, is whether Munaf Patel gets the gig ahead of Dhawal Kulkarni. I’d go for experience ahead of raw pace for the first Test. Moreover, Munaf Patel does seem to have the ability to swing the ball more in conditions that are likely to be presented in countries like NZ, South Africa and England. So, he might get the nod ahead of Kulkarni. But it may not be a bad idea to give Kulkarni a go in one of the Test matches.

The selectors have continued to invest in Rahul Dravid — as they should — in spite of his poor showing in the Duleep Trophy finals. Having said that, I am not sure they would be as patient with him after yet another poor tour. They have also sent a clear signal to Yuvraj Singh that he is in the mix for a long stint in the Test middle order. This should settle him down and should allow him to cash in on this opportunity.

Overall, this has been a good selection effort by the selectors.

— Mohan

India challenge ODI #1 spot…

Today’s ODI games between Sri Lanka & India and Australia & New Zealand have become a land-grab for the top spot on the ICC ODI table.

As a result of the recent brilliance of South Africa in both Tests and ODIs (combined with an unusually long-spell of lackadaisical play by the Australians) the top spots on the ICC rankings table in both Tests and ODIs represents a tightly bunched group.

The ICC ODI Rankings Table has South Africa on 125 points, India on 122, Australia 3rd on 121 and New Zealand 4th on 117.

It has been a while since the rankings table was this closely grouped. I have a feeling that things are going to remain this way for a while now — perhaps even till the World Cup in 2011. There is little that separates these top-4 teams. And this can only be good for the ODI form of cricket — a form that, I feel, needs a kick in the backside to ward off the threat from the more exciting Twenty20 format — especially with the excitement that is being generated by the IPL these days.

Given the closely packed nature of the rankings table, the two ODI games that are being played today take on a special significance. If India and New Zealand win, it would be the first time since rankings commenced that India will occupy the top spot on the table. I suspect that this occupation will be short-lived. But if India does make it there, it will be a huge credit to M. S. Dhoni (captain) and Gary Kirsten (coach).

India, however, appears still intent on blooding some of its bench-players. With a view to the longer-term, it is imperative that India has players like Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma and L. Balaji match-hardened and sharp.

As I said earlier, it is likely that the next year or so will see the ODI rankings move and slip a fair bit between these top four teams. So a capture of the top spot for a few days or even a few weeks will be neither here nor there. What should be more important for the India fan is how Team India shapes up towards the 2011 World Cup!

After the comprehensive recent victory against Sri Lanka in the 4th ODI even with a team that did not include Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan — its talismen in batting and bowling respectively — it is likely that Team India will continue with its strategy of resting one or two key players for todays’ last game of the series.

It appears that the team is not too keen to rest more than 2 “key players” for each match. For the previous match, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan earned a rest. For this 5th ODI, it appears that Yusuf Pathan and Pragyan Ojha are the ones that got a tap on the shoulder.

With that in mind, it is likely that Team India for the 5th ODI against Sri Lanka will be:
Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt & wk), Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji, Ishant Sharma.

It would be great for Jadeja and Balaji to get a game. I really like the look of Jadeja. He followed up a good IPL outing with a strong domestic season and has continued to impress everyone. He gets an opportunity to strut his stuff on the big stage now. After a few years in the wilderness, Balaji get an opportunity to once again walk on the big stage. His career too received a boost in the IPL theatre. He too followed it up with a strong domestic season and gets a well-deserved call to the India team.

Despite picking a few wickets, Irfan Pathan did have a bad game in the 4th ODI and will be keen to put that behind him. Sanath Jayasuriya took to him like a duck would to water. Although it may be tempting to drop him for Yusuf Pathan in the above team list, I think it would be good for Irfan Pathan to get another match to get his game back in shape.

— Mohan

Indian Pace Bowling Academy

The end of a long Australian summer was capped by India’s stirring win against Australia in the CB Series Final. At the end of the series, I reflected on the fact that the win in the last game was achieved without the services of India’s front-line pace-attack: Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma. All three were nursing injuries in that game. The fact that Ishant Sharma had propelled himself into the front-line was itself testimony to the impact he has had over the Australian summer!

I then realised that, for the Test Series in Australia, we had two additional pacemen in Pankaj Singh and V. R. V. Singh who made up the numbers.

But then, the heroes of the CB series final match were actually Praveen Kumar, Sree Santh and Irfan Pathan! Munaf Patel can be a very good bowler on his day too!

If you then throw into the mix, Pradeep Sangwan, Siddharth Kaul and Ajitesh Argal — pace-bowling architects of India’s U19 triumph, the Indian fan can smile!

The Indian Pace Academy is then: Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ishant Sharma, Sree Santh, Munaf Patel, Praveen Kumar, V. R. V. Singh, Pankaj Singh, Pradeep Sangwan, Siddharth Kaul, Ajitesh Argal.

Not a bad pace bowling lineup in my view! India’s pace bowling stocks over the next 5 years will come from this lot of 12 bowlers. There will be, no doubt, a few surprise packages here and there along the way. But my feeling is that the above group of 12 will be the ones doing the rounds over the next few years. If all else fails, there is always Ajit Agarkar! It is quite likely that, of these 12 players, 3-4 will be injured. Team India has to learn to shrug and call up the next bowler in the ranks and if they are as good as Praveen Kumar, Sree Santh or Munaf Patel, it can’t really be too bad, can it?

Team India has to nurture these pace bowlers and ensure that they do not fade away from the scene like L. Balaji did. It is time, in my view, to appoint Venkatesh Prasad as India’s long-term pace-bowling coach. He should be entrusted with the task of developing concrete development plans for each bowler and for these to be conditioned and supervised even when the players aren’t playing for Team India.

Unfortunately, Team India is not that flush with options when it comes to spin-stocks. More on that later.

— Mohan