Tag Archives: Indian Cricket

India vs. New Zealand: Test Series Preview

New Zealand tours to India have always posed an interesting quandary. The Kiwis fly down approximately once in 4 years, usually on the cusp of a World Cup, or on the heels of one. They get short shrift as the precursor to a tough overseas challenge for Team India. It’s funny how their 3 previous visits have been around the same time as the Irani Trophy; no different this time either. It is also noteworthy that, revelling in their underdog status as they do, they perform better than most tourists in India. They have lost just 2 of their previous 8 Tests in India, albeit having won none. The last time India won 2 Tests against them in a series (home or away) was before Sachin Tendulkar had made his international debut. Admittedly, the current outfit lacks the pedigree of the earlier teams brought over by Stephen Fleming & Lee Germon. To add to their inexperience, Daniel Vettori’s men are also up against the No. 1 ranked Test team in full strength, rich vein of form and unbeaten for more than 2 years.

For the first time this year, India will go into a Test series with their first choice XV fully fit. Every member of the side selects himself, with just a rumour of debate regarding one of the reserve batsmen slots. Gautam Gambhir & V.V.S. Laxman’s return to fitness, and a combination of brave batting & fine fielding brought to the table by the young trio of Suresh Raina, Murali Vijay & Cheteshwar Pujara ensured that the contest was anything but, Yuvraj Singh’s double century in the Irani Trophy notwithstanding.

Tendulkar & Zaheer Khan were truly sensational against Australia. The only concern will be to ensure that they do not pick up injuries. Virender Sehwag, who had a relatively quiet series, should find the Kiwi attack to his liking. If he manages to overcome boredom & his tendency to underestimate weak spinners, all the tourists can do is pack the leg-side field and pray. One hopes that Rahul Dravid will strike it big, for his form remains imperative to our fortunes in South Africa later this winter. New Zealand, of course, would have talked in great detail about his recent vulnerability outside the off stump. Vijay & Pujara will make way for Gambhir & Laxman; unfair, but that is the way of international cricket. Gambhir though, is well aware that Vijay is breathing down his neck. It will, however, take much more to replace the stylist from Hyderabad, who must be looking forward to playing a Test in his hometown.

India looks settled on the bowling front as well. Pragyan Ojha was mighty impressive in the Australia series with his flight & control. Harbhajan Singh & Ishant Sharma seem to be feeling their way back to form convincingly enough to keep Sreesanth & Amit Mishra on the bench. Skipper M.S. Dhoni was perhaps the only real failure in the previous series. His batting may not have been missed as much as his keeping, errors that he and his side can ill afford. It would help as well if he wins a toss for a change.

On the face of it, New Zealand appears to be a motley crew, but a discerning eye will recognise the potential of their batting line-up. In Martin Guptill, they have one of their stars of the future. Attractive, free-flowing and importantly, a good player of spin bowling, he will look to set the tone for a dangerous middle order comprising Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum. Each one of the triumvirate providing muscle in the middle knows what it’s like to score a Test century against India, as does the man bringing up the rear – skipper Vettori himself, easily the most consistent of the lot. It is hard to see the much hyped Kane Williamson fitting in, unless McCullum dons the gauntlets ahead of specialist wicket-keeper Gareth Hopkins.

It is in the inexperience of the bowling attack that New Zealand will bleed. Chris Martin and Vettori (that man again!) will spearhead the pace & spin departments. Jeetan Patel will surely play on pitches responsive to his craft, but must know that this may be the toughest assignment of his career so far. Between them, Tim Southee, the nippy Brent Arnel, the left-am quick Andy McKay & the young Hamish Bennett have bowled not a single ball in India. Take away Southee & add Martin to the mix, and you have an uncharacteristically weak tail. They will look to the first test of the 1999 tour for inspiration, when Dion Nash & Shayne O’Connor blew India away for 83 on a seaming pitch at Mohali.

India batted superbly, bowled competently and caught woefully against the Aussies and yet blanked them. That combination may well be enough to shut out New Zealand as well, but they would want to improve. Also, as the No. 1 ranked side, they must win by a margin of at least 2-0. Indian complacency apart, it is hard to see New Zealand winning a Test match on this tour.

SQUADS

INDIA: MS Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag (vice-capt), Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Pujara, M Vijay, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra

NEW ZEALAND: Daniel Vettori (capt), Brent Arnel, Hamish Bennett, Martin Guptill, Gareth Hopkins, Chris Martin, Brendon McCullum, Tim McIntosh, Andy McKay, Jeetan Patel, Jesse Ryder, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Kane Williamson

ITINERARY

1st Test: India v New Zealand at Ahmedabad
Nov 4-8, 2010 (09:30 local, 04:00 GMT)

2nd Test: India v New Zealand at Hyderabad (Deccan)
Nov 12-16, 2010 (09:30 local, 04:00 GMT)

3rd Test: India v New Zealand at Nagpur
Nov 20-24, 2010 (09:30 local, 04:00 GMT)

– Kartik

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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.

Has Team India missed another “Tipping Point”?

On 15 August 2007, Team India’s 2007 series in England had just concluded. Rahul Dravid was then captain of Team India — a team that had no coach and a genial geriatric as its Team Manager. The team had started off that tour with several enormous handicaps. It had a mountain of pressure on it after having been unceremoniously dumped from the 2007 World Cup. Against that backdrop, Team India won that series in England on that day.

On that day, however, while celebrating that victory, I wrote that there was a hollowness to the victory. The team had refused to press its foot on the pedal in going for a victory at The Oval. Although India had won the series 1-0, a 2-0 result was possible. Instead, Rahul Dravid chose to take the safe route, secure a series victory and hand it as a “present” to players like Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, himself and V. V. S. Laxman — players who were unlikely return to England for another series, but more importantly, players who hadn’t tasted an England series victory in their time!

Sentiment overtook a sporting “tipping point”.

I wrote that day about how Team India had missed the “tipping point”, drawing reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. In that book, the author presents a thesis that (ideas and) behaviours act like outbreaks of infectious diseases that create social epidemics. The Tipping Point is the moment in an epidemic when critical mass is reached. These are “boiling point” moments. Moments that we often describe using the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. These are dramatic moments when something unique becomes common. Moments at which little changes can make a big difference.

A similar “tipping point” moment was presented to Team India today against New Zealand. However, instead of going for victory, India marched on to set New Zealand an unattainable target of 617 runs in a maximum of 167 overs. New Zealand would have to score at an explosive rate of 3.7 runs per over to make the score on a 5th day pitch! The Kiwis would have to do more — much more — than just beat the 4th innings world record for the maximum number of runs scored to win a game! The Kiwis would have to smash the record of 414 set by South Africa on 21 December 2008.

India batted for about an hour and a half on day-4 and consumed some 20 overs by batting on and on! I am not sure that that was necessary. Clearly, India’s approach was that protecting a 1-0 lead was far more important than pushing all out for a 2-0 series win. Especially with rain looming, which would potentially wash out the 5th day’s play, what India needed was urgency and proactive cricket. Not a safety-first approach.

Now in saying this, I fully realise that M. S. Dhoni is a sentimentalist first and ruthless captain (in the Steve Waugh mould) next. To him, handing a victory to the seniors in the team would mean much more than a chest-thumping bragging-rights moment that a 2-0 victory would give him. Even so, I felt that Team India had missed another “tipping point moment” in its developmental journey.

Despite the bad weather that is predicted for Wellington and despite the flatness of the track, India may still win this Test match. But by playing such defensive/negative cricket, this Team India is perhaps indicating that it is “not quite there” yet.

A little difference on Day-4 would have meant “positive batting“ and “positive cricket”. The big outcome could have been, “Hey! We can do it”.

Winning is a habit.

— Mohan

Third Test :: New Zealand Vs India :: 1st Day

It was one of those manic days of Test cricket in which each team will claim they got it right.

New Zealand took a risk by winning the toss and asking India to bat. NZ will feel that their decision was vindicated by getting 9 of India’s 1st Innings wickets on the opening day! NZ will also be disappointed that they let India get away to 375 after having India 205-6 at one stage! It was a poor post-Tea show from the NZ bowlers after they stuck to their task in the first two sessions — despite the pounding they received from Sehwag!

India raced at the start. It was almost as if India was playing in an ODI. Having started in that manner and having put the seed of concern in the mind of the NZ captain, the Indian top order will be disappointed that it let NZ back into the game. Everyone in the top-order barring Gautam Gambhir got out to a poor shot rather than a good ball.

Gambhir was out-thought by Franklin — a bowler who just didn’t look like taking a wicket this series. After moving a few away from the left hander, Franklin got a cross-seamer to hold its line. Gambhir was out LBW.

However, Sehwag, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid and Dhoni “gave it away”. And Yuvraj Singh was Yuvraj Singh!

There has been talk that the NZ bowlers bowled too short. I am not sure I agree. Of the Indian bats that got out, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Dhoni and Zaheer got out to balls that were pitched short! Harbhajan got out to a ball that seemed to stop on him a bit. Gambhir got out to a clever piece of bowling. The ball was pitched further up and held its line. Laxman chased a fuller ball that pitched outside off and swung further away.

And Yuvraj Singh was Yuvraj Singh! The only good thing about Yuvraj Singh these days is he makes the Indian fan yearn for Saurav Ganguly! The man does need to do something about his (1st Innings) batting.

Despite the fact that Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar and Dhoni got starts, India were pegged back by the NZ bowlers. But despite the somewhat poor showing from the top order, India still made 375!

So it was just one of those days of cricket!

— Mohan

Should Sachin Tendulkar retire from ODIs?

Absolutely not, is my view!

But over the last few months I have heard many more people say “Sachin Tendulkar ought to retire” than the runs he has made in ODIs! When pressed these naysayers often cite either, “He is not the Tendulkar of old” or “He is a legend of the game. How can he be made to look ordinary especially after all that he has achieved” or “He should make way for younger players”

To those that say that Tendulkar today is not the Tendulkar of old, I say “neither am I or you” and suggest that if pain persists, they ought to buy a video of Sachin Tendulkar’s 1998 matches against Australia and watch them till their eyes drop. If pain still persists, I recommend that they see a doctor!

In other words, those that say “Tendulkar is not the Tendulkar of old and should, hence, retire” I suggest that the problem is with them and not with Tendulkar!

In my view, any player warrants a place in the team if (a) he wishes to play, (b) he is better than the best in the land. And the “best” here is both on future potential as well as current ability — after all, as I have said before in these pages, Tendulkar wasn’t Tendulkar before Tendulkar became Tendulkar!

Tendulkar clearly wants to play and he is certainly good enough to continue to play for India. The player that he is currently “keeping out of the team” is Rohit Sharma. Enough said! While Rohit Sharma is clearly a good player and while there is potential there, he is not going to edge Tendulkar out of the team, especially when the Little Master is playing the way he is right now.

So yes, while in theory, Tendulkar is keeping a few younger players away from the team, he is still scoring solidly — if not in the authoritative and domineering manner that we are used to — and contributing to Team India’s victories. Take for example, the manner in which he got his 163* in Christchurch in the 3rd ODI against New Zealand.

That was a majestic knock that was crafted in a few separately exhilarating gears. At first, he seemed to gauge the wicket. He seemed to start slow and then explode. He then quietened down for a while before springing a Power Play on the inexperienced Kiwi captain for that match — Brendon McCullum. In the company of Yuvraj Singh, he made merry. He then quietened down again before, once again, exploding. The fact that he made his 163* off just 133 runs despite some extremely quiet spells, speaks of his dominance.

Clearly the brashness of youth has given way to the guile of an old hand. But the mind, the enthusiasm as well as the energy is still there for all to see. As Ravi Shastri keeps reminding us, his boyish enthusiasm and energy is infectious and seems to rub off on the whole team. He wants to be involved in the game.

So who are we to deny him that?

To which, people often suggest that as an absolute legend of the game, he does not need to be made to look ordinary at times and should, hence, retire (especially after all that he has achieved in the game). A friend of mine often suggests that Eienstien did not need to write even a single paper after his annus mirabilis of 1905 — a year in which he wrote the five history-making papers (particle theory of light, measuring molecular dimensions, Brownian motion, theory of special relativity, and E = mc2). See “Five papers that shook the world”.

Again, I suggest that the problem is with people and not with Tendulkar. It was people like you and me who conferred on Tendulkar the “legend” moniker. He did not ask that he be cast as a “legend of the game”. He was a gifted player then. He remains a gifted player today. He wants to play.

As a player who has given much to team and country, my strong view is that his departure from the world stage must be at a time of his choosing.

My sense is that, like Eienstien, Tendulkar will not rest on either his laurels or his achievements or the “legend” status that people have conferred on him. He will continue to play till he enjoys the game and till he can contribute to it. He is.

It is best that we leave him be and enjoy the Tendulkar of today. If not, tomorrow, we will yearn for the Tendulkar of today. And once again, the problem will lie at our doorstep.

— 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