Tag Archives: New Zealand

BCCI: Some signs of progress and intent

Yes. I am doing the unthinkable! I am actually praising the BCCI in todays’ piece! I promise to wash my mouth and hands with soap after this exercise to rid myself of the unthinkable “crime”. But yes. I am just about the praise the BCCI! This is, however, only my first sin for the day!

My second sin for the day is far worse! I am just about to heap praise on the BCCI for precisely something that the venerable Harsha Bhogle has castigated them for. So, in part, I am just about to openly disagree with the institution that is Harsha Bhogle. And that, as we all know, is a serious misdemeanour in Indian sport. “How dare you?”, I hear you thunder.

But hear me out patiently. I do need to declare, however, that I am not “under the influence”.

I woke up late this morning and switched the TV on to catch the start of the India-Australia ODI game. Yes, I got up very late! The delayed start to the game meant that I watched a lady in tight-fitting clothes interview former Australian cricketer, Brad Hogg, who seemed more intent on exploring glaring gaps in her clothing — of which there were quite a few — than glaring gaps in the on-field arrangements that may have led to the delayed start to the game. The gap-lady asked Brad Hogg if Australia would be able to salvage a win from the “thus far win-less” Australian tour of India! As she asked the question, the dress got even tighter as her chest filled with nationalistic pride! Brad Hogg, having now identified more gaps than he was able to previously cope with — much of which he was now suddenly able to spot, thanks to the pride-swell and the resulting swell thereof — had to compose himself and then cope with his hurt pride. He asked the gap-lady to stop getting stuck into him for Australia’s win-less tour thus far! I was amazed that a player who was a part of Australian crickets’ “win generation” would so openly seek mercy (even if it was only mock-tragic plea), and that too from our gap-lady.

What an amazing turnaround in such a short period of time, I thought to myself as the gap-lady demonstrated that she had had enough of cricket and cut to her shopping expeditions in Goa!

Yes. What a remarkable turnaround in mind-set in such a short period of time? Even a year ago, the Australian press would have routinely got stuck into the Indian team for winning nothing on tours of Australia — as was the practice as well as the custom of India teams in the past. The Aussie method has always been unrelenting and unforgiving. The approach always is to never lift the foot off the pedal; when your opponent is down, keep them there. Suddenly, the shoe seems to have shifted to the other foot. And it appears that the Australian media has openly accepted that the shoe is on the other foot. While I do admit that there has been a ‘changing of the guard’ in International cricket, I did not expect that the change would be as swift and as palpable.

Not to lose an opportunity — having been on the receiving end on numerous occasions himself — Ravi Shastri said that this match represented the last opportunity for the Australians to salvage a “so far win-less tour of India”.

I am sure we will hear the phrase “win-less tour” played out several times today! Sigh!

But that is not the intent of this post. I do want to praise the BCCI.

Last week, the BCCI decided to send some of its senior players early to South Africa, ahead of the forthcoming Test Series there between South Africa and India.

I applaud this move.

This decision may have come at Gary Kirsten’s insistence. This may have been the decision to right an earlier scheduling wrong of completing the NZ ODI series just five days prior to the commencement of the 1st Test against South Africa at the Centurion in South Africa on 16 December — and this is Harsha Bhogle’s point. Harsha Bhogle does not like this righting of the earlier wrong. I disagree with him. Shock horror!

Regardless of the reasons for the BCCI decision, taken in isolation, the decision to send players early (and while the NZ ODIs are on) needs to be applauded.

If we cast our minds to India’s tour of New Zealand last year (2009), the BCCI organised for senior players to play in New Zealand counties prior to to India’s visit to that country. Coach Gary Kirten indicated that warm-up games were not necesssary for an experienced cricketer.

Yet, two things stood out for me with respect to that tour. Firstly, the ODI games were held prior to the Test matches. Second, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, L Balaji, Amit Mishra, M Vijay and Dhawal Kulkarni (players who only played the Test games) turned out for New Zealand domestic teams for a few games.

A cramped schedule is a feature of todays’ cricket world. Players and officials accept it. Fans and reporters need to accept it too. Tackling the reality of a cramped schedule requires creative, out-of-the box solutions. While I would generally like a less cramped schedule, I have accepted that as a modern-day reality. There is no space in the schedule any more for the luxury of a long list of practice games. Even those that are actually arranged sometimes turn out to be mere “eye washes”. In such an environment, we have to look for creative solutions. I am personally in favour of having ODIs precede Test matches. I believe India’s approach to the NZ series was indeed creative. Rahul Dravid even made many runs for Canterbury when he turned up for that team.

Similarly, prior to the South Africa series, BCCI has decided to send several Team India players early to South Africa to play a few practice games there.
It is expected that immediately after the 3rd Test match against New Zealand concludes on 24 November, a few senior players will depart for South Africa and play a few games there.

I would like to believe that, regardless of the selection constraints imposed by the World Cup, the India ODI team could do without the services of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh for the five ODIs against New Zealand.

Further, I would like to see the following 15-member Team India leave for South Africa immediately after the last Test match against New Zealand concludes: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Sreesanth, Pragyan Ojha, Cheteshwar Pujara, M. Vijay and Jaidev Unnadkat. This is really the likely Test team! So, in other words, I’d like this collection of 15 players should be able to play at least 2 practice matches in South Africa against top RSA provincial teams.

I would then like to see Yuvraj Singh captain a young side aginst New Zealand in the the 5 ODIs that will be played between 26 November and 11 December.

We could then have the following 15-member team for the ODIs against New Zealand: Abhinav Mukund, Shikar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Saurabh Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha, R. Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Vinay Kumar, Abhishek Nayyar, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Umesh Yadav.

It is quite likely that Ravindra Jadeja will, instead, be included in the above team. It is also likely that Irfan Pathan will continue to be out in the cold. It is also likely that the usual suspects will scream, “Why is S. Badrinath not a part of the above team!”

However, my point is less about the teams and more about the fact that we should use the opportunity to tease out the last remaining spots in India’s World Cup squad while, at the same time, send a Test team in advance to South Africa.

Todays’ cricket schedule requires out-of-the-box thinking. I applaud the BCCI for having accepted the problems posed by a mad schedule as a pragmatic reality. I am hopeful of a win-win solution.

Time to wash my mouth and hands with soap now…

— Mohan

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Compaq Cup — Sri Lanka, NZ, India

And so, after a long break from cricket (and i3j3cricket.com) in which there were a few sporadic games (and posts), we are back into a busy period of cricket (and posts) for India (and i3j3)!

The season commences with the Compaq Cup in Sri Lanka between New Zealand, Sri Lanka and India. The first game of the 4-match series resulted in a Samaraweera-inspired win for Sri Lanka over New Zealand.

The India Team is in Sri Lanka and is eyeing the #1 ODI spot, which India will make if it manages to win all 3 games in the Compaq Cup.

The Corporate Cup in India will have helped dust the cobwebs in the minds and bodies of the players. A few of the players did get to match fitness with some important scores. Suresh Raina made some runs and so did M. S. Dhoni and Rahul Dravid. R. P. Singh and Ishant Sharma bowled well in patches. So with all of that done and dusted, the real action commences. Unfortunately for the Team India fan, the next few months is going to be a sequence of ODIs!

The team is a good one, in my view.

The batting is good and strong. One might have mounted an argument for Rohit Sharma. But in all fairness Rohit, like Uthappa, does need to do some work on his own. It isn’t quite about ability or talent. It is really about rising to the big occasion. Perhaps it is more a question mental toughness than anything else.

The batting has a settled and set feel to it and offers tremendous flexibility as well as depth. The openers may as well pad up now! There is no questioning who will open the innings! There are a few questions though: (a) will both all-rounders play? (b) will Rahul Dravid play? (c) will Suresh Raina play? (d) what will Dhoni’s batting position be?

I am certainly glad to see Abhishek Nayar and Yusuf Pathan there in the team. In my view, both of these must play and so must Rahul Dravid. And in what must be a somewhat radical suggestion, I recommend that Suresh Raina competes with Rahul Dravid for a spot and both of them bat way low in the batting order, behind the big hitters and even the all rounders. Dravid has the finishing ability and so does Raina. In my view, Raina’s talent is wasted at #3 and it would be best if Dhoni occupies that spot. Dhoni’s big hitting talent is wasted at #5 or #6.

In terms of bowling, I feel that both Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma are automatic picks and in all probability they will open the bowling. Ashish Nehra and R. P. Singh might compete for the 3rd pace bowlers spot. With Amit Mishra unlikely to shake off Harbhajan Singh’s hold on the spinners’ slot, the 4th main bowler’s spot is also taken. There are plenty of options for the 5th bowler’s spot with Yusuf Pathan, Abhishek Nayar, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina (if he plays) vying for an over or two!

The team also has competition in the drinks waiter department! Karthik is my first choice followed by Amit Mishra!

Is this team capable of taking the #1 spot by winning all 3 games? Possibly. But, given the lack of match practice, I won’t be holding my breath.

In my view, it is all a bit of fun and games!

My team:

Sachin Tendulkar
Gautam Gambhir
MS Dhoni
Yuvraj Singh
Abhishek Nayar
Yusuf Pathan
Rahul Dravid / Suresh Raina
Harbhajan Singh
Praveen Kumar
Ashish Nehra / R. P. Singh
Ishant Sharma

DRINKS: Dinesh Karthik / Amit Mishra

So, let the season begin and here’s looking forward to more posts on i3j3cricket!

— 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

Has Team India missed another “Tipping Point”?

On 15 August 2007, Team India’s 2007 series in England had just concluded. Rahul Dravid was then captain of Team India — a team that had no coach and a genial geriatric as its Team Manager. The team had started off that tour with several enormous handicaps. It had a mountain of pressure on it after having been unceremoniously dumped from the 2007 World Cup. Against that backdrop, Team India won that series in England on that day.

On that day, however, while celebrating that victory, I wrote that there was a hollowness to the victory. The team had refused to press its foot on the pedal in going for a victory at The Oval. Although India had won the series 1-0, a 2-0 result was possible. Instead, Rahul Dravid chose to take the safe route, secure a series victory and hand it as a “present” to players like Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, himself and V. V. S. Laxman — players who were unlikely return to England for another series, but more importantly, players who hadn’t tasted an England series victory in their time!

Sentiment overtook a sporting “tipping point”.

I wrote that day about how Team India had missed the “tipping point”, drawing reference to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. In that book, the author presents a thesis that (ideas and) behaviours act like outbreaks of infectious diseases that create social epidemics. The Tipping Point is the moment in an epidemic when critical mass is reached. These are “boiling point” moments. Moments that we often describe using the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. These are dramatic moments when something unique becomes common. Moments at which little changes can make a big difference.

A similar “tipping point” moment was presented to Team India today against New Zealand. However, instead of going for victory, India marched on to set New Zealand an unattainable target of 617 runs in a maximum of 167 overs. New Zealand would have to score at an explosive rate of 3.7 runs per over to make the score on a 5th day pitch! The Kiwis would have to do more — much more — than just beat the 4th innings world record for the maximum number of runs scored to win a game! The Kiwis would have to smash the record of 414 set by South Africa on 21 December 2008.

India batted for about an hour and a half on day-4 and consumed some 20 overs by batting on and on! I am not sure that that was necessary. Clearly, India’s approach was that protecting a 1-0 lead was far more important than pushing all out for a 2-0 series win. Especially with rain looming, which would potentially wash out the 5th day’s play, what India needed was urgency and proactive cricket. Not a safety-first approach.

Now in saying this, I fully realise that M. S. Dhoni is a sentimentalist first and ruthless captain (in the Steve Waugh mould) next. To him, handing a victory to the seniors in the team would mean much more than a chest-thumping bragging-rights moment that a 2-0 victory would give him. Even so, I felt that Team India had missed another “tipping point moment” in its developmental journey.

Despite the bad weather that is predicted for Wellington and despite the flatness of the track, India may still win this Test match. But by playing such defensive/negative cricket, this Team India is perhaps indicating that it is “not quite there” yet.

A little difference on Day-4 would have meant “positive batting“ and “positive cricket”. The big outcome could have been, “Hey! We can do it”.

Winning is a habit.

— Mohan

Another (Not-so-dull) Draw…

Geoff Boycott’s mother-in-law could have played in this Test match with a draft-stopper as a bat and still would not have got out on that track unless of course her name was Yuvraj Singh or McIntosh or unless she had a rush-of-blood a la Virender Sehwag! That was how poor that Test match track was at Napier. To say that it was a terribly rotten track would do grave injustice to “terribly rotten tracks”. It was worse than just that! At the prize distribution ceremony, Vettori said, “You can play another Test match on this if you want to!”

What’s wrong with Kiwi pitch curators? One of them messed up the Bangalore Test against Australia. And now this graveyard got dished out.

Apart from perhaps Yuvraj Singh in India’s 1st Innings, every other batsman got himself out. The pitch had nothing to do with them getting out (for most part). After the recent spate of huge scores on boringly dead tracks, this is hardly an advertisement for Test cricket.

Yes, this Test match was quite gripping stuff. But this was more due to bad batting in the 1st Innings by India than anything to do with the pitch. Once a team puts on 619 runs in its first innings, the other team is always going to play catch up! And that’s precisely what India did. To compound matters, in the first innings reply, Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Karthik, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan got out to poor shots, while Yuvraj Singh played like only he can!

The response from India, after following on, was solid. It was expected. It wasn’t pretty. But it was necessary.

Now India have the opportunity to go back home (or to South Africa, to play in the IPL) with the silverware. I do not expect to see any changes in Team India other than Dhoni coming in for an out-of-colour Dinesh Karthik.

I would also hope/expect that Dhoni will hang up his soccer boots!

Meanwhile, we have the start of what appears to be a bit of a controversy with Rahul Dravid appearing to question either Virender Sehwag’s shot selection or V. V. S. Laxman’s justification/defence of Sehwag’s shot selection!

Either way, Team India should work to put this Test match and the soccer ball behind it and move on to Wellington where the 3rd Test commences on Friday.

— 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

Teams for NZ Tour

The Indian cricket selectors have, I think, done well to pick good/strong teams for Indias’ tour of New Zealand. Some selection highlights for me are:

  • Continuing to invest in Ravindra Jadeja — he gets a gig in the T20 team.
  • Investing in Dhawal Kulkarni.
  • Re-investing in Lakshmipathy Balaji.
  • Continuing to invest in M. Vijay in the Test team.

The teams are

Test squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

ODI squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Twenty20 squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

Is there a TN-bias to the selection?

The presence of L. Balaji is seen by many as TN-bias on the part of Kris Srikkanth, the Chief Selector. That would be unfortunate as well as unnecessary, although somewhat understandable. The Test team has provided passage for three TN players in the form of M. Vijay (ahead of possibilities such as Wasim Jaffer, Aakash Chopra, Ajinkya Rahane, Robin Uthappa), L. Balaji (ahead of Pankaj Singh, Ashok Dinda, Irfan Pathan and Praveen Kumar) and Dinesh Karthik (ahead of Parthiv Patel).

However, Vijay did shine in the one Test opportunity he got and must be persevered with, in my view. One can feel sorry for Ajinkya Rahane. He was the 2nd highest scorer in the Ranji season (with an aggregate of 1089 runs @ and avg of 68.06 that included 4 centuries). He has had a stunning domestic season and is, along with Cheteshwar Pujara, one to watch for the future.

Dinesh Karthik has had a stunning year with the bat and has pipped Parthiv Patel at the post. The Gujarat ‘keeper has done nothing wrong and must just continue to put in the hard-yards in the domestic circuit. Dinesh Karthik has done everything right. He was the 10th highest scorer in the Ranjis with an aggregate of 634 (3 centuries) and an average of 63.4 runs. Having said that, Parthiv Patel wasn’t really too far behind (with 526 runs in aggregate, @ 47.81, including 1 century). But when the cards fell, Dinesh Karthik just had the right number on his side. He was also the highest scorer in the Duleep Trophy with two centuries in three Duleep Trophy games for South Zone. The fact that Karthik had opened well in England may have also counted in his favour. Both Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel are very young. Karthik is only 23. Both of them will have hurt badly from the experience in Sri Lanka. Karthik played badly in the first two Test matches. He batted poorly and his ‘keeping also fell apart. However, Parthiv Patel, who played in the 3rd Test fared worse! So, both of them needed a strong domestic season, lest upstarts like Wriddhiman Saha usurp their position. Both of them did put in a good showing. However, when the cards fell, Karthik had the numbers.

L. Balaji has been, in my view, somewhat lucky. Yes, he was the 4th highest wicket-taker in the Ranji Season and also had a good Duleep Trophy outing. Given that the highest wicket-taker was already rewarded with a ticket to New Zealand (Kulkarni) and given that 2 and 3 on the pecking order were spinners (Ravindra Jadeja and the now-banned Mohnish Parmar!), his ticket could have been seen as reward for a good showing. My own view is that he need not have been rushed into the Test arena. Its just been a year since his comeback from injury. His first major step on the big stage was the IPL. Since then, he has, no doubt, been bowling well. But to get him straight back into the Test side may have been a bit too much.

But then, these are the rewards of a good showing in the domestic circuit. The current selectors seem to be rewarding strong domestic showing quite consistently — set in the context of long-term team-development — and for that, they do deserve some credit.

Bits-and-pieces players:

I have been saying for sometime now that players like Abhiskek Nayar, Yusuf Pathan and Ravindra Jadeja are the future of India’s ODI and T20 mix. It is good that these guys are getting a clutch of games at the highest level to prove their mettle. The press in India tags them with the moniker “bits and pieces players”. This is erroneous. It is also a disrespect to the quality that these guys bring to the table in the T20 and ODI arena. They are not “bits and pieces players”. They are clever players who bat and bowl well! I’d like to see opportunities given to players like Abhishek Nayar and Rajat Bhatia in the near future too.

Experimentation

M. S. Dhoni has shown the way in handling players like Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina in recent ODI games. In the final ODI against Sri Lanka, I felt he took it a wee-bit too far by bowling as many as 9 bowlers in the game! That’s a bit much. But you need those kinds of options in the middle overs. Even though the pitches may not turn much in New Zealand, I think the middle-overs bowled by Virender Sehwag, Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma will be quite crucial.

From that point of view, it is good to see the selectors invest strongly in Jadeja. Yes, he is not part of the ODI Team. After the two T20 games at the start of the series, Jadeja makes way for Sachin Tendulkar. That is fair enough!

I think the selectors will only drop Tendulkar from the ODI scene when he himself says that he has had enough! I suspect he won’t say that until after the next World Cup. He seems to want that silverware in his cabinet more than anything else! Given that he has served Indian cricket in the manner that he has, one could afford him that luxury, I think!

What we have seen in recent T20 games and ODIs is that Dhoni is really his own man when it comes to executing batting plans, setting the batting order and exploring bowling options. In a recent interview, he said that this was because he wanted each player to experience different roles in order to have an appreciation for what a #3 needs to do and what a #6 needs to do in different match situations.

In a perverse manner, this is exactly what Guru Greg Chappell tried to instil in the team when he was at the helm! The difference was that Guru Greg, instead of just doing it, wanted to preach his ideology, convert everyone to his way of thinking, convince everyone that he was right and then hail him as a messiah and a saviour! He started the “process is more important than the outcome” mantra. He was subsequently lambasted and lampooned in the media for “experimenting” too much! The word “experimentation” was taboo during his reign. Guru Greg choked on his own mantra and was caught in the headlights, with nowhere to go.

Instead of aspiring to be a messiah and a saviour, Dhoni just does it and lets others write about his method! The outcome is a more flexible Team India! Ironically, Guru Greg’s method survives after he has been buried!

Possible Teams:

The T20 and ODI teams select themselves:
Possible Twenty20 squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar
Subs: Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Ishant Sharma and would take Ravindra Jadeja ahead of Rohit Sharma. But these are possibly the only two debatable spots in my view. There are questions being asked about Pragyan Ojha’s selection in the T20 and ODI teams, given that pitches are unlikely to offer too much spin in New Zealand. However, from a team-development point of view, I think this is a good move. Ojha did bowl really well in recent ODIs. He should be part of the team mix and should get a gig, in my view.

Possible ODI squad: Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar.
Subs: Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Pragyan Ojha, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma,

I’d take Praveen Kumar ahead of Irfan Pathan. And I’d take Raina ahead of Rohit Sharma. Who knows? With a lot of cricket around the corner, should India go ahead in the series — as it did in Sri Lanka — it would be an opportunity to play Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Dinesh Karthik instead of (respectively) Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and M. S. Dhoni.

Possible Test squad: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt/wk), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel
Subs: M Vijay, Amit Mishra, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (wk)

The Test team is the one that selects itself most emphatically. There can’t be too many doubts or questions in the composition of this team. It is unlikely that the team will go with more than 4 main bowlers (with Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Tendulkar as other possible bowlers to relieve the strike bowlers). The only question, in my view, is whether Munaf Patel gets the gig ahead of Dhawal Kulkarni. I’d go for experience ahead of raw pace for the first Test. Moreover, Munaf Patel does seem to have the ability to swing the ball more in conditions that are likely to be presented in countries like NZ, South Africa and England. So, he might get the nod ahead of Kulkarni. But it may not be a bad idea to give Kulkarni a go in one of the Test matches.

The selectors have continued to invest in Rahul Dravid — as they should — in spite of his poor showing in the Duleep Trophy finals. Having said that, I am not sure they would be as patient with him after yet another poor tour. They have also sent a clear signal to Yuvraj Singh that he is in the mix for a long stint in the Test middle order. This should settle him down and should allow him to cash in on this opportunity.

Overall, this has been a good selection effort by the selectors.

— Mohan