Tag Archives: Irfan Pathan

Welcome back, Mr. Kaif!

Sachin Tendulkar’s unfortunate pulling out of the Ahmedabad test due to a groin strain has come as a blessing in disguise for the captain of Uttar Pradesh. Mohd. Kaif has had a wonderful domestic season and deservedly gets called back into the test side. We at i3j3had earlier written to the effect that the Indian selectors should identify and show faith in a handful of batsmen as eventual replacements for the fab four and suggested Kaif as one of those. His fitness and fielding abilities should certainly bring some dynamism back to the Indian fielding routine which was quite abysmal in the Chennai test. While some may argue that India would have been better off introducing someone like S. Badrinath or even recalling Gautam Gambhir, I personally think bringing Mohd. Kaif back is a well-informed decision.

It would certainly be interesting to see if Mohd. Kaif does get included in the playing eleven especially with Yuvraj Singh in the fourteen. It is a tough call but my gut tells me that Kaif might just squeeze in. He is in good form, fresh and is carrying no baggage at the moment. Yuvraj might consider himself unlucky but may have to wait a bit longer to get back in the playing eleven. On the playing eleven itself, while there has been talk of playing three spinners, I do not think Piyush Chawla will make it. I think India will go with Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth/Irfan Pathan as the pacemen and retain the rest of the lineup.

Good luck, Mr. Kaif!!

– Srikanth

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Bad starts cause a loss…

India lost a tight game to Australia thanks to two bad starts. India started badly while bowling and recovered in the middle overs! While batting, again, India made a hash of the start. Although the Indian batting recovered from that wobble, the magnitude of the bad start meant that India lost by 18 runs. The fact that India got that close is a credit to the Indian middle-order batsmen!

As M. S. Dhoni said at the post-match interviews, India can take a lot of positives from this game.

When India were bowling, an Australia total of 380 seemed likely at one stage. Australia got off to a sensational start with Ponting and Hayden murdering the bowling attack. In particular, Sreesanth bowled like a millionaire! He bowled so inconsistently that one almost whipped the prayer mat out to seek Ajit Agarkar’s re-appearance in the Indian line up! India pegged Australia down to a less daunting 317. In particular, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh bowled brilliantly. This meant that India’s 4-bowler strategy appeared to have worked… just! I am not sure if this is a strategy that can be persisted with.

Despite the good bowling in the middle overs, in order to win, India would have had to overhaul the highest 2nd innings total at the SCG prior to last night.

Another bad start — this time in the batting — meant that, at 51-4, a score of 200 looked like a huge mountain to climb. Yet, India recovered, thanks to Gautam Gambhir, M. S. Dhoni, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh to get to a total of 299!

There are positives and these include the middle-overs bowling and the middle-overs batting. There is little doubt that M. S. Dhoni is a calming influence on this team. He rallies his young cadets to keep fighting till the end. In players like Rohit Sharma, Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and Irfan Pathan, he has a core set of players that will respond positively too.

Gautam Gambhir is batting really well these days. He was in fine form and batted with a calm head on his responsible shoulders. In the absence of firepower at the top and with the dodgy form/knee of Yuvraj Singh, on this ODI tour, Gambhir has been the foundation on which the rest of the team has been built. If he had lasted until the ball-change in the 34th over, the match result may well have been different; a fact that he acknowledged himself in the post-match sound-bytes!

The performance of Robin Uthappa was also a revelation. Prior to this game he hadn’t really had a major opportunity to showcase his undoubted skills. Apart from a weakness that he has early on in his innings — of shuffling too far forward and across — Uthappa looks like a sensational and dependable batsman. He has a calm head on his shoulders and, like Gambhir, appears to love a tight situation! In that sense, he has a Michael Bevan like quality to his batting. Along with the indefatigable M. S. Dhoni, Uthappa looks set to play a long innings in Indian cricket.

The match was played at the SCG, the very cauldron that saw the infamous MonkeyGate explode in the faces of the Australia and India teams! The same venue saw the alleged instigator of that blow-up cause another one last night — this time with Ishant Sharma. After being bowled by a beauty from the young Indian tearaway, Symonds appeared to say something to the Indian bowler who responded by giving Symonds a few directions to the dressing room. It is somewhat unlikely that Ishant Sharma will escape a fine and a reprimand.

Most Match Referees will, these days, slap a fine on send-offs to the dressing-room unless of course, it is carried out by “fine Australian cricketers” — when such actions will be seen as “natural aggression, which should not be removed from the game” or some such platitude. Be that as it may, giving the batsman a send-off is a no-no and young Sharma should be prepared to cop it on the chin!

In another interesting twist in last nights’ game, the match referee, reacting to a claim made on Channel-9 by Ian Healey, seized M. S. Dhoni’s gloves after the veteran Australian gloveman claimed that Dhoni’s gloves were illegal!

The Indian team should ask some searching questions of its opening bowlers and opening batsmen. I would not be surprised if we see either Sachin Tendulkar or Virender Sehwag drop down the order in the all-important game on Tuesday against Sri Lanka. Similarly, I would not be surprised if Sree Santh is asked to sit out that game. The team may also want to accommodate Praveen Kumar in the mix.

— Mohan

ODI Team India Balance…

I must declare that I am not a great fan of the current balance that Team India has got in its ODI Team. Having said that, I do believe that the ODI teams’ balance has improved substantially over the last 8 months or so, thanks to the return of Irfan Pathan.

I do believe that the return to form of Irfan Pathan is a definite positive for Indian cricket. After struggling with his rhythm for nearly a year, the young Irfan Pathan looks good today. He is running hard and bowling consistently in the mid-130kmph range. He also uses the slower ball and cutters quite effectively in ODI games. Throw in his competent batting and what you have is an effective package. Add to the mix the fearlessness of his captain M. S. Dhoni to use him in various different roles and you have the makings of an effective team-balance.

However, I do believe that India needs another Irfan Pathan to achieve that elusive balance.

If nothing more, this other allrounder could play when Irfan Pathan is either rested or injured.

With Andrew Symonds and James Hopes in its ranks, Australia has that balance. In Sundays’ game against India, Hopes had a tight hamstring and sat out the match. The result was there for everyone to see. The Indians knew the 5th bowler weakness in the Australian team and so, waited for Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds to be wheeled in! The presence of James Hopes would perhaps have altered their approach a bit.

Similarly, in a tight game, I do believe India will get “found out” through the absence of that 5th bowler. At the moment, the team is making-do with a combination of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh as that 5th bowler. Over time I do believe that the team needs to invest in another “allrounder” to achieve that elusive team-balance.

In Praveen Kumar, India has one such candidate warming the benches in Australia at the moment! I do believe that he ought to get a game against Sri Lanka today.

Other potential candidates include Yusuf Pathan, Joginder Sharma, Rajat Bhatia, Abhishek Nayar, although Manoj Tiwary, and S. Badrinath have also put their hands up, claiming to be allrounders!

Over time, it will be, I believe, players like these that will make up the core of a ODI team.

— Mohan

Australia v India :: 3rd Test :: Both teams in an unfamiliar position…

At the end of day-2 of this fascinating Test match in this gripping series between Australia and India, both teams find themselves in unfamiliar territory!

It is not often that Australia is so far behind in a Test match with 3 days to go in a Test match. Conversely, it is not often that India is so far ahead in a Test match with 3 days to go!

It is a wonderful platform for India and needs a few people to stand up and be counted. From here on in, it is a question of whether India believes it can win. The moment India show nerves and self-doubt, in my view, this powerful Australian team still has the ability to climb all over it. So it is going to be a test of nerves, self-belief as well as ability from here.

There is little doubt in my mind, however, that India is on top in this game after 2 days have been completed.

Whichever course this match takes though, there is no doubt in my mind that after the sorry mess and the debacle of Sydney, India has re-grouped well and come out the stronger for it. India is playing with purpose, direction and energy. They are pumped up and want to win. A local news channel in India claimed that the Indians had a 45-minute closed-door session with Gary Kirsten after the end of the 1st days’ play. Much of it concentrated on the team playing with fire and with pride. On the other hand, Australia has looked somewhat listless and de-energised right through this game.

On a day when 297 runs fell for 15 wickets, India came out on top.

The day started with Australia cleaning up the India tail. Starting at 297 for 6, India started sensibly with M. S. Dhoni and Irfan Pathan batting sensibly. Then close to the finish of the hour, it ran away from India and they were down in a heap; all out 330.

One thought that that was about 120 runs short! They may have got there had Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman not given it away as they did!

Australia came out with purpose in their batting. They were, after all, batting in their home den! Most of their batsmen were used to the sting and bounce in the wicket. For all them, hitting on the up and through the line in Perth was as easy as spreading Vegemite on their daily toast!

Indian seam bowling stocks

What they did not account for was accurate, relentless and steady top-class seam bowling. One wished one could bottle the caliber of disciplined bowling that was on display by the Indian seam-bowlers! At the end of the days’ play R. P. Singh said that the bowlers had a meeting prior to the game in which each of them was assigned a task. R. P. Singh’s task was to use the bouncer frequently! Each bowler had “areas to bowl to” agreed to. Now, to plan these things is one thing. To actually go out there and execute these plans is quite something else. The Indian bowlers did that and came out the victors today.

Let us not forget also that this is not actually India’s first line pace attack! Zaheer Khan, Sree Santh and Munaf Patel are back in India, nursing injuries! Given the display of the 3 seam bowlers today and with Pankaj Singh, V. R. V. Singh, Ranadeb Bose and Praveen Kumar waiting in the wings, one might say that the pace bowling stocks aren’t exactly looking bad at the moment!

Pathan’s resurgence

One point that was hammered home forcibly today was Irfan Pathan’s resurgence. I’d like to see Pathan as part of the Indian team mix for a long time to come. He bowled brilliantly. Agreed, he bowled better to left-hand bats than he did to right handed bats. However, his pace was consistently in the high 130s and he had his swing going too; and this was late seing, by the way!

His batting abilities at #8 (in this match) means that India can often go with 4 other bowlers in the team; this is always a plus especially in India where 2 spinners have to play!

1st Session

Given that Australia wrapped up India’s innings close with just 33 added to the India overnight score of 297-6, one may have been tempted to call the 1st session as Australia’s. However, with some clever seam bowling, India managed to get two early wickets — admittedly one dodgy LBW decision when the ball appeared to be heading down leg-side — I’d be tempted to call this an even session. The SBS Score read Australia, 2.0 :: India 2.0 at this stage.

2nd Session

The second session belonged to India though. Australia were on the ropes at 61-5. Andrew Symonds and Adam Gilchrist came up with a breathtaking display of counter-attacking batting. This was counter-punching of the highest caliber that produced a run-a-ball century partnership. However, the Indian bowlers stuck to their task, best displayed by R. P. Singh, in a terrific show of level-headedness in the post-tea session. He was spanked for 3 consecutive 4s by Gilchrist. However, he produced a lifter from just short of a good length. It caught Gilchrist unawares and the resulting edge was poached by Dhoni.

Despite the precarious 60-5 situation that Australia found herself in, the Symonds-Gilchrist fireworks show took Australia to a reasonably comfortable position of 148-5 at Tea. These runs had come off just 31 overs! I just couldn’t believe that this team was under the pump! Visions of Mumbai 2001 flashed in front of me where, from a position of 99-5 Gilchrist and Hayden rescued the team with a gritty and purposeful fight-back. In this session, India missed a catch off Symonds — Tendulkar dropped the edge at 1st slip. Had that catch been taken it would have been an even session.

The SBS Score read Australia, 2.5 :: India, 2.5 at this stage.

3rd Session

The 3rd session belonged totally to India. First India got Australia out for 212. In their response, India lost only 1 wicket — that of the hapless Wasim Jaffer who is having a nightmare series from hell!

Along the way, Anil Kumble got his 600th wicket. What an incredible servant of Indian cricket this amazing cricketer has been! He could come into his own in this Perth wicket which, amazingly, is taking some spin too!

Virender Sehwag was, well, Virender Sehwag. He played and missed several times. But still he scored at a rate that only Sehwag can. The Australians are wary of Sehwag. They want to get him out and see the back of him. In that itself India wins part of the battle. He is still there and that will be a big plus for the tourists as they come out to bat tomorrow.

The fact that Irfan Pathan is there at the crease as a night-watchman is also good for India. He can stick around and make life miserable for the Australians who will need to dislodge him in order to have a crack at the Big 4 to follow: Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman!

The SBS Score reads Australia, 2.5 :: India, 3.5 at this stage. India are ahead. It is an unusual position for this team. But one that India needs to capitalise on.

Strategy from here

Anil Kumble, in a post-match interview, said that the strategy would be one of playing time; the runs will come. I have some sympathy with this strategy. Firstly, we have just finished day-2. There is a lot of time left in this game! India should focus on playing out each session and slowly, batting Australia out of this Test match! India is 170 runs ahead at this stage. At the end of tomorrow, if India bats all three sessions, the team could well be 450 runs ahead! This will require some patience and a lot of determination.

In post-match interviews Adam Gilchrist did admit — as most people will — that India is in the drivers’ seat in this match. However, he did say that the Australian team relished the challenge and that they would dig deep to come after the Indians.

If Australia get India out cheaply, they could win from here too! But it would require a special effort from them and some clumsy batting from the Indians.

A match that is interestingly poised…

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Test 2 :: Day 1

Australia-1, India-1, Umpires-1

Posting at 11.00am, AEST

India started the day badly on four counts: (a) They lost Zaheer Khan to an injury, (b) India selected Ishant Sharma for Zaheer Khan, (c) Anil Kumble lost the toss and Ricky Ponting chose to bat, thereby having last use of a pitch that would take spin, (d) India went in with an unchanged side (but for a change forced by injury).

There was no need to plunge into a full-scale panic after the thrashing that India received in the 1st Test against Australia at the MCG. However, I felt that there was a change or two that may have been needed. As it happened, the only change was a forced one! It was nice to hear Anil Kumble deflect the pressure off Rahul Dravid saying “He is too good a player to be worried by a poor performance in the 1st Test“, and stuff like that. However, I’d have thought that there were a few questions that needed to be asked of the batsmen; if nothing, the batting order. However, the only change that India made was a forced one! It was a blow to India that Zaheer Khan was ruled out, after a fitness test, with about 30 minutes to go to the start of play! In his absence, the right thing to do may have been to bolster the bowling (and obliquely, the batting) with both Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma. Ishant Sharma for Zaheer Khan was not a like-for-like replacement in my books, especially given the indifferent bowling form of R. P. Singh. An already weak bowling group suddenly looked even weaker. Having said that, I have no problem with the choice of Ishant Sharma — as I said in my 1st days’ report in the Boxing Day Test match, Ishant Sharma should have been part of the make up for the 1st Test itself!

It was nice to see Anil Kumble support his batting group. He seemed to say to the batsmen, “Same batsmen. Same batting order. Different batting“.

India started well in the bowling department. Both R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma started with maiden overs. The order of play was somewhat similar to proceedings at the MCG where the Australians batted cautiously and where the Indian bowlers beat the bat often.

Unlike the MCG though where the Australian opening batsmen played and missed for much of the first 45 minutes, local boy, Phil Jaques top-edged one from R. P. Singh to M. S. Dhoni in the 3rd over and Australia were 0 for 1 wicket. R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma had begun proceedings well. They were making the Australians play. Not much was left alone and there weren’t too many balls on the pads. There weren’t too many gimme balls either. This was good bowling by the Indians early on.

This bought Ricky Ponting to the crease. With all the pre-match talk from Harbhajan Singh and Ricky Ponting, one almost expected Harbhajan Singh to bowl the 4th over of the match!

Harbhajan had joked at the MCG that he hadn’t seen enough of Ricky Ponting to have a plan for the Australian batsmen on this tour! Not many of the Australians liked this statement! They seemed to think that Harbhajan Singh gets constantly under the skin of the Aussies! To Ricky Pontings’ credit, he acknowledged that there was a serious problem. He said, “He’s got a great record in Tests against me. It was lean last week, I had almost as many catches as runs. But I had a good net, I’m coming off a couple of hundreds in the ODIs [against New Zealand] and I’m feeling good to go.

Ricky Ponting started positively though! He wasn’t ‘falling over’ as he tends to do early on in his innings. This was a good sign for Australia and not a good sign for India. Rickey Ponting, who has 5 hundreds in 12 Tests (1226 runs at an average of 81.73, with a highest score of 207), looked set for many more runs here!

At the time of posting, after 6 overs, Australia was 16/1.

Posting at 12.00, AEST

Things were going swimmingly for Australia despite the loss of Jaques. Australia were scoring somewhat freely and easily. They were taking the singles and the occassional boundary. Yuvraj Singh seemed to carry his ordinary fielding form from the MCG to the SCG.

Then, against the run of play, R. P. Singh brought one in to Matthew Hayden who proceeded to edge the ball to the slips cordon! This was a most unusual dismissal. One would have thought that a top-class batsman would not outside-edge a ball that was coming in to him! But that was exactly what happened. The catch travelled between M. S. Dhoni, the wicket-keeper, and Sachin Tendulkar, the 1st slip fielder. In normal circumstances, M. S. Dhoni would have caught it. However, given that the ball was dipping in to Matthew Hayden, Dhoni’s balance was towards his right. Sachin Tendulkar proceeded to take a smart catch to get Hayden out. Australia were 27 for 2 and Hayden was out for 13!

With Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting at the crease, scoring suddenly seemed to accelerate. Hussey seemed to be a man in a hurry! At the end of the 11th over, Australia were 42 for 2! Despite the loss of 2 wickets, Australia were still scoring at about 4 an over!

The 12th over saw Sourav Ganguly come on to bowl. Ganguly had bowled well against Pakistan in India and, with Zaheer Khan injured, he needed to bowl well.

In the 14th over of the match, all the Indians went up in a huge appeal off Ricky Ponting, who tickled a ball floating down the legside to the hands of M. S. Dhoni. The Indians were already celebrating before they noticed that the umpire had turned down the appeal.

TV replays showed that Ponting was indeed quite lucky to still be there. India could feel hard-done by. Australia would have been 45 for 3 if the decision had gone India’s way!

Ishant Sharma came back for a second spell. The long-haired Ishant Sharma — perhaps India’s answer to Jason Dizzy Gillespie — seemed to be growing in strength and was bowling a good line and length. However, the Australians kept the scoreboard busy and got to 59 for 2 off 18 overs.

Lunch: Posting at 12.30, AEST

The not-out decision against Ricky Ponting could cost India a lot in this game. Was the match result going to hinge on this one bad decision by umpire Mark Benson? I would be willing to bet that Benson would have given an Indian out. Not because he is biased, but most umpires tend to get swayed by the vociferousness of appeals by Australian teams. Ricky Ponting was on 17 at that time, and he was already making that reprieve count.

Signs from India were that the team was looking down after not getting that appeal in their favour. Ishant Sharma got taken to the cleaners in one over by Ricky Ponting and Ganguly looked ineffective after that over.

There was much excitement in the air when Harbhajan Singh came on to bowl the 20th over of the match. He did not get to bowl to Ricky Ponting in that over, but with all the pre-match talk, one couldn’t wait to see these two have a go at each other! In his second over, Harbhajan Singh did induce a false stroke from Ponting. The wily Indian offie bowled a flighted delivery down legside. Ponting missed it. The resulting stumping chance was not completed by M. S. Dhoni. And so, Ricky Ponting commenced his 3rd (virtual) innings in the same dig! This could be a very costly miss for India, who continued to look flat in the field after being turned down by the umpire.

It was upto the captain to pull things together for his team. Anil Kumble came on to bowl the last two overs prior to lunch. Not much happened and so, Australia went to lunch on 2 for 95 off 25 overs. If India had got that 3rd wicket I may have given that session to India. But given the rate at which the Australians scored, it should be scored as an even session.

India looked more alive on the field. Both the pacemen looked good and solid. It was nice to see R. P. Singh bowl with much more purpose and zeal. The Indian in-fielding looked good, if not sharp. Harbhajan Singh bowled more slowly and did give the ball more flight than he normally does. But the Australians batted with purpose and did not let the situation bog them down. All in all, this was an interesting session of Test match cricket.

Posting at 13:37, AEST

Proceedings after the lunch break commenced with R. P. Singh and Harbhajan Singh. They were bowling to a Micheal Hussey and Ricky Ponting who seemed intent on stealing every single possible. This was positive-intent batting at its best. The batsmen created pressure on the fielders with Dinesh Karthik (fielding substitute) and Yuvraj Singh — the two best fielders in the Indian lineup — respectively, over running the ball and approaching the ball lethargically. The odd ball was smashed for a boundary too.

The SCG outfield was much better for Test match cricket than the MCG outfield. The batsmen got maximum value for their power shots. This is how a Test match outfield should behave. The MCG outfield was, in my view, way below standard for Test match cricket.

Ponting raced to 50 off 66 balls; this was starting to get dangerous for India. The fielding was starting to look ragged at this stage. This was epitomised by a skied ball from Ricky Ponting to deep square-leg. This would have been a catch to a Dinesh Karthik or a Yuvraj Singh. Rahul Dravid was slow to get to it, missed the catch opportunity and the ball spun past him to the boundary for four! In that over, R. P. Singh bowled short and wide and non-sense. A few questions need to be asked. Why was R. P. Singh bowling short and wide to a set and positive batsman? Why was Rahul Dravid fielding at dee square leg?

Immediately after that, Harbhajan Singh got his man again! Ponting was out LBW to Harbhajan Singh for 55! Justice seemed to be served because Ricky Ponting had got an inside edge to that ball! He had been given out — when he was not out — 38 runs after he was out (but given not out, when he was on 17)! Harbhajan Singh bowled the doosra and got the Australian captain out — again! Australia was 119 for 3! Harbhajan Singh had backed up his pre-match smart-talk with some good work on the field. He had his ‘bunny’ again!

However, this certainly was an inside edge by Ricky Ponting who stood and glared at the umpire, Mark Benson on being declared out! I would be totally disappointed if umpire Mike Proctor does not pull the Australian captain for showing dissent/disbelief! Like Yuvraj Singh had done in Melbourne, I did not quite see Ponting glare at the umpire in a hostile manner when he was given not out on 17 when he had edged one to the ‘keeper! So, I did not see the reason for him to glare (and even say a few words) after he had made 38 bonus runs! As I said, it would certainly be interesting to see what Mike Proctor does at the end of the days’ play.

Suddenly 119 for 3 became 119 for 4 after Mike Hussey edged to Sachin Tendulkar in the slips cordon! Hussey played a one-day shot to that ball. He opened his bat-face to a ball that was marginally outside off stump to guide it to Sachin Tendulkar. At this stage, R. P. Singh was bowling defensively to a 7-2 off-side field!

After an ordinary post-lunch start, India had bounced back into the game by removing two well-set batsmen.

Posting at 13:45, AEST

119-4 became 121-5 when Micheal Clarke did not play a shot at an off beak from Harbhajan Singh. The Australians had the wobbles suddenly and the pressure was starting to tell. Michael Clarke too glared at umpire Mark Benson! Will he too need to introduce himself to Mike Proctor at the end of days’ play?

Either way, this was an extraordinarily bad shot from Michael Clarke, a batsman who had made a smart fifty in the previous innings! Harbhajan Singh is a bowler who normally takes a clutch of wickets when he takes one! He was bowling really well at this stage.

Posting at 13:56, AEST

R. P. Singh took his 4th wicket and Sachin Tendulkar took his 3rd catch of the innings when Adam Gilchrist edged to the slips cordon! I just couldn’t believe what was happening here. Australia seemed to be blowing its advantage here. They had won the toss and were not making it count. Australia were on the mat at 134 for 6. Australia had lost 4 wickets in 15 runs after lunch and the wobble was starting to look like a fall. Time would tell if this would become a free-fall.

The two Singhs — Harbhajan and R. P. — had got India back into the match in a huge manner.

Harbhajan Singh was bowling brilliantly. Harbhajan Singh was bowling as well as I have seen him bowl. There was guile in his bowling. He had loop, bounce and spin and was extracting whatever juice there was in the 1st day pitch.

R. P. Singh was bowling with maturity and temparament that defied his age. He had gone for a few, but he kept coming back — thanks also to some lose and listless batting from the Australians! R. P. Singh, as leader of the pace bowlers group, had put his hand up and was stepping up to the plate. His bowling figures at this stage read 12-2-50-4. Suddenly the Australians looked tentative. Where they may have taken two runs, they only took a single. There was cautious play with a lot more intent on innings-rebuilding.

What was heartening for India was that the best two bowlers in the 1st Test (Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan) had hardly had a bowl in this innings and Australia were already 6 wickets down with not much on the board!

Posting at 15:10, AEST –Tea Time

In the 47th over of the match, I saw what was the worst ever decision on a cricket pitch by an umpire. Andrew Symonds got a healthy edge after hanging his bat out to a ball from Ishant Sharma. The resulting healthy edge was taken by M. S. Dhoni. The Indian fielders converged after what was a regulation, lip-service appeal. Symonds immediately looked back at the wicket keeper to see if it was caught. He even took a half step forward to mark his walk to the pavillion! All ducks were pointing to a raised finger to uphold the appeal. Unfortunately, umpire Steve Bucknor did not lift his finger. I am not sure what he thought the ball hit? The ball was away from the forearm or shirt sleeve! The edge was healthy and the sound was obvious for everyone to hear! Bucknor was asleep on the job! For the second time in the day, the Indians were done in by the umpires!

This is where I feel that the “appeals process” must come into play. With umpires as incompetent as this, I am sure we will soon see technology take the place of umpires.

With some attractive and positive batting and with some help from the umpires, Australia had moved to 204 for 6 off 49 overs! Brad Hogg and Andrew Symonds had put on 69 runs off 14.0 overs and were starting the rebuilding process with positive batting. In the previous passage of play, Ishant Sharma dropped a skied catch off Brad Hogg. Had that catch been taken and had the umpire been competent, India would have been well and truly on top here! But as it turned out, the game was running a bit away from India.

To make matters worse, Ishant Sharma disappeared into the pavillion. It seemed like he had injured his ankle, coming in to bowl to Andrew Symonds in anger after the caught behind appeal had been turned down! Youthful zest and immaturity perhaps from a 19-year-old!

But the proceedings were certainly wierd and that too for a team that had lost 6 wickets. Australia had made 213 for 6 off 52 overs at a run rate of 4.11! Australia had scored 119 runs in the session — a session in which they had lost 4 wickets! Hogg and Symonds had scored 80 runs in 17 overs at a run rate of 4.66 runs an over! Hogg was batting on an aggressive 48 off 56 balls and Symonds was on 39 off 64 (at a strike rate of 60.93)! In a strange twist, Hogg was the aggressor and Symonds provided the support role!

So, despite the loss of wickets, Australia was still batting in a positive and aggressive manner.

Despite the recovery, I give the Lunch-Tea session to India. India had taken four very important wickets — Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Gilchrist. Any team that takes those four wickets in one session deserves the session regardles of how many runs are scored! The Session By Session (SBS) score, in my view, was 1.5 to India and 0.5 to Australia.

Posting at 16:00, AEST –Tea Time

R. P. Singh and Anil Kumble commenced proceedings after Tea. Brad Hogg continued his positive batting with two fours off the first two balls after Tea! Hogg and Symonds were batting attacking and positive cricket. But there was good news for the Indian batsmen too. Clearly the pitch was easing and batsmen could get value for their shots. Hogg hit some across the line and some on the up too. So, the Indian batsmen could play well too.

Hogg and Symonds recorded a 100 partnership off just 19.0 overs at a run rate of 5.26. Brad Hogg had made 58 runs and Symonds made 42!This was top batting from the Australians.

At 238 for 6, Kumble bowled a slow flighted delivery to Andrew Symonds. Symonds stretched forward, reached for the ball and Dhoni whipped the bails. The resulting appeal went to the 3rd umpire. The Channel-9 commentary team ruled Symonds out! There was daylight — albeit, a very thin ray of light — between his raised foot and the crease when the bails were whipped off. Dhoni had committed a smart stumping to have his man, one thought, although I will be the first to admit that there was some doubt. Perhaps this was a line-ball decision, but it looked totally out to me! Symonds was ruled not-out by the 3rd umpire! Like Ricky Ponting earlier on in the day, Andrew Symonds was on his third innings in the same dig!

Posting at 16:45, AEST

Australia had moved to an imposing (and seemingly improbable) 294 for 6! This was thanks to some inspired batting, some really, really poor umpiring, some somewhat ordinary bowling and a pitch that was easing. The last factor is, to me, the most telling. The second is infuriating.

The Indian batsmen will take heart from the fact that the pitch was easing. However, what was most infuriating for me was the terrible quality of the umpiring. I would most certainly like to see an appeals process in play in Test cricket to nullify such incompetence. The most galling of these was the caught behind that Bucknor slept through!

Australia, thanks to a splendid batting effort were starting to look healthy at this stage! The partnership recorded 160 runs off 33.3 overs at an improbable run rate of 4.77 with Hogg on 77 and Symonds on 83. Just before the drinks break, Symonds hit a ball that seemed to bounce just before it hit the top of the boundary rope! This was ruled as a six! Now, if a batsman can get the benefit of doubt in lineball calls, I wonder why bowlers can’t get a benefit of doubt on line ball six and boundary calls when the third umpire gets called in? The two extra runs may not count in the end analysis. However, the imbalance struck me as odd!

Soon afterwards, Andrew Symonds notched up his century. He made 100 off 128 deliveries with 11 4s and 2 6s at a tremendous strike rate of 78.12. The two Australian allrounders were pulling things back for their country. Australia reached 307 for 6! Indian shoulders were drooping.

Posting at 17:00, AEST

Soon after I posted by last update, after having made 79 in a partnership worth 173 runs, Brad Hogg jabbed one from Anil Kumble to Rahul Dravid at slip. The specialist slipper caught it sharply. The ball spun, bit and bounced and Hogg just poked at it. Hogg had batted sensibly, with energy and with purpose. He always looked in control and what’s more, he looked to be enjoying himself thoroughly! From a terrible position of 134 for 6, these two warriors — well one (Western) Warrior and one (Queensland) Bull — got Australia to 307 for 7, a position of near strength!

Brett Lee was out first ball, in my view. He stretched forward fully and was wrapped on his legs, adjacent to the stumps! Why the umpire did not give it out, I would not know. This was yet another bad call from the umpires who were having a horror day! My only hope is that the umpires continue to wake up on the wrong side of their hotel beds on the remaining days of this match!

Sachin Tendulkar, who had caught 3 smart catches in the slips, was now bowling at the other end. Harbhajan Singh who started the day so brilliantly, had started to spear them in, thanks to the fact the Symonds and Hogg never really let him settle down! This had been a display of very aggressive batting from these two Australian allrounders.

In the very next over, Andrew Symonds started his 4th innings of the matrch — in my view! He stretched forward to a fastish Anil Kumble ball and was wrapped on the pads. If that ball wasn’t going to hit the stumps, I just don’t know what it would have hit! However, umpire Benson must have seen something that everyone else could not see!

Posting at 17:15, AEST

The Indian bowling rate was terribly slow, but improving. The first session saw 25 overs bowled. The second session saw 27 overs bowled. And, with 15 minutes to go, India had already bowled 27 overs in the final session. The Channel-9 commentry team was getting stuck into the slow Indian bowling rate. And yes, it was slow! I would have taken the Channel-9 commentary team seriously if they got similarly stuck in to Australian team on day-2 of the MCG Test. At 5.30pm, the scheduled close time, the Australians were a good 8 overs behind the bowling rate on the second day of the 1st Test match. It is this one-eyed behaviour from the Channel-9 commentary team that makes me want to switch off.

The Indian team was starting to flag in the field and they needed something inspirational — a good fielding effort or a good catch. Sachin Tendulkar was bowling well and so was Anil Kumble. They just had to remove the remaining batsmen with not much more damage. The tactic seemed to be to give Symonds the easy single and then to attack Brett Lee. I am never a fan of this strategy at the best of times. On an easing pitch –like this one at the SCG — this strategy may come to haunt the Indian team!

At 17:15, India still had 10 overs to bowl in 15 minutes of play! They weren’t going to get there before the end of the days’ play, but they sure as hell bowled as fast (in terms of over rates), if not faster than the Australians did at the MCG!

Brett Lee was starting to settle in as well. And there were danger signs for India here! He was playing well and hitting the odd 4 too. He had moved on to 9 runs!Andrew Symonds, at the other end, was on 116 off 154 balls! The score was 7 for 337.

The run rate was a mind-boggling and situation-defying 4.2 runs per over!

The second new ball was now due!

Posting at 18:02, AEST — Close of days’ Play

R. P. Singh came on to bowl the 81st over of the day. Every indication was that Anil Kumble would take the new ball. But the batting indication was that they would go after the bowling. The first ball was cracked for a 4 through the covers and the new ball was taken immediately!

The first over with the new ball went for 3 fours — well, 2 fours with the new ball and 1 with the old ball. This wasn’t the kind of start India needed. But then, R. P. Singh was bowling to a well-set and positive batsman who was on his 4th innings!

Brett Lee smashed the 1st ball that he faced from Ishant Sharma for a 4 through point, indicating the dangers that lay ahead! A quick 50 runs off the remaining 10 overs could well demoralise the Indians. The partnership was already worth 47 runs off 62 balls with Lee making 18 off 34 balls! The run rate for the day was already 4.33! It seemed likely , at this stage, that Australia might make 400 in the days’ play!

There were 4s raining everywhere with some due to good batting and some due to poor fielding. Yuvraj Singh, on the mid wicket boundary, converted an easy single to a four as he let one through his legs.

It was unbelievable that, after being on the mat at 135-6, Australia would end the day on almost 400, scoring at a rate of nearly 4.5 runs an over! This was phenomenal cricket from this champion team.

R. P. Singh was bowling from around the wicket to Brett Lee. Only he will know why! He was bowling at Lee’s pads and all the bowler had to do was tuck it away. It would make sense if R. P. Singh took the ball away or got it to straighten. None of that was happening either!

Yuvraj Singh, meanwhile, was having a tough time in the outfield. He looked ragged and haggard. His dives were not going anywhere and he let a couple go through his legs!

Ishant Sharma was also having terrible problems with his run up. He was bowling into the end from which the wind was blowing in. He had 4 attempts to bowl the 4th ball of that over. The cause was probably the tunnel-effect that was as a result of the Doug Walters stand reconstruction. The redevelopment was causing a gusty wind to bowl through the park and straight in the path of the young Ishant Sharma. The unruly and jingoistic Sydney crowd gave Ishant Sharma the slow clap and the howl but the young lad somehow completed his over!

Sourav Ganguly came on for the next over and bowled a steady over. Harbhajan Singh bowled the 89th over of the match and was able to get good drift when he tossed it up. The Doug Waters stand reconstruction was certainly causing some problems for the bowlers as well as the batsmen! Sourav Ganguly finished off proceedings for the day with a steady over that went for not much!

The match finished at 18.02, 32 minutes past the scheduled close time! It will be interesting to see the Australian bowling rates as this match progresses.

I’d score the last session to Australia, thereby giving a SBS score of 1.5 to India and 1.5 to Australia. This is perhaps not a true reflection and if I were to look at the day as a whole, I’d probably give it to Australia for the amazing recovery that they made from being on the mat! But given that I was scoring the sessions as the game progressed, I will stick with calling it an even day!

India could look at an easing pitch. Traditionally, day-2 is the easiest for batting at the SCG. If they can get the remaining three Australian batsmen for not much, they can look to bat long and put on a decent score here.

Australia ended the day at a strong 376 for 7 at a scoring rate of 4.22 per over! Phenomenal, considering where they were at one stage. The Indians finished the day looking ragged and out of sorts. But they can take heart from the fact that they had the champion team on the mat. They cantake heart from the knoweledge that the pitch will ease. They have to pray that the umpires contine to remain as incompetent as they were today!

Ultimately for me though, this day was marked by terrific batting from Symonds and Hogg but it was thorughly ruined by the utter incompetence of the umpires. The last thing that a team needs when facing up to a champion team is to be up against the umpires too. But unfortunately, that is exactly what happened and the result was that an excellent day was turned into an ordinary day for the Indians. I can’t wait for the day when the ICC will implement an appeals process whereby captains can appeal two decisions per session in much the same way as tennis players can appeal two rulings per set. Bring it on, I say, to keep incompetence at bay!

— Mohan

Onwards to Sydney…

After the humiliating loss in the 1st Test, the Indian and Australian teams move to Sydney, usher in the New Year and play the next Test match, starting 2 January 2008.

Already there are signs of tension in the Indian camp with reports suggesting that the team was unhappy with the performance, the approach as well as the attitude of Yuvraj Singh! And this, even though Yuvraj Singh was accommodated to stuff up two other well-established senior pros in the team — namely, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman!

Lalchand Rajput initially seemed to come out openly stating that he would have a face-to-face talk with Yuvraj Singh. Then, perhaps on instructions from the BCCI, these statements were retracted by the team with a more official statement from the teams’ media manager. Not all is well, it seems.

These are probably early signals that Yuvraj Singh will develop some mysterious illness over the next few days — “sore neck” and “mild fever” are early front runners — and will sit out the Sydney Test match!

At this stage, it is perhaps unlikely for any other Team India member to develop any further mysterious illnesses!

With this out of the way, in my opinion, the team can then chose from either one of Irfan Pathan or Virender Sehwag to open the batting in Sydney! Yes, that wasn’t a ptyo… Oops! Typo! I am indeed suggesting that one of Irfan Pathan or Virender Sehwag could open the batting in Sydney.

Virender Sehwag for Yuvraj Singh is a bat-for-bat swap that should have happened in Melbourne itself. It ought to happen for Sydney, espcially since Yuvraj Singh will develop a series of inexplicable medical complications!

Although Anil Kumble lay the blame for the loss in Melbourne on the batsmen, I believe he papered over the performance of the bowlers. The bowling wasn’t all that great in my view.

  • R. P. Singh had a problem all through the match with his line, length, attitude, temparament and form!
  • Zaheer Khan bowled far too many gimme balls and demonstrated a chronic noball problem!
  • Apart from, probably, two spells (one to Hogg in the 1st innings and the other to Hayden and Ponting in the 2nd dig) Harbhajan Singh tended to spear the ball down. He will not make a dent in Sydney if he continues to bowl in this manner!
  • Even Anil Kumble bowled badly to Matthew Hayden in the 1st innings. His second innings effort could be best described as average!

So, to exonerate the bowlers was a bit rich, in my view!

With this in mind, I also feel that the bowling needs tinkering/bolstering. I may have been tempted to straight-swap R. P. Singh for Irfan Pathan. However, I am not sure if Irfan Pathan’s bowling form is right up there. With that in mind, bolstering the bowling ranks may not be a terribly bad idea, in my view. The only way that can happen is if Irfan Pathan replaces a batsman. The only one he could replace would be Wasim Jaffer. Irfan Pathan has opened for India before. I believe he has a sound technique to play against the Australians. With Sehwag at the other end, he need not worry about scoring runs at a healthy clip. I may be tempted to play him in Sydney!

So, my team for Sydney would be:

Wasim Jaffer / Irfan Pathan
Virender Sehwag
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
V. V. S. Laxman
Sourav Ganguly
M. S. Dhoni
Anil Kumble
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
R. P. Singh

— Mohan

Australia v India :: Boxing Day Test :: Day-2

Indian sluggishness destroys a good bowling effort…

At the start of the day, I said to my friend that, after India’s excellent showing on day-1 of the ongoing Test, day-2 would present a significant opportunity for Indian cricket to take a bold and convincing step forward into a new era. Such dreams were shattered by an inept batting display that let down the hopes of a nation.

The last time India visited Australia in 2003, a good Boxing Day was followed by a “normal programming resumes” day! This time around, after India’s bowlers had done all the hard yards on day-1 of this episode of the Boxing Day Test match, the batsmen squandered the advantage on day-2!

Agreed, the Australian bowlers bowled spelindldly. However, cricket is played as much in the mind as it is on the park! When Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer walked in to bat on this lovely summer morning, they played as though they were playing in a warfield in Southern Iraq that had randomly placed landmines in it! Such was their tentativeness and such was their negative approach. The Australians, on the other hand, looked purposeful and looked like they wanted to defend a low “on or slightly below par” score.

Rahul Dravid took forever to get off the mark and faced every ball in Mitchell Johnston’s initial spell of seven overs! It was as if he had forgotten that singles were possible — not that he was striking boundaries by the truckload! His painful 66-ball stay yielded just 5 runs! Along the way, he survived a close LBW shout, a catch attempt at gully as well as a catch at slip off a no-ball!

It is not as if one should pin India’s bad day at the office on Rahul Dravid alone! All the batsmen should put their hand up and accept collective responsibility. However, a start is so very important in Australia — as Akash Chopra and Virender Sehwag so aptly demonstrated on the last visit by India to these shores. One can’t help but ask why Virender Sehwag was cooling his heels in the pavillion. Instead, we had an accommodation that stuffed up two players! Yuvraj Singh was accommodated at #6 and this pushed Rahul Dravid up to open (wrong move #1) and V. V. S. Laxman to #3 (wrong move #2). As I said in my previous post, India should have opened with Virender Sehwag and made the hard, difficult and painful decision of dropping Yuvraj Singh.

Rahul Dravid is not an opener and was sacrificed in todays’ game. The advantage that the bowlers had dealt was blown. The mindset was negative from the outset and this mood was perhaps transferred onto the rest of the team. Batting is all about momentum and Rahul Dravid combined well with Wasim Jaffer to shift the momentum to Australia. The later batsmen struggled to shove crap uphill after that.

And this is where the silly idea of having just one practice game prior to the Boxing Day Test match was most rudely exposed. If the Indians had more than a match, the batsmen could have got their bearings. The team itself could have tried a few options, particularly in the all-important opening slot.

The Australian bowlers bowled excellently and to a plan. They bowled on or outside the off stump. They hardly bowled on the legs of the Indian batsmen, allowing them the luxury to whip the ball to leg!

Fours were hard to come by and this is more because of the slow outfield. Good shots stopped short of the boundary ropes. I think this was pathetic for a quality Test match and hopefully Cricket Australia will do something about this. Having said that, both teams get the same ground to bat on. So one should not complain too much. However, it is perhaps common knowledge that Indian players are more boundary hitters than sharp-single-runners! And here, beacuse of the pathetic nature of the MCG outfield, they were at a disadvantage.

Where Ricky Ponting erred, in my view, was by over-bowling Brad Hogg. One just could not understand why this somewhat ordinary Chinaman bowler got to bowl 21 overs! At the other end, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark were causing mayhem and picking up wickets at regular intervals. Unless Ponting wanted Hogg to have an extended bowling spell and thereby, bowl the spinner into form in the lead up to the second innings and then, the Sydney Test, this extended spell made no sense to me at all. Although Hogg did pick up two wickets, I am not sure I would agree that these wickets could be credited to good bowling!

Apart from Sachin Tendulkar and to some extent Sourav Ganguly, the rest of the Indian batsmen seemed to be batting on another pitch altogether! Tendulkar was magical. From the moment he walked in, every shot he played had class and magical stamped all over it. But just when his partnership with Laxman was starting to find its bearings, Laxman got a lifter from Brett Lee that he could only poke at to the slips area in an ugly manner. And just when Tendulkar’s partnership with Ganguly started to flower, Tendulkar bottom edged a short wide-of-off ball onto his stumps — he has got out to this type of shot quite a bit in the recent past, including last week, against the Victorians! Yuvraj Singh came and went and so did M. S. Dhoni. Yuvraj Singh stodd his ground for a long time, giving one the impression that he was done in by the umpire! But replays were inconclusive. Ganguly was bowled by a ball that kept extremely low — even Trevor Chappell may have struggled to get that low height on a ball bowling underam to the New Zealanders!! The Indian innings was just falling apart. And soon enough, it did. The fact that the score almost touched 200 was thanks to a gutsy effort by the indefatigable Anil Kumble.

In the end, Australia came back to bat and rattled up a quick 32 runs in 8 overs! R. P. Singh was torn apart in an over and the normally cool-headed youngster seemed to be losing the plot here.

I can’t see a way out for the Indians here. One bad day at the office has perhaps set the tone for the entire summer! The weather looks good for the next few days. So the possibility of a Lords’-like escape is somewhat remote. This is certainly a backs-to-the-wall fight that will test the character of Anil Kumble and his men.

— Mohan