Tag Archives: Test cricket

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

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Testing Times: Hobson’s Choice

This piece has been written by Venkataraman Ganesan (@venky1976)

Test Matches Vs T20: To choose or not to choose

The cricketing world, over a span of a fortnight has been regaled with a couple of Test Matches which have been invigorating in nature embedding within each of them thrills and spills galore.

A gallant Zimbabwe put up a distinguished and admirably creditable performance against a much stronger Kiwi side, eventually losing a veritable humdinger by a mere 34 runs on the last day of the Match.

A depleted West Indian side gave the much vaunted Indian Test brigade a few substantial jitters prior to capitulating in a fashion that has almost mirrored the health of West Indian cricket over the past many years.

Elsewhere Pakistan and Sri Lanka, played out a couple of salubrious draws before Pakistan secured a morale boosting win in a Test Match. The three match series which was not only a test of character – given that it was played in the shadows of the spot fixing trial — but also of sustenance against the energy sapping humidity of the desert land that is the UAE.

And more recently, we have had a bizarre Test match played out between Australia and South Africa at Newlands.

Upon a bare reading of the preceding paragraphs one is bound to conclude — and rationally so — that all augurs well for the future of the version of the game played in whites. However in reality, behind a deceptive veil of encouragement and euphoria, there lies a murky truth. It would not be a mere verisimilitude to propound that the future of Test cricket is indeed at a crossroad.

Whilst a statement such as this might irk a multitude and invoke varying levels of emotional reactions, the fact is that Test Cricket of late has become a child of the lesser God, giving away ground in a rapid fashion to the stimulatingly ‘bikini’ version of the game, that is “T20”.

The dwindling numbers that troop to the stands to watch the men in white (and in some cases literally empty chairs are the sole and impartial spectators) are in stark contradistinction to the mad scramble to grab tickets sold in colours of both ‘black’ and white, for the rights to see a T20 battle. This bears ample testimony to the lament espoused by the author.

It is true that, on account of cricketing fatigue and an overkill of the shortest version of the shortened game, crowds might have lagged behind in attendance during tournaments such as the Champions League T20 and the now ubiquitous IPL during the last season. For example the final of the Champions League this year between Mumbai Indians and the Bangalore Royal Challengers were not played out before a gallery packed to the rafters

However, there is absolutely no doubting the fact that the current flavor of the cricketing feast is spread over 40 overs lasting a few hours.
What is it that gives a cricket fan more pleasure watching a few men sporting clothing of various colours and hues heaving and hoiking cricket balls outside the stadium than watching a batsman essaying a perfect front foot defensive shot in copybook style or shouldering arms to a ball pitched slightly outside off-stump? Shouldn’t a real cricket aficionado get the same pleasure in watching Glenn McGrath bowl a metronomic line and length ball after ball as he derives from watching a marauding Chris Gayle deposit balls into the stratosphere under a bank of brilliant lights? I for one cannot fathom the difference.

Many of the arguments that are espoused in favour of according preference to T20 over Test Match cricket vary from the silly to the senseless. Let us analyse some of the common grouses postulated against Test Match cricket and in favour of T20 Cricket and common-sense rebuttals against the same:

Test Match Cricket is too very long in duration:

Of course that is why they are termed as “Test” Matches. Test Matches measure the skill of the gladiators squaring against one another not only in terms of their talent, but also more or even most importantly against their temperament. Test Match cricket is more of a mental or even sometimes spiritual attrition rather than a matching of slam-bang wits. On his/her day any batsman (or bowler) can have literally 15 minutes of fame in a T20 game, tether the opposition and scuttle their chances of victory. More often than not such 15 minutes would amount for nothing but vainglorious futility when it comes to a Test Match.

In the longer version of the game a player needs to be consistent, constantly on the alert and should possess an enormous degree of patience and perseverance. Also prior to the advent of this “hit the ball as hard as you can using as heavy a willow as you lay your hands upon” game, from times immemorial (post the abolition of the ‘timeless” test concept), Test Matches have been played over the duration of 5 days and also in front of packed crowds!

Test matches are boring:

This is one excuse which even goes beyond the realms of being lame! People who propose this excuse either are perhaps not aware of the nuances of the game. The term ‘boring’ has to be one of most frequently used and abused adjectives found in the English language. There is a multitude of evidence that point to the fact that Test Match cricket could also be a knives’ edge affair, keeping the adrenaline pumping and the nerves jangling!

Right from the time Frederick the “Demon” Spofforth knocked off the prodigious English batting line-up to give the Aussies an improbable victory more than 100 years ago, Test Match cricket has been embellished with feats of courage, gallantry and passion which has resulted in extraordinarily absorbing and gripping Test matches. This honest game has also provided unimaginable results such as the tied test matches played out between Richie Benaud’s Australia and the late great Sir Frank Worrell’s West Indies in the 1960s followed two and a half decades later by an equally enthralling tie between Kapil Dev’s India and Allan Border’s Australia. Examples are too very numerous to proffer and to be extremely honest, Test Match cricket does not require a justification for existence and need not offer a concrete case for preservation.

Test Matches are not result oriented:

If at all Test Matches are a dull, drab and a dreary affair, more often than not the benign, placid and impotent tracks on which they are played out, form a primary cause. A classic case in point is Sri Lanka grinding a hapless and helpless Indian attack to dust on a sleepy and stubborn featherbed at Colombo in 1997. But for exceptions such as these, even drawn Test Matches have incorporated, within their duration, an element of excitement, uncertainty and improbability.

Even within a drawn Test Match there can be found examples of many battles which when accumulated provide for great viewing and, for posterity, deliberating pleasure. For example watching a dour, determined and dedicated Mike Atherton, possessing the demeanor of a corpse and a perfectionist’s technique to thwart a fearsome pace attack of M/s Donald & Co, with an eccentric Jack Russell for support is indeed an exquisite experience. Also seeing a clash of the Titans such as Shane Warne Vs Sachin Tendulkar; Ian Botham Vs Viv Richards; Imran Khan Vs Jacques Kallis, etc. is indeed a sight for the Gods! Also with entertainers par excellence such as the peerless Viv Richards and the eerily funny Derek Randall, Test match cricket has always provided its fair share of honest exuberance and entertainment.

There are no cheerleaders in the game:

Although I thought I would not dignify this banal excuse with a rebuttal, I thought a short and appropriate riposte was deserved. Instead of drooling, and ogling skimpily clad nubile nymphs gyrating to the latest track in the realm of hip-hop each time a wicket falls or a stump goes cartwheeling, Test Match cricket, has beyond the boundary, young and agile boys (not for a minute I am suggesting anything that would portray me as a pedophile!), who not only do the task of retrieving a ball lashed beyond the ropes but also obtain precocious and invaluable insights about this wonderful game! The lithesome grace with which some of them catch a ball that come flying towards them or stop them with their tiny bodies perfectly behind the cherry brings a cheer to the viewer.

Whilst cricket of every kind bestows upon the viewer its own dimension of pleasure and the occasional pain, it would be a travesty of justice to choose one at the cost of the other. While T20 might be an occasion to celebrate, an event to soak oneself in with unblemished glee, there is no reason as to why a Test Match ought to be anything different. There are plenty of challenges and moments of cathartic brilliance offered by Test match cricket which can never be a true prerogative of T20 cricket. The universal expectation and discussion in reverential tones about the plausibility of Sachin getting his 100th ton, every time he comes out to bat or the hushed expectation when Murali has the ball in his hand with a packed close in cordon are magical moments which a T20 game can neither equal nor better. In conclusion it needs to be emphasized that while instant gratification may provide a momentary ecstasy, it is prolonged bliss that bestows real bliss and pleasure! For a true cricket lover, Kieron Pollard depositing a ball onto the front seat of a car in a car park adjoining the ground, with its windshield in smithereens, might not give the same joy as watching Rahul Dravid bringing his broad blade down in a perfect arc, with the front foot firmly forward to a slow off break bowled by Marlon Samuels.

For in both instances the winner is Cricket!

— Venky

Clutch re-redux: The Team India Fan wants more…

A day after India drew a Test match at Dominica against the West Indies, I still feel a sense of unease. Yes, a series win is a series win is a series win. However, I feel the same sense of disquiet and deflation that I felt after that 2007 drawn Test at The Oval against England.

A few days back, when writing on Sachin Tendulkar in the context of the clutch debate, I wrote that I was not in favour of clutch being applied to an individual in a team sport. However, I am a fan of “clutch” for a team. A great team has to cease these moments. India failed her clutch moment at The Oval in 2007. In my view, the team completely by-passed a clutch moment again at Dominica.

And that saddens me.

This team has been brilliant. Of that I have no doubt. I have sung the teams’ praises and paeans, just as anyone else has. I have been a vociferous supporter of this team. I am fan of this team. I have endured this teams’ vulnerabilities. I have tolerated her failures with poise. I have celebrated her recent successes with grace and dignity. I have been one-eyed about her failures. I have often been blind to her faults.

In that period, I have been a vociferous supporter of the principle that Team India Fans should learn to put up with the teams’ faults; that fans have to learn to be patient; that fans have to give the team rope.

But there comes a point in a team’s journey when the fan senses a clutch moment and wills the team to take that leap: A leap from being just ordinary, to being good, to becoming great. The point here is that India’s best victories have been back-to-the-wall victories. The Oval and Dominica presented the team with an opportunity to seize the moment, to make a difficult choice and become the enforcer at that point in time when opponents are sizing each other up. In my book, Team India was, instead, tentative. India opted for the soft option and did not become the enforcer. Great teams dictate the pace. And clutch moments like these become a habit. Just ask Rod MacQueen, former coach of the Wallabies and one of the most inspirational motivational speakers I have heard in my time. More on that later.

There has been much written about the Dominica result already by Andy Zaltzman, Samir Chopra, The Cricket Couch, A Cricketing View, et al. Team India coach, Duncan Fletcher has defended the draw offer too.

There are valid arguments in all of these pieces. All of these arguments are acceptable and accepted… I do have a bone to pick with the way Kartikeya Date makes the point in his conclusion, but to focus on chips and shoulders, would be to miss the forests from the trees.

Let us just accept that all of these points are valid and move on.

As Subhash Jayaraman says in his piece, this draw-offer has dominated social networking sites and online fora. He records that Twitter users have used labels and phrases like “Gutless”, “Wimps”, “Running with their tail between their legs” and such to describe the team. He continues that, “It is wildly inaccurate and highly melodramatic.” He also points to the melodrama of a Cricinfo commentary response that called the Dominica result “A black day for cricket”.

I will be the first to admit that I was also a tad melodramatic in the manner in which I expressed my initial disappointments online. I take that flush on my chin.

I will also post two Tweets that I posted just minutes before the draw decision was offered:

The more I see Rahul Dravid bat, the less I like the thought of him hanging up his boots/bat although it is, I know, inevitable.

This line will be eaten up for breakfast by VVS… #RememberKolkata (in response to Bishoo’s negative line)

***

There are people who are comfortable with the draw offer and argue their point vociferously. I admire them. I accept their points.

I am, however, not comfortable with the draw-offer. For me, a great team would have seized that moment. For me, greatness calls for the team to undertake such flights. And these aren’t flights of fantasy.

The chase was difficult. If it were easy, you and I would have been playing the game! We were not and we are not. Bishoo was bowling a defensive line. If he was bowling trash, you and I would have smashed him for fours! We were not playing. And Bishoo was not obliged to bowl an attacking line either!

For the record, I do not buy the ODI/T20 line of argument either that suggests “a run-rate of 4.5 runs-per-over is easy in a T20 game, so why not in a Test match?”. Those calculations matter diddly-squat in a Test match.

My line of argument is actually quite simple. I am happy for it to be called simplistic too!

Of the three results that were possible, a draw was the most probable result. I accept that. In my view, although an Indian loss was (remotely) probable, an India win was, it could be argued, more probable! And to support this argument, just take a look at the Windies’ bowling: If the West Indies thought they could win, why was Bishoo bowling a leg-stump line?

I readily accept all the arguments that have been mounted in favour of Dhoni offering a draw. However, I have no no idea why he would not go for a win, however minimal the chances of success.

A good team will take a 1-0 result. A great team ought to strain every sinew and aim for a victory with the tenacity of a pit bull terrier. I have aspirations for this team to take that journey and be a great team. Like Samir Chopra I will this team to “respond to [new] challenges”.

If India had lost 3 wickets in 5 overs in the process of going for a win, do we really think that the West Indies could bowl this Indian team out and claim victory (in, say, 10 overs)? Remember that on the same pitch, Fidel Edwards had batted for a little over 2 and a half hours with almost no sign of discomfort!

And finally, the fans… They had turned up in large numbers, for the first time in this series. Did the draw decision leave them short-changed? Yes. Are both captains to blame? Yes. Were the captains playing within the rules of the game? Yes, they were. But that is not my point. The fans had come to see an exciting finish. The team that was more in control will have offered the draw (assumption here). The team that had most to gain from the escape of a draw acepted it.

The team faced a clutch moment. The team did not cease it. I am disappointed. Perhaps India wasn’t ‘ready’ at the Oval in 2007. As @sidvee put it in a Twitter conversation I had with him as the draw action unfolded: “Dravid had the weight of history to contend with in ’07…[ed.]” Here in Dominica we did not seize it either!

That said, I agree with Subash Jayaraman’s conclusion. He says:

“As fans, we often tend to think we know and understand things a lot better than the athletes playing the sport. It is quite easy to get in to that vortex and start questioning the character and testicular fortitude of players who had sacrificed a whole lot and surpass tremendous competition to get to where they are. I am not insinuating that the fans shouldn’t question the actions of their teams but to fundamentally doubt the players’ characters that have brought us wins, trophies and covered us in vicarious glory, is a little extreme. It would help us, and the team as well, if we can stay away from such “outrage” bandwagon.”

This is remarkably well constructed and put across in a seriously acceptable and emotional manner. It comes across as an honest and fervent plea, even to one who is still upset that the team stumbled at the altar of greatness. I accept the sentiments totally.

But then, this is the essential dilemma, for team and her fans. As John Eales, one of Australia’s greatest ever Rugby Union captains, says in his column:

Sporting teams and sporting cultures also fulfil one of the most basic of human needs – the longing to belong. Sporting clubs have some of the strongest brands in the world – fans want to be a part of the “team”. Think Manchester United, the Chicago Bulls, the All Blacks, or even the Sydney Swans. They provide an emotional connection between the people and the sport and supporters go to extreme lengths for their clubs.

Yes there was hysteria. But perhaps the Team India fan has evolved! Today’s Team India fan wants more from his/her team. The fan has evolved. It is not merely enough for India to rock up on the park and make up the numbers! That India will. The fan knows that. It is not merely enough that India puts up a good show. Her fans know that India will do that. That is a given! It is not merely enough for India to make it a good fight. Team India fans know now that that will happen. Good teams do that. And Team India fans know that the team is good.

The fan has evolved today. The bar has been set higher. The fan now wants India to play forceful cricket, attractive cricket, dominating cricket. This requires the evolution of a killer instinct that Steve Waugh’s team had. This requires the embracing of clutch moments like the one presented at Dominica.

There are points in time in every teams’ journey, where it stumbles. If we ignore the initial hysteria of the stone-throwers and the admirable tenacity of those who defend the team, there is a lesson there for everyone. And I take this from Rod MacQueen, one of the greatest Rugby coaches Australia has ever had (and coach of John Eales’ team): “The very essence of success is facing up to mistakes. If you cover up failure with excuses and secrecy, you’ll never succeed because you are not facing reality. The teams you see continually coming up with excuses are those same ones that don’t go on to achieve.”

I am a fan. I just want my team to achieve. And in my view, not trying hard enough to achieve yesterday at Dominica was a mistake that must offer a new learning for all of us as we undertake this important journey along with our impressive team.

— Mohan

Update: Dileep Premachandran completed his wrap of the West Indies series for The Guardian after the above post was written. Like many others, he has asked Keyboard Warriors (like me) to get a grip!

Vale Australian Cricket?

Srikanth Mangalam wrote a brilliant piece on the disintegration of Australian Cricket yesterday. I loved his opening where he says, “If your resume states that you have spun a top atleast three times in your life, you would certainly qualify to play for Australia in the Ashes series.”

I abhor gloating, but I will take the bait — as Srikanth did — this one time. In the 1990s, I lost count of the number of times when I’ve not wanted to go in to work on a Monday (in Australia) for fear of being continually ridiculed by my Aussie colleagues for a(nother) pathetic show by Team India. When I said to one such colleague, “I don’t think it is acceptable to kick a guy when he is down”, his immediate reply was, “When else am I going to do it?”

Funny. But true!

The shoe is on the other foot. We can show a bit of grace, I suppose, but I am happy to stick it to the Aussies for a little while yet! Payback does feel good sometimes.

One aspect of the recent decline of Australian cricket that Srikanth Mangalam omitted is the fact that this entire period of slump has been presided by coach Tim Nielsen! And guess what? He has been awarded a 3-year extension until 2013! Why has he got this extension? Because he is the coach that took Australia from #1 in the ICC Test rankings to #5 — and the slide does not appear to have stopped! How is it possible that the coach gets a 3-year extension before even a single ball has been bowled in the all-important Ashes series? Well, I suppose Nielsen has consistency on his side — he has managed to string together a series of losses quite consistently!

The Australian selectors are panicking. Stuart McGill has come down on the selection panel like a ton of bricks. Soon, others will follow suit. If Australian cricket fans think that there is good news around the corner, please take a look at who is lurking around the dressing rooms: Greg Chappell! And we all know what he did with/to Team India!

I believe the Australian slide started on that fateful day in early-January 2008, when the world of cricket adopted a Gate of its own: MonkeyGate!

Almost since then, the Australian selectors have stolen the revolving door that the Team India selection panel used so effectively in the 1990s! Michael Beer will be the 10th Australian Test spinner used since the retirement of Shane Warne! Krejza looked good and Hauritz has the stats (except in India). But they have been revolved out! The Australian selectors are panicking — much like the Team India selectors did up until the 1990s — and the world of cricket is loving every second of this soap opera that is spiraling downwards and out of control.

The level of panic is so high that the selectors have turned to Michael Beer! I do know that beer is a fine Australian tradition. I am confident that the brown liquid does help the average Aussie drive away most pains, but most Aussies will know that the hangover from beer can linger for quite a while!

I am certain that the world of cricket needs a strong and vibrant Australia. I have no doubt about that. Test cricket is currently going through a slump and that is, in my view, due to the state of Australian cricket.

Rahul Bhattacharya, in an article in the Mint Lounge says it all. His piece starts off brilliantly. The hypothesis is quite clearly stated and Bhattacharya commences his arguments purposefully. He and then slides into a strange cackle, produces an incoherent set of arguments towards the middle and then slides into an immature oblivion — much like the slide in Australian cricket that he so bemoans. I believe Rahul Bhattacharya loses the plot when, in an article on the global slump in Test cricket, he devotes an entire chunk of his article to Ricky Ponting’s predilection for fellow Tasmanian cricketers!

Be that as it may, I believe Test cricket needs a strong Australia. It certainly was exciting when Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Glen McGrath played together.

Test cricket needs that kind of excitement! Today, instead of Marshall-Holding-Garner-Roberts or even McGrath-Lee-Gillespie, the best we have is Steyn-Morkel-Parnell! Instead of Prasanna-Bedi-Chandrashekar we have Harbhajan-Ojha or worse still Beer-North or Hauritz-Smith!

The Australian domestic system is too robust to see the situation slide to a point where Zimbabwe and Bangladesh start licking their lips in anticipation of a series against the Aussies! There is an abundance of talent in the Australian domestic scene. This needs to be, once again, harnessed, toughened and sharpened in a style similar to that which Alan Border adopted in the mid-80s. That fine tradition of tough Australian cricketers, so perfectly instilled by Border, was then carried on by Taylor and Waugh. Today, Ricky Ponting has lost it all. That is primarily because, in my view, Ponting is no Alan Border. Ponting is a good captain of a good team filled with good/strong individuals. The job now requires a tough, no-nonsense guy who is not given to existing in a prolonged and continual state of extreme denial. The job requires someone who has an internal mirror that offers nothing but uncompromisingly candid introspection. Ponting, unfortunately, does not possess mirrors. He is far too easily prone to denial-driven-operations — witness his reactions to criticism after his disastrous decision in the Nagpur Test against India in 2008!

Perhaps the answer is that Ponting has to go as captain. If he goes as captain, Australia may buck the trend and have him continue as a player. That is hard to say. However, what is needed is a no-nonsense captain who is uncompromisingly tough; a captain that can transform boys into men. Just as South Africa made an extremely bold decision in appointing Graeme Smith as captain a few years back, Australia needs to make a tough decision; a decision with tremendous foresight and far-reaching consequences.

And what has this got to do with India and Indian cricket? As I say, the world of cricket needs a tough Australia. To have India as #1 when Australia is weak means a hollow #1 for me.

That said, I am enjoying sticking the boot in right now and perhaps for the next few weeks.

— Mohan

What is Suresh Raina doing in the Indian Test team?

The selection of Suresh Raina in the Indian Test team to tour Sri Lanka is a clear indication that the IPL and subsequent ODI performances are influencing the selectors much more than other more conventional parameters.

Nearly all international teams include a player in their Test team based on 2 important criteria:

  • Indications of a solid domestic record with a penchant for scoring centuries (an indication of temperament), or
  • Pointers to a prodigious talent that is capable of doing well at the highest level as evidenced by a few sparkling performances.

Around the world, these broad criteria apply. Michael Hussey got into the Australian Test Team after scoring a mountain of runs in the domestic circuit, while Michael Clarke and Ricky Ponting got in because they showed glimpses of immense talent at a very young age.

This can be seen clearly in the well chronicled success stories of Indian cricket in the last 20 years — the Fab Four! Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had scored tons of runs — including many centuries — in domestic cricket before moving on to Test team selection. They have since proved their mettle on the international stage.

We are not going to even mention the case of God in this context!

On the other hand we have had batsmen like Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag who have done well over the years because their talent was identified early. They were then given opportunities to hone their talent on the world stage.

The success and hype surrounding the IPL has given a sudden boost to the fortunes of many cricketers who have been suddenly pitchforked to the Indian ODI team and then, the Test team, strictly on the basis of their T20 performances.

A clear example of such hubris driven folly is the case of Suresh Raina, in our view.

There is no doubt in our mind that Raina is a talented cricketer. But what has he done in domestic cricket that sends shivers down the spine of opponents the world over? Nothing much. Nothing spectacular.

He has played 51 matches (86 innings) and scored 3684 runs (6 centuries and 25 fifties) with a high score of 203 at an average of 44.38 per game. His last big domestic season was 2005-06 when he scored 620 runs in six games and guided Uttar Pradesh to winning the Ranji Trophy.

In direct contrast, we have S. Badrinath who turns in solid performances year-in-year-out. He has played 85 matches (123 innings) and scored 6252 (22 centuries and 27 fifties) with a high score of 250 and at an average of 57.35!

What? You don’t like the structure of Badrinath’s cheek bones and the colour of his eyelashes?

Look at Cheteshwar Pujara then. The man has played almost as many games as Suresh Raina has and so, may be a more compelling comparison perhaps. Pujara has played 49 First Class matches (78 innings) and scored 3925 runs with a top score of 302 (not out), at an average of 60.38. He has made 14 hundreds and 13 fifties.

Ok. So you think anyone with the name Pujara shouldn’t be trusted?

So, let us look at Rohit Sharma then?

Rohit Sharma has played 36 First Class matches (52 innings), and scored 2641 runs with a top score of 309 not out at an average of 55.02 that includes 8 centuries and 11 fifties.

We can also have a look at other players like Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund, et al.

We have no doubt that Suresh Raina is a good player. He has performed well in ODIs and T20s for India and has done well for Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. He is an electric fielder and has tremendous commitment and nous.

But, the question remains: What is Suresh Raina doing in the Test team ahead of Badrinath, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Abhinav Mukund?

— Sanjay & Mohan

T20’s challenge to Tests

Chris Gayle has announced that he would rather play T20 cricket over Test matches. This may have come as a shock to many, but I am quite surprised that people didn’t see this coming. Expect to see more of this in the future.

I am part of the minority that loves Test cricket the way it is – spread over 5 days, each team playing 2 innings and the game sometimes changing direction from session to session when evenly matched teams play. I believe that Test cricket also separates the players from the pretenders – You have to be sufficiently skilled to survive in this genre of the game compared to the 20 over version. And you have to be sufficiently crazy to enjoy watching test cricket over five days, too.

I know I am.

Most cricket fans around the world these days would rather watch T20. The proof is in the dwindling crowds even in places like India which traditionally attracted large crowds for Test matches.

In a Test match, you pretty much know what the result between Australia and Bangladesh is going to be. T20 on the other hand, makes for a level playing field – you could even have a team like Bangladesh beat South Africa or KKR beat DDD. Okay, KKR winning a match is a bad example 🙂 – but you do get the picture, right? And fans love that.

So, if the fans themselves would rather watch T20 cricket, why should the players feel any different? It makes perfect sense, actually – you spend less time on the field, get paid more and don’t have to be as skilled as a test player. And add other things like less chances of getting injured (due to less cricket), and you have a strong case for playing just T20 cricket.

This is also one of the main reasons that even young players decided to go against their Cricket boards and sign up for ICL in hordes, even if it meant they would be giving up their chance to play cricket for their domestic side and country.

So, if players don’t play for their state and country – how do they get into the T20 teams, you ask. We could be looking at a whole different model. Take Kamran Khan of the Rajasthan Royals, for instance. Forget the fact that he has a "suspect" bowling action, he was pretty much pulled out from obscurity and made into a star of sorts – watch out for more such things happening in the future, when IPL scouts scour the country looking for raw talent.

It is also the consumers that drive the product. With consumers hungry for more T20 games, the people who run the game will oblige. We may also end up having more domestic T20 tournaments for upcoming players to showcase what they’ve got.

Chris Gayle may eventually soften his stand by saying that he was misquoted or whatever, but the fact remains that more and more players would start thinking along similar lines. T20 cricket is going to thrive at the expense of both Test and ODI cricket. I am not actually writing the obituary for Test cricket. Not yet, anyway – but unless Test cricket reinvents itself, it is going to struggle to justify its existence. It may not happen tomorrow or next year,  but it is eventually going to happen.

As much as I love watching T20 cricket, for someone who also loves Test cricket, it is a frightening prospect.

-Mahesh-

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