Tag Archives: Indian Cricket

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

The Indian fan can dream… again!

The Indian fan can dream. The Indian fan first started dreaming in 2001 after “that series”! Team India fans will not need to know either the opponent or the score or the city. The term “that series” is sufficient to know that what we are talking about is 2001, Kolkata, Laxman, Harbhajan, 281!

The dreams were premature then.

India was not able to reproduce that 281 intensity in a consistently strong manner. There were several ills in the system that needed fixing. They are not fixed yet! Although the leadership, through Sourav Ganguly, tried to instill a sense of passion and pride, the playing group could still not be accused of either having or yearning for a “winning mindset”.

Although the ills in the system are still not fixed — the BCCI is the only organisation that is capable of making both the Zimbabwean Board as well as the ICC look good — and although these ills still exist, the Indian fan can dream again because of her players and the attitude that they bring to the table these days.

The ills in the system commence from grass roots selection and weed all the way through to talent nurturing, jobs-for-the-boys, organisation and more. Much more.

However, what a cricket fan dreams about is playing well and winning. And winning in cricket is about having the right resources, the right support systems, the right leadership, the right systems, the right processes, the right media, the right talent and the right attitude — not necessarily in that order.

Digging into all of the above-mentioned pillars of success is an article or two at least and perhaps we should undertake a detailed inventory of where Indian cricket is exactly at. But not right now! But briefly, one could argue that the resources in India have improved. We have several Cricket Academies. Every man and his dog has opened an Academy hoping to teach cricket-skills to wide-eyed kids. One could concede that these Academies are producing a truck load of bright young kids that do exceedingly well at the Under-19 level. Moreover, where cricket was essentially for the city-dwelling elite and middle-class in India — when it came to big-league opportunities — newer players have come for far-flung places. Dhoni is from Ranchi (in interior Jharkhand), a place without a single player to have ever played for India! The domination of Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai are no longer present. We have players in the team that used to practice their cricket on railway platforms in Ranchi — indeed, he leads the team today!

The representative level is well-organised and run in India. The Ranji system is strong, although I think that even after splitting the competition into two leagues, the Elite league has 4 teams too many! There is more work to do there, but I do believe that the foundations are better now than they were a 10 years back.

The media in India has always been an issue and a problem. There are sane voices that lead the team towards a better future. But the commercial TV channels and some near-jingoistic broadsheets ruin it for everyone. Unfortunately, there is an audience for sensationalism in India! One hopes that the saner, stronger voices win in the end — and there are plenty of those to give me hope!

As I have said before, in Gary Kirsten, India has the right man. He has no compelling need to be either in the drivers’ seat or indeed, near a microphone! He stays in the background and does his job in much the way that John Wright did. I feel that this man will take Indian cricket forward. Time will tell.

What matters most to me is the right leadership, talent and attitude.

Sourav Ganguly was, in my view, the first real leader of the Indian cricket team. I have been saying that for years. Rahul Dravid would have made a sensational leader of the Australian cricket team! Alas! He was in a place that needed a Ganguly or a Dhoni! He was a cultural misfit! The role needs a leader who was/is able to approach leadership by inspiring inwards and managing outwards! Dravid was a misfit as a leader. Right man, wrong place! Kumble was a “holding pattern” and in Sydney alone he showed qualities that I have not seen in leaders in a long time.

Peter Roebuck has written eloquently about M. S. Dhoni. What he has said does not need repeating.

As a Team India fan dreams again, Dhoni is the right man for the job. Indeed, he is perhaps the one that inspires these dreams!

However, the most important reason for these dreams is the talent and mindset.

The Indian team in Nagpur showed that winning was important for it. Although on day-5 the team did look ragged and confused, the moment they got a wicket or two, neo-normalcy seemed to be restored. Indian teams of old would have caved in. This team regrouped and stuck to its plan again — as it had on day-3 after playing lose cricket at the end of day-2. They had their minds on the job in a focussed manner. In the past, Indian teams could not be accused of either focus or determination, leave alone steely-resolve! This team has all of that in spades and moreover, plays with a hiterto unobserved pride!

There was an almost Australia-like cut-throat edge to its game.

Over the last few years, the timidity and servility that represented Indian teams of the past had given way to aggression, attitude, determination, grit, fight and free-spirit. Agreed! All of the above come to the fore compellingly only when India plays Australia or Pakistan. However, there is a new breed of player that is more and more reflective of the new, brash, bold, adventurous, expressive India! I am not a fan of it, but I realise that that is where the country and its people are at this point in time.

Moreover, with the onset of central contracts and the IPL, I feel that India players play with far greater security. This has always been a concern in Indian cricket. In the past, the India player has had to play with the next game and pay-cheque in mind! But today, a Gautam Gambhir is able to play his natural aggressive game without worrying too much about his next contract or his next pay cheque! He has got it, in spades already.

And I do believe that this last element adds significantly to the make up of the winning mindset. Suddenly, Gautam Gambhir’s existence is no longer an issue. His performance is. He can focus more on giving his best to his country. Even a Joginder Sharma or a Praveen Kumar can come in for a game here or a game there and give off his best. The IPL and central contracts ensure that all that the player needs to focus on is in giving off his best in the game that he is chosen for.

Suddenly there are more players for spots!

Let us look at the list of players that are in contention:

  • Openers: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Wasim Jaffer, Akash Chopra [5]
  • Middle-order Batsmen: Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, Rohit Sharma, S. Badrinath, Suresh Raina, Mohammed Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Cheteshwar Pujara, Robin Uthappa, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Tanmay Srivastava, Shikar Dhawan [14]
  • Pacemen: Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel, R. P. Singh, Sree Santh, Irfan Pathan, Praveen Kumar, Pankaj Singh, Manpreet Gony, Ashok Dinda, Siddharth Trivedi, Pradeep Sangwan, Ranadeb Bose [13]
  • Spinners: Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla, Pragyan Ojha, Yusuf Pathan, Romesh Powar, Mohnish Parmar [7]
  • Keepers: M. S. Dhoni, Parthiv Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik [4]

That’s a total of 43 players. It is an impressive list of young players. I may have missed out a few and some may question the presence of players like Mohnish Parmar or Shikar Dhawan or Tanmay Srivastava. This is perhaps nothing more than a list of players who are in contention for both the Test as well as the ODI team. Most of the above players have either played for India already (in any of the three forms of the game) or are about to.

India should expand its contract list to include players who regularly turn out for India-A games. India-A should tour continuously and if no one wants to play with India-A, should play against itself! Match readiness should be the name of the game and not the next central contract! A core bunch of about 50 players needs to be identified, nurtured and maintained. They should also be match-ready so that the careers of players like Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and M. S. Dhoni can be well-managed.

Cheteshwar Pujara has scored three triple centuries in his last four games including one in the recently completed Ranji round! One can’t keep him away from the big league for too long. Gavaskar was pushing for young Pujara even when news of Gautam Gambhir’s Nagpur suspension was filtering through. The selectors went for M. Vijay in that instance.

However, Rahul Dravid will need to now work intensely hard to keep players like Badrinath, Pujara, Rohit Shrama, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina at bay! Kris Srikkanth has said that he has faith in Dravid and feels that a big innings is just around the corner.

I am conservative in this regard — a close friend labeled be “dogged” in this regard. Be that as it may, I am not for a “spill and fill” approach. We have just seen the departure of Kumble and Ganguly from the team. It may be seductive to wipe the slate clean and go for a thrush of youngsters! With important series against England, Pakistan and New Zealand coming up in the next 6 months, if I were selector, I’d give Dravid up until the end of the New Zealand series to make up his mind on the timing of his departure. If he wishes to leave the game before that time, then that would be his call to make. I do believe we need his experience in the team until the New Zealand series at least.

Either way you look at it, it is an impressive collection of players.

After that 281, the Team India fan can dream again!

— Mohan