Tag Archives: Murali Kartik

Team India for Australian Test Series :: Virender Sehwag in!

In a surprise move, Virender Sehwag has been drafted in to the Indian Test team for the 4-Test tour of Australia!

Sehwag wasn’t in the initial list of 24-probables. However, he got the call ahead of Gautam Gambhir who has been advised three weeks rest with a sore shoulder. The Indian fan cannot be blamed for being a tad cynical of these mysterious injuries that do have a habit of troubling Indian players when tough selectorial decisions have to be made! And here we have yet another instance of a mysterious injury rearing its ugly head again!

Ian Chappell did write a few days back that the Indian selectors erred in not picking Sehwag in the initial list of 24 probables. Were the selectors swayed by his outpourings? Were they honest outpourings or was it a red-herring? One never knows. Many on this blogsite too felt that Sehwag ought to have been included. However, this move to induct him from outside the list of 24 makes a bit of a mockery of the whole selection process. In particular, Aakash Chopra would be right to feel a bit miffed at the craziness of the selection process! Having said that, I do think that Sehwag’s choice is a smart decision. He has performed well against Australia and his aggression at the top will work well for India. One slight problem is that he hasn’t been setting the Ranji world alight with his bat in recent times.

The 16-member squad also includes Pankaj Singh, the young Rajasthan pacer. This is again, in my view, a smart move. He has bowled impressively in the U-19 squad and has started his Ranji season well this year. Pankaj Singh ejects Munaf Patel from the team. Patel has been advised to play more domestic cricket.

If nothing else, Pankaj Singh’s pick can be seen as a smart move because the unhealthy ghost of Ajit Agarkar was hovering around in the list of probables 🙂

Ishant Sharma probably picks himself after a decent showing in the 3rd Test against Pakistan. However, as I said in my post yesterday, a day after bagging the world record for the maximum number of byes in a Test innings, Dinesh Kartik can consider himself a tad lucky to be on the plane, although it is probably the right decision in my view.

Team India (probably in batting order for the 1st Test):
Wasim Jaffer
Virender Sehwag / Dinesh Karthik
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly
VVS Laxman / Yuvraj Singh
Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk)
Anil Kumble (capt)
Irfan Pathan / Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Ishant Sharma / RP Singh / Pankaj Singh

A good selection effort in my opinion especially when considered in the background of the recent form that V. V. S. Laxman an Sourav Ganguly have shown. Sourav Ganguly, in my view, is in the form of his life. Although I have always been an unabashed Ganguly-fan, I can say — with a degree of objectivity — that I haven’t seen him bat as effectively, doggedly and in as determined a manner as I have seen in the last 6 months or so. Of course, all of this can come to naught in the bouncy pitches of Australia. However, his defence has tightened. He doesn’t hang his bat out to dry outside off as often as he used to. And more than ever before, he has developed a dogged mental edge to his game.

The team appears to be right for Australia.

  • The right batsmen are there.
  • Ishant Sharma is peaking at the right time.
  • A rookie pacer like Pankaj Singh is better than a break-down specialist (Munaf Patel) especially when the break-dance specialist is injured! Pankaj Singh will learn a lot from this tour even if he doesn’t get a game.
  • Ajit Agarkar is not there!
  • Virender Sehwag’s omission from the initial 24 was befuddling. He just had to go. He is.
  • The team has only 2 spinners — the second spinner would be mostly irrelevant on this tour apart from, perhaps, Sydney.
  • The captain is a good one.

Anil Kumble appears to be captaining the team well, although I will point out that he delayed the declaration in todays’ 3rd Test against Pakistan by about 10 overs. A ruthless captain would not have waited for a teammate — Dinesh Karthik in this case — to score a 50 in Test cricket! However, he has shown enough inventiveness and aggression to convince me that his “better late than never” quip on being chosen as Team India captain is a truism of sorts!

However, there is no time for the team to settle and for that, once again, the BCCI should take a bow. Team India has to play its Test XI in the 2-day tour match – the only practice game before the Melbourne Test match!

— Mohan

India lose match — win series

India lost the final match of the ODI series against Pakistan in Jaipur. The key interest for me in this game was the see how the team fared in the absence of Sourav Ganguly, Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Harbhajan Singh. For me the other interest in this game was to see how Praveen Kumar played in his first ODI.

Overall, although India lost the match, they can take away a lot from this series. In the main, the form of Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh are major positives from this series. Although Robin Uthappa failed — and failed quite badly — in last nights’ game, I think his forceful presence in the death-overs is a major positive for India too.

Yuvraj Singh has been in sublime form and would be justifiably upset if he is left out of the Test team for the first Test against Pakistan, which commences on 22 November (at Ferozeshah Kotla, Delhi). Harbhajan Singh has bowled quite brilliantly through the tournament too. Although I will admit readily that one should not blindly take ODI form to be a true estimate of Test-match-form, the pointers are certainly good for both Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh. Both of them have made compelling cases for inclusion in the Test side.

The main positive from this series has been the stunning form of Sachin Tendulkar. Through two scores in the 90s and a few other short stays at the crease, Sachin Tendulkar appears to have hit peak form at the right time — just prior to three imporant back-to-back series; against Pakistan, Australia and South Africa. The signs are definitely good.

Praveen Kumar had a decent day at the office yesterday. Although one would be disappointed with his batting, he is definitely capable of more with the bat. He kept a cool head while bowling at the death overs and the fact that his captain had enough faith in him to ask him to bowl 3 of the last 5 overs means that he should have a reasonably long stint in India’s ODI team.

The two disappointments for India would be the indifferent form of Virender Sehwag and Murali Kartik. After a brilliant showing against Australia, Murali Kartik appears to have faded somewhat in this series. One expected Sehwag to set the ground ablaze with his new found hunger and tighter technique. However, while he looked good in the Gwalior game, he threw away a brilliant opportunity in last nights’ game with a mind-explosion. Both Virender Sehwag and Murali Kartik may have lost the opportunity to board the plane to Australia.

We may be tempted to blame the umpire for turning down several LBW appeals that India made that looked much closer than the one that Gautam Gambhir got. We may be tempted to blame the umpire for the shocker that Yuvraj Singh received — his subsequent dissent, justifiably earned him a visit to the Match Referees’ Office and a fine. However, the fact remains that Pakistan played smarter cricket on the day and deserve the applause.

Yesterday’s match also saw two debut performances in the Pakistan team. Both Sarfaraz Ahmed, the wicketkeeper, and Fawad Alam, the allrounder, came out of the game with an increase in their stock. Pakistan will possibly go into the first Test in more buoyant spirits now.

— Mohan

Team India for Pakistan Tests

The selectors chose a 14-member India that is not too different from that which was suggested on this blog a few days back. The 15-member side that we had suggested included Irfan Pathan. Gautam Gambhir was left out.

Interestingly, Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of the selection team, handed the team out in a media release and did not address the media as he normally does.

The team is (perhaps in batting order):

Dinesh Karthik
Wasim Jaffer
Rahul Dravid
Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly
VVS Laxman / Yuvraj Singh
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Anil Kumble (capt)
Harbhajan Singh / Murali Kartik
Zaheer Khan
Sreesanth / RP Singh

— Mohan

Likely team for India-Pakistan 1st ODI

And so, another series starts today in India. India play a 5-match ODI series against Pakistan with todays’ first game being played at Guwahati.

oN paper, India appear to start as favourites in the ODI series — at least, in the judgement of Rameez Raja and Sanjay Manjrekar! And I think that is fair enough. The team is more settled under its new captain who seems to exude confidence with every game. Despite the dropping of Rahul Dravid, they have a more settled team that has just been through a tough series against Australia. Although Pakistan have come through a tough series against South Africa, there is an unsettled look to the team and one never knows what Shoaib Akhtar’s presence will do in the dressing room.

This is the team that I think India should go with.

Sachin Tendulkar
Sourav Ganguly (Gautam Gambhir)
Virender Sehwag (Rohit Sharma)
Yuvraj Singh
Robin Uthappa
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Irfan Pathan
Praveen Kumar
Harbhajan Singh
R. P. Singh (Murali Kartik)
Zaheer Khan (Sreesanth)

My team selection is motivated by a few factors. The early start would necessitate the inclusion of a few pace options. The game commences at 8.30am so that the game can complete by 4.30pm, when the sun starts to set in these parts! Why play in these parts at this time of the year may be a question that one could conceivably pose. But given that the recepient of such questions would be the BCCI and a certain Niranjan Shah, “save breath” would be a safe alternative to a poser that would definitely be met with nothing more than a vague retort!

The ground at Guwahati is, at about 60 yards, quite small by international standards. Dhoni, in his pre-match said, “This is one of the grounds where we could have extended the boundary ropes.” Given this, I doubt India will go with two spinners.

I’d play Virender Sehwag who is supposed to be in “good nick” according to his captain. Unfortunately, this will mean that Gautam Gambhir misses out.

Given the early start and the possible dewey conditions, I would also play the new-lad, Praveen Kumar in the team. However, I feel that the Praveen Kumar play may be a bridge too far for this team. The team may go down the safety-path and select Sreesanth or Murali Kartik instead of this young, capable allrounder who was recently described to be as being “in the James Hopes mould”.

— Mohan

India win the Twenty20 tie convincingly…

India won the Twenty20 tie in Mumbai in convincing fashion. They played like the World Champions they are in this form of the game.

Peter I-may-be-one-eyed-but-at-times-I-am-also-blind Lalor, dismisses the game as a Bollywood drama, in his piece in The Australian. But I will persist with reading Lalors’ outpourings. I am, like John I-am-the-only-true-optimist-in-Australia Howard, an eternal optimist! My hope is that he will grow up one day to see that there is a world out there beyond the edge of his own nose!

Despite the best efforts of the Lalors to downplay and downgrade this Australian loss — afterall, the Lalors have to find succour in something when their team loses — this was an impressive win. Despite the utter lack of grace in defeat in their writings, this was a solid performance from India. When India batted, it seemed that they were in total control. Not for once did I think India would lose. Friends of mine switched off their TV sets of drifted off to sleep even as early as the 11th over of the Indian reply. It was that obvious that Australia had run out of ideas; it was that clear that India would win! Such was India’s dominance when batting.

Normally, Indian TV sets are turned off because of disgust at the teams’ performance! Not so on Saturday! One saw a totally relaxed and playful Indian dug out. The players seemed confident, cheerful and playful.

Lalor can continue to turn his nose at the Twenty20 game. I am confident that he would have filed a different report had Australia won and that is why I feel he needs to stop wearing nappies when he writes. Moreover, he sniggers at this victory and at this form of the game at his own peril. This form of the game is here to stay.

My view is that Australia hasn’t understood this game. It is not that this form of the game does not present a stage where skill could be demonstrated. It is not that teams with more muscle and no skill will win. Any such conclusions would be wrong — and would be in the growing dictionary of Lalorisms! It does, however, shorten the gap between the best and worst teams because intensity-levels need to be switched on for a relatively shorter period of time.

Australia, one felt, got it wrong by selecting the wrong team for this game. I could not quite understand why Brad Hogg sat this game out. It is somewhat known that the Indian players do not rate Hogg’s spin too highly. Most players are, apparently, able to read Hogg vry well and ascribe the wickets he has got mainly to the fact that Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson have often made the early inroads. Be that as it may, I do feel Hogg would have created more pressure on the Indians than the bowling complement that Australia had for this game.

Australia also lacked the intensity in this game — especially when India batted. Apart from Ricky Ponting, the other batsmen appeared to be trying too hard. They did not play with their customary swagger and confidence that one has got so accustomed to.

And who knows? Brad Hodge may have played his last game for Australia. He has had a nightmare of a month and will want to put this behind him. Age is not on his side either!

After Australia won the toss and elected to bat, the Indian bowling and fielded was what can best be described as an “Indian effort”. Apart from Harbhajan Singh and, to a lesser extent, Murali Kartik, the rest of the bowlers bowled too many “gimme” balls. The worst culprit in this department was Sreesanth. A different team or even a different Australia would have taken this ill-disciplined attack apart. However, the wrong Australia turned up to the park on the day and India got away with a highly gettable 167!

The Indian batting was clinical, controlled, fearless and purposeful. Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa and Yuvraj Singh batted with composure and calmness that meant that India did an Australia and won in a canter.

In fact, it looked like the players had exchanged clothing at the start of the game! While India played with flair, purpose and intensity, Australia played without a plan, with flagging spirits and displayed some ordinary fielding and bowling. The bowling was mostly off target and the number of wides and no-balls reflect that. The fielding was also somewhat ordinary.

A question has to be asked: Why won’t this same team do for the ODIs against Pakistan?

In an interesting move, India rested Zaheer Khan. And that is the sort of courage that Team India needs in its selection as it moves forward into a brave new world.

Another topic for another day…

— Mohan

Team India for 5th ODI @ Vadodhra

India is often loathe to change a winning combination unless real (or make-believe) injury forces their hand. However, I have a feeling that a change or two may be necessary to the India team that beat Australia in Chandigarh.

Option-1: Rest Zaheer Khan for Sreesanth

Despite a tight last over in the Chandigarh match, Zaheer Khan has not been bowling as sharply as he can. Even though we should acknowledge that he is bowling at Hayden and Gilchrist — both champion players — he has looked off-colour. Moreover, with Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Irfan Pathan the bowling has a “sameness” look to it. With that in mind, it may not be a bad idea to bring in Sreesanth for Zaheer Khan.

Option-2: Rest Dravid for Badrinath or Rohit Sharma

The Vadodhra pitch is known to be a turner. An additional off-spinner in the form of Badrinath, would be a useful option to go with. Of Rohit Sharma and Bardrinath, I’d go for the latter because his off-spin is generally quite sound — perhaps more sound than the options Rohit Sharma provides with his bowling. This option may gain more credibility in light of the fact that Dravid hasn’t really looked in great touch in this series thus far.

Option-3: Combine option-1 and option-2

This would be my preferred team for this all-important match. Apart from strenghthening the bowling, this option would also strengthen the fielding! However, I do not believe Team India will go with this. It is most likely that the same winning-team will play this match too. But if I had my druthers I’d go with the following team:

Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh (vice-captain), Robin Uthappa, S. Badrinath, MS Dhoni (captain), Irfan Pathan, Murali Kartik, Harbhajan Singh, S Sreesanth, RP Singh.

Substitutes: Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan.

— Mohan

Badrinath makes the cut…

S. Badrinath, the stylish Tamil Nadu middle-order bat and captain, gets the call up for the 5th ODI thanks to a groin injury that Gautam Gambhir sustained at training.

We had, earlier this year, profiled S. Badrinath on this blogsite. Mahesh profiled Badrinath as well as a slew of other playets in his excellent “Future Prospects” series.

Also read a profile of (and interview with) Badrinath on Rediff.

Unlike Murali Kartik, Badrinath wasn’t surprised by the call up! “I’d say it has come at the right time“, he said!

I’d be very surprised if Badrinath gets a go in the next game, but I think he could, if Sachin Tendulkar is still injured. Tendulkar did not take the field in yesterdays’ game but the team management put it down to a “minor niggle”.

I have a feeling that India will go with the same combination that yielded the team its first win of the series. I’d have been tempted to bring back Sreesanth for the (initially) erratic R. P. Singh. But the Singh perhaps redeemed himself through those two tight end-overs.

— Mohan

India Vs Australia, 4th ODI, Chandigarh, 8 Oct 2007

This was a terrific victory for India. The host has now kept the series alive with this backs-to-the-wall win.

India Innings Start
India won the toss and for the first time in this series, batted first. This was a high-risk strategy because of the early-start, the cloud-cover and a somewhat shaky batting lineup. But full marks to Dhoni for having made the call to bat first. The strategy appeared to be to hold down one end and take more risks at the other. And the start typified this strategy! The score at the end of the first 5 overs was 13-0. Off these, 6 were from extras! There was a lot of movement off the seam for Bracken and Lee. Sachin Tendulkar was lucky to be there. He survived an LBW shout as well as a caught behind appeal. The bowlers bowled with pace and pitched it up, allowing the ball to do its thing. But by and large, the doctor ordered stay-on-at-the-crease and that’s what the Indian openers did, in the hope that the pitch would ease up. While Sourav Ganguly opened up a bit after this first lot of 5 overs, Tendulkar continued to play well within himself and also, quite unusually, with minimal confidence. The 6th over produced two 4s for Ganguly. It seemed like the southpaw had a measure of the swing and bounce. In the next over off Lee though, as if to counter the positive intent shown by Ganguly, Tendulkar had another huge LBW appeal turned down. For a man who had had a horrible time of it of late with umpires, Tendulkar was almost on his 4th innings by now! He had to make the best of the chances he had been given. In the midst all of this Tendulkar drama, Ganguly was playing cleverly. Tendulkar had made 6 runs off 33 balls at one stage! India were 47-0 at the end of 12 overs, a score that had 13 wides in it already! When India won the toss, they’d have set a target of 60-0 off 15 overs. At the end of 15 overs, India had made 68-0 off and Tendulkar had made 18 off 47 balls. and Ganguly had made 36 off 43.

Australia did not take their 3rd Power Play immediately; one sensed that they wanted a wicket. But they didn’t get it from 4 overs of spin and took the 3rd PowerPlay in the 20th over. Then, just when things were looking easy for India, against the run of play, Ganguly departed, caught behind off Hopes for 41 off the last ball of the 20th over. India were 91-1 at the end of the 20th over of which 23 were extras! This was a very un-Australian show from the point of view of sundries.

In a surprise move, Yuvraj Singh, the local boy walked in at #3. Perhaps the view was that Yuvraj Singh was the man in form and needed a longer stint at the crease, especially since the foundation was solid. Moreover, it would have continued the left-right contribution. In the main, I think the strategy from the Indians was the hold one end down while they were prepared to take more risks at the other end. Thus, if Tendulkar had got out, perhaps we would have seen Rahul Dravid.

At the end of the 25th over India were 112-1, a scoring rate of just under 4.5; a good platform for India to build from. But in the next period of 5 overs, Brad Hogg and Andrew Symonds bowled tightly and kept the Indian batsmen in check such that, at the end of the 30th, India were 134-1. At this stage, Yuvraj Singh had made 16 off 32 balls and Tendulkar had 58 off 90. Soon after, Tendulkar had his 50 off 91 balls and India were 172-1 at the end of 35 overs. They were almost at 5 runs an over.

But all it took was a few tight overs and Yuvraj Singh, in a rush off blood, spooned a catch to Ponting at cover off Hopes to depart for a well-made 39 off 55 balls. M. S. Dhoni promoted himself up the order. Again, my assumption is that, if Tendulkar had got out we’d have seen Dravid there to hold up one end. India were 202-2 from 40 overs.

Sledge-match
The previous ODI had seen Australia and India reign in the clowns. However, the 40th over saw 15 runs and a sledge-match between Tendulkar and Symonds! Now, I’ve been watching Indian cricket for a long time now and this is perhaps the first time (after Tendulkar sledged Glen McGrath in Kenya) that Tendulkar was involved in a public slang-match. And it took one mad clown to get him involved. And so, where’s that “Spirit of Cricket” and where’s that “respect” that Shaun Tait talked about?

End of the Indian innings
After a few good overs, once again against the run of play, Tendulkar was run out for 79 off 119 balls. He paddle-swept the ball to Brett Lee at short-fineleg and set off for a single as a loud appeal emanated. He was sent back by M. S. Dhoni but couldn’t beat a direct throw from Brett Lee. And like the previous times, whenever India looked to get ahead, the Aussies pulled it back with some good bowling or a wicket. At the end of 45 India were 235-3 meaning India only got 33 runs in that 5-over block from over 40 to over 45. Thanks to some hard hitting by Uthappa and Dhoni in the end, India reached a score of 292. The last 5 overs had yielded 57 runs. This was a strong result that was based on a solid foundation, absolute lack of panic at any stage and largesse from the Australians in the form of 39 extras — of which 31 were wides!

Record number of extras
If I am not mistaken, 39 extras is one run short of a record for the Australians. Their previous highest tally appears to be the 40 that they gave against Sri Lanka at Sydney in 2003. The huge number of wides they gave away in this match, which fell short of an Australian record by one run, was in part due to a bad day at the office for Adam Gilchrist!

Australia commence brilliantly
In their chase, the Australians showed their astuteness by keeping the singles going constantly. And they showed power and control too. While India waited until the last ball of their 50th over to hit their first and only six of their innings, Australia hit a six in the 4th over itself. And another on in the 5th over. While India had 13-0 off its first 5 overs, Australia had 37-0. Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh had started awfully and the Australian openers had started brilliantly. But off the first ball of the next set of 5 overs, Gilchrist tried one pull down leg too many and his wicket was purchased — caught on the deep square leg boundary by Zaheer Khan off R. P. Singh for 18 off 17 balls.

But the start was brisk and brilliant. India were 68-0 off 15 overs. Australia were 75-1 off 10 overs! Sixteen runs had been scored off the 10th over by R. P. Singh to Ponting who had been struggling up until then. Even counting for the additional wicket that India had got by this stage, this was an amazing start by Austrlia. Both the Indian opening bowlers sprayed the ball around like millionaires.

At the end of the 10th over, India went into the 2nd PowerPlay with 2 players outside the ring. They should have, one felt, gone with spin for an over or two to slow things down. But Dhoni pressed on with pace and the 2nd PowerPlay. Indeed in the 11th over, one could hear Dhoni say “thoda dheere daalna” (“slow things down a bit”) to Irfan Pathan. This made sense as R. P. Singh and Zaheer Khan had been banging things in a bit too much.

India missed a great opportunity of running out Hayden in the 15th over. There seemd to be a single to be had off almost every ball! This was certainly a highlight of the Australian batting. What was particularly disappointing was the fielding by almost all bowlers off their own bowling!

At the end of the 15th over, Australia were 106-1. In contrast, India were 91-1 at the end of the 20th. In other words, by this stage, Australia was about 6-7 overs ahead and were making an absolute mockery of the target!

Ponting brings the game into disrepute?
Ponting was out thanks to a brilliant bit of stumping by Dhoni off Pathan. Pontings’ befuddled look at square-leg, as umpire Shastri brought the 3rd umpire in, suggested a mistrust of umpire Shastri who referred the decision to 3rd umpire Pratapkumar. But, as commentators say often, when they are in cliche-overdrive, “the line belongs to the umpire” and Pontings’ foot was on the line.

The question that must be asked is whether or not Ponting brought the game into disrepute through his on-field and off-field antics? Will Chris Broad bring him to task or will Ponting receive yet another note of congratulations from the Match Referee?

Australia march on towards victory
With that dismissal, the momentum had shifted slightly. A few tight overs would bring things back. And that’s what Harbhajan bowled in the 20th over. Australia had 124-2 at the end of the 20th. India were India were 112-1 off 25 overs! Again, Australia appeared to be about 6 overs ahead at this stage. Despite Michael Clarke’s departure, the runs kept flowing and by the 25th over, Australia had reached 150. The Australians were going at 6 an over! India needed Murali Kartik to bowl well; to bowl tight and pick up a wicket or two. However, in his initial overs, Murali Kartik didn’t spin the ball much and speared the ball in quite regularly. The one time he flighted the ball, Symonds took him for 6!

At this stage, Australia had a let off when Symonds was given not out — caught behind off Harbhajan Singh. That would have changed the complexion of the game dramatically. However, that was not to be and at the end of 30 overs Australia was 174-3. Murali Kartik was bowling some decent and some ordinary stuff and R. P. Singh had started his 2nd spell with three wides — this typified his day really.

Hayden’s brain explosion
So after just one over, Irfan Pathan was back! India needed some tight overs and maybe even a wicket! A tight over from Pathan indeed followed. This perhaps resulted in Hayden having to take a few risks off Murali Kartik, who bowled brilliantly. He was helped by Hayden having a brain explosion to hole out to Zaheer Khan in the deep. Hayden had made a powerful 92 runs off 92 balls. And Murali Kartik was starting to bowl well. What was required was some tight stuff at the other end. But R. P. Singh continued to spray it. His wide-count kept increasing. Australia had made 196-4 off 35. At the same stage, India were 172-1 at the end of 35 overs. Perhaps Australia were about 4 overs ahead.

The next 5 overs saw Kartik improving. He was bowling with a better rhythm particularly since Hodge was at the crease. At the end of 40, Australia were 222-4. India were 202 at this stage! So Australia were probably still 4 overs ahead at this stage. But India still had 2 R. P. Singh overs to bowl!

India crawl back into the game
Dhoni then stumped Hodge brilliantly off a Harbhajan wide down legside. India were probably better off with Hodge there! He was scratching around and kept India in the game! But that was a brilliant stumping by Dhoni — yet again! He is having a terrific series as a ‘keeper and captain.

R. P. Singh came on for the 45th over. India needed him to bowl well with Australia needing 42 runs from 6 overs. He gave just 4 runs off that over and this would have given Dhoni confidence to bowl him out from there on in. In his very next over, he bowled Symonds off a beauty. Australia needed 24 from 19 balls. Perhaps it was all a bit too late? Brad Hogg kept India in the game by charging down the wicket off the first ball he placed only to be run out — again by R. P. Singh!

I’d have thought that Zaheer Khan should have bowled the 48th over. But Murali Kartik bowled the 48th, his 10th over. He finished his spell well. He conceded only 2 runs off his last over and had given 48 runs and had taken 1 wicket in his spell. Australia needed 22 runs off 2 overs.

R. P. Singh bowled the 49th over; the last of his full quota of overs. He gave 6 runs off his last over and Australia needed 16 runs off the last over to be bowled by Zaheer Khan. For perhaps the first time in the match, Australia was under pressure! And they didn’t redeem themselves at all.

The series was brought alive.

Uphill task for India
India won and somehow Australia had gone on “to do an India”: they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory! I watched the entire game and it wasn’t until the last over that I thought India could win it — such was Australia’s dominance of the game. They controlled the game brilliantly in both bowling as well as batting. They never let India get away with the bat and were always — apart from the last over or two — in the drivers’ seat when batting.

So, if Indian fans start jumping up and down scenting an Indian comeback in this series, I’d like to submit a reminder that there is a lot of work to do.

— Mohan

India Team for 4th and 5th ODIs

The Indian selectors have announced the team for the 4th and 5th ODIs against Australia. It sees only one change to the team that played the first 3 ODIs. Murali Kartik, the left-arm spinner comes in for Romesh Powar.

This, in my view, is a future step into the past!

I accept an argument for a left-armer in the team. We probably need a spin bowler in the middle-overs that can take the ball away from the strong Australian right-handed middle order!

So what is Yuvraj Singh doing in the team then?

I accept that, at 30, Murali Kartik is perhaps a much more developed bowler now than he was a few years back. Why? He may even be the best left-arm-slow bowler in the land. For sometime now, Dilip Vengsarkar, the Chief Selector, has often bemoaned the state of left-arm slow bowling stocks in India. In the past, he and his team of selectors, which includes Venkatapathy Raju in its midst, have shown faith in Rajesh Pawar, the 28-year old Baroda/Mumbai bowler. Indeed, Pawar even went to Bangladesh earlier this year as part of the India team!

In the past few years, India has tried several left-arm-slow bowlers in a desperate bid to revive what has been a thriving art-form in India. In a land that has produced the likes of Bapu Nadkarni, Bishen Bedi, Dilip Doshi, Ravi Shastri, Maninder Singh and even Sunil Joshi and Venkatapathy Raju, the cupboard was thoroughly bare. The reason for Tendulkar’s difficulty with left-armers like Ashley Giles, Daniel Vettori, Paul Harris, Ray Price, et al, has been put down to the fact that India has lost its ability to groom left-arm-slow bowlers.

In the landmark 2001 series against Australia, India tried three left-arm trundlers in the three Tests — Rahul Sanghvi, Venkatapathy Raju and Nilesh Kulkarni (in that order, at Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai). It did not help that Sourav Ganguly had nothing but contempt for both left-arm-slow bowlers and Murali Kartik! Murali Kartik did play in Australia in 2003, but made a meal of his chances and was forgotten after that.

So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the search for that elusive leftie continues. However, two questions arise. Why continue this search in a high-powered-ODI series, and that too when the team is 0-2 down to an all-powerful and all-conquering Australian lineup?

Murali Kartik was himself surprised by the call-up! Despite a few successful county stints with Lancashire and Middlesex (this year) — he has been so successful at Middlesex this year that they have, reportedly, already signed him up for next years’ season — he has not been a part of the frame for an India comeback! The selectors have been grooming Pragyan Ojha and Rajesh Pawar instead. Recent representative teams have included Ojha, the Hyderabad left-armer and/or Pawar, the Baroda player. Murali Kartik wasn’t included in recent India-A teams or the RoI team for the Irani Trophy!

Given that scenario, Kartik is currently working as a TV media analyst in the Australia-India series!

Don’t get me wrong. Murali Kartik is, in my view, a good left-arm spinner — perhaps the best in India. But let us remember that this is not a Test series! Do we really think Murali Kartik will get a game? In whose place? And what does his presence do to team-balance? His presence, in my view, upsets balance. Of course, unless he replaces one of the bowlers? Sure, that is possible. But who will he replace? Zaheer Khan? Harbhajan Singh? Sreesanth?

Team balance screams for India to groom allrounders. Blind Freddie will tell you that. Instead of looking to the future to groom “allrounders” like S. Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary — a player who has put his hand up to be considered as an allrounder in recent times — Joginder Sharma or Praveen Kumar, a re-look at a player like Murali Kartik in the ODI framework appears to me to be a throwback to a dull and listless past.

Sure spinners mature late and I have no problem with Kartik playing matches. But ODIs? Especially in an environment where the key area where Team India hurts most — and this should be obvious to anyone following Indian ODIs in recent months — is in the area of team-balance affected by the lack of allrounders.

Ho hum!

— Mohan

England Vs India: Test 3 Day 2 — Team performance from Team India…

It was a magical day for Team India. Almost everything seemed to go according to plan. India ended her first innings on 664 and in reply, England are 24 for 1. England need a further 440 runs to make India bat again!

It was a day where India, in my calculations, won all 3 sessions. The session-by-session score card reads 5-0 in India’s favour and with 9 sessions left in the match, I strongly believe that India have helped eliminate one of the 3 possible results. I do not believe England can win from here. It will take something of heroic proportions for England to win this game; for that to happen, England would have to win all 9 remaining sessions and India will need to play remarkably badly. With a series win on the line, I can’t see India playing consistently badly for the remaining 9 session. While I am not that confident of an India win — thanks to the benign nature of the pitch — I believe that a thrilling draw may still be on the cards.

The one factor that could weigh in India’s favour is British pride. Peter Moores, the England coach said at the end of day-2, “Everyone’s motivated because it’s the last Test of the summer and we’re playing to try and save the series. All the batters are going out to get a score, for themselves and for the team, and one thing that’s in our favour is the speed you can score at. The outfield’s very quick and the wicket is very good. The batters are looking forward to having a go on it, so we’ll just see where we get to.

If England goes out in a positive frame of mind, and with a view to still winning from here, India could squeeze in for the kill. Kumble can afford to bowl with 3-4 around the bat. Dravid could look to choke the runs at one end and attack all-out from the other end. This will be a test of Dravid’s captaincy aggression. There is not much in the pitch, but the batsmen have delivered the runs on the board. The pace and the aggression was dictated by the captains’ pre-match sound-bytes as well as his purposefulness while batting. It is now upto the captain to set the same tone on the field. That, mixed with Britsh pride and aggression may well give India the game. The next 3 days will tell us which way this cookie is going to crumble!

It was a terrific team performance from India. Just as Dinesh Karthik and Rahul Dravid laid the foundations on day-1, the second day saw Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid build a strong foundation in the first session. Sachin Tendulkar was keen to ensure that he batted England out of the game. Laxman on the other hand, mixed caution with class. He had once again done the hard work and also enjoyed the benefit of a let-off — once again from Matt Prior behind the sticks. However, yet again, Laxman could not press on the advantage and departed after yet another classy 50!

Matt Prior, whose chat level has been greater than his skill level, had a forgettable match thus far. His collection has been ordinary. He dropped Tendulkar and Laxman and he has given away 33 byes — an embarassingly high number! No doubt this was assisted by some wayward bowling. However, Prior will be embarassed to see his name in the record books.

After Tendulkar departed to a terrific ball, understandably disappointed at not reaching a century, we saw some unbelievable pyrotechnics from M. S. Dhoni. He displayed a stunning array of strokes. He played the pace bowlers with panache and simply culled the spinners. It was all devastating stuff. At the other end, Anil Kumble played like a 1-down batsman. He leaned into his cover drives and knelt as his off-drove with skill. And suddenly, Kumble was on the verge of an unlikely century! If he had played a batsman’s innings right through, the shot that got him his century was classic-Kumble though! He somehow got his bat to a ball that was pitched way outside his off stump. The ball was somehow squeezed through between bat and ground and between Priors’ legs. Kumble, who had charged down the wicket to meet the ball, dived back desprately into his crease and was all arms and legs! And lest the umpire declare the resulting four runs as byes, Kumble raised his arms in acknowledgement of potential congratulations even before the ball was halfway to the boundary! Ah, classic Kumble stuff!

I said at the begining of the game that it would be foolish for the press to merely focus on farewelling the Fab Four. Anil Kumble also made his debut in England in the same match that Tendulkar made his first century at Old Trafford. To not include him in the farewell celebrations would be a folly. Well, with his sensational ton here, Anil Kumble has scripted himself firmly into the farewell party! And there may well be more to come from this indefatigable and admirable war-horse!

If India made one mistake, it was in not declaring the innings closed immediately at that point. Dravids’ rationale for batting out an additional 4-5 overs escaped me.

India are clearly ahead in this game and need to go for the jugular. An additional spinner would have helped India’s cause. But they have started the bowling well thanks to a mindless shot from Andrew Strauss. He hooked a Zaheer Khan ball irresponsibly down Sree Santh’s throat at fine leg. But that is what mental fatigue does to you. After nearly 170 overs in the hot sun, the brain does tend to get scrambled and the muscles get weary. Who knows? An additonal 4-5 overs of time may have got India another wicket or two. And I do believe that it is the mental game that will get India ahead on day-3. There is nothing much in the pitch although there were some indications that Kumble will make the ball bite and jump. A bit of aggression and a lot of chatter mixed with attacking close-in fields could deliver India this game.

India could well have had another wicket if Ian Howell had been awake. His shocking match continued when he refused to give James Anderson out. He was struck plumb in line by a wonderful Sree Santh delivery although there was bat-pad doubt. And this is where Howell’s inexperience came through. A bat-first-then-pad would have been normally squeezed square of the wicket. If it did travel straight down the wicket, a bat-first-then-pad shot would have minimal power in it. This ball, however, screamed to the deep mid-on boundary thereby clearly indicating that it was a pad-first-bat-next shot. Howell’s inexperience yielded the benefit of doubt to James Anderson when there was neither a need for benefit or doubt!

In 2003-4 in Sydney, India had put 705 on the board against Australia. There again, Sourav Ganguly had delayed the declaration by at least half an hour. Who knows what that extra half hour would have given him and the team in that match? In that match, India did have two spinners in Kumble and Murali Karthik. In this match, India only have Kumble. So the road ahead is potentially hard for India. But the saving grace is that it is incredibly hard for England. They have almost certainly lost this series. The question in my mind is whether the final scoreline will be 1-0 or 2-0.

It has been a terrific team-batting-performance by India who had as many as eight 50+ parterships — a first in cricket!

India must now hope for an all-round bowling performance as it searches for an outright victory in this game…

— Mohan