Tag Archives: Ishant Sharma

The resurrection of Sreesanth is complete…

It appears as if the new-look Sreesanth is back in the mix of things in Indian cricket! A new-and-improved Sreesanth minus slap-marks on his face and minus the pre-ball cross-my-heart-and-kiss-the-ball routine and minus the many metres of dingly-dangly thread around his neck (therein lies the clue to Ishant Sharma’s resurrection?) is back in Team India’s ODI and T20 teams for the matches against Sri Lanka! What’s more? He is also seeking out Harbhajan Singh for a hug everytime he takes a wicket! Someone please tell me he has turned vegetarian and is also writing a paper for Copenhagen!

Between 9 December and 27 December, India play Sri Lanka in 2 T20s and 5 ODIs.

The last T20 match India played was at the World Championship. The squad then read:

MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, RP Singh

The team for India’s T20 games against Sri Lanka reads:

MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Yusuf Pathan, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, Ashok Dinda, Sudeep Tyagi, Pragyan Ojha.

India’s WC T20 squad squad is sans Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh and Ravindra Jadeja.

And unless my eyes deceive me, Harbhajan Singh also feels the selectors’ axe on his neck! Is that right?

The above in the 16-member WCT20 team are replaced in the 15-member Team India squad for the Sri Lanka T20s squad by Ashish Nehra, Ashok Dinda, Sreesanth, Sudeep Tyagi and R. Ashwin.

Other than the comfortable knowledge that he is from Chennai — which obviously makes a difference in the current set up in Team India — I still do not know what Dinesh Karthik is doing in the T20 team. But he certainly is there in the team!

After the WCT20 debacle in which India exited in the first round, something had to give. Players like Irfan Pathan and RP Singh had to go and re-learn their craft. Zaheer Khan is still not back to peak fitness. So these changes are understandable. But dropping Harbhajan Singh makes sense? I am not convinced that Praveen Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja deserve the chop too.

Having said that, I do think that India’s T20 squad is good and sports a balanced look. I expect the team sheet to read:

Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
MS Dhoni
Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina
Rohit Sharma
Yusuf Pathan / R Ashwin
Ashish Nehra
Sreesanth / Ashok Dinda
Pragyan Ojha
Sudeep Tyagi / Ishant Sharma (minus dingly-dangly neck-accessories?)

DRINKS: Dinesh Karthik

India’s squad for the first two ODIs against Sri Lanka has also been announced. Sreesanth makes it to the ODI team too! Munaf Patel has got the chop after the ODI series against Australia. Perhaps he needs to find the neck-accessories that Sreesanth discarded?

Amit Mishra has also been requested to cool his heels somewhere.

And since the selectors could not find a (any) leg-spinner in the whole of Tamil Nadu, Pragyan Ojha replaces Amit Mishra in the team! Further, Dinesh Karthik has been informed that he does not need to carry the drinks and so, loses his spot in the team!

The team for the first two ODIs reads:

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
MS Dhoni
Suresh Raina / Virat Kohli
Ravindra Jadeja
Harbhajan Singh
Praveen Kumar
Zaheer Khan / Sudeep Tyagi / Pragyan Ojha / Sreesanth
Ashish Nehra

The absence of Rohit Sharma from this team continues to baffle me. If I were his manager, I might ask him to either (a) wear some dingly-dangly bits around his neck and lose it in a hurry or (b) seek a transfer to Tamil Nadu!

— Mohan

Now we yearn for “The Dhoni of Old”… Duh!

Forget the present. Forget the future.

It seems Indians want to continue to live in the past!

Chairman of selectors, Kris Srikkanth, pronounced that we had seen “the old MS Dhoni” after India beat Australia by 99 runs in the 2nd ODI at Nagpur last night.

In the recent past, we have had many a report suggesting that the “Tendulkar of Old” was there or thereabouts. Every time the great champion batsman scores a century, we hear talk of the “Tendulkar of Old”.

As I keep saying to a lot of my friends, if you want to see the “Tendulkar of Old”, buy a DVD! If you want to see the “Dhoni of Old”, buy yourself a DVD!

In the meanwhile, rejoice the present and plan for the future! Duh! Surely that can’t be too hard!

Even Cricinfo’s Siddharth Monga seems to suggest he has a bit of a yearning for the “Dhoni of Old”! Monga writes, “And back the old Dhoni was. Walking down and hitting Shane Watson, heaving and slapping Mitchell Johnson, hitting three bottom-handed sixes in two overs, he scored 54 runs in his last 27 balls, putting it past Australia…”. There is nothing wrong with the current Dhoni. As Monga himself writes, “India need both the Dhonis, but there are other batsmen who can compensate for the old Dhoni, and more often than not it’s the new Dhoni that nobody else evokes. Dhoni, more than anybody else, knows that.”

India needs players who perform consistently in the role that they (a) are able to perform, (b) are best at performing, (c) have been given (or taken on for themselves).

Meanwhile, I do hope the sales of the DVD of Dhoni’s 183 skyrocket for those of us who want to see the “Dhoni of old”. If we do not rejoice the “Dhoni of Now” or the “Tendulkar of Now”, a few years from now, we will yearn for the “Dhoni of the immediate past” and forget that we had just watched but not understood nor relished that phase of a cricketers’ evolving career!

The match last night was a fascinating and clinical performance by India. The manner in which Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir re-built the innings and stabilised it suggested that both batsmen had a plan and knew exactly what was needed and how to get there. They were calm, unflustered, purposeful and measured in their approach. Perhaps Gambhir got out at the wrong time — just before the ball would be changed and probably just before the Batting Powerplay would have been taken (had Gambhir been there). However, his departure meant that Suresh Raina and Dhoni, together, turned on an intelligent and power-packed partnerships in which audacious shots were mixed with sharp running and clever placements. And once the foot reached the pedal, in a very Australian manner, the two of them kept their foot on the pedal to take India to an unassailable total.

The bowling was impressive too. I was particularly impressed with Praveen Kumar’s line-and-length discipline. And it was certainly refreshing to see Ishant Sharma reach the 140-145 kmph mark regularly. He seems to have worked out his problems. He was running in more confidently and with greater purpose.

I will be surprised if India change the team for the next ODI in Delhi (Sunday). Meanwhile, Australia have a few more problems. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine is flying back to Australia with a broken finger!

Meanwhile, the “Adjective Watch” department of i3j3 has woken up from its long slumber! After all, Australia is playing India!

Richard Earle has labelled Harbhajan Singh “infamous”. No. No. Hang on there. Not “rude” or “ugly” or “foul mouthed” or “loutish” or “obnoxious”. This is different: Infamous. In a wonderful piece of exquisite prose in The Daily Telegraph, this celebrated writer, Richard Earle has used the following choice adjectives in his description of Harbhajan Singh: Infamous, wily wind-up merchant, fearless tailender

Apparently in Harbhajan Singh’s 31-ball 49 at Vadodhra “saw the Turbanator trading verbal blows with the Australians.”

And what were the Australians doing when said verbal blows were being traded? Oh! They were knitting, as every good, honest, God-fearing, mother-loving, saintly and pristine Australian cricketer would do. Of course!

The article starts off with a screaming byline “INFAMOUS Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has ignited the showdown for the world one-day crown by predicting India can demolish Australia and snatch the No.1 ranking.”

Phew!

What did the fiesty, wily wind-up merchant and infamous obnoxious weed of an off-spinner actually say?

Harbhajan Singh, the great Indian off-spinner said, “I believe if we play to our potential we will win 5-2,” Harbhajan told The Daily Telegraph. “I am looking forward to the next six matches. It is very important for me to do well, I am most happy when the situation demands that I perform well for my country.”

I read humility. I read dignity. I read respect for the opposition. I also read an element of self-doubt.

Then again, who am I?

I am not an Australian reporter with hatred in my eyes, a chip on my shoulder and an axe to grind.

— Mohan

Team India Performance in New Zealand: Tests

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

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

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

I couldn’t have put it any better!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan

What was Sehwag thinking?

At the end of the 6th over of the ongoing Test match between New Zealand and India, New Zealand was travelling nicely at 21/0. The 7th over was a beauty from Ishant Sharma. He had Macintosh out first ball and almost had How out LBW off the 5th ball. At the other end, the 8th over was a terrific follow up from Zaheer Khan. He had How cleaned up off the last ball and New Zealand was 22/2.

At this crucial juncture, in the 9th over, after his team had taken 2 wickets in 2 overs, Sehwag decided to bring in Munaf Patel!

It wasn’t as if Ishant Sharma was spent! For crying out loud, he had just taken a wicket in his previous over!

I am not saying that this decision cost India a bad day in the office — Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik and Rahul Dravid made sure that their hands (or lack of it) did the real damage! But I really would like to know what Sehwag was thinking at that time? I’d love to know…

— Mohan

Thinking ‘Out of the box’ for India’s tour of NZ

With India’s tour to Pakistan canceled, post 26/11, India had an opportunity of a slightly extended tour to New Zealand. And indeed, India are now playing an additional Test match and an extra Twenty20 in New Zealand.

However, instead of lengthening the tour to accommodate these additional matches, the extra matches have been featured at the cost of canceling the practice game that was originally scheduled.

India will also be playing five ODIs and a Twenty20 game at Sri Lanka from Jan 28 to Feb 10.

Once again, the BCCI has proved that if India does well in international cricket it is despite the BCCI and not because of it. The utter stupidity of this decision to cancel the scheduled practice game — in order to accommodate an additional Test and Twenty20 — shocks me.

The schedule for the series in New Zealand is:

– 25 Feb: 1st Twenty20 international, Christchurch
– 27 Feb: 2nd Twenty20 international, Wellington
– 3 Mar: 1st ODI, Napier
– 6 Mar: 2nd ODI, Wellington
– 8 Mar: 3rd ODI, Christchurch
– 11 Mar: 4th ODI, Hamilton
– 14 Mar: 5th ODI, Auckland
– 18-22 Mar: 1st Test, Hamilton
– 26-30 Mar: 2nd Test, Napier
– 3-7 Apr: 3rd Test, Wellington

Now, to my mind, there is no reason why a few (not just one or two, but a few) 3-day practice games cannot be organised for Team India between 25 Feb and 14 March even with the above itinerary.

If we consider the current India ODI team and Test team, there are players like Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, S. Badrinath, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma and Sachin Tendulkar who do not (need to) feature in the ODI team.

There are Team India ODI players like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan who are also a part of the Team India Test side. While they get acclimatised to NZ conditions by playing their ODI games, there is no reason why the rest of the Test team should not play a few practice games in NZ!

A more proactive and forward-thinking BCCI would have married the “making money” strategy with the need for practice and pragmatism to come up with a winning strategy. Unfortunately though, BCCI seems constantly incapable of thinking beyond the money prerogative — a strategy that necessitates more matches being played!

It would be easy to form the following two teams and have them play in New Zealand simultaneously:

ODI Team India:
Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel (Subs: Irfan Pathan, Virat Kohli, Pragyan Ojha, Mohammed Kaif)

NZ Practice Matches India:
Wasim Jaffer, M. Vijay, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman, S. Badrinath, Parthiv Patel, Manpreet Gony, Amit Mishra, Ishant Sharma, R. P. Singh (Subs: Ashok Dinda, Cheteshwar Pujara, Abhishek Nayar, Chetanya, Nanda, Piyush Chawla)

This assumes that Sachin Tendulkar and Ishant Sharma are “rested” from ODI duties. However, even if that is not a valid assumption, since both teams would be in the same country, players can be mixed and matched between the two teams!

In essence, what I am calling for is a marriage between the “make money” strategy with “pargmatic necessity” to come up with an innovative winning strategy.

Alas! The BCCI has repeatedly indicated that it is incapable of thinking beyond packed tours and money!

— Mohan

India regain the Border Gavaskar Trophy

India regained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on day-5 of the Nagpur Test. Just around Tea time on day-5 of the Test a crazy day mirrored the somewhat crazy days that had preceded that moment when a crazy LBW decision went in favour of India. This meant that the Test and the series went to India.

Australia started the series with a conditioning camp at the Rajasthan Cricket Academy. Australia ended the series with a Cricket Australia enquiry into the craziness that enveloped the post-Tea session on day-4 of this Test match. James Sutherland, the CEO of Cricket Australia has indicated that he wishes to conduct an enquiry into Ricky Ponting’s decisions in this 4th Test match.

Australian media, in a bid to search for excuses, will blame the 3 lost tosses, and perhaps even the pitches. The captain has already alluded to the toss-losses as being significant.

But really, Australia got it wrong with their “new age cricket” strategy. This cost the team the Bangalore Test match and then, the series! Moreover, Australia had a wrong team balance. I really do not know what Cameron White was doing in the team! It was only in the last Test that Jason Krejza had a bowl. And more than batting well and taking wickets, Australia was more interested in the verbals. It is batting and bowling that win matches.

One can’t really blame the toss. Every team learns to deal with it. And as for pitches, I certainly hope India continues to have spinning pitches. You do not travel to Sydney to expect to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa! If you do, you really need to visit a psychiatrist really soon!

India started the last day with a somewhat confused strategy. They attacked and then defended and then attacked and then defended and then attacked again. In the middle there was some ordinary fielding, excellent fielding, ordinary catching and excellent catching too.

The bottom line is that India has a long way to go before becoming a champion team. It is not there yet. But all of that is not quite relevant now. India won the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2-0.

Ishant Sharma was Man of the Series and Jason Krejza was Man of the Match. I think this was about the only thing Chris Broad got right in this series! The most exciting fast bowler in world cricket and the most exciting spinner in world cricket (behind Ajanta Mendis) were recognised!

M. S. Dhoni has had a wonderful initiation to Test cricket. He has won the first 3 Test matches that he has captained! And these weren’t easy oppositions! He has beaten South Africa, Australia and Australia! Admittedly, these were all in India. However, this is not to be scoffed at.

M. S. Dhoni is a man who is, in my view, mature beyond his years. When the 9th wicket fell, he dragged Sourav Ganguly to one side and then handed over the captaincy to the retiring Ganguly. What a wonderful gesture that was? And then, when it came to accepting the trophy, he called over Anil Kumble to the dais to accept the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with him! This was a sign of respect. It was a celebration of two glorious careers.

And in all of this, Gary Kirsten was nowhere to be seen.

India had a mature captain and a coach that did not need to be in the drivers’ seat!

Well done Dhoni. Well done Kirsten. The future of Indian cricket is certainly in good hands.

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: Test 3 :: Delhi :: Day-4

In all interviews I heard since the end of day-3, talk has been about Australia trying hard to save the game. Even Matthew Hayden, in his post-match interview, talked only about Australia saving the game. He said (and I am paraphrasing), “We know we can’t win, so we have our backs to the wall.”

I find this strange. Thanks to a superb batting display on day-3, Australia are in a position where they can win the game too! I know that this is a slim possibility, but it is probable!

Australia is only 275 behind.

If Australia bat all day today and make 350 runs (say), they will be 75 runs ahead at the end of days’ play. Another 75 runs tomorrow might mean that India will have to play last on this pitch!

Another scenario is that if Australia are all out after scoring say 50 more runs, Dhoni will need to make a choice as to whether or not to enforce the follow on (with tired bowlers in his ranks) or play on for a while and unleash a fresh set of bowlers on the Australians batting last. He may not want to give the bat-last advantage to the Australians by enforcing the follow on.

Moreover, if Australia avoid the follow-on, India will have to set a target. The target will depend on the extent of the lead and also on India’s aggressive intent. This won’t be easy.

So, I am a bit puzzled by the negative Australian attitude. They must think more than just “saving the game”, I feel. The game is still a bit open — although favouring the Indians slightly — in my view.

The absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble has hurt the Indians a lot in this Test match. But them’s the breaks.

The first session will be vital for both teams. Australia cannot afford to lose early wickets. Indian heads will droop if Australia bats out the first session without losing a wicket. Australias’ approach will be to bat out and see out the 1st session.

After 8 days of pressure-less cricket, the pressure is on the Indians for the first time since the Bengaluru Test. India will be looking to wrap the series in Delhi. The Indians will not want to go into the Nagpur Test just 1-0 up in the series. If India go into Nagpur either 1-0 (or worse, 1-1), the momentum could shift completely to Australia. As I maintained, in a back-to-back situation, the draw at Bangalore worked in India’s favour. So will a draw here in Delhi. The momentum will have shifted in Australia’s favour.

So the Indians will be desperate to win here at Delhi to maximise its chances of regaining the Border-Gavaskar-Trophy.

Session-1:

After a happy-birthday-tune to celebrate V. V. S. Laxman’s birthday, proceedings got underway with the talented Zaheer Khan bowling to an aggressive and recently-fined Shane Watson.

Off the 4th over of the morning, Michael Clarke was dropped at mid off by a leaping Ishant Sharma off the bowling of Amit Mishra. These catches ought to be taken. India could well pay dearly for this lapse. Mishra had the measure of Michael Clarke in yesterdays’ session and had started in pretty much the same vein this morning. However, for success, bowlers need to depend on fielders unless of course you are Virender Sehwag (two clean bowled and 1 LBW)!

The morning was going Australia’s way. The partnership between Clarke and Watson was developing well. Watson was starting to play his shots and look more confident with each ball. Mishra continued to bowl a hit-me ball every over. The dropped catch seemed to have dropped shoulders just that little bit on the field. After 8 overs, Australia had scored 31 runs with not much fuss — apart from that dropped catch — and the deficit was only 244 runs!

Ishant Sharma, the culprit of the catch let-off, came on to bowl. But with him and Mishra bowling a hit-me ball every over, Australia started to slowly but irrevocably draw closer to their first target for the day — avoiding the follow-on. Something needed to happen for India.. and soon. Watson, in particular, was batting quite well, despite the odd edgy stroke past the thinly populated slips area.

I thought Dhoni missed a trick here in not starting with Virender Sehwag, the best of the three spinners on view yesterday. Mishra was more inexperienced than Sehwag, who would have kept it tight as well.

Sehwag ultimately came in for Mishra in the 11th over of the morning. He started off with a maiden over! For India, the way to do this would have been for Ishant Sharma to swallow his ego and bowl a line outside slightly wide of the off-stump and attack with Sehwag and Mishra from the other end. However, Ishant Sharma continued to bowl and attacking line and leaked runs.

After another Sehwag maiden over, drinks was called. At drinks break, Australia had scored 57 runs from 14 overs. This was just what the doctor had ordered for Australia. Australia had reached 395-4.

Interestingly, Anil Kumble came in for a bowl after the drinks’ break! Here was a warrior striding in for his team after 11 stitches to the little finger of his left hand, with 2 of his fingers taped together, a few cortisone injections and perhaps even a plastic plate inserted to protect the left hand.

I was surprised that Kumble was allowed to bowl. Isn’t there a requirement that he had to spend as much time on the field as he did off it before he could bowl?

With Kumble and Sehwag on, the bowling was tighter and runs were harder to come by. I thought that Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra bowled quite badly this morning. For the first time in the series, the Indian bowling looked insipid and lazy — somewhat like the Australian bowling has looked this series (with due apologies to fans of the Australian team who visit this blog)!

And the tightness of the bowling caused Sehwag to bowl Shane Watson. Sehwag seems to have made up his mind to not depend on the fielders in this match! He has 3 clean bowleds and 1 LBW thus far in this game. This ball pitched well outside off stump, spun sharply and clipped the top of Watson’s leg stump. I have little doubt that the tightness of the Kumble-Sehwag bowling was what caused this wicket to fall.

We had a new man, Brad Haddin, at the crease and suddenly things were happening. There was more in the pitch, it seemed. Sehwag (at 66-4) had his best figures in a Test match. Since his introduction, Sehwag had bowled 3 maidens and had taken a wicket! Watson had departed for a well-made 36 in a partnership of 73 runs off 20.1 overs with Michael Clarke.

In the next over from Kumble, Clarke danced down the wicket to hit it over the top. The boundary gave Clarke his half-century and also brought up Australia’s 400.

In Kumble’s next over, he hit Haddin bang in front of the stumps. Hadding was a foot down the pitch, but wasn’t playing a shot at the ball, which struck him in front of middle stump! Umpires are loathe to give these balls out even though the batsman does not offer a stroke to it. I find this a strange policy.

Soon after, the follow-on target was avoided. The first target had been achieved for Australia. It was a mammoth effort from a team that had had 8 days of Test cricket under the pump and behind the 8-ball. Although they were helped by an easy pitch and by the absence of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble yesterday, this was a great backs-to-the-wall effort. The fact that all top five batsmen made a half century (with none of them, yet, going on to make a century) was an indicator of the superlative team-effort that Australia had put in.

I felt that although Kumble was bowling tight and although it was fabulous stuff from a committed Indian warrior, he missed a trick by not bowling from around the wicket and into the ‘rough’.

Sehwag was bowling brilliantly. He was showing us a complete repertoire. The top spinner, the slow spinner, flight, the one that goes straight and the faster one. It just showed how badly under-used this talented cricketer is in India.

And then, after some 85 overs since his last wicket in Test cricket, Anil Kumble bowled a slow-through-the-air googly to get Brad Haddin stumped brilliantly by Dhoni. The indefatigable warrior had struck for India. Australia was 426-6.

Haddin was gone for 17 off 35 balls with 1 four and a six.

In the very next over, Gambhir almost created a a half-chance at forward short-leg as Michael Clarke poked at a Sehwag delivery. It was a hard one to convert to a catch. The fact that Gambhir almost made it into a catch should augur well for India’s close-fielding stables.

At lunch, Australia had reached 436-6. India had bowled 31 overs and Australia had made 98 runs, losing 2 wickets. Australia had made the runs at 3.16 rpo.

In the pre-lunch session, India had bowled 31 overs. This is how teams should approach their cricket. Not in the recalcitrant, unprofessional, lazy and sloppy manner in which Australia treats the viewing spectator. And while Australia thumbs its lazy nose at the ICC establishment, the ICC goes around finding the next Asian to ping for a wrong-doing when the wrongdoers are right under its nose. What I struggle most with is the manner in which Match Referees allow and encourage such recalcitrance from Australia, the world champion team when it comes to over rates.

Australia will be happy to wipe off the deficit and reach the follow-on target. India will rue the missed catch and also the bad bowling from Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mishra that they started off with.

Given that Australia lost two important wickets, I call this an even session too. The SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 4.5!

Session-2:

Surprisingly, India started with Zaheer Khan bowling after lunch. Given that Kumble and Sehwag did all the pre-lunch damage, this decision was somewhat surprising, unless Kumble wanted to change the end from which he was bowling.

Sehwag bowled from the end that Kumble was bowling pre-lunch. So it may be that Kumble was using Zaheer Khan to help him swap ends with Sehwag — not a bad ploy.

Australia will be looking to do a Zaheer-Harbhajan-Bengaluru in this session being about 170 behind India. The closer they could get to India’s total, the better it would be for them.

A few overs after lunch, Virender Sehwag became India’s one of the most employed bowler in this innings! At this stage, Sehwag had already bowled 35 overs, which was the same number of overs that Mishra had bowled! Given Kumble’s injury and Harbhajan Singh’s absence, this was a tremendous bonus for Anil Kumble and further underlined Sehwag’s value in this team.

Zaheer Khan continued to bowl. The tactic was somewhat unclear to me although Zaheer Khan was getting the ball to tail in to the right hander.

The folly of the Zaheer Khan strategy had become more obvious as the runs started to come quite freely. One of the advantages of Kumble bowling in tandem with Sehwag was that both ends offered little by way of release of pressure. There was hardly any venom in Zaheer Khan’s bowling for the batsmen to try anything silly off Sehwag’s bowling. India was missing a trick by not bowling either Mishra or Kumble here, I felt.

After three overs of the Zaheer Khan spell, Kumble brought himself on to bowl. Australia had moved to 465-6, only 148 runs behind. The complexion of the game was slowly starting to change. At the other end, Sehwag was changed for Amit Mishra.

Australia had developed a string of partnerships — with not a single player (yet) going on to make a century — and another one was developing between Cameron White and Michael Clarke. Their partnership had reached 50 runs and the danger signal for India was that they had done it really easily!

Mishra has upped his pace and was bowling with less flight and faster through the air to try and get some purchase from the pitch. Kumble was trying, in the meanwhile, to bowl a few tight overs.

[I could not write more last night. This piece is written more for completeness and has been written a day later.]

India continued to play ordinary cricket and let off Michael Clarke a few more times before they were able to wrap up the innings.

I was disappointed by Australia’s approach. Australia batted on till it got to 39 runs behind India’s tour.With just 13 overs left in the days’ play, there was no way India was going to make the running on a pitch that was offering nothing much to the bowlers even on day-4. I thought Australia should have declared at least 100 behind. This would have forced India to make the running in this match. Remember, India does not need to win this match, although India would like to. Australia has to win this match although, by drawing this match, it keeps its hopes alive in the series. So the attacking ploy for Australia would have been to declare about 100 runs behind India’s total. Unfortunately, that was not to be. What we saw was the initiation of a defensive ploy from Australia and a continuation of this ploy by India.

I gave the 2nd session as well as the 3rd session of day-4 to Australia and so, the SBS Score reads: India 5.5, Australia 6.5!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-3

Epilogue as Prologue:

Unlike other days, I don’t think the first session of day-4 should matter too much! Even if India lose a few quick wickets, there are enough runs in the bag now and India will not be forced to go into a shell. It will need a bagful of wickets by the Australians for India’s intent to dramatically change. India are in front and will look to press home the advantage in the first session of play on day-4. If Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are still together at the end of the first hour, I will not be surprised to see M. S. Dhoni walk in at the fall of the 1st wicket! I think India will look to play steady cricket for the first hour before putting their foot on the accelerator.

Declaration target:

To me, it is the middle session of day-4 (and not the 1st session) that will be important. I believe that that is the session when declaration calculations will come into play.

Without getting too far ahead of myself, I feel India should set Australia a target of about 500-520 runs in 125 overs. In other words, I think India should bat about 50 overs on day-4 to score about 200-220 additional runs. If Australia makes the 520 runs (at somewhere between 4 rpo and 4.15 rpo) in the 4th innings here, they absolutely deserve the victory and more!

Defensive mindset:

I have been maintaining since the start of this series that Australia’s defensive mindset, more than anything else, could prove its downfall in this competitive series against India. Nothing proved this more than day-2 of the 2nd Test at Mohali. Australia adopted a defensive mentality right through the day and ended up in a somewhat ordinary position. Yet, despite Michael Clarke’s departure off the last ball of the day, the situation was still recoverable. After all, India had recovered from 163-4 to make 469, thanks to a positive mindset! Australia had ended the day at 102-4 and still had Michael Hussey and a batting order that ran deep.

Session-1:

However, Australia started somewhat tentatively and paid the price for it. It didn’t help matters that Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan bowled brilliantly. Sharma, in particular, was making the ball “talk” on a placid pitch!

Soon after Michael Hussey compiled his half-century he got a terrific delivery that moved just a bit after pitching outside off-stump. Hussey poked at it and the resulting edge sped past Rahul Dravid to the 3rd man fence. Ishant Sharma has developed this habit of making new opportunities immediately after he has had a catch dropped or a plumb LBW denied — as he demonstrated in the Ponting dismissal the previous evening! After being denied a plumb LBW by Rudi Koertzen, he produced a slightly better delivery to remove the Australian captain just 2 balls later! This is probably why Ishant Sharma is referred to as “Instant Karma“! This time, after an edge had gone for a boundary, Sharma bowled the next ball just slightly back of a length and just inches outside off stump. Hussey had to play/poke at it and the resulting edge was gleefully accepted by M. S. Dhoni.

Once again, reverse swing was the main “weapon” that Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were harnessing. Right from the 10th over of the innings, the ball had been “reversing” and here, Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan were giving nothing away.

This wasn’t the start that Australia wanted on day-3! India were suddenly looking at lead margins, especially after Harbhajan Singh bowled an absolute ripper to have Brad Haddin clean bowled! That was a stunning ball from the turbaned finger spinner. It spun a proverbial mile, had terrific loop and crashed into the stumps.

We soon had a double spin-attack when Amit Mishra was brought on. Mishra was getting a fair bit of purchase from the pitch. This was understandable. He is a wrist spinner, in the Shane Warne mode. Unlike Harbhajan Singh, the finger spinner bowling at the other end, Mishra does give the ball a fair tweak. His lack of height also helps in him being able to lob the ball way above his eye-line. He bowled several balls at 78 kmph mark and allowed the pitch to do the rest.

Cameron White was in a shell. He made 5 runs off 23 balls when he was deceived by flight, loop and the googly from Mishra, his opposite number in the Indian team. White, a fellow leg spinner, did not pick the wrong ‘un, which sneaked past between bat and outstretched pad, to clang into the leg stump. This was an absolutely beautiful piece of bowling by the young leg spinner.

Australia went to lunch on 174-7 in 66 overs with Watson on 32 and Brett Lee on 5. This was clearly India’s session and the SBS score read [India 5.25, Australia 1.75]. India was way in front at this stage and it would need something special from the Australians to get back into the game.

Session-2:

Indeed, Australia did put on something quite special after lunch. Shane Watson has been a bridesmaid in Australian cricket for long. In all the time that his prowess has been trumpeted, he hasn’t actually delivered much at all. It didn’t help that he kept breaking down every time the wind speed picked up!

But here, he played a terrific hand and in Brett Lee, he had a willing and able ally. The thing, however, that was most in their favour, was the positive intent. Unlike their more illustrious batting colleagues, Watson and Lee played their shots and did not allow the situation to get on top of them. So much so that, at one stage, one thought that they could pull off a Harbhajan-Zaheer type miracle for Australia! They played with terrific ease and nothing seemed to rattle them.

During the afternoon, Zaheer Khan indulged in a bit of banter with Brett Lee. Soon after, Brett Lee exchanged air-kisses with Ishant Sharma after taking an excellent Sharma bouncer on his back. It was all pretty competitive and good-natured.

Of course, our friend Malcolm Conn at “The Australian” saw it through a radically different lens and wrote this piece of prose about that passage in play:

…the pair brought up their 50 partnership, Zaheer Khan failed to gather a defensive shot from Lee at the first attempt and went to throw before having words with the Australian.

Lee smiled broadly and both batsmen laughed when Zaheer, who was storming about the pitch, turned his attention to Watson.

Then Singh aimed up at Watson for a concerted conversation as the mid-afternoon drinks break arrived.

Immediately after drinks Lee continued to smile broadly when the first delivery with the second new ball, from Ishant Sharma, was short and struck Lee in the back as he turned away.

By the end of the over it appeared that umpires Rudi Koertzen and Asad Rauf had heard enough. They stood mid-pitch with the batsmen and waited for Dhoni to run past.

As he did Koertzen pointed to the stand-in skipper and spoke to him before Dhoni and Watson had another chat as the keeper took his position behind the stumps.

Zaheer was at the centre of a spat while batting in the first Test, twice confronting wicket-keeper Brad Haddin and then complaining to captain Ricky Ponting after the gloveman disagreed with Zaheer about the drizzly, murky weather.

Shane Watson, one of the players that shared the “spat” stage with Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma hosed down any suggestions of a violent spat between the teams and said,

“There was actually a lot of extremely friendly banter I thought. Obviously it was challenging but me and Brett were having a great time out there. The quicks were having a good crack and the umpires just came together and said ‘we don’t want this getting out of hand.’ It was never going to get out of hand. It was friendly banter and there should always be that in any sport, especially Test cricket when everyone is challenging each other. It makes things pretty enjoyable. You don’t want to be out there and it’s really dull and boring and no one says anything. You want a bit going on to keep everything going.”

So much for Malcolm Conn’s wild theories about World War III about to break out!

When Shane Watson was on 44, I thought the umpire Rudi Koertzen made the worst mistake I have seen any umpire make — and I mean, even grade cricket umpires!

Ishant Sharma bowled a beauty off the first ball of a new spell to Shane Watson. The ball jagged back from a good length spot and hit Watson on the pad, about half way between knee-roll and shoe. When ball hit pad, Watson was bang in front of middle-and-off-stump. The ball was certainly going to hit one of the stumps about half-way. Unfortunately, this stump that the ball would have hit was neither off stump or leg stump! In other words, I have not seen an LBW shout that was more convincing than this one! Yet Rudi Koertzen pursed his lips, almost chided Ishant Sharma for appealing, and said, “Not out”!

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly — given the hate-filled and bitterness-colured lens that he possibly watches his cricket through — this incident did not make Malcolm Conn’s report on the days’ play!

The new ball did not make much of a dent in Australia’s progress. Slowly, yet steadily, Shane Watson and Brett Lee ate into the lead. This was impressive batting, to say the least.

Just before the Tea break though, Harbhajan Singh bowled a beauty – a doosra — to have Brett Lee caught by Rahul Dravid in the slips.

Australia went to Tea on 249-8 off 93.0 overs with Watson on 66 and Mitchell Johnson on 2. This was Australia’s session, thanks to the positive mindset displayed by Watson and Lee. Perhaps the other Australian batsmen can take a leaf out of the books of these two?

The SBS score read [India 5.25, Australia 2.75].

Session-3:

The moment Brett Lee went, one could sense that the end of the Australian innings was near. And indeed, the end came swiftly. Exactly 7 overs after Tea, Amit Mishra took the last two wickets (Shane Watson was out LBW and Peter Siddle was stumped by M. S. Dhoni) to secure a 5-fer on debut. This was an impressive performance by the young lad on a pitch that didn’t really afford too much assistance to the spinners. I’d like to believe that he could be quite a handful on a turning pitch.

Australia was all out for 268 (India had a lead of 201) off 101.4 overs in 454 minutes of batting. Australia made its runs at 2.63 rpo. The Indians bowled their overs at about 13.5 overs per hour (Note that the Australians had bowled at 13 overs per hour).

India came out swinging. There were no second-innings shackles to hold down Virender Sehwag who came out in a belligerent mood. He played sensibly in the company of the company of the aggressive Gautam Gambhir to get India off to a rollicking start.

The two India batsmen were ably assisted by a overly defensive Ricky Ponting! Ponting should have tried to get Sehwag out! Instead he spread the field from the very first over and that allowed the Indians to pick up singles almost at will. The bad ball was spanked to the boundary. The defensive tactic did not actually pay off! By the end of the days’ play, India were travelling at about 4.34 runs per over! So the sense of that ploy wasn’t actually clear to me!

India finished the day on 100 off 23 overs (at 4.34 rpo). The SBS Score reads [India 6.25, Australia 2.75]

End points:

It was a pleasure to watch Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra bowl yesterday on a placid pitch. The deliveries that got Cameron White and Brad Haddin bowled were particularly pleasing. Amit Mishra may cherish the wicket of Michael Clarke as perhaps his best ever, but I liked the way he teased Cameron White out with a ball that had flight, dip and zip off the pitch. Similarly, the ball that Harbhajan Singh bowled to Brad Haddin was a corker. Not many batsmen would have been able to keep that away from the stumps. The pitch was not conducive to spin bowling — particularly finger spin. There wasn’t much bounce and although there was some turn, it was quite slow. Yet, the two Indian spinners bowled well in tandem. But one thing worked in favour of the Indian spinners. They bowled attackingly. They asked questions constantly and continually. They pressed for wickets. They played with a positive mindset.

India Vs Australia :: 2nd Test :: Mohali :: Day-2

As is normal in India-Australia games these days, most commentators and writers concluded their overnight reports with the following statement, “The first hour and the first session in tomorrow’s game will be crucial to the fortunes of both teams.” More than being just an oft-repeated cliche, which it is, this statement goes to the heart of why India-Australia series are such gripping contests lately. If, for all five days of a Test match “the first hour is crucial”, clearly there is some good cricket being played; clearly both teams are playing fighting cricket; clearly, both teams are in it to get something out of it right until the last day!

Session-1:

India started the day at 311-5, perhaps slightly ahead of the Australians. India needed the night-watchman, Ishant Sharma to stay and make things difficult for the Australians. The long-haired lad, playfully referred to as, “Instant Karma” by my friends’ son, did just that! He didn’t score particularly quickly. Indeed, he didn’t score much at all. But he presented a straight bat and hung around while his partner, Sourav Ganguly, settled in for the long haul. When he got out much of the morning juice was gone from the wicket too. It brought in a fresh, eager and combative M. S. Dhoni to the crease.

Dhoni commenced his scoring with a hooked 4 and a breathtaking hooked 6! He didn’t look back from there. He mixed caution and aggression and, at times, bravado, to keep the scoreboard ticking. Ishant Sharma had been thought out of the crease by a Peter Siddle bouncer. And Dhoni had hooked his first two run-scoring balls. These two may have prompted the Australians to go down the dig-the-ball-in route. It was a strange route to take on what was a placid pitch. It also played right into Dhoni’s hands. He met the bumper-challenge head-on. He trusted the bounce on the pitch and either came forward or rocked back with time and panache. He looked supremely confident and followed up his confidence with bold strokes.

Dhoni’s aggressive strategy could have back-fired. But Dhoni is not the kind of guy that takes a backward step. Self-doubts do not enter his mind at the time of execution. He bases his moves on his self-belief and once he makes a decision, he does not back down from it. This reflected in his batting too. It was free-flowing and attractive. Captaincy did not seem to burden him. Indeed, as I wrote in my Day-1 review, captaincy seems to lift his game. He digs deeper and then, seems to express himself more freely.

Soon, the bowl-it-short strategy was discarded by the Australians.

Sourav Ganguly, at the other end, collected his runs in singles. He knew that his partner was batting really well, and aggressively. So, like the previous evening, when the run-scoring pressure was off his own shoulders, the old pro just rotated the strike.

At lunch, India was 401/6 in 111.0, with Ganguly on 91 and M. S. Dhoni on 45. There was no doubt that this was India’s session and the SBS score reads [India 2.75, Australia 1.25].

Session-2:

The way Ganguly and Dhoni were batting, it looked as if a score of 500 was quite easily possible. Indeed, that may have been the target that the Indians were aiming for during the lunch break.

Soon after lunch, Ganguly got his century. It was a well-deserved, gritty century by the old-fox. The Australians call him a “serial offender”. Well, unfortunately for them, he had “offended” again. The Australians would have liked him to cower down and disappear quietly from the scene! But Ganguly had other plans! He always has other plans, when it comes to the Australians! They bring out the fighter in him! Australian media often say: “he has had this habit, right through his career, to get under the skins of the Australians.” Why? Because he scores runs? Because he was better at “mental disintegration” than Steve Waugh was? I can never quite understand it. But here he was again. Making a century on his farewell tour against his favourite opponent — something that Steve Waugh couldn’t script!

Ganguly made his century off 219 balls with just 8 4s. Quite unusual for a Ganguly century becuase of the low percentage of boundary shots. He had run the singles hard and fought his way to this century. It may not have been the most attractive of his 16 tons. But it was useful and it showed that the old pony still had a few tricks left in him. As Will Swanton says in The Age, “His biggest accomplishment has been getting up the noses of a team which succeeded in getting up the noses of everyone else — Australia.”

The romantics in the press gallery may have wanted Ganguly to take back his retirement decision. However, after the game, he made it clear that there was no way he would turn back the clock! He indicated that he is committed to his pre-series retirement announcement.

In a bid to up the scoring rate, just after reaching his century, Ganguly gave it all away — as he so often does — and swatted a Cameron White ball down Brett Lee’s throat at long on. He departed for a well-made 102. If he had hung around for longer, an India score of around 500 may have been possible. Although Dhoni found a higher gear to improve the scoring rate, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan were unable to hang around and be a menace, as they had, in Bengaluru! Dhoni started taking the aerial route in a spread-out defensive field. And it was working. He had moved to 92 and was looking good for a well-compiled century.

But Dhoni’s plans were cut adrift by a wayward umpire. Rudi Koertzen, who did not refer a close Ganguly stumping call ‘upstairs’ on day-1, decided that it was time to bring the Indian innings to a close. With Dhoni just 8 short of what would have been a fighting hundred, Rudi Koertzen declared that Dhoni was out LBW. Even if one ignored the inside-edge, the ball was sliding down the leg-side!

India had closed their innings at 469 off 129 overs at 3.64 runs per over — and in 594 mins at an over-rate of 13.03 overs per hour! This is really a terrible over-rate and I am truly surprised that the Match Referee has done nothing about it this far in the match.

Australia needed a strong start. But that was not to be! Once again, Zaheer Khan breached Matthew Hayden’s defence in the first over itself! Make that Zaheer-3, Hayden-0! Zaheer Khan had backed up his pre-match talk with on-field excellence. Matthew Hayden is an important cog in this Australian wheel. A free-scoring Hayden rubs off on the Australian team. A Hayden in self-doubt (Ashes 2005, for example) passes it on these doubts the rest of the team! On this tour, Hayden has made scores of 0, 13 and 0! It may not be time to press the panic button yet, but with Hayden’s early departure here at Mohali, Australia was in trouble and it showed in the scoring rate. That initial loss pushed them into a defensive mindset. And the moment that happens, the opposition is already on top. Australia went to Tea at 13-1 in 6 overs.

Had Australia not lost a wicket, I’d have been tempted to call that an Australia session. But with the loss of Hayden’s wicket, I called this an even session. The SBS score reads [India 3.25, Australia 1.75].

Last Session:

If there was some doubt in awarding the 2nd session of the day to either team, there was no doubt in this 3rd session. This was India’s session all the way. Once again, given Australia’s terrible over-rate earlier in the day, play had had to be extended beyond the normal curtains-down-time for the day.

First to go was Ricky Ponting. He was out LBW to his emerging nemesis, Ishant Sharma for 5 off 23 balls. Simon Katich was next to go, bowled by the leg-spinning debutant, Amit Mishra. Mishra got the ball to hit the edge of the pad, bounce off Katich’s body and clang into the stumps. There was a fair amount of rip in that delivery to cause the damage.

Things may have been worse for Australia had Dhoni latched on to a difficult catch off the edge of Michael Hussey’s bat off Harbhajan Singh’s bowling. But that wasn’t to be. Harbhajan Singh was getting some turn although he tended to look for bounce more than turn, in my view. Amit Mishra was bowling well too.

But what was most surprising was the amount of reverse swing Zaheer Khan was getting. The only thing that the Australian bowlers had swung in India’s first innings was their hips! But here, Zaheer Khan was getting a fair amount of swing.

It is Australia’s mindset that was most un-Australian. As I have said on a few occasions in the past, once Australia loses that dominance-mindset, much more than just runs are lost. Other teams can sense an opportunity and start moving in; closing the gap. With Haddin, White and Watson to follow, Australian teams of the past will not have allowed the field to gradually move further and further in to take control of the game. This Australian team seems intent on “new age cricket” and what they got again was to put themselves into “defensive mindset”!

Australia had made 102-3 off 40.4 overs (at 2.49 rpo) when Michael Clarke was LBW off the last ball of the day. Amit Mishra went around the stumps and got a ball to just straighten a bit. As he had in Bangalore, when he fell off the last ball of the day, Clarke went again in Mohali. At 102-4 Australia are not totally out of it, but they are in trouble.

At the end of the day, the SBS Score reads [India 4.25, Australia 1.75].

End points:

If India can grab a few quick wickets on day-3, much of the debate will turn to whether or not India can/will enforce the follow-on! But Australia are not out of it yet. Australia bats deep and will be looking first at Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Cameron White to make some big scores. Haddin is a good player of spin and played well in Bengaluru. Australia will also look to the lower order to contribute strongly as India’s lower-order had, in Bengaluru. And Michael Hussey is… Michael Hussey!

Clearly, the first session of the day is going to be crucial for both teams!!

— Mohan

India Vs Australia :: 1st Test :: Bangalore :: Day-4

India started the day at 313 for 8, still well behind the Aussie total of 430. The Aussies still had upper hand in the game, but the situation could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the efforts of the Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan on day 3. India’s game plan would have been to occupy as much time at the crease as possible, add another 30-40 runs, and get Australia out for under 200 runs to have any remote chance of winning the game. Even if everything fell into place, it would be a tall order for a 5th day pitch.

Pre-lunch session

The first part of India’s plan went according to plan. They occupied the crease for another 18 overs and added a further 47 runs bringing the lead down to just 70 runs. Considering the fact that when Ganguly – the last recognized batsman, was out when the score was 232, it was great rear guard fight back. But for the last 3 wickets adding 128 runs, India would have been a lot worse. Zaheer Khan was  not out on 57, making him the highest scorer in the Indian camp to nicely go with his five wicket haul in the Australian first innings.

The Aussies were left with 6 overs to negotiate before the lunch break and there were a few nervous moments for the Aussies including a first over LBW shout of the bowling of Zaheer Khan. The Aussies went in with their score on 9 for no loss.

Post-lunch session

The Indian skipper didn’t take the field before the lunch session and he was again a notable absentee on the field. Dhoni was captaining the team and he started the session with Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. My initial thoughts were that he should have started the session again with Zaheer and Ishant, but in Harbhajan’s defense, he did bowl a lot better than he did in the first innings.

The over cautious, slow Aussie approach before the lunch break was understandable, but they continued in the same vein after lunch. The scoring rate by Australian standards was appalling. May be it had something to do with their “New Age Cricket” approach. Or may be it was the pitch. Or may be it was the Indian bowling. Or may be, it was a combination of all three as the scoring rate dipped to around 1.96 in the 26th over (51 runs).

But by that time, India had already scalped the two vital wickets of Hayden and Ponting. Zaheer had Hayden dismissed LBW for 13, while Ishant Sharma had Ponting caught at mid wicket for 17. Ponting’s dismissal was a beauty as he was outfoxed by a slower delivery from Ishant and ended up offering a low catch to Laxman.

At Tea, the Aussies were 74/2 in the 33 overs they had faced and the session clearly belonged to India.

Post-tea session

Earlier, in the post lunch session, Gambhir had dropped Katich of the bowling of Harbhajan Singh. After Tea, Harbhajan eventually got his man when Katich just prodded at a a flighted delivery that bounced a bit and lobbed a simple catch to silly point. He had occupied the crease a fair bit (140 balls), but had only scored 34 runs. His dismissal brought in Clarke who hit the very first ball for a boundary. I was starting to think that maybe having Katich at the crease was probably a good thing 🙂

But Ishant Sharma again bowled a slower delivery to Clarke and suckered him into driving straight into the hands of Sehwag. Australia at that stage were 115/4.

A few overs later, it was the turn of Hussey to go as he shoulderd arms to a ball pitched outside his off stump, only to see it turn in to hit his stump. It hit a crack on the way and turned like a Warnie leg break to have the Aussies reeling at 128/5 in the 51st over.

With the over all lead at just under 200 and the top order back in the pavilion, the Indians were seeing a glimmer of hope. But the pair of Haddin and Watson had other plans. There were quite a few dropped chances and streaky shots, but they managed to score runs and do it fast. At the end of the day, they had stretched the lead to 263.

Ponting must be hoping to score some quick runs in the first hour or so of play tomorrow before he declares leaving the Indians a score of around 330.

72 overs were enough for Ponting to claim the 10 Indian wickets for victory on the final day at Sydney last summer, but he was also criticized for being too cautious and delaying his declaration. He will have that on his mind before he does his declaration tomorrow, but then the Bangalore wicket is quite different to the Sydney one and the cracks in the pitch are also widening up. And just as India was a bowler short for most of the day (Kumble was off the field for a major portion of the day and is bowling with an injury), the Aussies may be short of a full strength bowling attack as Stuart Clark is apparently carrying an injury too.

At this stage though, only 2 results seem likely – either an Australian victory or a draw. Unless the Indians pull a rabbit out of the hat…

-Mahesh-