Tag Archives: Indian Cricket

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

Duleep Trophy Semis

So, South Zone prevailed over Central Zone in the Duleep opening game. A cats’ whisker separated the two teams in terms of the recorded result: South won on the basis of a 3-run 1st Innings lead! However, the result and the manner in which it was contrived was, in my view, a shocker that ought to send a clear signal to the people that run the game in India — notwithstanding the fact that I used the word “run” in a loose manner in that sentence!

The result was handed to South Zone when Central’s last bat, Umesh Yadav, went for a huge second-ball slog off L. Balaji with Central just 3 runs behind. Murali Kartik, who was at the non-strikers’ end (on 23 off 32 balls) would have reason to be cheesed off with Umesh Yadav who probably redeemed himself by being the best bowler on view from either side in the first innings. Yadav had a 5-fer that included the wickets of Dravid and Laxman.

South Zone went ahead to the next round on the basis of the slender 3-run 1st Innings lead that it secured. Thereby, players like Robin Uthappa, S. Badrinath, Dinesh Kartik, L. Balaji, Abhinav Mukund, and Sreesanth lived to fight another day!

Fair enough.

However, what was galling was that the captains of South and Central agreed to settle for a draw after the fall of Central’s 9th wicket — that of Mohammed Kaif — even though there were nine overs to go! Chasing 381 in 77 overs was always going to be tough. But Central made an attempt. However, with the fall of the 9th wicket and with 9 overs left in the days’ play, it was thoroughly disappointing to see South’s captain not press for an outright win!

Surely there is something wrong in the “system” right there! We can blame the rot on the administrators — and we do — but surely, the players have to get into the winning habit too! Even though there are no carry-forward points I can’t imagine a let-us-settle-for-a-draw attitude percolating through the Australian system or the South African domestic system, for example.

These little things do matter. Winning is a habit.

Players like Badrinath get another chance to press their case. Dinesh Kartik made a compelling case for the 2nd ‘keeper slot with two impressive centuries in the match.

The action moves to Mumbai and Rajkot now

  • 1st Semi-Final: East Zone v West Zone @ Mumbai – Jan 29-Feb 1, 2009
  • 2nd Semi-Final: North Zone v South Zone at Rajkot – Jan 29-Feb 1, 2009

The teams:

East Zone Team:
Shiv Sunder Das (capt), Manoj Tiwary, Rashmi Parida, Wriddhiman Saha, Haladhar Das (wk), Ashok Dinda, Ranadeb Bose, Dibyendu Chakrabarty, Niranjan Behera, Basanth Mohanty, Anand Katti, Krishna Das, Saurabh Tiwary, Tushar Saha, Jayanta Debnath.

West Zone (in possible batting order):
Wasim Jaffer (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kedar Jadhav, Bhavik Thakkar, Abhishek Nayar, Parthiv Patel (wk), Ramesh Powar, Rajesh Pawar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Sidharth Trivedi.
Subs: Ajay Shrikhande, Samad Fallah, Azharuddin Bilakhia and Ajitesh Argal.

South Zone (in possible batting order):
Abhinav Mukund, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman (captain), S. Badrinath (vice-captain), Arjun Yadav, Dinesh Karthik (wk), R. Ashwin, M. Suresh, L. Balaji, S. Sreeshanth.
Subs: Suarav Bandekar, M. Vinay Kumar, S. Anoop Pai

Interstingly, Wriddhiman Saha is included as a batsman in the East side with Haladhar Das anointed as the ‘keeper! And that warhorse, Debashis Mohanty is not in the East Zone squad even though he ended the season as East’s leading wicket taker. I have not seen the North Zone team list anywhere yet.

— Mohan

South Vs Central :: Duleep Trophy :: Preview

Since my last post wherein I discussed the South Zone and West Zone teams for the Duleep Trophy, Central Zone announced its team for the Duleep Trohpy. The first match in this knockout-format tournament starts today, 22 Jan, in Bangalore.

For South Zone, I expect the playing XI to be:
Abhinav Mukund, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman (captain), S. Badrinath (vice-captain), Dinesh Karthik (wk), R. Ashwin, P. Pragyan Ojha, L. Balaji, S. Sreeshanth, R. Vinay Kumar.

It is a good line-up with Abhivav Mukund expecting to shine brighter in the national radar as he has done in Chennai! Robin Uthappa will continue an impressive season after going off the boil subsequent to the Australia tour in 2008. While Rahul Dravid and Laxman will use this as match practice ahead of the New Zealand tour, Badrinath should use this opportunity to force his way into reckoning for the New Zealand tour.

The bowling looks solid on the back of Sreesanth’s 7-fer in the match in his comeback match for Kerala. But that was in the Ranji Plate match against a weak Jharkand. Whether he can cut it on the bigger stage remains to be seen! With the fast bowling stocks looking quite healthy in India at the moment, Sreesanth and L. Balaji have their work cut out for them!

The Central Zone squad is dominated by players from Uttar Pradesh (finalists in the Ranji). The CZ squad (in possible batting order):

Shivakant Shukla, Tanmay Srivastava, Yere Goud, Mohammad Kaif (capt), Faiz Fazal, Naman Ojha (wk), Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Piyush Chawla, Murali Kartik, Pankaj Singh, Anureet Singh.

Subs: Umesh Yadav, Robin Bist, Parvinder Singh, Jalaj Saxena.

Pankaj Singh was in the India Test side to tour Australia last year. Piyush Chawla has played many a game for India and left-arm spinner, Murali Kartik played for India not too long ago. So Central may feel that they have a better bowling attack. Mohammed Kaif should use this to stake his, perhaps rightful, claim on the big stage in Indian cricket!

Although Central have competent players like Mohammed Kaif, Murali Kartik, Pitush Chawla, Yere Goud (former Karnataka player and prolific scorer), et al, South Zone should win this stage to move on to bigger and better things in the tournament.

But then stranger things have happened, as they say!

— Mohan

Duleep Trophy Teams

The South Zone team for the Duleep Trophy has been announced. Interestingly, the newspaper report requests all the players “to assemble in Bangalore on January 20. For further details players may contact R. Sudhakar Rao, assistant secretary, on Phone No. 098440 41815.”

Surely, there is a better way to do this!

The Duleeps this year commences from Jan 22. In the absence of a foreign team — the sixth team — this season’s Duleep Trophy will be played on a knock-out basis. I am not sure why this has to be the case! This is one of the few occasions when the country’s elite players are playing against each other. To have them play just one game (perhaps) against the best of their peers is nothing short of baffling. Surely, the tournament can be played on a league basis!

Instead, South Zone and Central Zone, the teams placed at the bottom of their respective groups last season, will play a qualifying match in Bangalore from January 22. The winner will take on defending champions North Zone in the first semi-final, while East Zone clash with West Zone in the second semi-final. The final, will begin at on February 5 in Chennai.

Just as the BCCI got the New Zealand tour itinerary wrong, my feeling is that the BCCI has screwed this up too!

The SZ team itself is a mixed-bag. As Shankar points out in the comments section of a previous thread, how M. Vijay missed out and how Arjun Yadav — son of former India spinner, Shivlal Yadav — gets in, is a mystery.

M. Vijay, we all remember, played for India against Australia in the 3rd and final Test match of the series in October, when Gautam Gambhir was “elbowed out” of the game!

It is terrific to see Abhinav Mukund get into the big league. He was the 4th biggest scorer in the Ranji Trophy with 856 runs and is just behind Wasim Jaffer, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara in the pecking order. As Srikanth Mangalam has pointed out, Abhinav Mukund, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and R. Jadeja are possibly the future of Indian cricket.

It is also good to see Sreesanth making a comeback into the SZ team. Although L. Balaji has been playing well for the last year, to get into the big league once again indicates that his career is probably heading in the right direction once again.

The South Zone team in possible batting order is:

Abhinav Mukund, Robin Uthappa, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman (captain), S. Badrinath (vice-captain), Dinesh Karthik (wk), R. Ashwin, P. Pragyan Ojha, L. Balaji, S. Sreeshanth, R. Vinay Kumar.

Subs: Suarav Bandekar, M. Suresh and S. Anoop Pai, N. Arjun Yadav,

Meanwhile, the West Zone squad has also been announced. It is a strong team with players like Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Dhawal Kulkarni and Sidharth Trivedi and Abhishek Nayar supporting West Zone veterans Wasim Jaffer and Parthiv Patel.

In a somewhat strange and inexplicable move, while batting in the Ranji Finals, Wasim Jaffer opened the Mumbai batting with wicket-keeper Vinayak Samant! With a player like Ajinkya Rahane in the midst, why would he do that? Having said that, Samant did make a big hundred in the second innings and Rahane didn’t do much in the game! So perhaps Jaffer got it right after all? But surely, one’s got to trust the opener with the job of opening, especially since Rahane was the second highest scorer in the championship with 1089 runs (Jaffer was the only other player to score more than 1000 runs in the season)!

The West Zone team (in possible batting order) is:

Wasim Jaffer (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kedar Jadhav, Bhavik Thakkar, Abhishek Nayar, Parthiv Patel (wk), Ramesh Powar, Rajesh Pawar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Sidharth Trivedi.

Subs: Ajay Shrikhande, Samad Fallah, Azharuddin Bilakhia and Ajitesh Argal.

This is an impressive batting line up in which the top three in the WZ batting order are the top three run getters (in that order) in the Ranji Trophy!

Of course, West Zone’s strength will be depleted by the absence of Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan and Irfan Pathan, who will all be in Sri Lanka, playing for India against Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, Mohnish Parmar, the Gujarat offie, has been banrred from playing the Duleep Trophy due to a suspect action! The 20-year-old off-spinner was (with 41 wickets at 19.53) the second highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy competition behind Dhawal Kukrani and Ravindra Jadeja!

I haven’t seen the team announcements for Central, North or East Zone.

— Mohan

A sensational victory…

In a conversation on India’s most famous recent victories, an India cricket fan will invariably allude to Kolkata 2001, Leeds 2002, Adelaide 2003, Multan 2004, Sabina Park 2006, Johannesburg 2006, Perth 2008, and Mohali 2008.

After yesterdays’ sensational, come-from-behind-victory at Chennai the India cricket fan would be compelled to add Chennai 2008 to this growing and impressive list of victories. India’s victory at Chennai ranks right up there with the victories in the above list.

Some victories just fade into history quietly. Some linger for much longer and some — like the list presented above — stay in the memory for specific reasons. For example, regardless of the team they support, few cricket fans will ever forget Leeds 1981, a match that was turned on its head by one man who refused to let the Australians run over him. Similarly, each of the above India victories will have special significance because of an individual brilliance performance or a special team performance.

Chennai 2008 may never acquire the status of a Leeds 1981 or a Kolkata 2001. But in the annals of Indian cricket history, it will rank right up there as one of India’s best ever.

First though, mention must be made of England’s courage and commitment to the game. There will be a few cynics that say that the IPL careers of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff — and perhaps a few other English players — rested on Englands’ decision to return to India to play a Test match after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. But I am not sure Kevin Pitersen, Andrew Flintoff, Paul Collingwood and their mates would be ready to risk their lives in the search of a few IPL dollars.

I do applaud Englands’ decision to not bow down to the terrorists. it was a brave decision. It was a show of solidarity to the people of India and the people whose lives were affected by the cowardly actions of the terrorists. And if Englands’ decision thaws ECB-BCCI relations, gets England a few BCCI-Brownie points and also a few IPL contracts, I certainly will not begrudge them their place in the sun. Courage has to be rewarded. This was certainly a strong and compelling statement from Pietersen and his men off the field.

On the field, England played good cricket for three and a half days.

Just as Australia had blown their series against India at Nagpur in the 3rd session of the penultimate day, in this Test, England blew their chances through slow batting that defied belief.

There are a few reasons make this a special win.

India won after being behind in this Test from the moment she lost the toss. Many visiting teams talk about the toss being all important in India. The hosts showed that the effect of the toss can indeed be nullified if a team believes in itself and its abilities.

The total that India chased was the 4th largest 2nd Innings total that any team has made to win a Test match — that India has won two of the top four largest second innings winning totals says something about the tenacity that is developing in this new team.

But more importantly to me, this win was made on the back of backs-to-the-wall grit from players like M. S. Dhoni (1st innings) and Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh (in the 2nd innings). Furthermore, unlike Mohali 2008, where almost everyone in the team contributed to the victory, this was a Test which was won mainly on the back of performances from a few — Dhoni in the 1st dig, Sehwag, Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh in the 2nd Innings. Amongst the bowlers, only Zaheer Khan bowled with some fire although Ishant Sharma bowled well too. So, from that point of view this was indeed a strong victory.

India march to Mohali for the 2nd Test with Dhoni having won 4 from 4 Test matches that he has captained; not a bad start for him as India captain! The only change I expect in Team India is Laxman coming in at #3 for Rahul Dravid, who must have felt the guillotine drop an inch or two after the Chennai Test match. Harbhajan Singh’s bowling was a disappointment in Chennai. The team will be looking for a spirited performance from the Indian off-spinner.

— Mohan

Of Brains, Hair, Selectorial Leaks and Third Worlds

While Australia returned to their winning ways in the comfort of their home conditions and as India continued to mount an impressive ODI campaign against the visiting English team that is in a bit of a disarray at the moment, the usual suspects have been at it again this week.

  • Sunil Gavaskar and Ricky Ponting have continued their public spats.
  • Ricky Ponting continued his petulant wars with Ian Chappell and Alan Border.
  • The BCCI has another selection room leak to contend with.
  • Matthew Hayden continued his Third World campaign even as the sight-screen froze at The Gabba!

Ponting Vs Gavaskar, Chappell, Border, A. N. Other:

It looks like the public spat between Ricky Ponting and virtually anyone within spitting distance of the Australian captain has now consumed Sunil Gavaskar as a somewhat willing participant! It all started when Ponting was criticised by virtually everyone on his captaincy in India during the recently concluded Test series, which India won 2-0. In the Nagpur Test Ponting employed his part-time bowlers in a bid to save himself (first and then, his team) from incurring the wrath of the ICC Match Referee. It was a move that potentially cost Australia the match, the series and the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Former Australian captains, Ian Chappell, Alan Border and Steve Waugh condemned the decision immediately.

Instead of offering a philosophical shrug and accepting the criticism, Ponting — as is his wont in recent times– went into overdrive in defending his actions. He even said at a luncheon in Brisbane that he had no intention of speaking to the former Australian greats for a while yet! These were classic signs of an Australian captain who seemed to have lost the plot.

As if all of that wasn’t bizarre enough, Ponting then took aim and fired in the direction of Sunil Gavaskar through the release of a section of his book in which he criticises Gavaskar, a consistent critic of the Australian team’s on-field behaviour! Ponting aimed his gun at Gavaskar, saying that the former Indian great was no angel in his playing days! For substantiation of the argument, Ponting alluded to Gavaskar attempting to stage a walk out at the MCG in 1981!

Three things come immediately to mind! (a) What has the “walk out” in 1981 got to do with Australian team behaviour in 2008? (b) Wasn’t Gavaskar’s walk out in 1981 in protest against Australian behaviour on the field, thereby substantiating Gavaskar’s argument, and not Ponting’s? (c) What has the “walk out” got to do with the price of fish anyway?

Sunil Gavaskar needs no invitation to fight. He picked up his boxing gloves. But instead of saying that Ponting’s allusion to the 1981 “walk out” merely substantiated his own argument, Gavaskar lashed out some more on Thursday 20 Nov, saying “Ponting was just seven-year-old when MCG incident happened. He does not know the background”.

As if that wasn’t enough puerile behaviour for one week, in today’s Sunday Times of India, Gavaskar has said “Ponting’s hair has grown, not his intelligence” (I can’t find an online link to this story, but will like as soon as it appears on the ToI site)! This makes reference to the sudden (re)growth of Ponting’s mop. In his vitriolic diatribe against Ponting, Gavaskar drops a pearl in a line that makes me sigh in despair. He says, “The Australians have gone home with their tail between their legs, like most dogs that bark and do not bite when confronted with another who stands up and does not run away.” Sigh!

Selection-room discussions:

The biggest story in India right now is the selection room gut-spill. The India team for the Bangalore and Cuttack ODIs against England included Irfan Pathan and Sachin Tendulkar for R. P. Singh and Murali Vijay. The selectors declared their intent, upon being chosen, that they wanted to focus on the nurturing of all-rounders. So despite his patchy bowling form, the selection of Irfan Pathan was consistent with that approach. All good, one would have thought!

But no. In a move that only the BCCI and its machinery can match, a selection committee leak to the Kolkata based ‘Anand Bazar Patrika’ revealed that India captain, M. S. Dhoni disagreed with the selectors.

If I were the BCCI, I’d identify who this idiot was that leaked discussions held in a committee and publicly flog him.

This leak does not serve anyone’s interests. The BCCI’s interests have been compromised. Dhoni’s interests have been compromised. As Dhoni himself said, “This is the pinnacle of the sport. We are selecting 15 guys for the Indian team. There will be debates inside, and that information should not be put out in the media. If it is meant to come out, then I can say we might as well have the whole meeting telecast live on television. Nobody knows what was discussed except the eight guys in the meeting. And only they know whether it’s the truth or not.”

I totally agree here. Indeed, I think that such debate and argument is healthy. I certainly hope that we do not have a robot that goes into a meeting, nods his head at the “respected elders” sitting there and comes out of the meeting with a team sheet.

It is alleged that Dhoni said, “Sir Caaptani bhi dete ho aur baat bhi nahin sunte. To caaptani ka kya faayda?” (“Sir you’ve made me captain, but do not wish to listen to me? So what’s the use of this captaincy?”)

Fair point.

Note that he hasn’t actually said, “If you do not back R. P. Singh, I will resign”, as has been commonly reported by the “braying mediocrity” (the press) here, in India. It is more of a rhetorical question and I think it is a fair question to ask in the context of a selection debate.

Debates at the selection table are what they should be: debates at the selection table. In this instance, Dhoni lost the debate and that’s fine too. He should have copped it on the chin and moved on.

He did!

After the meeting Dhoni said, “This is a selection thing and personally I don’t discuss anything outside. To some extent it does distract us. The good part is that we trust each other – every player in the team trusts the other.”

However, Kris Srikkanth and his team have much to answer in this sordid saga. I hope Srikkanth does not push the dust under the carpet. For the sake of his own integrity and the integrity of his selection committee, I do wish he hounds down the selector that leaked this to the press and gives him a sound thrashing.

The leak has put Dhoni in the invidious position of having to have conversations with R. P. Singh and Irfan Pathan. As Dhoni himself said, “There might be a scenario where all of a sudden we might want to get in touch with RP Singh and Irfan Pathan. And you don’t want RP to feel that I will go out of the way and stand and defend him and Irfan should not feel I don’t want him in the team. I will stand and defend both these players and both of them trust me. My talks with them went off well.”

While I do agree with Anand Vasu, one of the saner voices in Indian cricket media, when he says in the Hindstan Times, “What this incident does is vitiate the atmosphere in the dressing-room,” I do not agree with him when he says “There’s no need to name names, no need for the BCCI to investigate.”

Sorry. I do not agree. The integrity of the selection process has been violated. It is time that the BCCI draws a line in the sand, pulled up the culprit and hangs him out to dry. But I really can’t expect that from the BCCI.

What shocked me, however, was the reaction of a journalist like Bobilli Vijay Kumar, who, in an article in The Times of India, supports the leak wholeheartedly. In an article that sports the tone of a king crab in a lid-less container shipment of Indian crabs, Vijay Kumar hopes that “Dhoni has learnt his lesson: yes, there are no secrets in Indian cricket; no meeting, however sacrosanct it might appear, remains confidential for ever. Every word, especially one that has the contours of a controversy, will sooner or earlier end up as part of a headline.”

And some people wonder why we, at i3j3Cricket, have termed the Indian cricket media, the “braying mediocrity of Indian cricket”?

G. Rajaraman, another sane voice amidst the cacophony (the man who got is credited with enlisting that powerful quote from Kumble after the Sydney Test), offers a solution. He says: “I believe that much of the speculation would have been stifled had BCCI let Srikkanth speak for the Selectors and offer some insight into the changes. It is important for the media and the cricket fans – stakeholders of the game, after all – to understand the thinking behind such changes rather than be left to grapple for understanding on their own.”

I agree with Rajaraman. Much of the speculation arises from having people like Niranjan Shah (in the past) and G. Srinivasan (currently) front up to offer selection explanations to the key stakeholders in the game — the fans and media. That should be left to the chairman of selectors — in this case the loquacious, never-shy-in-front-of-a-microphone, I-can-speak-faster-than-I-can-think Kris Srikkanth!

This episode is not about whether R. P. Singh would have been a better choice. Nor is it about interpreting Dhoni’s words as a resignation threat. As I have said, in the context of a selection meeting, those words make perfect sense to me. I certainly do not interpret those words as a resignation threat! However, this episode is about resurrecting the integrity of the Team India selection committee. Its integrity has been shot and a proper investigation needs to be conducted. A message needs to be sent.

I do hope the BCCI has learnt its lesson. But before that, the BCCI has an important task on hand. It needs to start weeding itself of unprofessional thugs, and in my view, the rascal responsible for that leak is indeed, nothing more than an unprofessional thug.

Hayden, sight-screens and the Third World:

Matthew Hayden, started the week off by complaining about sight screens in Third World India. His comments led to much consternation, disbelief and hurt! Amidst the continual shaking of utterly dismayed heads in India, the key message that Hayden wanted to convey was, once again, lost!

I do agree with Hayden at a general level. There are many things that happen in India that make me roll my eyes, shake my head and leave me with no option but to say, “Only in India”! For example, the other day Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, walked into a game being played at Rajkot. He proceeded to sit himself down on a chair right beside the sight screen. His entourage of nearly 100 people (it seemed) circled all around him. Several of them spilled onto the sight screen area! Play was held up for nearly 5 minutes while this mess was sorted out. Surely, Narendra Modi could have been seated at some other part of the ground where play need not have been held up thus!

But then, as he often does, Hayden had the political acumen of a mosquito flying headlong into an oncoming Mortien spray burst! He should have perhaps even used the more politically conscious “developing” instead of “Third World”, especially since he professed his deep love for India and her people.

But then, as Peter Lalor says, somewhat apologetically, after there were several stoppages in the recently concluded ‘Gabba Test match, “karma [had] a way of sinking its frustrating teeth into [Hayden’s] behind”.

— Mohan

India wins again in cordial environment

India played an ODI last night. India won, again.

Once again, the nature of the pitch wasn’t an issue for intense pre-match analysis and debate. Once again, the toss wasn’t an issue to moan about — one of the teams won the toss and I can’t even remember which one! Again, the over-rate wasn’t a problem in this match. The Third-World sight screen held up quite well in a completely packed Third World stadium. The word “monkey” and the city “Sydney” weren’t mentioned in the same breath by everyone around with a clear intent of selling books and apologising for comments taken out of context later.

Duh! Australia wasn’t playing a cricket game! Clearly India was playing someone else because the on-field camaraderie between the two teams was excellent.

India defeated England at Indore to lead the 7-match series 2-0. India won on the back of another Man-of-the-Match performance from Yuvraj Singh, who cracked another century and also took 4 wickets.

Unlike the 1st ODI at Rajkot, England was in the contest for spells. But England was unable to maintain its intensity. England let India advance at key moments in the game. With India at 29-3 with Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma back in the pavilion, instead of going for the jugular, England allowed Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir to rebuild. Gambhir and Yuvraj batted with the calm assurance of a pair of Buddhist monks and built a platform from which Yusuf Pathan was able to launch! And launch he did with a 29-ball half-century. In their response to a score of 292, England started cautiously, but was unable to maintain a tempo through the innings. A smart power-play choice was followed by some lusty blows from Flintoff. But 2 quick wickets from Yuvraj Singh broke the back of England’s determination and the rest of the innings just crumbled.

I am glad India stuck with Yusuf Pathan. He bats well and can bowl a few overs too. I am also glad that Dhoni is using Yuvraj Singh and Virender Sehwag as bowlers.

England are a better ODI team than the 0-2 series result suggests. I just feel that England have got a few things wrong. I really do not know what Ravi Bopara, a specialist batsman, is doing at #8! That is truly bizarre. Owais Shah is not a big hitter but a finisher in the Bevan-mould. At best, he could be a #4 player. So what he is doing at #3 only England will know! Matt Prior is not opener-material either. Moreover, in India, England needs a spinner like Graeme Swann instead of James Anderson. Samit Patel won’t do as the only spinner in the team! Also, Kevin Pietersen needs to bite the bullet and come in at #3. He can organise the play if an early wicket falls. So for the next ODI, I’d like to see the following England line-up:

Ian Bell, Ravi Bopara, Kevin Pietersen, Owais Shah, Freddie Flintoff, Paul Collingwood, Matt Prior, Samit Patel, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Steve Harmison.

By the way, i3j3Cricket’s “Adjective Watch” department has been closed down till the next India-Australia tour!

— Mohan