Tag Archives: Team India

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


The ODI spots that Team India needs to fill

In recent times, given that rain washed out the 1st ODI between India in Australia, MS Dhoni has captured some of the print- and air-space with his comments on team composition, come the World Cup. Ever since the completion of the exciting 2-Test series between India and Australia, after the accolades and paeans, after investigating Shane Warne’s tweets, and after dissecting the Australian media’s castigation of Ricky Ponting, there has not been much to write about!

Even the strange news of Manoj Prabhakar’s appointment as coach of the Delhi Ranji team does not make big news. I must say that I found it a very strange appointment. There is enough there from the man’s past for everyone to progress with appointments such as this with extreme caution. Perhaps only the DDCA could have dared pull off something as brazen as this! We will have to wait and see how the players react to this appointment. However, as I said, this appointment hasn’t really made the news. That is how slow things have been!

It has been a slow-news week in India cricket circles. The next ODI game cannot come fast enough.

Strangely, the same Indian media that was crying foul (earlier on in the year) at the low/small number of Test matches India plays is now spitting chips because there are only 12 ODI matches to go before the World Cup is on us! What does the Indian sport media want? More ODIs? More Tests? India needs to make up her mind! For my money, I think India has got the Tests-ODI balance right.

I think MS Dhoni is right when he says that, barring injury, only a few ODI spots remain for Team India as it marches towards its goal of delivering to Sachin Tendulkar, the one medal that he so covets — victory in the ODI World Cup!

Barring unforeseen injuries (and drastic dips in form), we must assume that the team will read:

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina
MS Dhoni
B1 / B2
Harbhajan Singh / S1
Zaheer Khan
Praveen Kumar / P1
Ashish Nehra / P2

The balance of the above team and the fact that India has no real all-rounders to talk about, will mean that India has to go with 4 front-line bowlers and have Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, B1/B2 and Virender Sehwag share 10 overs between them. This is just how it is.

This also then means that S1 cannot be a bits-and-pieces player like Ravindra Jadeja. S1 has to be a spin-for-spin replacement for Harbhajan Singh in case of an injury (or dip in form) for India’s frontline spinner. The choice for me for S1, therefore, is between R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. I would back Ashwin because of the variety he offers.

The P1/P2 choice is simple. There are any number of people to chose from such as Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Sree Santh, Joginder Sharma (remember him?), Manpreet Gony, Umesh Yadav, Siddharth Trivedi, Dhawal Kulkarni, Abhimanyu Mithun and Jaidev Unnadkat. But my money will be on Vinay Kumar and Munaf Patel to grab those two spots. It is a sad reflection of the nature of the cup-board.

This leaves B1/B2.

Dhoni is in search of an all-rounder and a hard-hitting batsman (B1, B2). I would be very surprised if Virat Kohli is not B1. Dhoni has backed Sourabh Tiwary in recent interviews, and it might well be the hard-hitting lad from Jharkhand that gets the final nod. So we could have Sourabh Tiwary, M. Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan contesting for one final spot (B2).

Given that M. Vijay is essentially seen as an opener and given the Yusuf Pathan has not troubled the selection meeting much in recent times, the choice is between Sourabh Tiwary, Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja. At least this explains why we continue to see Jadeja in the team! I thought we had seen the last of him after the ODIs against Sri Lanka. If Dhoni wants a hard-hitting batsman, then the shoulder-tap must belong to Sourabh Tiwary or Rohit Sharma.

India must, on the day, go with either a batsman or R. Ashwin at that vital #7 spot.

So, for me, the ODI Team India for the World Cup (barring injuries and dips in form) is likely to be:

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina
MS Dhoni
Virat Kohli / Sourabh Tiwary (or R. Jadeja or Rohit Sharma)
Harbhajan Singh / R. Ashwin
Zaheer Khan
Praveen Kumar / Vinay Kumar
Ashish Nehra / Munaf Patel

So to my mind, there is really one spot up for grabs, really.

The 12 matches between now and the World Cup (2 against Australia, 5 against New Zealand at home and 5 against South Africa in South Africa) should be enough to sort out the extra spots. India needs a few questions answered:
– Is Ravindra Jadeja really good?
– Is Ashwin the next best spinner in the land?
– Can Munaf Patel play a string of matches together?
– Has Vinay Kumar arrived?

A few questions to be answered. If 12 matches cannot answer these questions, 25 matches will not!

— 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

Probables List :: Team India T20 World Championships

The Indian selectors announced the Team India list of 30 probables for the T20 World Championship. The final squad of 15 will be announced on June 5, just 10 days after the IPL concludes.

The probables list is:

Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel, Ravindra Jadeja, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan singh, Praveen Kumar, Dinesh Karthik, M Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, S Badrinath, Robin Uthappa, Virat Kohli, Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha, Abhishek Nayar, Amit Mishra, R Ashwin, RP Singh, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Naman Ojha.

Ommissions from the team that represented India in the 2007 T20 World Championship are S. Sreesanth, Piyush Chawla, Ajit Agarkar and Joginder Sharma.

Sreesanth is out through “back injury” — he has even pulled out of this years’ IPL as a result of his injury. Ajit Agarkar hasn’t set any cricket field on fire in the last year or so and must be on his way out of all forms sometime soon. His was a talent that didn’t quite get there, in my view.

The demotion of Piyush Chawla and Joginder Sharma is of concern. There is no doubt that Joginder Sharma never quite lived up to his potential as a “bit of a batsman” — and I fear a similar fate for Praveen Kumar too! And yes, Piyush Chawla’s bowling has tapered off a bit and he did not have a great domestic season. But one would have thought that he would make the probables cut!

I am a bit surprised that the probables list has as many as 4 ‘keepers — Dhoni, Karthik, Saha and Ojha! Surely, two — or at most three — would do! The additional spot could have been “given” to either Joginder Sharma or Piyush Chawla!

The break-up of the probables list is:
Batsmen: Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Virat Kohli, M Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, S Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary
Bits-and-pieces: Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh
All rounders: Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Abhishek Nayar
Spinners: Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, R Ashwin
Pace: Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar, L Balaji, Dhawal Kulkarni, Munaf Patel, RP Singh,
Keepers: MS Dhoni, Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik, Naman Ojha

I’d think that the final team will be made up of 2 batsmen from the above list (the first two named), all 4 “bit and pieces” players in the above list, 3 “all rounders” (first three named), 1 spinner (the first named), 4 pace men (first 4 named) and 1 “keeper” (first named)

Players like Abhishek Nayar, Ajinkya Rahane, Naman Ojha, Wriddhiman Saha, M. Vijay, Manoj Tiwary, et al should feel good that they are part of the mix with the senior squad. After strong performances in the domestic season, the day is perhaps not far when we will start seeing some of the above in national colours.

Given the timing of the IPL and the date when the T20 team of 15 will be selected, one has to assume that the IPL assumes special significance for some of the above players!

However, I expect the 15-member T20 India team will be:

Gautam Gambhir
Virender Sehwag
Suresh Raina / Robin Uthappa (or Virat Kohli)
Yuvraj Singh / Rohit Sharma
MS Dhoni
Yusuf Pathan
Irfan Pathan / Ravindra Jadeja
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Praveen Kumar / L Balaji
Ishant Sharma

— Mohan

Pitch Doctors

This is a note meant for Malcolm Conn and Peter Lalor and “their types”…

Andy Moles, the New Zealand coach had this to say about the pitch for the 2nd Test between New Zealand and India in the ongoing series between the two countries. Moles said, “We need a typical New Zealand wicket where it nips for about a couple of days so it brings our seamers into the game against their batting attack which is used to the ball being true and turning a bit.”

If it were Australia touring India or England touring India and the India coach or captain had said, “We need a typical Indian wicket where it spins from the first ball so it brings our spinners into the game against their batting attack which is not used to the ball spinning around a bit,” we would have had Lalor and Conn and “their types” licking their pens with juvenile and puerile pleasure. They’d have had a story to write about in which they would pillory said coach and/or captain!

After all, did the the Lalors and Conns and “their types” not castigate and lampoon Ganguly for saying pretty much exactly what Moles did prior to a Test match in Nagpur a few years back?

Steve Waugh, in his biography, compared Ganguly’s alleged interference to “match fixing”!

So, do we now fix up Andy Moles for match fixing?

I’d like Steve Waugh to write about this too if possible please?

We haven’t heard a murmur yet on this Andy Moles pearl from the Team India camp. They just get on with the job and leave the whining to the Lalors and Conns and “their types”!

Mind you. I do not have any problems with the comments of Andy Moles, just as I’d hope the Conns and Lalors and “their types” would have no problems with the hypothetical Team India Coach or captian saying “When in Sydney, expect to see the Opera House. If you want to see the Taj Mahal, visit India instead!”!

— Mohan

IPL: Winners and Losers — I

The IPL cricket festival is over. The Shane Warne led unfancied and least-expensive team from Rajasthan took home the coveted trophy — said to be the most expensive sporting trophy ever! The match itself was befitting a final as it went down to the last ball for scores to be settled. And it had a fairy-tale ending too as Shane Warne, said to be the best captain Australia never had, was there at the end to guide the team home to victory.

So who were the winners and losers in this festival of cricket? I plan to write about this in the next few posts. In this post, I concentrate on winners and losers for the two finalists.

As far as teams go, the Royals formed either side of the win-loss spectrum. It would be fair to say that the biggest winner was Rajasthan Royals while the biggest losers would have to be the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

The team from Rajasthan was one of the least expensive teams going around. They banked on non-icon, non-expensive local players like Mohammed Kaif, Munaf Patel, Yusuf Pathan, Swapnil Asnodkar, Neeraj Patel, Taruvar Kohli, Dinesh Salunke, Siddharth Trivedi, Mahesh Rawat, Pankaj Singh and Ravindra Jadeja. Most of these players have delivered big-time for the team. They then added to the mix a healthy dose of the right sort of experienced internationals who repaid faith in a big way. Players like Shane Warne, Shane Watson, Graeme Smith, Sohail Tanveer and Kamran Akmal were not hugely expensive. A disappointment was that the tournament did not get to see much of Younis Khan, arguably one of the best batsmen going around these days! However, the team had the right sort of players that Rajasthan was trying to build — a team of equals where everyone contributes in some way or the other. What you got was a terrific team combination that delivered consistently thanks to the leadership that made each player express themselves hugely. The biggest winners were perhaps Yusuf Pathan and Swapnil Asnodkar. The big factor here was that this team banked on overseas players that would stay the distance with the team! Unlike Chennai and Kolkata — two teams that were badly exposed when the overseas players departed, the Rajasthan Royals went for less expensive recruits that would stay the distance and mould the team into a fighting unit. Although Kamran Akmal and Younis Khan arrived late and although we didn’t hear much from Justin Langer, Dimitri Mascarenhas and Morne Morkel, all of the key overseas players stayed with the team for the duration. Moreover, there was little chopping and changing of the team. Any changes were forced either by injury or the 4-overseas-player rule — which meant that in some games Kamran Akmal was not included.

The Chennai Super Kings journey was a mixed bag. It was one of the more expensive teams. However, as pointed out above, the main difference was that the high-impact players stayed only for a brief period after which one felt that there was a re-building phase that never quite got over. Players like Matthew Hayden, Michael Hussey, Jacob Oram and Stephen Fleming did not last the distance. This is something that the franchise owners may want to look into more seriously in the next installment of the IPL. Shane Warne and Rahul Dravid took wildly different routes to prove that a team is not just a random collection of talented individuals. The former had some talented players that formed the nucleus of a well-oiled and well-led machinery. The latter had a large collection of talented players who couldn’t quite work it together. Each player in the team needs to understand why they are there and needs to accept what is expected of them in different situations! Chennai, one felt, was still a work-in-progress when the finals series started. The big winner for Chennai would have to be Manpreet Gony. It would be a shame to see Manpreet Gony not being part of the longer-term ODI/T20 mix for Team India. The big strides he has put in are too compelling to ignore. But the player who created the biggest impact is, in my view, Suresh Raina. He seized his opportunities to make statements about his batting and fielding abilities. From amongst the overseas players Albie Morkel made the biggest strides while Makhaya Ntini and Muralitharan showed everyone the value of being a committed and strong professional. Players from the local catchment were somewhat disappointing and that, in the end, separated the wheat from the chaff. While Abhinav Mukund wasn’t given opportunities, one felt that Vidyut Sivaramakrishnan, S. Badrinath and L. Balaji did not do enough too often to stake serious enough claims about their potential. It is, however, certainly refreshing to see L. Balaji make those strides towards a total recovery. While Team India can now boast of a significant and non-trivial bench strength in the pace bowling department, the presence on the recovery-road of a past-winner like L. Balaji is certainly refreshing. It would have been a pity if Balaji had been lost in the system forever. I did feel that Joginder Sharma was a disappointment for Chennai. In my view, he is a player that has taken a backward step in the IPL. Another partial disappointment for me has been Parthiv Patel. Although Parthiv Patel’s batting appears to have improved, it is quite shocking to see that his ‘keeping is perhaps as good as it ever has been! With the solidity of M. S. Dhoni and with players like Dinesh Karthik, Mahesh Rawat, Shreevats Goswami and Wriddhiman Saha knocking on the doors, the route back into Team India for Parthiv Patel — as a ‘keeper — looks long and is perhaps a lost cause.

There ends Part-I of this commentary. I’d love your views and opinions on this…

— Mohan