Tag Archives: ODI

Who’s more ‘clutch’? Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting?

By Ajit Bhaskar (@ajit_bhaskar)

Who is the most clutch among these three legends from our generation?

The Stage

Given the somewhat sensitive title of the post, I tried to think of a lot of emotional, heartfelt introductory content but I failed miserably. But it suffices to say that these three players are the best from our generation, particularly in the ODI format of the game. A couple of folks (Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain) have opined on who’s the greatest among the three ‘modern greats’. Honestly, it is a tough ask to rate the three for each is excellent in his own ways.

I’m not here to ‘rate’ which one of them is the best among the three. What I’m going to address, is each batsman’s ability to perform in the clutch, which is one of the measures of a player’s greatness. After all, such performances tend to ‘define a player’s legacy’!

I am going to compare (statistically), the performance of these three players under ‘clutch’ situations.

Also, it makes some sense to compare these three players in particular because:

  • They have played in the same era.
  • They are all top order batsmen and have spent a vast majority of their careers batting in 1-4 spots in the batting order.

Ground Rules/Assumptions

  • I’m going to restrict this conversation to ODIs alone.
  • Clutch’ is defined as chasing a target. I will try to make things more granular as I proceed further.
  • Only India, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, England and South Africa have been considered for this analysis. Sorry Zimbabwe, Bangladesh et al.
  • Only run chases are considered.
  • The pronouns HE and HIS used in generic sentences encompass BOTH male and female human beings. Do not hassle me with ‘sexist’ and other epithets.

A brief note on ‘clutch’

Various images flash across our minds the instant we hear the word clutch. Like Michael Jordan’s buzzer beating “The Shot” against Cleveland (followed by Jordan jumping in the air and then throwing his elbows exactly three times after planting his feet on the ground), Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma (I hate Nataraj pencils just for that) and so on. As far as ODIs are concerned, a clutch situation typically involves chasing a target. The pressure that is associated with chasing a target, particularly when two good, competitive teams are playing makes for good drama and excellent cricket. The players who shine repeatedly and consistently under such circumstances become legends of the game.

The reason for emphasis on run chase will become clearer during the course of this article.

The Statistics

These are obtained from Cricinfo directly after applying a filter for ‘fielding first’.

Key observations:

  • They’ve been involved in enough run chases to qualify for statistical analysis
  • Lara has scored nearly half his runs chasing targets!
  • The ‘chasing average’ of all three players is pretty close to their career averages. This suggests that the pressure associated with a run chase doesn’t influence their performance significantly. In fact, Lara (on an average), scores 3 more runs during chasing.
  • All players show the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, i.e. elevated averages when their teams win during a run chase and reduced averages when their teams lose while chasing a target.
  • It’s the extent of this syndrome exhibited by the three players that is quite intriguing.
  • If we define Differential Chasing Average or D = Chasing Average during Wins – Chasing Average during Losses, it represents the degree of discrepancy in individual performance while a team goes on to win or lose. In principle, a ‘legendary’ player is expected to play the same way and produce at a high level regardless of the outcome of the game and the performance of other players on the team. So lower the D value, greater the degree of consistency of a player during run chases.
  • The D values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 19.53, 40.11 and 39 respectively.
  • Let’s pause and ponder over this for a moment. Taking Lara as example, when WI chases a total successfully, he tends to score FORTY MORE RUNS than when WI fails to chase a target. While an average of ~68 runs is fantastic during successful a run chase, that also indicates a lot of variation in performance. In other words, consistency is lacking. The same is true of Ponting (Differential = 39). However, the key difference between Lara and Ponting is that when their teams lose while chasing a target, Lara still manages to score a decent 27.5 runs, Ponting manages only 19 runs.
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, shows the least variation (D = 19.53). In fact, the variation is half of Lara’s and Ponting’s. This indicates more consistent performance during run chases.
  • Lara has the best Chasing Average in Wins by a distance. He scores nearly 10 more runs than Ponting and 16 more runs than Tendulkar during successful run chases.
  • Tendulkar has the best Chasing Average in Losses. It’s is about 13 runs or 67% greater than Ponting’s. He also scores 4 more runs than Lara during unsuccessful rn chases.
 Figure 1. Graphical representation of performance of Sachin Tendulkar (SRT, blue), Brian Lara (BL, Red) and Ricky Ponting (RP, green) during run chases.

 

Cranking up the pressure to ‘ultimate clutch’

While the analysis so far has provided an indication of the extent of consistency of these players, it hasn’t truly separated them as to who is the best among the three. So I’ll up the ante a little bit and crank up the pressure.

I’d like to evaluate these players’ performances under extreme pressure.  In many cases, teams are chasing fairly small targets of 100 or 150. While the task is still challenging, it is not as daunting as chasing a larger target. Say 250.

How do these players fare when chasing targets of 250 or above? The reason for choosing 250 becomes clearer when we take a look at how teams fare when they chase such targets.

Data Acquisition

  • Get the ODI inning by inning list for Tendulkar on cricinfo.
  • Set a filter for ‘fielding first’.
  • Open every single match/scorecard and choose only those where targets of 250 or above were chased.
  • Note the runs scored in each inning under two columns based on whether his team won or lost.
  • Calculate various parameters (Average, average during wins and losses etc.)
  • Not outs are considered as outs for calculating averages
  • Repeat the process for Lara and Ponting. Note that in Ponting’s case, a tied match is included for calculating chasing average.

Here’s how the three batsmen fare:

Key observations:

  • There is a LOT of collective failure! Just take a look at the W-L records. With these legends representing India, West Indies and Australia respectively, they have won ~30, 25 and 40% of their matches while chasing 250+ targets. The collective success rate is just 31%!
  • So, if anybody tells you chasing 250+ is an easy task, just show him this table. Even the ‘invincible Aussies’, who have boasted some of the game’s premier batsmen, bowlers and perhaps some the most balanced sides ever, have failed to win even half the games while chasing 250 or above!
  • Tendulkar’s average while chasing 250+ targets (39.9) is virtually same as his regular chasing average of 40.03. This is remarkable consistency. Lara and Ponting on the other hand, tend to score nearly 5 and 3 runs lower than their regular chasing averages respective, when chasing 250+ targets.
  • Tendulkar also averages the most during 250+ chases. While Tendulkar and Lara are separated by one run, Tendulkar scores nearly 3 more runs than Ponting.
  • The differential (D) values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 10.3, 34.2 and 46.6 respectively.
  • Let me emphasize a bit more on the D values. Regardless of W or L, you can expect consistent performance from Tendulkar. Lara and Ponting, on the other hand, tend to play extremely well when their respective teams are winning, but tend to score poorly when their sides are on the losing side. This is particularly true of Ponting, whose average of 18.5 when the Aussies lose chasing targets 250 (probability is 26 out of 44 games or 59%) or above is quite frankly, poor!
  • WI has lost 39 out of 52 games while chasing 250+. But even under these circumstances, Lara pretty much assures you 30 runs (chasing avg. during losses).
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, gets you 7 more runs than Lara and nearly 18 more runs than Ponting on days when your team is not doing a good job at chasing. This is a very significant difference in my opinion, given the fact that India and WI do not end up on the winning side often while chasing 250+ targets.
  • But when their teams win, Lara and Ponting fire and fare much better than Tendulkar. This is clear from their chasing averages during wins.

Figure 2. Graphical representation of performance during 250+ run chases for Tendulkar (blue), Lara (red) and Ponting (green).

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, no matter how high the pressure is, whether the game is being played on earth or elsewhere, no matter what kind of target the team is chasing, Tendulkar provides the most steady, consistent performance. Lara is a gambling man’s pick, while Ponting is (compared to Tendulkar and Lara) more of a hit or miss case. If snoring is a problem, you may need ZQuiet.

To me, this analysis puts Tendulkar and Lara a cut above Ponting. Particularly because Ponting has enjoyed the benefit of better overall teams than Lara and Tendulkar have enjoyed over their careers. But more importantly, the averages of 18.95 during unsuccessful run chases and 18.5 during unsuccessful run chases involving 250+ targets is something I wouldn’t call ‘stuff of legends’.

In a nutshell, if I were to pick one of these three legends to help chase my team a target of 250 or above, which in my book, is a clutch situation given the rate of failure involved, I’d flip a coin. Heads – Tendulkar, Tails – Lara.

Sorry Ponting, you just don’t make the cut on my list. Certainly not in ODIs.

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A foolish cricket fan

Two test matches have been played in the India-West Indies series, and I’m yet to watch a single ball live. Last time they were in India, my dad was able to watch some days’ play live, the ones on weekend. I have myself to blame for missing day-1of first test, yes, but now, I have to pray for the Bombay game to reach day-5 to catch a glimpse of a game live.

How hard is it to organize a game that can ease into the weekends and then finish on a Monday or a Tuesday? BCCI go against the government’s Sports Bill, but the 9-to-5 schedule of test matches on weekdays makes it look like an Indian governmental functionary than many others actually do. Sarkari kaam…

I was atleast able to follow the game by some mean. People come to me a day or two after the test asking how much XYZ scored, or, how much lead India has over West Indies now.  Cricket is slowly slipping out of people’s mind. Such a scheduling is pushing us fans away from the game. In other words, it is not attracting us towards it.

Also found smaller turn outs in stadia during both the English ODI and the WI test series. Myriad explanations and justifications came up for that. Cricket burn out, no-match series, “boring” series (???), and one more that caught my eye – the game is driven more by the television audience. People want to stay home and watch the game rather than go to the stadium. Have heard “when I can watch it here, why would I want to go all the way there and watch it?” Here’s my retort to them – “Why go on a vacation to any tourist spot if you can watch videos and photos of the place sitting at home?”

It was a horrible spring/summer of 1999, after which my family moved to Chennai. I joined my new school 2 months after it had started. In my first month in the new city, I learnt that my school had thrown holidays when Pakistan played the test there. Only one test had uninterrupted play since that, and that game had more security personnel than spectators (vs England, 2008). Never heard any other place giving anything remotely close to a holiday for a game played in the city. I don’t expect them to. I might have ten years ago, not today. It’s how the game has gone. Value for the game has decreased from a festival it once was to an ignorable passing vehicle today.

Test cricket attendance was decreasing, slowly, but I think somewhere recently it fell like an avalanche. Earlier, test and one-dayers existed. It wasn’t tough for people to go for test matches. Today, in comparison to those times, the pay, transport, roads, connectivity, communication and access have improved, but it somehow got tougher for people to go for test matches. I may be a fool in understanding this, but I would like to remain so.

T20 came in. Supposedly the game has been blessed with new fans with the arrival of the T20s. I hope that is true, I’m not yet convinced about that myself. Last night, I was called “shameless” for watching test cricket (SAvAUS, 2nd test, day-2, Steyn and Tahir bowling). Not the first such remark I’ve faced. Rolling back a couple of years, when my college mates were about to turn into bed, my alarm woke me up. It was 3:15 am, and I was heading to the TV room to watch India’s first test match in NZ. I was laughed at. Earlier this year, I “troubled” the sleeping watchman (who had absolutely no business sleeping when he must be doing his job) to watch Pakistan’s tour of West Indies. The college then locked the room permanently which made me miss watching on TV most of India’s tour of West Indies and the English tour. Internet streaming is only a consolation.

“Shameless”? Really? When I quack about dislike of T20s and ‘IPL’ cricket, or bite those fans, I’m a fool, a stubborn narrow minded idiot, but these people who can call me such must be saints, I guess. I have trained myself to ignore “Abbey saale, test match kaun dekhta hai?” comments, 5 years after standing on a dais and begging my class of 73 to give a little bit more importance to test cricket in my first year of college. (That was before ICL or IPL hit any of us.) But of course, I was a fool…

Jumping back to the India-WI series, I caught up with highlights of all days’ play (except last day’s of both test match), and I fail to see what’s keeping the BCCI with the commentators that were on there. Is there no way we can give them a feedback about them? It was easier to watch highlights, since most of their comments would not register on my mind, or, Yadav’s  innocent celebration would divert my attention, or Darren Bravo would make me nostalgic. It all helped, yes. Having heard those muppets over the years, why hasn’t there been any change at all? It’s something I rant about a lot, because a commentator is one of the three things I want to become one day. Atleast, wanted to. I would prefer radio commentary over television commentary, though. No regrets, I became of the other two things I dreamt.

I love this game, but my love was never tried and tested so much. Never before have I felt so distant from the game in my life.

-Bagrat

The fan continues to be short-changed by the BCCI

I am writing this a few weeks after I watched an ODI game at the Wankhede Stadium between India and England.

In the months and weeks preceding the game, I had had many arguments with fellow cricket tragics in Mumbai about facilities in some of the new stadia in India and about how the game’s administrators in India, the BCCI, treat the game’s key stakeholder: the fans.

The BCCI has been in an immensely fortunate position since the early 1990s: Fortunate because it suddenly discovered that it had a significant and substantially large fan base; Fortunate because these fans collectively delivered the BCCI a significant power base in World cricket. Through the suddenly discovered fans, BCCI discovered TV licensing rights. It discovered money.

I say ‘discovered’ rather than using a term more definite, concerted, understood and coordinated because, in my view, much of what the BCCI does appears to be serendipitous. The BCCI gives me the impression of an organisation that is continually in search for a needle in a haystack but continues to find the farmer’s daughter there instead!

The BCCI has not been accused so far of having a coordinated and well articulated strategy for exploiting the distinct advantage it has — a large, devoted and unshakable fan base. Nor is it in any danger of being accused of having a strategy to develop or grow its fan base. The fan base just exists. And fortunately for the BCCI, today, this fan base is still growing.

One can condone BCCI not taking care of its fans if it shows leadership in other spheres — particularly at the head table of the ICC. On balance, I would not say that it does. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rather haphazard, seemingly disorganized and somewhat myopic thinking by the BCCI. The organisation’s stance on the “whereabouts clause” in the WADA dope testing regime is one of them. Another example of leadership — albeit somewhat ineffective for a while — was BCCI’s stand on the DRS. The BCCI was not at the head-table providing opinion and thought leadership. Instead it had its office bearers mumbling their way through immature explanations and ill-thought out rationalizations. BCCI’s paid commentators said that the rest of the world was against India because of “envy”! There was no one from the BCCI putting out a cogent and articulate argument against the DRS. Once again, the thought leadership was absent on this issue — an issue on which BCCI, perhaps, had a legitimate objection. Perhaps the BCCI didn’t know how to construct a cogent argument. Perhaps the BCCI could not be bothered. Perhaps the BCCI lacked the wherewithal to make a convincing argument.

Today, the BCCI is a powerful organisation. It is a monopsony (thanks to @sumants for this reference). It operates in a market condition in which goods or services or talent are offered by several sellers (players with skills) but there is only one buyer for these skills. When ICL came into the picture, BCCI was able to move the ICC to not provide the ICL with a license to operate. This is a powerful position to operate from. It is also a position that ought to force the monopsonist to act with utmost care and phenomenal responsibility.

The bar must be significantly high.

It is not BCCI’s fault they are the largest and most powerful member of the structurally inefficient ICC family! But neither is it, in my view, to their credit that they are the largest and most powerful! You and I have delivered this power to the BCCI. Today, it just is the most powerful voice at the ICC table. It is also not BCCI’s problem if the representatives from Sri Lanka and Pakistan (say) just nod the same way when the BCCI nods. But inevitably power gives the powerful member a few strings at the end of which one often finds the heads of puppets. So it becomes important for the power wielder to use that power judiciously.

Of course, other boards around the world are guilty of lining up to the BCCI for their own advantage. An example is the motion for a 10-member 2015 World Cup, where the joint Australia-NZ idea was mooted and proposed by the BCCI at the ICC meeting. Witness also the cunning ECB plan of an ICC permanent presidency — again being proposed by the BCCI. Favours will have been traded prior to the BCCI putting up such nonsensical contrivances. But in the end, the BCCI did put up these motions expecting everyone to nod the way it did.

On the 10-member World Cup issue, CA and CNZ placed a gun on BCCI’s shoulder and fired. So the appropriate question is whether BCCI should have allowed CA and CNZ to place a gun on their shoulder to fire — in exchange for another favour elsewhere. Similarly on the permanent presidency issue, the ECB was allowed to place its gun on BCCI’s shoulder to fire. While the “conniving followers” cannot be totally absolved in these (and other) episodes, it is true that the BCCI provided the shoulder.

So one can quite understand the collective urge to paint BCCI as a “permanent bully”. And of course, there are several examples to support a theory that it has become quite fashionable for opinion-makers to blame BCCI for all ills in cricket today. Soon, we might even start blaming BCCI for world poverty, hunger, the political problems in pockets of the world, Arjuna Ranatunga’s excessive weight and Merv Hughes’s mustache!

But it is often BCCI’s behaviour at the head table that gives rise to this collective tendency to yell “BCCI Bully” before an issue is even properly addressed/investigated. The DRS is a wonderful example of just this. The irrational fear is that if BCCI opposes an issue, it will remain opposed.

The BCCI has to show exemplary leadership — and I make no compromise on this requirement, knowing full well that the non-leaders are not innocent rabbits either! There are political moves that are constantly made! We cannot ignore the expediency in deal-making by the “followers of the leader”. To ignore these moves would be to sacrifice completeness. To do that would be to sacrifice opinion integrity. To do that would be to compromise honesty. But more importantly, to do that would be to widen the trust-chasm and the trust-deficit that exists in the cricket world today.

We, the fans, need to be tough on our expectations of BCCI because cricket journalists and opinion-makers in India are, in my view, rather weak. Few journalists in India can criticize the BCCI. This most powerful organisation controls access, accreditation and privileges and frowns on negative press it receives from anyone in the press lobby. As a result not much is written against the BCCI in the press. Press folk value their accreditation privileges too much to talk out against the many BCCI-inflicted atrocities. There are easy routes to take. And on most issues, despite the sore bottoms they might acquire as a result, a fence-sit is convenient for most press folk in India.

I expect to be flamed by my friends on Twitter and elsewhere for this criticism of the BCCI. But I expect the BCCI to be extraordinary citizens at the ICC table and extraordinary governors of the game at home. I am not convinced that they are either. I expect the BCCI to move motions at the ICC with extreme caution and utmost wisdom. I expect the BCCI to show a level of governance of the game in India that is the envy of the world. The BCCI falls short on both counts.

Oh! And what about the game itself on 23 October 2011?

The tickets were ridiculously priced. I could not purchase the cheaper tickets online. I had to trot to a window in South Bombay to purchase tickets. I did not. I got the tickets through someone who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who then got tickets for us through someone they knew! Is this the way tickets ought to be sold in 2011? I do not think so.

The face value of the tickets we got was Rs 2000. The fact is we got these for cheaper than the face-value. But that is neither here nor there. The tickets were priced at Rs 2000, which is approximately AUD$45. In other words, these tickets were almost as expensive as an ODI ticket at (say) the MCG. My experience was nowhere close to the many lovely experiences I have had at the MCG or the SCG or Adelaide Oval.

Although there were only about 5,000 fans in a stadium that could hold 35,000 (or thereabouts) it took us several security checks — each one more cursory and more unnecessary than the previous check — before we could get in to the ground. This may not be BCCI’s fault. However, I would expect BCCI to be involved in discussions with the several agencies involved in streamlining these totally obtuse and completely irrelevant entry procedures. We were “security checked” by 6 different sets of people within a 100m distance. Each security group performed a job that was worse than the previous group. The final check was performed by a group that was hired by the BCCI (or so I was told). This was the worst check performed of the lot. I did not see the point of such entry procedures performed in a quality-vacuum and a trust-vacuum. The job was, at best, perfunctorily performed by a bunch of people who wanted to be inside the ground rather than outside it. It was a frustrating experience on what was a hot, humid and sultry day. As a result, what ought to have been a 5 minutes procedure took us over 45 minutes to get in.

We could not take mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions into the stadium. That may be fine if we could purchase mosquito repellents or hand sanitizers or sun screen lotions inside the stadium. We could not. Did we need these inside the stadium? That is not the point. Players apply zinc cream on their faces. Should spectators not?

The seats were clumsy, dirty and just bad. The toilets were incredibly bad. Sure. The facilities are better than they were some 10 years ago. But that cannot be an excuse to charge Rs 2000 and continue to short-change the fan.

I have watched games at various venues in England (The Lord’s, Oval, Leeds, Wembley, West Ham, The Kop, etc) and Australia (The MCG, The SCG, The Adelaide Oval, Rod Laver Arena, etc). I never felt as unwanted as I was at the Wankhede stadium. I was irrelevant to the BCCI. I felt that I was interrupting the BCCI from its enjoyment of the game. Is this what we ought to be accepting from the premier organisation in the game? I don’t believe so. Am I alone in feeling thus?

— Mohan (@mohank)

Ps: This post was motivated by (a) an email exchange I had with Gideon Haigh, (b) a long Twitter discussion I had with Sumant Srivathsan (@sumants) and (c) a Twitter discussion I had with Shrikant Subramanian (@Homertweets)

India-Australia ODI Series: A Preview

At the height of the Chennai (South Indian Classical Music) Margazhi Festival, I attended an exhilarating Remember Shakti concert at The Music Academy. It featured a deluge of musical excellence, an amalgamation of the bewitching talents of U. Srinivas, Ustad Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Shankar Mahadevan and Sivamani. I think my hair stood on end for 2 hours after I left the auditorium. The next morning, I found it hard to motivate myself to go watch the performance of a young, talented, upcoming musician. It was my intention to capture Shakti’s exquisite rendition of girirajasudha as my final memory of that ‘music season’, and not have it usurped by a freshman.

Going into the India-Australia ODI series, perhaps I can sniff that same feeling. But hypocrite that I am, apart from a hopeless cricket anorak, I just know that as the clock strikes 00:00 on Sunday, I will be in front of my laptop tuned in to the live streaming video of the first match at Kochi.

Both teams have rested several first choice players, to recharge batteries and allow battle wounds to heal. Shikhar Dhawan of Delhi & the Mumbai Indians has been rewarded with a maiden call-up for a string of consistent performances in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. In all probability, he will open the batting alongside Murali Vijay. Yuvraj Singh is back in his favourite format, and will be expected to don his familiar No. 4 role. He will know that the knives are out for him & his fitness and will be keen to counter criticism. He remains a critical component of India’s World Cup plans. M.S. Dhoni & Suresh Raina selecting themselves leaves Virat Kohli, Saurabh Tiwary and Rohit Sharma to fight it out for 2 batting slots. Tiwary has been in the mix for the last couple of tournaments without quite getting an opportunity. Rohit may find that this is his last chance, with S. Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane & Abhinav Mukund breathing down his neck. The pace attack is not completely innocent of experience. Praveen Kumar will join forces with the enigmatic Munaf Patel and the moody Ashish Nehra. India could still bleed at the death though, and this is where R. Ashwin comes in. He is the lone specialist spinner in the squad, and judging by his performances during the Powerplay in the Champions League, he could steal the show. On comatose Indian pitches, it is highly unlikely that Vinay Kumar will make an impression, and the slot could have been better justified by including either Jaydev Unadkat, Umesh Yadav or Abhimanyu Mithun. The biggest mind-boggler, and it has been so for quite a while now, is the unwarranted presence of Ravindra Jadeja. What the selectors see in him, only they know.

Australia will be without Ricky Ponting, Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson. The balance that the all round talents of Watson brings to the table, along with his experience of Indian conditions, could be sorely missed. The batting still wears a healthy look. The explosive David Warner, the serene Shaun Marsh and the dangerous Cameron White – all household IPL names – will join forces with the old hands of skipper Michael Clarke & Mike Hussey. Neither Clarke nor Hussey have enjoyed the best of tours, and will look to make amends. Callum Ferguson, a relatively unknown commodity, is an exciting talent. Some of the Indians will have come across him in the Champions League. Doug Bollinger, the hustler, will spearhead an inexperienced attack. His ability to make things happen was sorely missed in the Test series. He will be assisted by the tall rookie Mitchell Starc. Clint McKay & Nathan Hauritz were part of Australia’s setup in the ODI series played in India last year. Both have more than satisfactory records in this format. Hauritz definitely wouldn’t miss Tendulkar, Sehwag & Laxman. Shane Warne’s Tweets might help him more than a coaching manual right now! It will be interesting to watch how the Aussies fit in an all-rounder in the XI. They aren’t short of options though, in the steady James Hopes, the highly reputed Steven Smith (I hope he plays!) and John Hastings, called in as a replacement for the injured James Pattinson. Tim Paine, one of Australia’s success stories from the Tests, has a great opportunity to narrow the gap between him and Brad Haddin.

The venues for the ODI series are Kochi, Visakhapatnam & Goa. One only hopes the attendance mirrors Bangalore and not Mohali. Visakhapatnam will hold special memories for Dhoni, having made his first big splash in international cricket there. In spite of a weakened side, India will start favourites. Dhoni has prior experience of working wonders with young inexperienced cricketers. The leveller will be the greater athleticism of the Aussies, although India, with sprightly personnel in their squad, will be better served than they were in the Test series. Rains across South India will have slowed down outfields, placing greater emphasis on fielding and running between the wickets.

With India riding a Test cricket high, and Australia gearing up for the Ashes, this series will be no more than a filler. Unlike the Test series, its brevity makes it more palatable. I predict India coming up trumps 2-1.

SQUADS

India:
MS Dhoni (Captain & wk), M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Saurabh Tiwary, R Ashwin, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Vinay Kumar, Ravindra Jadeja, Rohit Sharma

Australia:
Michael Clarke (Captain), Cameron White, David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Callum Ferguson, Michael Hussey, James Hopes, Tim Paine (wk),Clint McKay, John Hastings, Nathan Hauritz, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Doug Bollinger

SCHEDULE

1st ODI: India v Australia at Kochi
Oct 17, 2010 (09:00 local, 03:30 GMT)
2nd ODI: India v Australia at Visakhapatnam
Oct 20, 2010 (14:30 local, 09:00 GMT)
3rd ODI: India v Australia at Margao
Oct 24, 2010 (09:00 local, 03:30 GMT)

— TS Kartik (Guest Contributor)

The ODI series commences

After the drama of the Kolkata Test, the ODI series between India and South Africa commences in Jaipur on Sunday 21 Feb.

If India lose to RSA, the SAffers will displace India as the 2nd Ranked ODI team in the ICC ODI ranking table.

India is once again hit by injuries and absences ahead of this three-match series. Gautam Gambhir (injury), Zaheer Khan (injury) and Harbhajan Singh (sisters’ wedding) are not available. For South Africa, Graeme Smith is on the injury list. I’d like to imagine that India’s injuries are far more telling on the teams’ chances than Smih’s absence.

As a result I expect that, despite their recent poor form, South Africa might in this series.

I expect India to field the following team tomorrow:

– Virender Sehwag
– Sachin Tendulkar
– Virat Kohli
– Suresh Raina
– M. S Dhoni (c/w)
– Ravindra Jadeja
– Yusuf Pathan
– Abhishek Nayar / R. Ashwin / Amit Mishra
– Praveen Kumar
– Sreesanth / Sudeep Thyagi
– Ashish Nehra

12th Man: Dinesh Karthik

I would like to see Abhishek Nayar given an extended run at this level and hence he would get in ahead of Mishra or Ashwin. Furthermore, after Yusuf Pathan’s recent Duleep Trophy performances I think it would be hard to ignore Yusuf Pathan’s claims.

— Mohan

The resurrection of Sreesanth is complete…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRINKS: Dinesh Karthik

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

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

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

The team for the first two ODIs reads:

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

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

— Mohan

Ponting flounders while Harbhajan Singh is at it again…

Harbhajan Singh and Australia have a history.

It was Harbhajan Singh’s hattrick in Kolkata — which came before VVS Laxman’s 281 — that started the self-belief ride in that epic series between these two sides in 2001. Lest we forget, he hit the winning runs in that nail-biting and tense finish to the Chennai Test, which gave India the series victory in that 2001 series.

In 2007, it was his brilliance with the bat in the company of Sachin Tendulkar, and the later “Maan Ki” episode in Sydney that seemed to spur a somewhat insipid and weak Indian team that had capitulated in Melbourne. The team went on to record a phenomenal victory in Perth in another epic encounter between these two sides.

In 2008, India was down and almost out in Bangalore in the 1st Test of another epic series between the teams. Again, it was Harbhajan Singh (in the company of an unlikely hero in Zaheer Khan) who turned things around for India with the bat. It may have been almost impossible to conceieve an Indian series victory if India had lost in Bangalore and had the momentum shifted to Australia — although one never knows what may have happened, of course. However, that was a momentum changing innings from a man how loves to irritate the Australians.

Such moments can sometimes define a series — like Monty Panesar’s stubborn resistance did, at Cardiff, a few months back!

And much as Steve Waugh, that master of “mental disintegration”, allowed himself to be irritated by Sourav Ganguly’s “toss tactics”, the Australians — including their press — instead of ignoring Harbhajan Singh, fall prey to his antics every time.

In Vadodara, in the first match of the current 7-ODI series, India were almost down and out chasing a not-so-large total. A huge loss would have shifted the momentum completely Australia’s way. Instead we had a cheeky, pugnacious and gritty fight back from that man Harbhajan Singh (in the company of Praveen Kumar) that almost got India a victory!

I have no doubt that that innings changed the way India approached the 2nd match in Nagpur. Although some may point to a depleted Australian bowling attack, I do believe that India would have won even if Brett Lee had played. India played with purpose and determination not often seen by an up-and-down team.

One hopes that this momentum is taken into the remaining games too. However, much as I do not like his antics, one just cannot get over the fact that Harbhajan Singh rises to the occasion everytime he plays against Australia. They say that a great player is one that performs at his best against the best. Perhaps it is time for us to recognise — maybe even reluctantly — that Harbhajan Singh is up there after all?

In ODIs he has a batting average of 16.56 against Australia, when compared to a career average of 13.42, although his bowling stats against Australia is worse than his career average! His highest score while batting in ODIs is against Australia (the 49 he made last week at Vadodara). In Tests, his batting average against Australia is 21.83 when compared to a career average of 17.01. He bowls better against Australia too — 79 wickets at 28.82 as opposed to 300 career wickets at 30.42! His career high Test score of 66 is just 3 higher than his highest score against Australia (the 63 that he made in that “Maan Ki” Test in Sydney). His best Test bowling figures (8 for 84) is against Australia too — in that epic Test match in Chennai in 2001.

It is clear that Harbhajan Singh turns it on whenever he plays against Australia. More power to him.

If India play on the momentum secured thus far and if the team continues to show the passion and the focus that was on display in the 2nd ODI at Nagpur, I think it will be hard for Australia to come back into the series.

And for Australia to bounce back, skin will be important!

Yes! Someone from the Australian team must play out-of-their-skin cricket and the team must not allow Harbhajan Singh to get under their collective skins!

Ricky Ponting said yesterday that he is not a believer in momentum. He said, “I am not a big believer of momentum from game to game. Momentum is all that’s happening in a particular game. I don’t think much of it carries from game to game. I think many of the games that I have played in the past have changed too quickly to be attributed to momentum.”

I am now convinced that, unlike his efforts with the bat, Ricky Ponting is inconsistent with his mouth!

Here is a sample of what Ponting has said (or reported to have said) just in the last few months!

According to Mike Hussey (and he must be a dependable man as well as a reliable source), “Ricky’s been on our hammer already basically about trying to maintain our momentum.” He continued, “Momentum is not something you can turn on and off like a switch. If we can finish this series strongly, that will give us some good impetus going into the Champions Trophy…”

This was precisely 45 days ago. So what’s changed in the intervening period for Ricky Ponting to discard his “momentum theory”?

And some two and a half months back, after Australia’s win at Headingley against England, Ponting declared “The momentum [is] with us”. He went on to say, ”We all get asked about [momentum] after every game, especially in these series that seem to see-saw and swing from one side to the other. For me, the momentum thing is what your individual players get out of the game. There’s not many of our individuals who haven’t taken a lot in this game.”

And at the start of the ongoing series against India, Ponting’s utterances may have led the uninitiated to believe that the Asutralian captain does believe in momentum!

It seems to me that what he has said in the above examples is that he believed in “momentum”. He now does not. Oh well. One theory when you win. One when you lose, I guess?

Despite the newly-laid Delhi track which saw 4 sub-100 scores in the Champions League, I expect India to field an unchanged side.

Australia have to make changes to the side. Tim Paine is back in Australia. Graham Manou is in. This will mean that Shane Watson and Shaun Marsh open the batting. I am not convinced that Cameron White is an appropriate player at #4. But there is something common about Cameron White, Australia and bad choices! Remember the Tests against India in India last year? I have no idea why Cameron White was in that Test side. I am not sure what he is doing batting at #4 in this ODI side. Maybe he will prove me wrong though. Who knows? It is likely that Moises Henriques will get his ODI cap in the Delhi game. He is the sort of bowler that may perform well on the Delhi track.

I will not be surprised if Australia wins the Delhi match. This Ricky Ponting led team is strong and will fight every inch of the way.

And if Australia does win, expect Ponting to say that he was happy to have “reclaimed the momentum”!

— Mohan