Tag Archives: Dravid

Last Chance Saloon

[by Sunny Mishra (@sehwagology) and Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)]

The promotions for the forthcoming full tour to Australia by India have been on in full force on TV in India. These promos are a source of some mirth and a lot of unintended comedy. We have had former cricket stars hyping the event as “Thunder Downunder”. Shane Watson has the unenviable task of lecturing us on meteorology and climate adadptation. Through these promos, we are reliably informed that, while it is winter in India it is summer in Australia. Saurav Ganguly talks up the series as the ‘battle of the chirp’, referring to the mental fortitude that is required for teams to tour Australia. Bollywood stars have got in on the act. The tour has been called the “Agneepath” (“Path of Fire”) Series. It helps that a movie by the same name is due for release shortly!

Product placement meets TV meets cricket.

An India v Australia match-up has not, in the past, required any additional marketing. Fans of both countries relish the contest. The Border-Gavaskar series had the potential to be billed as The Ashes of the new millennium until Australia lost its sheen. Nevertheless, since the 2001 epic in Kolkata, Boarder-Gavaskar Trophy clashes between Australia and India have marketed and sold themselves. And if interest in the BG Series flagged at any point in time, that Test in Sydney in 2008 ensured that Australia-India Tests would always retain an interest around the world of cricket.

The Border-Gavaskar Series was an opportunity for the most powerful team of our generation to meet the most powerful team of our generation. It presented an opportunity for the strongest team to meet the richest team; an opportunity for the most talkative team to meet a team that was finding its voice (at times, even a provocative rude voice). Every series saw drama, emotion, guts, glory, evictions, fights, breakdowns, fight-backs, back-stabbing, court-room trials and more. This was Survivor meets Big Brother meets TV meets cricket. Always! So, the additional chest-thumping marketing promos have been somewhat strange and mostly unnecessary.

However, India did lose to England in the 2011 English summer. Badly! Most Team India fans have worked hard to try and banish the horribly painful memory of that loss deep into the recesses of their minds. England in 2011? India went there to play? Play cricket? No way!

Subsequent to that series against England, India has made a few small but significant changes in personnel, although the approach has not been changed substantially. India beat England in an ODI series and then beat a hapless West Indies. But both of these series were at home. In India. In familiar conditions. So, it is hard for us to gauge the impact of the reorganization and the restructuring that was necessitated by the horrible English summer.

Moreover, the injuries that plagued Team India in the horrible summer tour of England persist. These have not vanished. India has had to identify, groom and prepare new resources. Quickly.

Meanwhile, Australia is caught in a funny place. We cannot be sure whether they are in consolidation phase or rebuilding phase or start-up phase! That is how unsure the Australian cricket team is looking these days. The cocky sheen has been replaced by an immature diffidence. Australia present an image of a child eager to — and, at times, able to — peddle fast on a bicycle when it can’t remember if it has taken its first baby steps in life. It looks like a team what needs a “re” prefix to describe the process of transformation that it is undergoing, without being sure if it is resurgent, rebuilding, regrowth, regeneration or revival.

After the terrible Ashes loss at home at the hands of England (again!), Australia went about the rebuild that was required in a typically Australian manner. The result was the Argus review. A public enquiry was conducted. All stakeholders were contacted and interviewed. A tome was written.

This series provides an opportunity to assess the status of the sweeping changes brought in by the Argus review. Australia has new selectors, a new coach, a new coaching system, a relatively new captain, and a new T20 league. All of these were intended to arrest the reversals over the last couple of summers. All of these will be under scrutiny. The challenge will be to show demonstrable improvements, and fast.

The first few attempts at regeneration have been very mixed. A good session is immediately followed by a bad session. In the past few months the team has demonstrated excellence and weakness, strength and vulnerability, solidity and inconsistency, toughness and fragility — all in equal measure.

All of this has turned the pre-series Australian Press ritual on its head.

What we normally have every (Australian) summer is the Australian press attacking the visiting opposition captain and key players in a remarkably organised pack-mentality. This ritual would often commence a few weeks before the first ball is bowled. The opposing team would be made to feel the heat and the pressure before the first toss. A siege-mentality would often grip visiting teams even before the actual cricket commences.

However, this time around, the Australian press is internally focused — almost entirely. Should Ricky Ponting retire? Should Usman Khawaja play? And if so, at what position? What happens to Phil Hughes now? Why are there so many injuries to key players like Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Pat Cummins, Ryan Harris, et al?

These are some of the questions that have to be asked. And key press outlets in Australia have started this postmortem. The questions and barbs from the Australian media are being directed at the hosts this summer. There are self-doubts. These need addressing much more urgently than the potential gaps and vulnerabilities of the opposition camp. The Australian press is internally focused.

So, this series does provide some interesting story-lines. Some these will be distractions. Others will surely affect preparations.

For India’s senior soldiers, this is the “Final Frontier”. A win in Australia will check off another item on the bucket list of the “Triumphant Trinity”! (Ok, we were struggling here after the Fantastic Five became the Fabulous Four!). The Trinity has come close to a victory in Australia in the past. But the team lacked the killer punch; that finishing touch.

Sachin Tendulkar will be eager to get the 100th 100 completed. [Editorial Comment: Under normal circumstances, we may have said “Tendulkar needs to get that monkey off his back.” However, that would be a tad insensitive for an India tour of Australia! So the Editor culled that cliche out of this piece!] If Tendulkar does not get to his 100th century early on in the tour, this distraction will become as unbearable in the Australian press as it has already become in the Indian press. That distraction is one that the team does not need.

There is a risk of the series becoming a Ricky Ponting farewell tour — that is, of course, if the retirement does not happen before the tour commences. The 2003/04 series became a distraction for the home team as Steve Waugh’s retirement took center-stage in Australia. A Ricky Ponting farewell tour would be a needless distraction on a side lane when the team is struggling to cope with driving the bus within the confines of the lane markings.

Both captains will have to manage these diversions expertly.

One could say that Australia’s overseas assignments in Sri Lanka and South Africa have exceeded the expectations of a team that is in ‘re-build mode’. However, Australia will look at key moments in both these series and will want to ask questions. Being bowled out for 47 at Cape Town was a stunning low-point. At home they have been stymied by a plucky New Zealand side. The Kiwis used the conditions better at Hobart after being outplayed at The Gabba in Brisbane.

The loss at Hobart to New Zealand just prior to the “Agneepath Series” will hurt Australia. Going into the last day, one could not imagine Australia losing. Yes, New Zealand (and in particular, Doug Bracewell) bowled brilliantly. However, the bowling was hardly menacing. What was scary — from an Australian perspective — was the tentativeness and mental fragility that was on display. Apart from Warner and Lyon, briefly, all the other batsmen poked prodded and perished. This slide to ridiculousness was started by Ricky Ponting. Until the Ponting dismissal, one could not imagine an Australia loss. Ponting spent 51 minutes out in the middle. 51 minutes of extreme self-doubt. 51 minutes that defined Australia’s loss. 51 minutes of agony for any Australian fan. 51 minutes of pain.

So much so that the words in the poser: “Ponting will depart? Yeah? When?” perhaps need to be urgently rearranged to: “Yeah! When will Ponting depart?”

Another major concern for Australia is the litany of injuries. While Watson is expected to recover in time for Boxing Day, the return of young gun Patrick Cummins is unknown at this stage. Shaun Marsh should return to his spot at 3. The fitness status of Ryan Harris is unknown.

While the return of Watson and Marsh is welcome news, they will be short on (recent) match practice. The Big Bash League is the only cricket available for Watson and Marsh to secure match practice; and a hit in a T20 game is hardly the ideal preparation for Test cricket.

And while on this topic… Who thought of having a domestic T20 competition in the middle of a first class season, and while the home Test-series is on? Even the BCCI wouldn’t have come up with this pearl of extremely bad programming. The BCCI office bearers would have had to be on a terrible cocktail of hallucination-inducing drugs and vodka to have come up with such a silly concept!

The scheduling is so terrible that even if Patrick Cummins’s injury heals prior to the Adelaide Test — commencing 24 January 2012 — he would have to make an entry into Test cricket without any first class cricket under his belt.

As a Team India fan, I have seen many ridiculous attempts at non-management by the BCCI. But this piece of ridiculousness is something that would make even the BCCI officials reject with extreme and violent disgust.

India’s preparations have hardly been ideal either. An injury cloud hangs over Zaheer Khan. He has played two first-class games for Mumbai in the domestic Ranji Trophy competition. The comeback signs are good. But, will he last the tour? For India to have a successful tour, his form and his bowling-leadership will be crucial. One is never sure when Ishant Sharma will break down. For some time now, his body appears as though it is being held together by band-aid. Sreesanth is injured. Praveen Kumar is injured. Varun Aaron is injured. Harbhajan Singh is injured. Munaf Patel is injured. Ashish Nehra is not injured, but is not in selection contention. Who knows why? This means that the Indian bowling sports a new, young (and somewhat untested) look about it. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar form the pace attack while R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha form the spin strength.

While the rest of the team was playing against West Indies in an ODI series, a lead party of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma reached Melbourne prior to full squad assembling in Canberra for the two practice games.

Practice games? Yeah right!

India is scheduled to play an Australia Chairman’s XI for a pair of 2-day games. Typically this side is a clutch of rising domestic stars led by a seasoned veteran. However, since the Big Bash League will have commenced on 16 December, it will be difficult for Cricket Australia to provide a competitive side to play against India. So, will it be adequate match practice for the visiting India Team? We do not think so.

The senior Indian players value structured practice sessions more than practice games. While there is plenty of time for that, what is lacking is net bowlers. CA is under no obligation to provide them net bowlers until when the Tests commence. So there is a scheduling mess here too — once again, caused by a senseless T20 competition that carves up the domestic Shield season in half. India will, therefore, need to ensure that it takes an additional pace bowler on the trip. Either that or India needs to make do with Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar bowling ball after ball to the batsmen in the nets!

The lack of net bowlers is not a new problem that Indian teams have faced in Australia. This issue has surfaced on past tours to Australia too. Net bowlers have often been unavailable and practice facilities have often been “off limits”. Throw downs from the trainer are hardly going to prepare any batsmen — however experienced — for the probing examinations and searing pace of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.

So, there you have it. It is a strange series that has more doubts than Agnee (fire). And if the teams have a path towards a certain future, this is unknown either. Yet, what we do know is that this has been billed as the Agneepath Series. It represents a battle between a team that is trying hard to rebuild and a team that has to ensure that a rebuild is unnecessary.

An Australian team that is in transition presents India with her best opportunity yet of securing a series victory in Australia. India has challenged Australia’s dominance in the glorious decade that Australia has had. India twice ended Australia’s record-winning sequences. It is now an opportunity to achieve what South Africa and England have both recently achieved — a win in Australia.

For India’s greatest generation of cricketers this is the last chance saloon.

— Sunny (@sehwagology) and Mohan (@mohank)

Pity the man cannot bowl…

I have never understood it until recently. And I am not sure I have understood it fully either.

But, there has always been something about the Indian cricket fan that used to irritate me. And in saying this, I am not excluding myself from this set of fans. Previously, I couldn’t quite understand what it was. But recently, after having moved back to India, I am beginning to understand what it is to be an India cricket fan!

There is so much imperfection around us in India.

Our buildings are mostly decaying. Even new buildings decay right before our eyes. We build airports but two years later, there are spit stains on the walls. We build, forget to maintain, neglect and forget everything we construct — unless someone hits us on the head over it! There is chaos and anarchy everywhere you look. Planes should not land amidst such chaos. Surely, not.

But planes do land. Our buildings, however old and decayed, stay upright… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Governance in public life is almost non-existent; people in public life make a mockery of the people they govern. The construction of a metro line, about 20 years overdue, will take 10 years to complete and will bring the city to a grinding halt while it happens. Corruption is so endemic that there is more cynicism than trust. Government offices have masses of paper and masses of people that sip tea and coffee and (it would seem) do nothing.

But laws do get passed. The income tax department collects taxes. The banks function. Under the weight of tonnes of paper, people do sign masses of forms — in triplicate, no less! Things get done… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Few roads are ever complete. Most of them have open and stinking drains, random blocks of stone or concrete are left behind — post-construction — in the middle of the road. There is always a pile of rubble to navigate around. If not that, there is a pile of garbage or multi-coloured optic fibre sticking out of unfinished pavement works. The pavements are mostly incomplete. So walkers spill on to the streets, causing more traffic chaos. Most roads are not sealed end-to-end, causing more dust to swirl around. And roads around us are decorated with pot holes rather than bitumen. Roads have little or no drainage. A minimal downpour leaves us yearning for a yacht instead of a car or a bike. And for those of us that walk, the spokes of our umbrellas point more to the skies than to the ground when it rains! Even our umbrellas are imperfect.

But we do get from A to B. We do use the roads. We do get to work and back… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Our buses, which seem to be permanently on their last wheels and defy fundamental laws of physics! They should not be allowed to move. But they do. They too cope with the imperfections around us.

Our people defy time! None of us are on time for anything. Our watches show different times! Even the clocks on two adjacent government buildings show different times! But we cope. Time is also imperfect and we cope with it.

Our phones always ring. Even in a classical music concert in which the performer is striving for that perfect pitch. But we answer our phones. Talk loudly. The performers continue… And learn to cope with the imperfections around them!

We talk loudly and can barely hear each other amidst the cacophony of noises around us. We have a need to be heard over the blaring loudspeakers and the car honks. But we listen to each other… Mostly. We cope with the imperfections around us.

Our queues do not work although there is a queue for everything! Our queues are so haphazard that statisticians and mathematicians who study queuing theory need better models to understand how queues work in India! A professor I know at a famous Indian institute is studying “Non-standard Tirupati queues with chaotic service”. But we do “queue” for everything from tomatoes, to bread, to railway tickets to airline tickets to withdrawing cash. We expect that, by joining our body to the body of the person in front of us, we will somehow, magically, reduce the queue-size by one!

But, even through these imperfections, our queues seem to work. We cope with the person behind us that has stuck their smelly body to us so that they may live their hope that they will reach their destination quicker through their irrational coping mechanism! We have learned to cope with the imperfection in our queues!

Everywhere you look, there is trust deficit, cynicism, unnaturally unhealthy competition, a growing chasm between the haves and have-nots and a growing hunger for the haves to have more.

There are imperfections around us. Everywhere you look there are imperfections.

So much, that we expect our heroes to make up for the gaps.

We expect our heroes to be what we cannot be. We want them to help us fill the gaps that we cannot fill. They help us cope with the ill-placed fibre-optic cable that almost always trips us as we run to jump onto that bus that always seems to be full and almost always doesn’t want me on it!

We expect our heroes to straighten our umbrellas. We expect them to help us cope with our queues, in which we thrust ourselves and our bad body odour onto the person in front of us!

That is why it is hard to be a cricketer in India.

Not only do they have to score runs or take wickets, they have to straighten our umbrellas before their contributions are recognised. They help us cope with not only the imperfections around us; they help us cope with the imperfections within us too.

If they cannot be everything that is not, they just cannot be our heroes.

Our heroes cannot be imperfect.

It is a pity Rahul Dravid cannot bowl. If he could, perhaps he would have been a hero in his own country!

— Mohan

An Architect, a Few Builders and a Decade…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could not wait for that home to be built.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sachin carried by Team India

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

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

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

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Team India coach after Gary Kirsten

Gary Kirsten has decided to return to South Africa at the end of the ICC World Cup, 2011. He was the exactly that Indian cricket needed at the time he was appointed. As Ravi Shastri might say, “He was exactly what the doctor ordered!”

When Gary Kirsten took over the controls as coach, India had suffered an embarrassing first-round exit in the 2007 World Cup.

Greg Chappell, the then coach, may have been the right man for a job that was about 10 years ahead of its time. India was not ready for Greg Chappell — “Guru Greg” as he was known in the Indian media — and Greg Chappell wasn’t ready for India. His reign started off with the drafting, declaration and acceptance of a “strategic blueprint for the future of Indian cricket”.

In my view — and I my be in a minority here — that blueprint was about 10 years ahead of its time!

What Greg Chappell started with was visionary. What he had left behind in his wake was a dogs’ breakfast!

Interestingly, MS Dhoni is saying exactly what Guru Greg tried to instill in his players! Today, Dhoni says that it is important to pay more attention to the processes and less on the results/outcomes. That was Guru Greg’s approach too!

However, let it be said that Greg Chappell had indeed left a mess behind; a mess that needed cleaning up. Numerous leaks and counter-leaks had messed up the minds of players. Trust was lost. Systems and processes — the very pillars of Greg Chappell’s method — lay crumpled.

A restoration was required. And soon.

India traveled to Bangladesh with Ravi Shastri as temporary “manager”. India then traveled to England with Chandu Borde as coach/mentor. The choice of Borde was ridiculed by many, including us at i3j3Cricket. We even carried out a satirical piece, called “Ford Gate” on how Chandu Borde may have been selected — remember that Graham Ford was the front runner for the post of Team India coach at that time!

India won in England, Rahul Dravid resigned as captain. India won the ICC World T20 Championship. Anil Kumble was appointed captain of India. India then played Pakistan in a home series. India was just about to embark on a tough tour of Australia. Throughout the year, there were a series of speculations, leaks and counter-leaks on who would be coach of Team India. Yet there were no announcements. Other teams had made their appointments quietly and thoughtfully. Sri Lanka appointed Tom Moody. Pakistan appointed Geoff Lawson. India traveled at India’s pace.

Ultimately, Gary Kirsten was appointed.

And what an appointment it has been. From early-2008 onwards, Gary Kirsten has worked with Anil Kumble and with MS Dhoni to help build a Team India that is strong, resilient and robust. India has slowly climbed to the top of the ICC Test rankings and is close to the top of the ICC ODI rankings.

Now, some three years later, the end of Gary Kirsten’s tenure could be anything from 1 match to 3 matches away.

It is appropriate that we salute a man who has quietly achieved what his predecessor could not do. He brought method to his coaching. He afforded players much rope. The results are there for all to see. Many players have gone on record to say that they owed their recent successes to the coach.

At the end of his tenure, it is likely that Kirsten will take up the job of coaching South Africa (although there is no word on that from anyone) once Corrie van Zyl departs as coach of RSA — Corrie van Zyl also quits the scene after the ICC World Cup 2011.

But what of India?

I hope we do not see another period of dithering uncertainty when a sequence of band aids are applied. I am not aware of the establishment of a BCCI search committee for scouting and sounding out appropriate candidates for cricket’s most prestigious — and risky — post. I am not aware of a job description that lists out the key qualities of an ideal coach. As with anything BCCI, we cannot do anything other than assume that someone is “looking into the matter” somewhere and that “some appropriate modalities” are being “worked out” by the “responsible person”.

If the BCCI wants to draw up a position description (PD) it ought to be easy. The BCCI should copy everything contained in the “Key Attributes and Qualities” section from the CVs of John Wright and Gary Kirsten. They will then have many of the elements of the PD. They would also need to ensure that the PD does not contain any elements that might also be contained in Greg Chappel’s CV! They would then have an optimized PD to work with and they could then look for people who display those characteristics.

It is likely that the search space is small and terribly finite. I can think of a few coaches who might fit the bill. Stephen Fleming and Tom Moody spring to mind immediately.

However, an early indication is that Justin Langer might be coach.

All of the recent attention has been on the World Cup. Soon, the BCCI functionaries will be absorbed in counting the money that flows in as a result of IPL-4. In all of this, my hope this that the BCCI occasionally takes its hands off the till and trains its collective eye on a suitable Team India coach. India has an extremely busy year ahead and needs a smooth transition from Gary Kirsten to the successor.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Does the team need a “mentally weak” player?

I am either quite unhappy with MS Dhoni or in sheer awe of him, and I am not able to decide which of the two states I ought to be in! Indeed, I don’t believe I know which of these two states I am in! For the first time since Dhoni took over the captaincy role, I accept unabashedly that I am utterly and totally confused.

I have a lot of time and a lot of respect for MS Dhoni. He is cool, calm and collected. He seems to have plenty of time on his hands and rarely gets ruffled, even when adversity stares at him. He gets the best out of his players. He is a “straight talk” captain who gets the best out of his “seniors” as well as “juniors” in the team.

Dhoni took on the captaincy mantle after Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble had built the foundation on which this current teams’ edifice stands. Dhoni has stood on these impressive shoulders and crafted his own style of leadership; one that makes him, in my view, the best captain India has ever had.

In his captaincy, Dhoni calmly and easily demonstrates the flair and the “one of the boys” style of leadership of Sourav Ganguly. Dhoni will always be one of the boys. He will never appear or be aloof. Like Ganguly, he will back his players who are “down”. In an early selection meeting he is reported to have said that if his voice/needs will not be heard at selection meetings, he may as well not turn up! He backs his players in the manner of Ganguly.

He also possesses the steel of Rahul Dravid that requires you to be calm in the face of extreme pressure. Dravid has that inner calm as a batsman that comes from both ability as well self-confidence. It also comes from him relishing a fight. These qualities earned him the moniker, “The Wall”. He brought a “no emotion” steel to the captaincy; a steely resolve that made him declare the India innings close when Sachin Tendulkar was on 194; a dogged resolve that made India not go for a win in The Oval because a 1-0 win in England was more coveted! His was a “no emotion” captaincy that drew mainly on his own inner confidence. Dhoni has that too. He is supremely confident of himself. This makes him burn any anxieties inside him. He rarely yells, stomps, glares and huffs on the field — and believe me, this team that he leads gives him plenty of opportunity to do all of that, and more!

Dhoni also possesses the upright earnestness of Kumble, who brought a certain dignity to the Team India captaincy. Kumble, by sheer dint of his dedication, resolve, commitment, professionalism and contribution was unblemished. He had no dark spot on his resume. He expected the same level of pre-game preparation and commitment from his team and got it too. Dhoni has that quality too. He circles away from controversy and seems to have an instinctive feel for the right things to do and the right places to be at. More importantly, he seems to have an instinctive feel for the things he must avoid! He does his thing and he does it well. In a country where the press continually bay for blood, Kumble would have nothing of it because he led a lifestyle away from the night-lights and trance music. For Dhoni to stay away from the trash talk columns while demonstrating a liking for the high-life is indeed quite commendable. He is able to do it because, in my view, he has that Kumble-like quality for dedication, commitment and professionalism to his task on hand. He takes his profession, his art and his talent extremely seriously.

So I do like him as a captain of Team India. If Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble laid the various foundation stones for India’s ascent to the terrace — along with the architects in John Wright and Gary Kirsten — Dhoni is the one that has actually taken the team closer to the terrace.

Regardless of the outcome of this World Cup, I think he will be one of India’s best captains ever — in my book.

So, why am I either unhappy or in awe of MS Dhoni? Why am I confused?

The reason is not Piyush Chawla, but Dhoni’s reason for Chawla’s inclusion in the match against The Netherlands.

Dhoni says, “We are still supposed to give Ashwin a chance, he deserves a place, so he will feature in one of the teams [that will play in the group stages].”

No. The team does not owe any player anything. The team is not supposed to give anyone any chances! The team contains the elite; the best in India. Hence, it is not a socialist republic where everyone “deserves a chance”. But let me give Dhoni some rope and assume that he said, “We will give Ashwin a game, he deserves a place…”

That is still fine by me, especially since he also said in the same press meet, “basically you have to see which was the player that needed this game most, rather than the team needing the player. I felt it was Piyush, who needed this game much more than Ashwin.”

This is sound logic, in my view. Ashwin did not need this game to get game-ready. Piyush Chawla needed the game. So it makes sense that this experiment is carried out in a low-stakes game, earlier in the tournament.

Therefore, even though I have continually mocked the “Ashwin is on the bench today because he is mentally strong” line of thinking by MS Dhoni on Twitter (@mohank) I actually accept that line of thinking.

If all we want is to strengthen the “currently mentally weak” by giving them an opportunity in Team India colors, several people (ranging from Suresh Kalmadi to Kamran Akmal) would be queuing up for a gig! Ok. I am being facetious, but that’s all I can be in my current “mentally not so strong state”!

More seriously though, I accept the principle that a mentally strong person can warm the bench while we strengthen a person who is mentally weak currently.

However, that acceptance is strongly based on the condition that the team actually needs the player who is in the current “mentally weak state“!

I had no problems with the team giving extended opportunities to Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir in their “mentally or physically weak” states — both initially (in the times of Ganguly) and more recently. These players have that something in them that inspires confidence; confidence that they will surmount their current problems and reach that higher state of preparedness. They have won matches for India on their own. They have demonstrated talent, ability, guts, determination, resolve and fight. And when they go through dips in form or confidence, the team has to carry them along. So I have no problems with the team “carrying” a few players who appear to be in a mentally weak state currently.

Mainly because there is strong evidence to suggest that (a) that mentally strong state exists for the player under question, and (b) when that player reaches that mentally strong state, he becomes a match winner!

The above conditions — (a) and (b) — are strong prerequisites for “carrying” a mentally weak player in my view. So I think I am being fair, as a fan, to apply these tests on Piyush Chawla before I see whether the team needs to “carry” him.

I believe I am being more than fair when I see that these tests are being applied to a player who upsets the current team balance maximally. So, in my book, there is a third condition that a mentally weak player has to satisfy: (c) The “mentally weak” player who is being “carried” cannot destroy team balance.

In other words, I believe that while it is fine for this current Team India to carry a “mentally weak” batsman who exhibits conditions (a) and (b) above, it borders on professional negligence for the team management to carry a “mentally weak” bowler who does not exhibit conditions (a) and (b) above. This is because the current team is, in my view, imbalanced as a result of her weak bowling attack.

So, even though we have (c) being demonstrated through Chawla’s inclusion at the cost of Ashwin, I would be happy to ignore that constraint as long as (a) and (b) are satisfied. In other words, while I do not mind Chawla’s mind being sharpened and strengthened during the course of an important competition, the question I would like to ask is whether there is much use of such strengthening and sharpening.

I do not see Chawla emerging as a mentally strong player. I am not convinced that that state exists for Chawla. And even if it does (that is, even if condition (a) is satisfied) I am an not sure whether Chawla will become a match-winner in the Zaheer Khan or Suresh Raina or Yuvraj Singh mould! So the question I ask is “why bother” especially when you have an admittedly mentally strong and match ready player on the bench?

Hence my current confusion.

And yes, for the first time since he took over the mantle of captaincy, I am quite unhappy with MS Dhoni. However, as I said in my opening, it is likely that his continued confidence in Chawla will infuse me with awe at his amazing foresight! He must see in Chawla something that I do not (or refuse to) see. Given this, I accept that I am utterly confused.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

India Vs SA: Both teams in turmoil before First Test

For different reasons, both India and South Africa (RSA) — ranked #1 and #2 in the world respectively — are in some turmoil leading up to the First Test between these two countries starting 6 Feb.

Team India has a few wounded soldiers in her ranks while the RSA team management has suddenly imploded. After being summarily dismissed from the ICC Match Referee panel after his infamous contributions to the Sydney Monkeygate Test, Mike Procter has been sacked as Cheif Selector in his own country and along with him, his entire selection committee! The RSA coach, Mickey Arthur has stepped down too, citing difference in vision with Cricket South Africa (CSA). The selection panel now comprises Gerald Majola, CEO of CSA, Keppler Wessles and interim coach van Zyl.

Seems to me to be a case of too many chiefs and too few Indians!

Which is really a nice segueway to the problems the Indians are facing themselves.

Unlike the dramas in RSA which are of Pakistanesque proportions, the problems that Team India faces are all injury related. And frankly, since it is the on-field stuff that really matters, I feel that India are behind the eight-ball in this clash of two champion sides.

Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Sree Santh are all on the injury list. Two of these are vital for the teams’ success against the second ranked team in the world. One of these injuries is a blessing in disguise, in my view, while the other is neither here nor there (but mostly there)!

Rahul Dravid is in sublime form and will be a vital cog in the armoury against a very good pace attack that includes Dale Steyn, Morkel and the fast improving Wayne Parnell. Similarly, in recent times, Laxman’s role in the spot that Sourav Ganguly vacated has been one that he has relished. He has been solid and has adapted well the the changing needs of that important role, which requires acceleration at times and a blocking-rebuilding at times of an upper-order crash.

If both Dravid and Laxman remain injured, my view is that RSA will start as favourites in the Test series.

Yuvraj Singh’s injury will bring a ray of hope to any of the many understudies who are waiting in the wings of Indian cricket. And there are plenty of those waiting to strut their wares in a middle order that seems almost impregnable. Players like M. Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Kaif, Badrinath, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Cheteshwar Pujara would have picked up their bats as well as their prayer beads as soon as they heard of Yuvraj Singhs’ injury! A few of them may have to put their hands up and put on a show when the South Africans come to town.

I suspect that 2 middle-order positions may be up for grabs. In saying so, I assume that Yuvraj Singh is certainly out of the 1st Test and perhaps one of Dravid or Laxman may not play.

I feel that, given his recent probationary stints, M. Vijay must be a shoe-in for one of these spots. Logically, Badrinath ought to be the one that claims the other spot. He has spent many years in the wings. However, he might miss out on the basis of his recent poor showing in the Duleep Trophy and Mohammed Kaif’s recent strong (and timely) form — he has scored a double-century and a century last week in the ongoing Duleep Trophy.

Sreesanth’s injury is less of a concern to me. Bowlers like Sudeep Thyagi will fit the bill quite nicely. Moreover, I think India will prefer going with two pacemen and two spinners in the Tests against RSA.

Ideally, the team selection ought to wait until the end of the Board President’s XI game. However, the team for the 1st Test is being selected today. The Indian selectors should go for the following team, in my view:

Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid / M. Vijay
Sachin Tendulkar
V. V. S. Laxman / Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh / S. Badrinath
M. S. Dhoni
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Pragyan Ojha / Mishra
Ishant Sharma / Sudeep Thyagi

— Mohan

Take a bow Fab Five… Team India is the #1 Test Team

Some 10 years ago, the Fab Five of Indian Cricket undertook a near-impossible journey. After the morass that represented the match fixing scandal Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were left with the near-impossible task of reaching a near-impossible goal.

By the end of the decade, the Fab Five had reached there.

After yet another innings defeat of Sri Lanka, Team India was crowned the #1 Test Team in the ICC Rankings.

It was an amazing achievement for a bunch of committed cricketers that started on what seemed to be an impossible journey some 10 years ago. It was a burning passion for the Famous Fab Five (Ganguly, Kumble, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman).

Today, sans Kumble and Ganguly, the team ascended to #1; albeit with help from South Africa and England who both beat Australia in the recent past. Yet, the ascent was palpably obvious. It was measured, considered, passionate and single-minded.

There have been some sensational victories along the way: From 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) and Chennai 2008 (v England). It is unlikely that the Test at Mumbai at the CCI Ground against Sri Lanka will receive the exalted status and the dizzy heights of a Leeds 2002 or Perth 2008. However, it will be remembered as the Test in which India reached the #1 position.

It has been a long road to redemption. It is a moment for all Team India tragics to savour.

It will be brief — after all an Australian clean-sweep this summer or a 2-0 victory by South Africa against England will snatch this moment from India.

However, for a few good men of Indian cricket, this will be a special moment. When Anil Kumble retired he marked this moment. He will be a happy man today and so will Sourav Ganguly.

Sachin Tendulkar remembered everyone in his post match victory statement when he marked the milestones along this path. What better way to get up than stairlifts?

In his post-match interview he said, “Fantastic to be at this position. I have been waiting a long time to get to this position (No 1). In fact just not me, entire nation. I thought when Gary (Kirsten) and Paddy (Paddy Upton), along with Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad, all credit to them for handling the team brilliantly. Also all the players have worked very hard in the last 18 months. Right from no 1 batter to no 7 (MS bats at no 7) we have a solid batting line-up. This pitch was a brilliant wicket. There was some turn on the first day and I knew one roll would settle it down and it did.”

No mention of Greg Chappel!

Dileep Premachandran, in his excellent article, Bestautolenders.com mentions John Wright, forgotten players like Sanjay Bangar (Leeds), Irfan Pathan (Multan), Balaji (Multan) and even staff like Adrian Le Roux, Andrew Leipus, John Gloster and Greg King.

He too has ignored Greg Chappel… Perhaps the one page that some of the current crop of players will want to ignore as they trace what has indeed been a fascinating, interesting and impressive 10-year journey.

Starting from Kolkata 2001, the journey has been painful at times; it has been excting at times; it has been imperssive at times. However, I will remember the journey for the commitment, passion, dignity and focus that the Fab Five showed.

Indeed, it is this journey — and not the outcome — that I will savour for a long long time.

As for the future, who knows what will happen. However, I am comforted by MS Dhoni’s calm assurance that Team India needs to travel well to claim the legitimate top-dog position. He said, “Let’s see when we go there. We can’t play them sitting here.”

The Fab Five will exit the scene one by one. However, I am confident that when they exit stage left, Indian cricket will be in a much better position than when they found it.

Take a bow guys. This is your ascent. This is your victory and thank you for all the good memories.

Irani Trophy and Challengers

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

Irani Trophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenger Trophy:

The Challenger Trophy squads:

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan

Compaq Cup — Sri Lanka, NZ, India

And so, after a long break from cricket (and i3j3cricket.com) in which there were a few sporadic games (and posts), we are back into a busy period of cricket (and posts) for India (and i3j3)!

The season commences with the Compaq Cup in Sri Lanka between New Zealand, Sri Lanka and India. The first game of the 4-match series resulted in a Samaraweera-inspired win for Sri Lanka over New Zealand.

The India Team is in Sri Lanka and is eyeing the #1 ODI spot, which India will make if it manages to win all 3 games in the Compaq Cup.

The Corporate Cup in India will have helped dust the cobwebs in the minds and bodies of the players. A few of the players did get to match fitness with some important scores. Suresh Raina made some runs and so did M. S. Dhoni and Rahul Dravid. R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma bowled well in patches. So with all of that done and dusted, the real action commences. Unfortunately for the Team India fan, the next few months is going to be a sequence of ODIs!

The team is a good one, in my view.

The batting is good and strong. One might have mounted an argument for Rohit Sharma. But in all fairness Rohit, like Uthappa, does need to do some work on his own. It isn’t quite about ability or talent. It is really about rising to the big occasion. Perhaps it is more a question mental toughness than anything else.

The batting has a settled and set feel to it and offers tremendous flexibility as well as depth. The openers may as well pad up now! There is no questioning who will open the innings! There are a few questions though: (a) will both all-rounders play? (b) will Rahul Dravid play? (c) will Suresh Raina play? (d) what will Dhoni’s batting position be?

I am certainly glad to see Abhishek Nayar and Yusuf Pathan there in the team. In my view, both of these must play and so must Rahul Dravid. And in what must be a somewhat radical suggestion, I recommend that Suresh Raina competes with Rahul Dravid for a spot and both of them bat way low in the batting order, behind the big hitters and even the all rounders. Dravid has the finishing ability and so does Raina. In my view, Raina’s talent is wasted at #3 and it would be best if Dhoni occupies that spot. Dhoni’s big hitting talent is wasted at #5 or #6.

In terms of bowling, I feel that both Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma are automatic picks and in all probability they will open the bowling. Ashish Nehra and R. P. Singh might compete for the 3rd pace bowlers spot. With Amit Mishra unlikely to shake off Harbhajan Singh’s hold on the spinners’ slot, the 4th main bowler’s spot is also taken. There are plenty of options for the 5th bowler’s spot with Yusuf Pathan, Abhishek Nayar, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina (if he plays) vying for an over or two!

The team also has competition in the drinks waiter department! Karthik is my first choice followed by Amit Mishra!

Is this team capable of taking the #1 spot by winning all 3 games? Possibly. But, given the lack of match practice, I won’t be holding my breath.

In my view, it is all a bit of fun and games!

My team:

Sachin Tendulkar
Gautam Gambhir
MS Dhoni
Yuvraj Singh
Abhishek Nayar
Yusuf Pathan
Rahul Dravid / Suresh Raina
Harbhajan Singh
Praveen Kumar
Ashish Nehra / R. P. Singh
Ishant Sharma

DRINKS: Dinesh Karthik / Amit Mishra

So, let the season begin and here’s looking forward to more posts on i3j3cricket!

— Mohan

Team India Performance in New Zealand: Tests

Much has been written about India not going that extra mile to win the last Test in New Zealand in the last few days. I wrote about India missing a “Tipping Point” moment. Mahesh also wrote about Good Enough not being Enough anymore!

These thoughts were summed up pretty accurately by Samir Chopra, in his CricInfo Blog.

In a two-part article, Samir Chopra says, “Why did Dhoni need 600 plus runs on the board? To set attacking fields? Why were 500 runs not enough? Because New Zealand had scored 600 runs in the first innings of the last Test? And if he wanted to set attacking fields then why didn’t he set them? I didn’t see fields that were consistently the hyper-aggressive fields that a captain with 600 runs on the board could set. (If you want to see aggressive fields for spinners and pacers alike, go find a video of Imran Khan’s field settings during the 1982 series against England, his first as captain). If the idea was to get 600 runs on the board and go on all-out attack, then why was the Indian team’s demeanour in the post-tea session on the fourth day that of giggling schoolboys? They didn’t look like meanies that had put 600 runs on the board and were in your face thereafter. This slackness affected their catching as well; three catches went down on the fifth day itself. (Dileep Premchandran notes that had those been held, India would have won anyway; perhaps; but perhaps the reason they weren’t held was that the team’s mind wasn’t fully set on winning the game as opposed to the series).”

I couldn’t have put it any better!

Some of us Team India fans could not digest the go-slow approach at The Oval against England and still got over that disappointment to savour India doing well subsequent to that in the T20 Championship and against Australia. Some of us could not digest the last Test draw against England in December, but still got over that to savour India’s success against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Similarly, I am sure we will get over the disappointment of a mere 1-0 win against New Zealand!

Setting the expectation bar higher is not necessarily a bad thing!

However, I am confident that the disappointment of a mere 1-0 result in New Zealand will soon be forgotten as we see the dancing ladies, pom-poms and skin-tight lycras of cheer-squads in a variety of T20 and ODI tournaments that India has lined up over the next few months. As we look back on Team India’s tour of New Zealand, we look forward to a year filled with T20 and ODI tournaments.

India does not play a Test match for a while now!

So who were the heroes and the zeroes of the NZ tour?

India’s support cast of M. Vijay, Amit Mishra, L. Balaji and Dhawal Kulkarni did not get a gig. That speaks as much to India’s consistency as well as it does to the faith that the team management reposes in its players. In my view, this is how the rest of the tour party fared in the Tests.

9.5: Gautam Gambhir — The biggest hero to emerge from the tour. He was the biggest find of the tour. He convinced everyone he could bat outside India. He saved the Test match in Napier for India and scored heavily in every Test. Although he had a marginal ODI tournament, he played well enough to emerge as an A-lister! In my view, it is because of him that India has risen to #3 position in the Test rankings. When asked some time back whether he preferred Aakash Chopra or Gautam Gambhir as his opening partner, Sehwag said, “I prefer Chopra because he gives me more of the strike!”, and therein lies the value of Gautam Gambhir. He is a diminutive opener, built in the Justin Langer mould. He has the fighting qualities that Langer brought to his game. But he mixes those fighting qualities with the aggressive mindset of a Matthew Hayden. In my mind, there was a question mark over his stomach for a back-to-the-wall fight. There was also a doubt over how he would perform in seaming conditions. Gambhir has ticked both boxes emphatically and emerged from the tour as India’s biggest asset despite a somewhat lacklustre showing in the ODIs. His poor ODI showing makes his Test performance even better! He shrugged off indifferent form in the ODIs to score heavily in the Tests. Full marks to this impressive lad.

9.0: Harbhajan Singh — He won the Test match for India in Hamilton by taking 6 wickets in the second innings. He bowled well as India’s lead spinner. He also topped the bowling charts in terms of # of wickets. India needs Harbhajan Singh to step up to the plate. Right from his debut series, it is when he has been labelled the “lead spinner” that Harbhajan Singh has emerged strongest. So also on this tour. He emerged as the highest wicket taker in the series. But more than that, he bowled with zip, rip and flight and rarely speared balls in as his wont! Apart from his performance in the Tests, more often than not, it was Harbhajan Singh that turned the screws on in the ODIs too. Apart from his bowling, Harbhajan Singh continues to develop as a bat. A solid #8 is vital to India’s hopes of ascending the Test ladder and Harbhajan Singh has constantly been part of major rearguard fights — Sydney 2008 and Bangalore 2008 spring to mind immediately.

8.5: Zaheer Khan — He had a wonderful tour. He bowled more overs than either Ishant Sharma or Munaf Patel. He shouldered the ace pace bowler responsibility and performed solidly. He made initial breakthroughs almost always and shone with the bat too. A recent analysis of his overseas performances underscored Zaheer importance to this team. He has taken 149 of his 210 wickets away from ‘home’. “His percentage of 70.95 is the highest among all bowlers who’ve taken at least 200 wickets. In fact he is well clear of second-placed Michael Holding, who has a percentage of 65.46.” Impressive indeed. Zaheer Khan had a very good ODI series too. Like Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan too has impressed with the bat lately. It is always comical when Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh bat together — not quite in the Javagal-Kumble mould, but comical nevertheless! Both of them seem to relish making contributions to the team cause with both bat and ball and so get close to full marks.

8.0: Sachin Tendulkar — He also had a wonderful tour. It seems that Tendulkar has found second wind in his career after beating Brian Lara’s record. He seems almost unstoppable these days. I will not say that his fluency reminded us of the “Tendulkar of the old”. I am convinced that the Tendulkar of today is the Tendulkar we see today! The Tendulkar of old is exactly that — Tendulkar of old! His 160 in Hamilton was a gem, but for me, his 62 in Wellington was the score I’ll store on my favourites. It is a pity that India is not playing too any more Test matches in the next 8-9 months. His 160* score in the ODI series has many people still drooling. He would have gone on to make a 200 (perhaps) but for a stomach muscle tear.

7.5: V. V. S. Laxman — Laxman proved his detractors wrog — again! The man has always been fighting off his detractors. But it looks like he is finally comfortable in both his own shoes as well as the role he has in the team. With Sourav Ganguly’s departure, he has moved one slot higher in the batting order. He also seems to draw comfort from the knowledge that he has the dependable and rock-solid Dhoni coming in after him! This has enabled him to play his own game lately. And whether it is defence or attack, he has looked assured, while looking attractive. His second innings century at Napier was fluent, artistic and solid — all at once!He scored 295 runs at 73.75 in the series! A good series which is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

7.0: Rahul Dravid — Although he had hit a century in the previous series, a sword continued to hang over this mans’ head! With the recent retirement of Sourav Ganguly, the clarion calls were growing for Dravid’s imminent departure or announcement. Dravid did make an announcement! It was that he was not in a tearing hurry to leave the scene! The chapter is still incomplete! He will be disappointed that he did not convert his starts of 66, 8*, 83, 62, 35 and 60 to much more. However, he will take the 314 runs he made @ 62.8 any day although he will rue the poor umpiring decisions he received! But these were strong returns for this Gentleman of Indian Cricket. He also signalled that he will be around for a while longer. And judging by the way he played, who would begrudge him his opportunities? It would do him and Team India good, however, if the selectors sat him down and worked out his plans for the future. Again, his good series is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

6.0: Virender Sehwag — Virender Sehwag puts fear into the opposition when he walks in. He showed how dangerous he could be in the ODIs. His amazing ODI century was breathtaking in its audacity as well as its brutality and skill. And that is purely why Sehwag is higher in the rankings than Dhoni. In the Tests, Sehwag missed out after making some explosive starts. He had a terrific start at Hamilton and missed out. He received a lot of flack for the shots he played against Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel in Napier. But we have to perhaps learn to accept that that is how he plays his game. He lives for today and it perhaps does not hurt to have a player like him in the midst, especially since India has, in Gautam Gambhir, one of the more dependable openers in recent memory.

5.0: M. S. Dhoni — He had a funny tour, in my opinion. He still hasn’t lost a Test match as captain. He brings that X-factor to his captaincy and his team. He is positive and fearless and his energy seems to rub off on his team — even the “seniors” in it. His absence was noticeable in the Napier Test. Virender Sehwag, the next best leader-option in the team — assuming that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will not take up that responsibility — was shown up quite badly. Sehwag seems to lack a strategic bone in his body and, to his credit, does not seem to really want one or need one! But Dhoni was missed in Napier. His wicketkeeping was missed in Napier. His batting was also missed at #7 and I personally missed his almost non-stop Hindi commentary from behind the stumps! I seriously think that the TV station should run a separate “Dhoni Channel” when the cricket is on! But that’s another matter for another day… He keeps it simple and uncomplicated. When asked about why the team arrived “late” into Napier (only the afternoon before the Test match), he said, “The mind doesn’t know if it’s Napier or not. You come and say this is Napier it believes it’s Napier, you say it is day it believes it is day because it’s about how you treat the mind… We think more about the small steps rather than have a look at what we want to achieve in the longer run. We know that if we achieve the small milestones what we want to achieve in the longer run will take care of itself. We think about a series, and we break the series into games. And every game is a different game in which we start from scratch.” By the way, this is exactly what Greg Chappell was saying too! But he made himself out to be a pontificating Guru. He was constantly challenged, continually ridiculed and then shown the door! Dhoni brings that earthy matter-of-fact approach to leadership. But despite his X-factor captaincy and despite his solid showing in both ODIs and Tests, he scores low in my books because of his wrong decision on the 4th morning of the 3rd Test — my view on this was recorded at the end of day-4 of the Test match itself (well before rains turned the 2-0 party in Wellington into a mere 1-0 party!).

4.0: Ishant Sharma — Ishant Sharma promised more than he delivered. He is still a work-in-progress. He will improve. He will get better and stronger. India needs to invest more on him. He had a good match at Hamilton but struggled to bowl into the wind at Wellington. Of course, all bowlers struggled at Napier! He bowled well in patches and it is fair to say that he will have learned from this outing.

3.0: Munaf Patel — I really do not know when players like Munaf Patel will realise that it is not enough to just rock up on the park and assume that “she’ll be right, mate”! The fact that the entire team applauded a dive that Munaf Patel put in on the boundary rope is symptomatic of his problems. A dive must be de rigueur. If your team mates are surprised that you can actually dive, that is cause for concern! He blows hot one day and cold the next. He lacks consistency and I suspect that it is because he either does not “put in” enough to his game and his preparations. Or maybe he just leaves his thinking cap behind in the Hotel room every morning! He had a terrific match in Hamilton. He played the 3rd bowler card perfectly and performed his role to perfection. He kept it tight and took wickets too. However, when the batsmen got stuck into him at Napier, he dropped his bundle and his tour went South from there on! He looked completely disconnected from proceedings subsequent to that point. He dropped catches, could not bend down to field regular shots and just missed the point of being part of a team! He needs a wake up call or a kick up his backside. He needs to work on his fitness, period. You are not going to teach him to be a better fielder and dive around the park. Not now. He has missed that bus many years ago! However, what he has to learn is complete commitment to his fellow bowlers — if not the entire team. A good, mentally strong, fit and committed Munaf Patel is important for India if she is to challenge the #2 and #1 spots.

2.0: Yuvraj Singh — What I wrote about Munaf Patel could be said about Yuvraj Singh too. He had several opportunities to not only cement the #6 spot, but make it his own. Instead, he used the tour to default on his loan repayments. His line of credit has been extended. But only just! He had a poor tour. For me, it was less his ability with the seaming ball and his low returns that made me give him such a low score. It was due to his overall lethargy in the field. He just did not seem to belong in this company. A few years ago, he was the touted as the great hope of the Indian infield. He was! He was seen as the messiah that would inspire a generation of Indian cricketers to throw themselves around on the park like a Jonty Rhodes or a Ricky Ponting. Today he is already a pale shadow of what he was even yesterday! Unfortunately, this means that he might need to start all over again! I think he can do it. He has to sharpen his fitness and lose those needless excess kilos. He also has to fix that ‘dodgy knee’. He seems to me to be a man pre-occupied by that weakness. We may then see a better, fitter and a more free Yuvraj Singh.

1.0: Dinesh Karthik — The only positive contribution from Dinesh Karthik on this tour is that he has ensured that Yuvraj Singh does not get lined up at the rear of the class! I would not be surprised if Dinesh Karthik played his last Test at Napier. The only good thing about his ‘keeping in the 1st Innings of that Test was that he made the Kiwis wonder if he had been selected for his batting! Once they saw him batting, they were left scratching their heads! I strongly believe that it is time the team and the selectors invested in Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha and Srivats Goswami.

Overall, this was a steady tour for Team India. I’d have preferred a 2-0 result, but will take this in the hope of better things in the future.

In conclusion, I must say that the pitches as well as the schedule worked in India’s favour. Gautam Gambhir was “allowed to fail” in the ODIs without allowing it to form a ‘mental block’ for him. The bowlers — particularly Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh — got used to the conditions. So a big tick to the BCCI for drawing up a schedule. A big tick too to the BCCI for also organising for Dravid, Laxman, Kulkarni and Laxman to play a few provincial games in New Zealand. It can’t have hurt India’s preparations.

— Mohan