Tag Archives: Test

I don’t want 2-Test series.

The best duels in Test cricket history are ones that have taken hours and hours to describe, volumes of books written on, years of legend built on memories emerging from multiple corners of views of the same event. The talks of the series attract conversations, hair raising stories and excerpts and anecdotes creep in. A bowler’s glare, a batsman’s bat-twirl, a fielder’s expectant move, a battle-within-the-battle, all find a place in what later become “the turning point of the series”. The battle becomes spicier after the turning point. The underdogs are biting into the big dogs, reducing them to carcass by the end of the tour. Legends are made when the unexpected happens.

But, it takes time to build expectations. A team arrives in a new land, takes time to settle – the food, the climate, the atmosphere, the environment, the crowd, the cricket. The story is sketched in the first few days of the tour. There are attempts to alter it in the next few. The climax is anyone’s guess. The constant attempts to out-do the expectations makes the series/tour more memorable.

All that is history.

Today, the teams travel out of their suitcases. Players are involved in Test matches within a week of arrival, play two Tests and fly away. There is no context. There is no rivalry built during the series. There is no story to be written. It is just academic. Such series are more for the media and scoreboards than for the fan of the game, the teams.

A fan might want to watch one Test, just for the sake of watching one. He/she does not want to follow the team around the tour. There is no tour diary to fill. It is just a visit report, not a tour diary.

Why 2 Tests? Why not just forget the Test series and save us the trouble of trying to follow this. “Follow” might not even be the right word. It is just two scorecards that I have to read, that is the series. I don’t have to read between the lines. Saeed Ajmal got 10 wickets? Big deal. He is going to fly out of the country in 5 days and he will start with a clean slate. Virat Kohli scored a century this series? Hmmph, nobody knows if he can repeat that next month in South Africa. Form? What is form in a 2-game series? Harbhajan under-performed? Sure, bad series, he will be fine next tour. How do you know?

The 2nd Test is when the stories and expectations were to be framed, but now, 2nd Test is when you get your report card. It is like deciding the winner of a Test match at Tea on day-2 of the Test. You neither know if a batsman has been good, or bad. For all you know, a “good series” for a player might have meant one fluke 150* and a 70 or just a 6-wicket haul. Zimbabwe beat Pakistan and leveled series 1-1. Which team was better? How do you know? There wasn’t even a 3rd Test. There was no substance to the series – just win this game and get the hell out of here. And Zimbabwe are going to hang on to this win for another few years, for all you know.

Frankly, a series without substance, story, thrill, fan-fare, excitement and length amounts to nothing. You can squeeze in a bunch of those series and dress it like it matters, wrap and bow-tie it as a present to someone, but the truth will lie bare inside it – it still is meaningless. It’s just not cricket.

-Bagrat

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

The Kolkata Test

Postscript as Introduction:

Perhaps Kris Srikkanth knew something that we all did not know! Perhaps Goddess Durga appeared in his dreams one night and informed him that a Saha would be a champion player this week. He woke up and sent Wriddhiman Saha to Nagpur and when he realized that that was a dud, sent him packing to his home town in Kolkata. But then, in so doing, he cost India a Test match and possibly the #1 Test Rank. Should he resign? I think so. Meanwhile, Goddess Durga was right. A Saha did become a champion player this week. Unfortunately for Kris Srikkanth, that Saha was Louis Saha, who scored two goals for Everton against Chelsea! — [Thanks to Sam Kumar for that nugget]

Team India suffered the ignominy of an innings defeat in Nagpur and move now to Kolkata to salvage more than pride. India needs to play a sensational brand of cricket to stop the South Africans from claiming the series and with it, the #1 spot in the ICC Test Rankings. While Indian cricketers may not yearn for it perhaps as much as others, there is also the small matter of a prize purse, come the 1st of April when the ICC will dole out some loose change to the team that is #1 at that time.

More than anything else, the manner of the loss in Nagpur will sting Team India and the manner in which the team has made recent strides.

I have always believed that Team India did not really deserve to be #1, given that it has not beaten Australia and South Africa in their home dens. That said, the team has been making steady progress in its journey towards becoming a team that is radically different from Indian teams from the 90s that had plenty of class but little substance; teams that had fragility that would make a toy made from match sticks feel good about its lot in life. The present Team India has demonstrated that it is made of sterner stuff.

Yes, one can point to the absence of Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Sreesanth from the team — all of whom would perhaps be automatic picks in the Test team perhaps. However, a great team (and even a good team) has to rise above these losses and has to depend on the reserves to dig it out of situations like the one faced in the lead up Nagpur.

The selectors have to take the blame for the sordid mess that left the team with little option other than play Wriddhiman Saha as a batsman! Like other wicketkeepers from that part of India (Deep Dasgupta and Saba Karim) Saha has to now make a separate trek back to Kolkata, wondering what wrongs he had committed. Saha was picked as a ‘keeper and played as a batsman and now makes way for a ‘keeper? Or has he made way for a batsman? Or indeed, has he made way for a zonal selection? I have lost confidence in this selection committee and hence these questions.

If Wriddhiman Saha was the second best ‘keeper in the land, should he not have stayed on for Kolkata as a reserve ‘keeper? Or was he picked for Nagpur as the next best batsman in the land? Even if the selectors were on drugs, I am confident (despite my lack of faith in their ability to even distinguish their backsides from their elbows) that they did not pick Saha as the next best batsman in India. So let us assume that they picked Saha as the next best ‘keeper in the land. So, what has happened in 7 days for the selectors to think that Karthik was suddenly a better reserve ‘keeper? This is the same question that Sanjay Subrahmanyan asked earlier too.

These are questions need to be asked.

At the end of the Bangladesh series, it is likely that Dinesh Karthik was a zonal selection sacrificial lamb who had to make way for Badrinath’s entry into the team. Who knows what transpired in the sleazy dungeon that represents the Indian team selection committee rooms. However, what is palpably obvious is that the team selection was wrong. The selectors went with too many bowlers and too few batsmen at a time when 2 key batsmen were definitely injured and one other batsman was living on one working playing hand, with the other one injured badly. The logic of that selection imbalance defies belief and for that reason, I do believe that, although Kris Srikkanth has taken personal responsibility for the mess, he must hand in his resignation papers. Srikkanth has demonstrated that his committee is unable to rise above zonal politics. Any person with integrity and substance would have handed their papers in by now already. It is not enough to just take personal responsibility. He is either a weak chair who is unable to get his committee to rise above zonal politics or he is in charge of a committee that cannot arrive at good decisions. How else can one explain a situation where the team had more bowlers than batsmen when there were 3 injured batsmen in the first team list?

In his interview, Srikkanth says, “In hindsight, we didn’t have Rahul (Dravid), who is a fantastic player of fast bowling. Laxman was injured… we were hopeful of his recovery but unfortunately that didn’t happen and then Rohit got injured. So, I would say it was fate,” he added.

And therein lies the problem. This committee relies on hindsight when what is needed is foresight!

Moreover, any decision that is based on a hope and a prayer is made by people who ought not to make these decisions! Decisions have to be made not on a hope, but on medical assessments on a players’ availability. The selectors should have taken tough decisions instead of reaching for their prayer beads! Rohit Sharma himself was a last minute addition and with his addition, there was no batsman to cover in case of a freak injury or a stiff neck or a headache or a sprained calf muscle to any of the other batsmen.

The selectors have to be requested to go home with their prayer beads! I am not braying baying for blood. I am seeking accountability as a Team India fan.

And so, where to from here for Team India?

Despite the alleged lamentable statements by the Kolkata curator, I do believe that Indis’ best chance is spin on a “turner” or a “dust bowl”.

I am not sure why a “turner” is held in such contempt or disrespect (mainly by people that can’t play spin). If a batsman is good enough, they ought to say “give me a pitch… any pitch”.

Terms like “turner” and “dust bowl” have become pejoratives in current cricket lingo because they have been turned into pejoratives by people who make and set these views; by people who cannot play spin!

Just as Durban, Melbourne, Lords’ and Sabina Park offer bounce and carry, Indian pitches ought to offer spin. I say “ought to” because that’s what the natural conditions provide. “Dust bowls” has become a derogatory term these days. I love dust bowls. They offer a difference in a world that craves for a sameness — a sameness that is imperialistic in its notion and connotation.

Give me a dust bowl any day. I like to see batsmen charge a spinner. I grew up on that diet and love it just as I love to see batsmen hopping around in Durban or Sabina Park.

For years, Indian curators have been doctoring pitches in response to idiotic clarion calls from administrators in South Africa, England and Australia that have wanted the “sameness” of bounce and carry and grass with the one-eyed notion that that’s what a cricket pitch ought to look like. These clarion calls have been based on the very imperialistic notion that suggests that despite local conditions, the only brand of toothpaste that is valid is Colgate! I detest this craving for “sameness” just as I detest the response from Indian curators who bend over backwards to prepare the kind of pitch that we saw in Nagpur against the Australians in 2004.

As I have said before, I will accept a seaming, bouncy pitch in Nagpur when I see a dust bowl in Durban. Surely, if it is possible to create a dust bowl in Kolkata it should be possible to create one in Durban?

No?

Why? Because the soil conditions and environment there make it impossible to create a dust bowl in Durban?

Then why is there the expectation that Kolkata should unnaturally offer seam, bounce and carry?

I do hope the Indian curators stop doctoring pitches and prepare spinning tracks, for that is what the natural soil condition provides. I am tired of seeing a oneness and sameness in everything in the world that suggests that the only pitch that is worth offering is one that offers seam, bounce and carry.

Despite the above arguments, I do think South Africa will win. This is a full-strength team that has depth and dimension. The batsmen are in form. The bowling is terrific and the teams’ mental toughness is remarkable. I loved the way the South Africans played the Nagpur Test. It has a India-at-Leeds feel to it. Apart from the first half hour or so, they were in utter control of the match and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Even when Paul Harris was bowling just that brand of cricket that I detest, the South Africans gave the impression that they were in control.

India can bounce back, but in order for that to happen, the team needs to play out-of-their-skins cricket.

I can’t see Mishra and Ishant Sharma playing in the Kolkata Test. Ojha and Sreesanth will perhaps play and Laxman will play instead of Saha in the XI, with Laxman coming in at #3.

Bring it on.

— Mohan

India Vs SA: Both teams in turmoil before First Test

For different reasons, both India and South Africa (RSA) — ranked #1 and #2 in the world respectively — are in some turmoil leading up to the First Test between these two countries starting 6 Feb.

Team India has a few wounded soldiers in her ranks while the RSA team management has suddenly imploded. After being summarily dismissed from the ICC Match Referee panel after his infamous contributions to the Sydney Monkeygate Test, Mike Procter has been sacked as Cheif Selector in his own country and along with him, his entire selection committee! The RSA coach, Mickey Arthur has stepped down too, citing difference in vision with Cricket South Africa (CSA). The selection panel now comprises Gerald Majola, CEO of CSA, Keppler Wessles and interim coach van Zyl.

Seems to me to be a case of too many chiefs and too few Indians!

Which is really a nice segueway to the problems the Indians are facing themselves.

Unlike the dramas in RSA which are of Pakistanesque proportions, the problems that Team India faces are all injury related. And frankly, since it is the on-field stuff that really matters, I feel that India are behind the eight-ball in this clash of two champion sides.

Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Sree Santh are all on the injury list. Two of these are vital for the teams’ success against the second ranked team in the world. One of these injuries is a blessing in disguise, in my view, while the other is neither here nor there (but mostly there)!

Rahul Dravid is in sublime form and will be a vital cog in the armoury against a very good pace attack that includes Dale Steyn, Morkel and the fast improving Wayne Parnell. Similarly, in recent times, Laxman’s role in the spot that Sourav Ganguly vacated has been one that he has relished. He has been solid and has adapted well the the changing needs of that important role, which requires acceleration at times and a blocking-rebuilding at times of an upper-order crash.

If both Dravid and Laxman remain injured, my view is that RSA will start as favourites in the Test series.

Yuvraj Singh’s injury will bring a ray of hope to any of the many understudies who are waiting in the wings of Indian cricket. And there are plenty of those waiting to strut their wares in a middle order that seems almost impregnable. Players like M. Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Mohammed Kaif, Badrinath, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Cheteshwar Pujara would have picked up their bats as well as their prayer beads as soon as they heard of Yuvraj Singhs’ injury! A few of them may have to put their hands up and put on a show when the South Africans come to town.

I suspect that 2 middle-order positions may be up for grabs. In saying so, I assume that Yuvraj Singh is certainly out of the 1st Test and perhaps one of Dravid or Laxman may not play.

I feel that, given his recent probationary stints, M. Vijay must be a shoe-in for one of these spots. Logically, Badrinath ought to be the one that claims the other spot. He has spent many years in the wings. However, he might miss out on the basis of his recent poor showing in the Duleep Trophy and Mohammed Kaif’s recent strong (and timely) form — he has scored a double-century and a century last week in the ongoing Duleep Trophy.

Sreesanth’s injury is less of a concern to me. Bowlers like Sudeep Thyagi will fit the bill quite nicely. Moreover, I think India will prefer going with two pacemen and two spinners in the Tests against RSA.

Ideally, the team selection ought to wait until the end of the Board President’s XI game. However, the team for the 1st Test is being selected today. The Indian selectors should go for the following team, in my view:

Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Rahul Dravid / M. Vijay
Sachin Tendulkar
V. V. S. Laxman / Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh / S. Badrinath
M. S. Dhoni
Harbhajan Singh
Zaheer Khan
Pragyan Ojha / Mishra
Ishant Sharma / Sudeep Thyagi

— Mohan

Take a bow Fab Five… Team India is the #1 Test Team

Some 10 years ago, the Fab Five of Indian Cricket undertook a near-impossible journey. After the morass that represented the match fixing scandal Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were left with the near-impossible task of reaching a near-impossible goal.

By the end of the decade, the Fab Five had reached there.

After yet another innings defeat of Sri Lanka, Team India was crowned the #1 Test Team in the ICC Rankings.

It was an amazing achievement for a bunch of committed cricketers that started on what seemed to be an impossible journey some 10 years ago. It was a burning passion for the Famous Fab Five (Ganguly, Kumble, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman).

Today, sans Kumble and Ganguly, the team ascended to #1; albeit with help from South Africa and England who both beat Australia in the recent past. Yet, the ascent was palpably obvious. It was measured, considered, passionate and single-minded.

There have been some sensational victories along the way: From Kolkata 2001 (v Australia), Leeds 2002 (v England), Adelaide 2003 (v Australia), Multan 2004 (v Pakistan), Sabina Park 2006 (v West Indies), Johannesburg 2006 (v South Africa), Perth 2008 (v Australia), Mohali 2008 (v Australia) and Chennai 2008 (v England). It is unlikely that the Test at Mumbai at the CCI Ground against Sri Lanka will receive the exalted status and the dizzy heights of a Leeds 2002 or Perth 2008. However, it will be remembered as the Test in which India reached the #1 position.

It has been a long road to redemption. It is a moment for all Team India tragics to savour.

It will be brief — after all an Australian clean-sweep this summer or a 2-0 victory by South Africa against England will snatch this moment from India.

However, for a few good men of Indian cricket, this will be a special moment. When Anil Kumble retired he marked this moment. He will be a happy man today and so will Sourav Ganguly.

Sachin Tendulkar remembered everyone in his post match victory statement when he marked the milestones along this path. What better way to get up than stairlifts?

In his post-match interview he said, “Fantastic to be at this position. I have been waiting a long time to get to this position (No 1). In fact just not me, entire nation. I thought when Gary (Kirsten) and Paddy (Paddy Upton), along with Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad, all credit to them for handling the team brilliantly. Also all the players have worked very hard in the last 18 months. Right from no 1 batter to no 7 (MS bats at no 7) we have a solid batting line-up. This pitch was a brilliant wicket. There was some turn on the first day and I knew one roll would settle it down and it did.”

No mention of Greg Chappel!

Dileep Premachandran, in his excellent article, Bestautolenders.com mentions John Wright, forgotten players like Sanjay Bangar (Leeds), Irfan Pathan (Multan), Balaji (Multan) and even staff like Adrian Le Roux, Andrew Leipus, John Gloster and Greg King.

He too has ignored Greg Chappel… Perhaps the one page that some of the current crop of players will want to ignore as they trace what has indeed been a fascinating, interesting and impressive 10-year journey.

Starting from Kolkata 2001, the journey has been painful at times; it has been excting at times; it has been imperssive at times. However, I will remember the journey for the commitment, passion, dignity and focus that the Fab Five showed.

Indeed, it is this journey — and not the outcome — that I will savour for a long long time.

As for the future, who knows what will happen. However, I am comforted by MS Dhoni’s calm assurance that Team India needs to travel well to claim the legitimate top-dog position. He said, “Let’s see when we go there. We can’t play them sitting here.”

The Fab Five will exit the scene one by one. However, I am confident that when they exit stage left, Indian cricket will be in a much better position than when they found it.

Take a bow guys. This is your ascent. This is your victory and thank you for all the good memories.

India v SL :: 1st Test… a Dull Draw

India and Sri Lanka played out a dull and boring draw in the 1st Test on a pitch which may not have yielded a result had the teams played on it for 10 days!

So while we have the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the world and while we have both eyeing the #1 spot, the BCCI prepared a wicket on which there was absolutely no chance of a result.

While the ICC is powerless to do anything about it, it is the BCCI has to take responsibility for this sordid preparation — it is the home team that is responsible for pitch-preparation. Then again, at a time when the ODI game and the T20 version top up coffers that are already brimming, the BCCI has little interest in making Test cricket more compelling — despite the rhetoric about the sactity of Test cricket mouthed by everyone from the President to the Secretary to the watchman! It is in BCCI’s interest to kill off Test cricket! Moreover, contracts with TV companies in India are written in such a manner as to force games to go into the last day. The TV deal has been struck on the basis of the number of days of TV coverage of Test matches and not on the basis of the number of Test matches! So, it is in BCCI’s interest to prolong Test matches to the last ball of the last day of all Test matches. And, in order to be fail-safe, why would they not let all matches go beyond the last ball of the last day of Test matches? I would, if I was given such a contract and was asked by my boss to maximise revenues with such a “dud deal”!

That is, if I were also short-sighted.

Unfortunately, short-sightedness seems to be a pre-requisite for a BCCI post!

Dileep Premachandran writes about the high percentage of draws in the flat pitchers of India, when compared to result-oriented pitches presented in countries like Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka. They are focussed on becoming the best team in the world. The BCCI is focussed on being the richest in the world. Misplaced priorities.

Meanwhile, neither team can draw much from the match — apart from the draw that is!

After the first session of the Test, no bowler really had a good outing in this game! It was nice to see Zaheer Khan back in action. He seemed to bowl with fire and accuracy. Ishant Sharma is bowling well but needs a pitch that does something. Harbhajan Singh tried his hardest and Amit Mishra just landed it. The one worry might be Amit Mishra’s lack of penetration. If the Kanpur pitch has a tinge of grass on it, I will not be surprised to see Sree Santh ahead of Amit Mishra. Despite the wobbly start, the Indian batsmen were excellent. It was nice to see Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Viernder Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman get amongst the runs for India.

Sri Lanka had a terrific outing too. But neither team emerged better than the other.

This was just a terribly boring game. Hope there is more on offer in Kanpur. However, that would depend completely on the BCCI!

— Mohan

Teams for NZ Tour

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

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

The teams are

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

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

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

Is there a TN-bias to the selection?

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

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

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

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

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

Bits-and-pieces players:

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

Experimentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Possible Teams:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Mohan