Tag Archives: Munaf Patel

Going Places. A book-review.

Going Places : India’s Small-Town Cricket Heroes, by K.R. Guruprasad.

From gully cricket to Team India

I was at Landmark, browsing books, hoping to buy some books that would help me spend some alone-time in this new place I’ve now moved into, far from home. Lying in a small heap in “Sports Section”, was this book, the photograph on its cover, gripping my attention. Set my hands on it, read the title, bought it.

We, in India, love to play cricket. Anywhere. I’ve played cricket inside my house, on the staircase of my apartment, in the garage, between cars, in my classroom, in school corridors, on the streets, in football grounds, basketball courts, ofcourse in cricket grounds, and have also approved of a couple of bathrooms being large enough to play the game; and also told my colleague in office that the aisle between our cubicles seem to beg us to play cricket. This book tells us how kids who once played like this in small towns, with tennis balls, made it big. It is a fairy tale story for some, bed of thorn for some others.

Author, K.R. Guruprasad, from Bellary, tells us how he enjoyed the game as a kid, when the local cricket club had the best ever players one can see, and how it seemed pointless at that point for anyone playing the game to represent the country, as there cannot be any more pride than playing for the local club you grew up watching. Things changed with television age. And the world cup victory. He tells us how people could’ve watched the ’83 WC if they went to big cities, like Madras. But the rest of India had to manage with radio, which would at that age allot a minimal time to cricket inbetween its regular programs.

How the author takes us from this introduction to setting before us eleven players from the rural pockets of India who have made a name for themselves at the international stage (or about to…) is magical. He travels from the urban metros to villages, from cricket academies in Bangalore, to sports hostels in Lucknow. He meets people who’ve helped cut to shape the diamonds we celebrate today as crowns of Indian cricket.

The XI listed in the book – Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Santhakumaran Sreesanth, Virender Sehwag, Ashok Dinda, Munaf Patel, Suresh Raina, R. Vinay Kumar, Iqbal Abdullah, Praveen Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja and Harbhajan Singh.

The books tells us all the hardship that cricket dreamers in the rural India have to face. The lack of facilities, lesser access to media to pronounce their performances to a larger audience, and lack of funds. What keeps them together, however, is their hard work. Sheer hard work. And some wonderful gem of people who actually took them to where they now are.

The books indirectly lists four factors have featured as major reasons to why we now see more cricketers from rural pockets play for Team India –

1. The New Ranji Trophy Format

Until the 2001/02 season, Ranji Trophy was zonal. But for the top bracket, rest of the teams would hardly get to play more than 3 or 4 games. It was harder to spot talent. Teams with better facilities would survive most rounds. Lesser teams would be eliminated without even facing big names, and hence always lying behind on quality. Delhi, Bengal, TN, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Karnataka would get to play more and perform more, as compared to Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Saurashtra or Kerala. Selectors saw the same faces more regularly, and cricketers from select regions were more likely to make it to the Indian team.

From 2002/03 season on, zonal system was abolished and Elite + Plate league was announced. Every team would play a league, and play as many games as any other team in their league, and play the big names. Competitiveness improved. The author gives UP as an example. UP favoured from the format change, then had a Ranji victory, then had Kaif, and that was a spring board for many more to follow – Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla, RP Singh, Praveen Kumar. Well, we’ve now even had a Plate League team win the Ranji Trophy.

2. The IPL

The IPL was an instant hunt for talent across all teams in the country, and some new names propped up on the screen, rubbing shoulders with big names. The new kids from the domestic circuits in the rural India now shared the glamour worn by international stars. They played with them, against them, and in the process learnt new art, made friends to fall back on for advice etc. What IPL gave them more than anything, was money, money to survive the toughness of rural reality. In the book, you will find examples to how the breakthrough of IPL has helped many families break even with the world and start living in peace.

3. Family, mentors and friends

Cricket was not a serious option in rural India, not sure if it is today either. Most families aren’t enthusiastic about investing money in their child’s cricket. But, there are some who can see that their kid has it in him to make it to the big level. If you read between the lines, you would actually realise that the “heroes” mentioned in the tagline for the title of this book is actually meant for the mentors. Amazing examples of mentors fill the pages of the book, who, through their whole hearted love for the game and the wards, has put new names on the Indian cricket team. Even today, amidst all the shine and gloss that pampers the cricketers, first thing they do once back home is visit their mentors, spend quality time with friends and enjoy the comfort of home. For the rural people, these kids have always been their heroes, since the day the kid broke their window pane 15 years ago. In urban, there are so many things on your mind, you never know if your neighbour is a hero until he makes an appearance on TV.

4. HARD WORK

The author says how the kids in rural region seemed to be extra hard-working. Yes, one has to work hard to survive in the game, but the ones from rural region have to put in extra effort to match players from urban India. The lack of state-of-art facilities, coaches and technology kept their progress rate slower than compatriots. But some broke through. Again, credits to mentors, first for spotting them, and then persisting with them alll through the good, bad and ugly stages of their life before the glory days started. Some coaches still offer tutorials free of cost, some recruit their wards from places 1000 miles away from home, and feed them in their home like their own sons. Such is the hard work and dedication from the mentors, you can only wonder how much they would extract off their wards.

The author tells us how these stars from rural regions have had to battle myriad difficulties in their life to reach the top. It was no rose bed. One was 45 days from leaving to Africa to earn a living and survive his family. One had given up on cricket and thought of becoming a truck driver in Canada. How right people find themselves in the right time in these people’s lives is explained beautifully. Giving up was something was an attitude that had to be removed from their minds, and was done well too.

Some anecdotes made me smile, some made me weep. If one has to learn something from this book, it is that nothing is reserved to the big cities. If you want something, your determination will take you to the top.

Excellent work by K.R. Guruprasad for having put together all this in one book, having traveled from hot and dry places to wet and sludgy streets, just to meet the people who would best paint the portrait of these cricketers we have now come to adore.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves Indian cricket.

“Going Places : India’s Small-Town Cricket Heroes”, by K.R. Guruprasad.
Penguin Books.
Rs. 199/-

(photo credit : Penguin Books)

– Bagrat

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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

Sri Lanka Vs India :: 1st ODI :: 28 Jan 2009

India won against Sri Lanka in the 1st match of this new ODI series without really breaking into a sweat. Ever since Sri Lanka lost Tilakaratne Dilshan in the very first over, the result was as clearly predictable as Munaf Patel’s excellence in the fielding facet of his game!

In the recent ODI games against Pakistan, Dilshan — the opener — has been a revelation for Sri Lanka. Dilshan’s opening role served several purposes. He provided the stability that allowed Jayasuriya the ability to free his arms at the top. Although Sangakkara provided similar stability to the Sri Lankan lineup, Sangakkara’s calm assurance at the #3 slot that few batsmen was lost to the Sri Lanka team. Sangakkara is now able to provide that assurance that few teams in world cricket can boast — Australia, with Ricky Ponting, excepted. With Dilshan opening, Sangakkara could now go back to the #3 slot.

Third, as the Cricinfo match report states, Dilshan “hid” the woefully out-of-form Jayawardene. It appears that when Jayawardene is out of form, the whole world knows it. He just seems to fall apart at the seams! Memories of the World Cup in 2003 come flooding back, where Jayawardene hardly seemed able to hit ball with bat and when he did, he popped a catch to a nearby fielder! The Sri Lankan captain is going through one of those patches at the moment and the sooner he comes out of it, the better it would be for the home team.

So, Dilshan’s early departure led to some over-cautious batting by the Sri Lankans. And the captains form — or lack of it — meant that Sahan Thilina Kandamby, playing in only his 8th ODI was sent in at #4 when Sangakkara got out. Kandamby scratched around for an eternity before getting out. And in the end, the Sri Lankan total was never going to enough despite another huge effort from the 39 year-old warhorse, Sanath Jayasuriya.

India bowled well in patches. I was quite amazed to see Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina get to bowl as many overs as they did! Together, they bowled 8 overs to Yusuf Pathan’s 7 overs and Munaf Patels’ 5 overs.

Perhaps this over-bowling of Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma stemmed from the fact that Dhoni knew the pitch was getting slower. Perhaps this stemmed from the fact that Munaf Patel was having a bad game with the ball. Perhaps this stemmed (although quite unlikely) from a perverse desire that Dhoni wanted a bigger challenge when batting? Perhaps this stemmed from a desire for Dhoni to have Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma more match-hardened as the tournament progressed to its later stages. All of this is quite speculative. The fact is that the two youngsters had a lengthy bowling stint. Considering that they bowled mainly to an in-form Jayasuriya, their 8 overs for 38 runs was an impressive effort.

Dhoni marshalled his resources excellently. He brought in Raina and Rohit Sharma an over or two after Sangakkara holed out to mid-wicket off a flighted teaser from Pragyan Ojha. Yusuf Pathan and Ojha were bowling at that time. Instead, knowing that Jayasuriya and Kandamby would be intent on consolidation prior to a PowerPlay launch, Dhoni extracted 8 overs from the two rookie bowlers.

Sri Lanka erred by calling for the PowerPlay only in the 38th over. By then, the two Indian trundlers had already bowled their 8 overs — including 4 with the “new” ball (taken in the 34th over). Ishant Sharma was brought on immediately when the PowerPlay was called and struck in his very first over by getting rid of Kandamby!

The Indian fielding was patchy. Although it was nice to see Yuvraj Singh fling himself around in the field, there were several balls that went through the legs or under the hands when the fielders did not bend their backs enough!

Munaf Patel comes across as a lazy fielder even on his best fielding day! Yesterday, he continued the trend of being lazy and ill-committed in the field. I can see India hurting badly through his fielding recalcitrance if it plays on a flat pitch and needs all fielders to be on their toes. Already with Zaheer Khan in the field, the Indian fielding unit has one fielder who could easily make the cut in the “World’s Top 20 Worst Fielders Club”. But then Zaheer Khan is an asset with the ball — and sometimes with the bat — and more than makes up for his sloppy fielding. In Munaf Patel, India has a weak fielder who doesn’t bat well and occasionally — like in yesterdays’ match — leaves his bowling acumen behind in the hotel room!

However, this was India’s first outing in this tournament. Moreover, India was coming off a short lay-off. So there are opportunities for these rough edges to be ironed out.

I must say that I do like the Indian team balance better if Irfan Pathan is playing in it — instead of Munaf Patel. I may even be tempted to play Rajinder Jadeja in a game or two ahead of Pragyan Ojha.

Although Kumar Dharmasena gave a shocker of an LBW decision to send Sachin Tendulkar packing, the result was never really in doubt. Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir batted with assurance and confidence. Even when they got out, the rest of the batsmen played with purpose and focus. Even the wily Muralitharan and the destructive Mendis could not make much of a dent.

I suspect India will go in with the same team for the next ODI.

— Mohan

Pointers from the Irani Trophy game…

Unless Gautam Gambhir and Aakash Chopra are able to pull a rabbit out of the hat, the 2008 edition of the Irani Trophy seems to be headed irrevocably to the cabinet of Team RoI.

The Irani Trophy has, in the past, been of significance for several players. I remember Dilip Vengsarkar and Kapil Dev using an Irani edition to propel their international careers.

With the Australia tour just around the corner and with some questions being asked of the Indian middle order, there was a similar opportunity in this edition for S. Badrinath and Mohammed Kaif. While I cannot say that Badrinath blew his chances, I don’t believe he enhanced his reputation too much. Having said this, he did make a composed 36 in the second dig. However, Mohammed Kaif, it must be said, has something missing in his internal circuitry. After getting out to an ugly hoik in the first innings, he had few answers in the second dig in a very short stay at the crease (out for a duck off his second ball). Wasim Jaffer did make a composed 50 in the first innings. However, I can’t see the selectors dislodge the Sehwag-Gambhir opening combination.

It was odd to see Rahul Dravid walk in as the RoI opener! As I mentioned in this blog a few weeks back when the RoI team was chosen, the team did not have a regular opener to partner Wasim Jaffer. When the initial team was announced, Parthiv Patel looked the likely opener. However, that option was discarded in favour of Dravid walking out with Wasim Jaffer.

Munaf Patel impressed for RoI. In Delhi’s first innings, Munaf Patel had fire, fluency and pace that made him a sit-up-and-notice bowler when he first hit the scene. He ran through the crease really smoothly and was nagging in his accuracy almost always. He suddenly looks to be an improved bowler. I am not sure what he has been doing, but it has worked. With Zaheer Khan bowling well and with Ishant Sharma not flagging in the wake of the many shampoo adverts he has had to appear in, the India pace bowling stock looks reasonable. In Delhi’s first innings, Munaf Patel sledged out Aakash Chopra. For some reason, in that spell, Munaf Patel was constantly mouthing off at the Delhi batsmen. The umpire got involved too and seemed to have a word with Anil Kumble, the RoI captain. Soon after that, Aakash Chopra and Munaf Patel exchanged words. In the very next over Chopra edged to the slips and Munaf Patel proceeded to execute a war-dance in front of the departing batsman! This incident is not mentioned in Aakash Chopra’s blog post on the game — I must say that I like Chopra’s writing and am looking forward to reading his soon-to-be-completed book.

Delhi has lodged a complaint against Munaf Patel. The hearing on Saturday morning, to be held by match referee Rajinder Jadeja, will attended by Virender Sehwag and Anil Kumble.

And so, it may be tempting for Anil Kumble to go in with 5 bowlers and restrict the batting order to 5 batsmen and Dhoni (Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni) for the 1st Test against the visiting Australians! This would be a risky option, especially with Laxman’s poor-show and Tendulkar’s no-show in the Irani trophy! I’d still go with the Badrinath option to provide some cushion in the middle order. Aaah! If only Irfan Pathan knew how to hold his bowling together for 6 consecutive months!

Meanwhile, here is a thought! Aakash Chopra seems to be playing with hunger and determination. He also appears to be a different cricketer these days. He has brought in an urgency to his batting and is more keen to keep the scorers engaged and involved, when previously, they would have reached for the pillow when he came in to bat! Now, if he produces a stunning knock on day-4 of the ongoing Irani Trophy game to assist Delhi to pull one out of the hat, would it not be conceivabe to imagine the following Team India line up for the Tests against Australia?

Chopra, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Laxman, Dhoni, Kumble, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Ishant

I do remember saying earlier on in this post, “I can’t see the selectors dislodge the Sehwag-Gambhir opening combination.” So yes. This is the romantic in me speaking. I do like Aakash Chopra’s gutsy approach to batting and fielding and would like to see him back in the mix for India one day.

Meanwhile Australia ‘A’ thrashed India ‘A’ in the tri-series final. The only thing this series confirmed is that Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik imploded totally. The two of them need a fair bit of time off the limelight with their respective clubs and state teams.

— Mohan

Team India for Sri Lanka series

India will play 3 Tests and 5 ODIs against Sri Lanka in a one-month tour that commences with a tour-game on July 18th.

The 16-member India Team for the tour has been announced.

The major surprise is that Virender Sehwag is vice-captain of the Test team!

After his comments on the idiocy of back-to-back games in the Asia Cup and after his comment that he was “running on reserve”, not unexpectedly, M. S. Dhoni, Team India Test vice-captain, has opted out of the Tests citing fatigue. Dhoni has been playing almost non-stop since India’s tour of England last year this time! He played in a long and arduous 80-day tour of England that commenced in June last year. This was immediately followed by the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa in which he captained Team India for the first time. He barely recovered from the celebrations that irked poor Andrew Symonds so much before he played the ill-tempered ODI series against Australia as captain of the ODI team! This was immediately followed by a Test and ODI series against Pakistan in India. Even before the Pakistan team had left Indian shores, Dhoni and his men were off on a fraught and testy two-month tour of Australia. The tour included 4 Tests and too many banal ODIs. This was immediately followed by a Test series against South Africa. We hardly had time to draw a collective breath with the IPL hit all metros in India! This was followed by a meaningless ODI tri-series in Bangladesh and then, the Asia Cup! This is a tremendous workload by any stretch of the imagination.

When Dhoni talked about the idiocy of back-to-back matches, the BCCI — always trigger-happy at the best of times — jumped up and down in unison and snorted that “any tired player should inform the Board”. Dhoni did and made himself unavailable for Sri Lanka.

The break would do him good. It would certainly save him from a burn-out situation.

While this may dent India’s chances in the Tests, it certainly provides an opportunity for Dinesh Karthik to step up to the plate. Interestingly, Parthiv Patel is Karthik’s deputy!

Apart from that forced change, there were a few smart inclusions, a few smart exclusions and one or two surprises!

Rohit Sharma comes in for Yuvraj Singh. I do think that that is a smart move. Yuvraj Singh, one feels, must regain his mojo. And a good place to start would be to get his dodgy knee fixed. It is, one feels, affecting his confidence. One rarely sees him diving around on the park these days. A fully fit Yuvraj Singh is also a confident Yuvraj Singh.

Irfan Pathan has also been axed. Once again, I think this is a good move. It may be better for him to head back to the MRF Pace Foundation for running repairs when he feels that he may be losing form and shape than when it has already fallen apart at the seams.

A surprise inclusion was Pragyan Ojha, in my view. Dilip Vengsarkar has always retained his fascination for left-arm spinners and has bemoaned the lack of quality left-armers in India. This may be an attempt to get Ojha into the frame in a major way. While I do like the look of Ojha, I am not sure he will play. So he may end up being a passenger on this tour. The experience will do him good though.

And finally, after a string of stirring performances in ODIs, Gautam Gambhir gets the nod ahead of Wasim Jaffer who, one felt, messed up one chance too many!

The one gripe I have is over the selection of Munaf Patel. I am not really sure what he has done to deserve this selection. Maybe he has shown signs of improved fitness. In any case, unless Zaheer Khan breaks down mid-tour (always a likely scenario) I do not see Munaf Patel do much else other than carry drinks and towels.

Overall, I do feel that this is a good selection effort. The team (in possible batting order) is:

Virender Sehwag (Vice-captain)
Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly / Rohit Sharma
Vangipurappu Laxman
Dinesh Karthik (‘keeper) / Parthiv Patel (‘keeper)
Anil Kumble (captain)
Harbhajan Singh / Pragyan Ojha
Zaheer Khan / R. P. Singh
Ishant Sharma / Munaf Patel

It is good to see India go on a tour with 16 players.

If India want to include an extra bowler option — an option that may well be necessary — Gambhir would have to make way for Karthik at the top of the order.

— Mohan

What’s the team for Australia going to be?

I am sure there is strong reason for postponing the the team selection for the tour of Australia.  But as I mentioned in an earlier post, I don’t see any reason to name 24 probables to only cull the list a week later – they might as well have waited a few more days and named the actual team.

In any case, here is the list of 24 players –

Batsmen Bowlers Keepers
Jaffer Kumble Dhoni
Tendulkar RP Singh Karthik
Dravid Munaf Patel Parthiv Patel
Ganguly Zaheer Khan  
Laxman VRV Singh  
Yuvraj Singh Pankaj Singh  
Chopra Ishant Sharma  
Gambhir Murali Karthik  
  Harbhajan Singh  
  Piyush Chawla  
  Bose  
  Pathan  
  Agarkar  

 

It is funny how the probables list has 13 bowlers, even more than the batsmen and wicket keepers combined.

The ones in italics are certain to tour – Jaffer, Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Kumble, RP Singh, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Dhoni. That leaves room for another 5 players. I would think that of the 16 players – the break down would be 7 batsmen, 7 bowlers and 2 keepers.

Based on that, there is room for just one regular batsman and based on current form, this is most likely to go to Gambhir although Chopra has prior experience playing in Australia. My preference would have been Sehwag, but he is not in the mix here.

Of the bowlers – taking more than 2 spinners would be a luxury, so Murali Karthik and Chawla will have to miss out. For the other 3 spots, Munaf should get the nod ahead of the others and Pathan may be picked based on his all round ability. The other seamer slot is a tough one to pick. As Ishant Sharma was picked for the last test, it is very likely that he may get the nod ahead of the others, but Agarkar has a knack of getting into the team when you least expect him to.

I really don’t expect the fifth player to play any games unless the others are injured. Why not have an  extra batsman instead? My preference would be Sehwag, but he is not in the mix here. Did I say that already? Doesn’t matter how many times I say it – he is unlikely to be included now. Maybe, the selectors should think of including someone like Badrinath in team. Oh, he is not in the list of 24 either! Oh, well…The only option the selectors have is to pick Chopra, and this may very well happen.

The 2nd keeper is probably not that easy to pick either. Parthiv Patel is in very good nick in domestic cricket and has played well when he has represented India A and Karthik has had a poor run with the bat in the current series. Parthiv Patel has played in Australia before and he plays the pull and cut quite well, which could come in handy down under. But, if the selectors still have faith in Karthik based on his showing in England he still has a chance of making it to the squad. He is my also my choice ahead of Parthiv Patel.

Assuming that the players who missed out the last test are all declared fit, here is what the team would end up looking –

Jaffer, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni, Karthik, Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Ishant Sharma/Chopra.

-Mahesh-

Ranji player watch – After round 1

Round 1 of the Ranji matches have finished, and here is how the players in my Player watch series (batsmen, bowlers and all rounders) went –

S Badrinath 72*
A Chopra 16 and 32
S Raina 203
M Tiwary 203
C Pujara 64 and 109
M Vijay 4
M Kaif 4
R Bose 1 for 83 and 0 for 45
M Patel 2 for 22
YoMahesh 1 for 81
P Chawla 1 for 44 and 3 for 89
69
P Ojha 4 for 151
35
R Ashwin 6 for 133
51*
I Abdulla 0 for 39 and 3 for 73
P Patel 49 and 62
J Sharma 4 for 64 and 2 for 57
7 and 16

 

Of the lot, Raina and Tiwary had outstanding double centuries. Badrinath came out to bat in spite of food poisoning and shows the kind of commitment he has. Pujara has also played to his potential in round 1 scoring a 50 and a hundred. As the list shows there are some notable failures like Kaif, Bose and Chopra, but this is just the first game of the season…

Of the others not in my list, but whom I am still watching, Pankaj Singh took a ten wicket haul –  5 for 43 in the first innings and 5 for 110 in the second.

-Mahesh-