Tag Archives: VVS Laxman

Team India are poor travelers?

In the last few days, two very interesting victories have made cricket interesting once again. India won at Kingsmead, Durban and England clinched The Ashes with a famous victory at the MCG.

For sometime now, I have been maintaining a list of some of the most thrilling Indian Test Cricket victories in recent times. I have added to this list, India’s victory on 29 December 2010 at Kingsmead, Durban, South Africa. The addition of “Durban 2010 v South Africa” to this impressive list is because it was once again a come-from-behind victory after a terrible loss in the 1st Test of the series (at Super Sport Park). The Durban victory is an important victory for Team India because it goes a long way towards debunking a myth — yet again! — that India plays badly overseas.

Is it important for India to debunk myths about her ability to play overseas?

No. Not really.

I think it is enough if India plays well every time she takes the field — regardless of where it is. And that is exactly what Team India has been doing in the last decade.

There are trash-talkers who wish to talk with their mouths and then play, sometimes simultaneously and almost always, to their own detriment — as Graeme Smith found out quite rudely in the Durban Test match! Greame Smith can believe the myths he creates to make himself happy about his lot in life. These myths have a strange way of enveloping the myth-creators. When that happens, the inevitable outcome is a simple pin-prick that results in a painful deflation of the balloon of arrogance. The myth-creators are often blind-sided by the myths that they create!

In the last decade, India has won 22 and lost 20 of her 61 overseas Tests for a win/loss ratio of 1.1 and a draw/loss ratio of 0.95. In the same period, when compared with the performance of South Africa, Australia, England and Sri Lanka, the corresponding figures for Australia (for Wins, Losses, Total Overseas Tests, W/L and D/L) are clearly the best at 34, 16, 59, 2.12, 0.56. The figures for South Africa are: 21, 18, 56, 1.16, 0.95. The figures for England are 19, 23, 62, 0.82, 0.86 and those for Sri Lanka are 11, 19, 39, 0.57, 0.47.

Clearly, Australia has the best win-loss ratio, thanks to Australia’s stunning performances when Steve Waugh (and then Ricky Ponting) captained an excellent team with Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Waugh, Martyn, Waugh, Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, Gillespie et al. India’s win-loss ratio in the same period compares favorably with that of South Africa and puts into shade, the win-loss performances of Sri Lanka and England.

The draw/loss ratio is not a metric that is often used in comparative analyses of this sort. It is, in my view, as important as the more obvious win-loss ratio that is used almost always. It is a pointer to a teams’ grit and resolve — especially when it plays in unfamiliar conditions. A draw might not be a pretty sight. But it is a pointer to a teams’ grit in tough situations. The above figures might show Australia in poor light as a team that has an inability to grit it out. But this might be more due to the rather refreshing “win at all costs” attitude Australia used to employ in the early part of this decade. But India has drawn almost as many Tests as she has lost in overseas Tests!

Team India has an impressive draw-loss ratio and an acceptable win-loss ratio that is constantly improving.

For example, if we take just the last 5 years, the win-loss and draw-loss ratios are 1.44 and 1.33 for India, 1.66 and 0.89 for Australia, 1.62 and 0.875 for South Africa, 0.6 and 0.86 for England, and, 0.7 and 0.6 for Sri Lanka.

Overall, apart from the impressive Australia team — and that too, in the first half of this decade gone by — India stacks up really well with other top teams in terms of her “overseas” performances. So, in my view, it is time we start debunking these myths about Team India being poor travelers.

To me, with the addition of the latest victory at Kingsmead, this big-list list of recent Indian Test victories reads: 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), Chennai 2008 (v England), Colombo, P. Sara 2010 (v Sri Lanka), Kingsmead Durban 2010 (v South Africa).

It is fair to say that, with a few days to go to the end of the current decade, the period from 2001 to 2010 has represented an exciting decade for Indian cricket. We have seen some exciting talent explode onto the scene — MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, to name a few. We are seeing a few young turks itching to have a crack on the big stage — Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, M. Vijay, Pragyan Ojha and Ishant Sharma, to name a few. And this entire march has been presided over by the “Famous Five” or the “Fab Five”; five of the best gentlemen to grace Indian cricket together in the same team.

One of this quintet — The Famous Five — was responsible for this sensational victory in Durban. The smiling assassin, V. V. S. Laxman, carefully scripted this impressive victory. And with this victory, the world might start accepting that a green-top is as useful to India as it is to the host.

As Dileep Premachandran says, “If one picture could tell you the story of how Indian cricket’s fortunes have changed in three years, it would be that taken at Kingsmead at 9.58am on Wednesday. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, who had tested his captain’s patience in the last game by taking an age to bowl his overs, pitched one just short of a length to Jacques Kallis. The ball spat up like an angry cobra and it said much about Kallis’s skill that he jackknifed and managed to get a glove to it before it rearranged his features. The ball lobbed up gently to Virender Sehwag at gully and four wickets down with another 180 to get, South Africa were out for the count. And, after years of their batsmen copping punishment from opposition quicks, an Indian pace bowler was dishing it out.”

That ball will become part of Indian cricket folklore. As Ayaz Memon said on his Twitter time-line (@cricketwallah), “Sreesanth’s snorter to dismiss Kallis will become as famous in cricket lore as Sandhu’s banana delivery that got Greenidge in 1983 World Cup.”

In conclusion, let us debunk two myths: One, that India are poor travelers. Two, that a lively pitch only assists the home team when Team India visits!

Ps:

While we are on the topic of green-tops, how is it ok for Graeme Smith or Dale Steyn to “request” for green-tops against India while a “request” for a spin-friendly wicket in India by an Indian captain or player is frowned upon when Australia or South Africa visit Indian shores?

I have never heard a visiting Indian captain whine about the state of pitches in Melbourne, Leeds or Durban? Isn’t it time that captains that visit the sub-continent lock their whine-vocal-chords at home before they board the plane?

PPs:

While I exist in this paranoid state, am I the only one to believe that if Ricky’s surname was not Ponting, but either Singh or Kumar or Khan, he would have been suspended for his totally over-the-top antics at the MCG? Had I been the umpire and had an on-field captain carried on like a pork chop the way Ricky Ponting did, I would have searched for a red card and thrown the man out of the park! The fact that Aleem Dar tolerated the Ponting “carry on” was a testament to the umpires’ patience. The fact that the match referee slapped a mere fine on Ponting means that, to me, the Match Referee’s office is, once again, shown up for the disgrace it is. The fact that Cricket Australia did not suspend Ricky Ponting immediately means that the “Spirt of Cricket” document that all Australian cricketers sign up when they get the Baggy Green needs to be torn up immediately and re-written in an environment of grace and humility.

— Mohan

Glimpses of the future…

The current Team India at the Twenty20 World Cup offers a glimpse of a possible future for Indian cricket sans the Fab Five — Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman and Anil Kumble.

In the T20 World Cup, India has bowled well, fielded exceptionally well and played with self-belief and aggression. There are pointers to a potentially bright future. These are early days still, but I believe that this team is a good step in the right direction. This direction commenced with Rahul Dravid’s announcement that he, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly would make themselves unavailable for T20 selection.

This then commenced a shift in thinking at the top with the leadership reigns being handed over to M. S. Dhoni. As a leader, I think he is a good investment for the future. Gauging from his conduct on the field, he appears to have the backing of his young players. He is not a formula-captain. He reacts and changes somewhat instinctively. His decision to swap Harbhajan Singh’s end in the game against South Africa would have left him with no option but to bowl Harbhajan Singh in the last over. This could have had potentially disastrous effects. But he followed his instincts and went with it. After a costly 1st over, Harbhajan Singh proceeded to bowl 3 tight overs on the trot! Dhoni appears to have a level head on his shoulders and gauging from the post-match interviews, he is handling his appointment with aplomb… but these are still honeymoon-days!

It is quite an exciting future, in my view, particularly if we add to the mix players like S. Badrinath, Manoj Tiwary, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Yo Mahesh, Praveen Kumar, Pankaj Singh, et al.

At 29 years and 247 days, Ajit Agarkar is the oldest player in Team India for the T20 World Cup.

Name | Age (years — rounded to nearest integer)
Ajit Agarkar | 30
Virender Sehwag | 29
Harbhajan Singh | 27
M. S. Dhoni | 26
Yuvraj Singh | 26
Gautam Gambhir | 26
Yusuf Pathan | 25
S. Sreesanth | 24
Joginder Sharma | 24
Irfan Pathan | 23
Robin Uthappa | 22
Dinesh Karthik | 22
R. P. Singh | 22
Rohit Sharma | 20
Piyush Chawla | 19

The average age of this side — even with Ajit Agarkar in it — is 24.33y, which is not a bad average at all!

Firstly, this team has shaved 3 years off the average age of Team India’s World Cup squad!

But more importantly, the drop in average age reflects on the fielding. With Irfan Pathan’s improvement as a fielder, there is really no one in this team that needs to be “hidden” on the field. With a proper long-term fielding-coach and a focus on fitness and intensity, the standards can only improve from here on in. All of this points to a potentially exciting future of Indian cricket. It has been most gratifying to see the self-belief in youngsters like Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Sreesanth and R. P. Singh.

— Mohan

Dravid resigns!

In breaking news, Dravid resigns as captain of the Indian team. The rest of the year for Indian cricket is not going to be easy with tough tours of Pakistan and Australia ahead. A new coach and a new captain aren’t going to make things any easier.

So, lets look at the candidates most likely to replace Dravid –

Ganguly: There is no denying the fact that Ganguly is a great leader and India played some of its best cricket under his captaincy. Since his comeback he has also become an integral part of the team and with Greg Chappell out of the way, he will once again have supreme power over this team. But he only has one or two years left in his career and naming him captain would only be a short term thing.

Tendulkar: Tendulkar was made vice-captain for the Test team. This does not mean he is a captain in waiting. Tendulkar has in the past admitted that he did not enjoy the captaincy when he had it. Whether he has changed his mind about it in the final years of his career remains to be seen.

Laxman: Laxman would have actually made a good captain, but he still finds himself in and out of the team. If he is made captain, it will only be a short term solution like Ganguly and Tendulkar.

Dhoni: Dhoni has been made the one day captain and the selectors may decide to make him the test captain too. IMHO, this would be a bad move. Making a wicket keeper as a captain will only work as a stop gap arrangement – the burden of wicket keeping, batting and captaining would be too much to handle.

Yuvraj: Like Laxman, he still is not a regular member of the test team.

Sehwag: Until a year back, Sehwag would have been the most likely person to be the next captain. With lack of form, he has been dropped from the team. But, if he proves himself in the T20 tournament, there is still a very strong chance that he may not only find himself back in the team, but also as a candidate for a leadership position (vice-captain or even captain)

There is also the outside chance of naming someone like Kumble, but it is quite clear that India did not have a clear accession plan/vision with respect to captaincy or even if they had it just hasn’t worked out – In my opinion, naming Tendulkar as a deputy starting with the Bangladesh tour was actually a backward step. 

With not too many options open currently, the captaincy may just fall back to either Ganguly or Tendulkar and the selectors may choose eithe Dhoni or Sehwag as a vice-captain (and get him back in to the team). Not very good moves, but probably the only ones they can make in the current scenario.

Would be interesting to see if the selectors do get bold and name a completely new captain. We have a few interesting days ahead of us (and I am not referring to the Twenty20 matches).

-Mahesh-

Team India for ODI against Scotland and England Lions

India plays Scotland today (Thursday 16 August) in a ODI match at the Clydesdale Cricket Club grounds in Glasgow. Not surprisingly, it has been raining in Glasgow and a tinge of optimism is required to believe that this match will run its full course. If the weather does not have a say in curtailing the match duration, the Indian team might! Scotland are definitely not pushovers and since the World Cup, they have shown some improvement. But I can’t really see them offer the Indian team anything more than a pleasant sightseeing opportunity!

India follow this game with a ODI against England Lions at the County Ground, Northampton.

After that the 7-match circus commences on 21 August at The Rose Bowl (Southampton).

From the Team India contingent for the Test matches, Anil Kumble, Sree Santh, Wasim Jaffer, Ranadeb Bose, V. V. S. Laxman and Ishant Sharma have departed for India while Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Piyush Chawla, Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel have joined the squad.

It is likely that all of the above will play in the game against Scotland and also in the game against England Lions on the 18th. It is also likely that the players with minimal work-rate in the Test series will also play both games — namely, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Ramesh Powar.

We could add to this list Rahul Dravid, Dinesh Karthik and Sourav Ganguly for the game against Scotland and Sachin Tendulkar, M. S. Dhoni and R. P. Singh for the game against the Lions.

So the likely teams for the games are:

Against Scotland:
Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Rohit Sharma, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Dinesh Karthik, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar and Munaf Patel.

and

Against England Lions:
Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar, M. S. Dhoni, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, R. P. Singh and Munaf Patel

It is likely that Zaheer Khan will sit out both games.

— Mohan
— Mohan

England Vs India: Test 3 Day 5 — An overseas series win…

India pressed hard for a victory on day-5 of the 3rd Test match against England. But in the end, the England batsmen defended their way to the close of days’ play to leave India a few breaths short of victory.

Who knows what may have happened if India had another 15 or so overs? These, and other hypotheticals will surround the match, but the fact is that India won the series 1-0. It was an overseas series win to add to the win last year in the West Indies.

The day of “if only’s” commenced with an if-only off the very first ball. Sree Santh bowled a beauty to Alistair Cook that struck the batsman plumb in front. Umpire Ian Howell chose to not see it that way. During the day, Rahul Dravid dropped Michael Vaughan and M. S. Dhoni dropped Paul Collingwood. Both were difficult chances, but I’ve seen both Dravid and Dhoni take these. These missed catches added to the if-only ponderings.

However, in the end analysis, England had decided to pull down the shutters and play for a draw. The huge target put an England victory completely out of contention. But having decided that they would play for a draw, they proceeded down that path with aplomb. Instead of dour defence, they kept the scoreboard ticking — no doubt helped by the attacking fields that Dravid set at times. Pietersen was superb in his shot-selection as well as his innings-planning. He built the innings carefully and then played the gaps. He wouldn’t allow the bowlers to settle into a rhythm. Collingwood was a rock at one end as Pietersen scored freely at the other end.

The Indian bowlers toiled through the day and kept picking up wickets at regular intervals. But as in Sydney in 2004, India came close to winning the last Test in a marquee series, but not close enough.

Had India done the right thing by batting on? I think so — both in Sydney as well as at The Oval.

Had India delayed the declaration? I think so — both in Sydney as well as at The Oval, with the difference being that in Sydney, they played positive cricket in the second innings.

But all of that is irrelevant now. India has won the series here and that was mightily important to the team, its progress and her fans. The difference between a 1-0 series win and a 2-0 series win would have been (a) a few points on the ICC Championship Table, (b) the opportunity to be number 2 in the ICC table — level with England on 109 points — instead of number 3 — level with Sri Lanka on 107 points, (c) making winning a habit.

The team, through Dravid, sent a message that 1-0 was good enough and that is what we got.

England had battened down the hatches and saved the match, but lost the series. The series win was Dravid’s prime KPI and he, and his team, had delivered.

But more importantly, it was a good team effort. India went with an unchanged team in all three Test matches. The team played well together — without a coach — and came away with a fantastic win at Trent Bridge after being under the pump at Lord’s in the 1st Test. They had won a series in England after 21 years. They played smart cricket through the series.

Lets not take that away from this Indian team.

— Mohan

England Vs India: Test 3 Day 3 — Another good day in the office for India…

The pre lunch session was another India session, thanks to two late wickets by Anil Kumble. Team India looked a bit ragged in the field though in this session. A dropped catch, some wayward bowling and a slow over rate did not help India’s cause. It was a session in which India only bowled 25 overs!

Given the match situation, it was somewhat surprising that India’s over rate was as poor as it was. There seemed to be a sluggishness and languidness to the play when what may have been required was urgency and fervour. It was also surprising that Kumble got to bowl only 5 overs in this session. I am not sure why he wasn’t given more of a bowl!

But perhaps Dravid was having things in reserve. He swapped the bowlers around in short-sharp spells. Given the hot and humid conditions and against the backdrop of the knowledge that India may need to stay on the field for a long-long time to squeeze out a victory, it is likely that short-sharp spells was the plan.

The dropped catch did not help either. Again it was Karthik that dropped a simple catch at leg slip. Dravid had placed Karthik strategically at leg slip to snatch Alistair Cook’s uppish leg glance. The shot was played off Sree Santh and Karthik fluffed it. It was a somewhat shoddy display indeed. Following tight on the heels of a thorough and professional display on days 1 and 2 of this Test match, this was a somewhat sorry showing from India.

Nevertheless, this was a session that belonged to India. England scored 100 runs but lost the wickets of Anderson, Cook and Vaughan. This session was India’s and the session-by-session score reads 6-0 in favour of India!

Sree Santh, who was somewhat listless before lunch, bowled with fire after lunch. He had Pietersen in some trouble in one over — an over that incidentally contained 3 no balls and also contained a few out swingers, a few in swingers, a wide delivery, a bouncer, a slower ball and much much more! The young man wanted to exhaust his entire repertoire in the one over!

The post-lunch session was a rebuilding session for India and one would be forgiven for having visions of it being the first session that belonged exclusively to England. That was until the penultimate over before tea. Off Sachin Tendulkar’s first ball in the match, Pietersen had a brain explosion that resulted in him launching into an expansive drive the moment he saw the ball above his eye sockets. The premeditated launch defied the match-context and the result was almost predictable! That was a big wicket although I still think that that session belonged to England, its first in the match.

The pre lunch session did, however, contain yet another Howell gem! Off the second ball Collingwood faced, he was plumb in front to a beauty from Kumble. I received an immediate SMS from a friend that read, “If that ball won’t have hit the stumps, call me a banana“! As if to make up for that bad call — a really silly goof up at this level — Howell waved Collingwood away to the pavillion when the batsman appeared well set for a gritty century! He was declared out LBW to a ball that was sliding way down leg side! Howell should know that righting a wrong does not cut it at this level! He, like Matt Prior the England ‘keeper, has had a forgettable match!

Bell played positively but the bells were tolling for England and he too went to a good ball from Sree Santh. The second new ball had removed Collingwood and Bell and as with the other 4 innings of this series, the rest of the batsmen — sorry, we do have to call them something! — offered no resistance at all.

One could be forgiven for starting to wonder why Matt Prior is in the England team! Certainly it can’t be for his ‘keeping! On the evidence of this series, it can’t be for his batting? His puerile yapping then?

Dravid had handled his field and his bowlers well. He bowled them in short spells and rotated them around. He did not overbowl Kumble. He even gave Laxman a bowl!

The session-by-session score card reads 7-1. This too has become somewhat futile and almost irrelevant in this Test match! The only question that needs to be asked is whether or not India press the follow-on. India are 338 ahead. Under normal circumstances I’d have said no. I’d have thought India should bat for at least a session and a half, make a really quick 160 or so and then get England to bat 5 sessions to either make the 500 runs or implode. This would ensure that the bowlers get a bit of a break and come back fresh. This would also ensure that India had the last opportunity to use the wicket.

However, two things ride against this decision. There is a threat of rain in the air. Moreover, this is the last match of the series and the bowlers’ workload may not be that much of a large issue. The pitch is also not that much of a threat. So India may need all the time that she can get on this pitch. With this in mind, imposing the follow-on may be the way to go. Either way, we have a few good sessions of cricket left in this game.

— Mohan

England Vs India: Test 3 Day 2 — Team performance from Team India…

It was a magical day for Team India. Almost everything seemed to go according to plan. India ended her first innings on 664 and in reply, England are 24 for 1. England need a further 440 runs to make India bat again!

It was a day where India, in my calculations, won all 3 sessions. The session-by-session score card reads 5-0 in India’s favour and with 9 sessions left in the match, I strongly believe that India have helped eliminate one of the 3 possible results. I do not believe England can win from here. It will take something of heroic proportions for England to win this game; for that to happen, England would have to win all 9 remaining sessions and India will need to play remarkably badly. With a series win on the line, I can’t see India playing consistently badly for the remaining 9 session. While I am not that confident of an India win — thanks to the benign nature of the pitch — I believe that a thrilling draw may still be on the cards.

The one factor that could weigh in India’s favour is British pride. Peter Moores, the England coach said at the end of day-2, “Everyone’s motivated because it’s the last Test of the summer and we’re playing to try and save the series. All the batters are going out to get a score, for themselves and for the team, and one thing that’s in our favour is the speed you can score at. The outfield’s very quick and the wicket is very good. The batters are looking forward to having a go on it, so we’ll just see where we get to.

If England goes out in a positive frame of mind, and with a view to still winning from here, India could squeeze in for the kill. Kumble can afford to bowl with 3-4 around the bat. Dravid could look to choke the runs at one end and attack all-out from the other end. This will be a test of Dravid’s captaincy aggression. There is not much in the pitch, but the batsmen have delivered the runs on the board. The pace and the aggression was dictated by the captains’ pre-match sound-bytes as well as his purposefulness while batting. It is now upto the captain to set the same tone on the field. That, mixed with Britsh pride and aggression may well give India the game. The next 3 days will tell us which way this cookie is going to crumble!

It was a terrific team performance from India. Just as Dinesh Karthik and Rahul Dravid laid the foundations on day-1, the second day saw Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid build a strong foundation in the first session. Sachin Tendulkar was keen to ensure that he batted England out of the game. Laxman on the other hand, mixed caution with class. He had once again done the hard work and also enjoyed the benefit of a let-off — once again from Matt Prior behind the sticks. However, yet again, Laxman could not press on the advantage and departed after yet another classy 50!

Matt Prior, whose chat level has been greater than his skill level, had a forgettable match thus far. His collection has been ordinary. He dropped Tendulkar and Laxman and he has given away 33 byes — an embarassingly high number! No doubt this was assisted by some wayward bowling. However, Prior will be embarassed to see his name in the record books.

After Tendulkar departed to a terrific ball, understandably disappointed at not reaching a century, we saw some unbelievable pyrotechnics from M. S. Dhoni. He displayed a stunning array of strokes. He played the pace bowlers with panache and simply culled the spinners. It was all devastating stuff. At the other end, Anil Kumble played like a 1-down batsman. He leaned into his cover drives and knelt as his off-drove with skill. And suddenly, Kumble was on the verge of an unlikely century! If he had played a batsman’s innings right through, the shot that got him his century was classic-Kumble though! He somehow got his bat to a ball that was pitched way outside his off stump. The ball was somehow squeezed through between bat and ground and between Priors’ legs. Kumble, who had charged down the wicket to meet the ball, dived back desprately into his crease and was all arms and legs! And lest the umpire declare the resulting four runs as byes, Kumble raised his arms in acknowledgement of potential congratulations even before the ball was halfway to the boundary! Ah, classic Kumble stuff!

I said at the begining of the game that it would be foolish for the press to merely focus on farewelling the Fab Four. Anil Kumble also made his debut in England in the same match that Tendulkar made his first century at Old Trafford. To not include him in the farewell celebrations would be a folly. Well, with his sensational ton here, Anil Kumble has scripted himself firmly into the farewell party! And there may well be more to come from this indefatigable and admirable war-horse!

If India made one mistake, it was in not declaring the innings closed immediately at that point. Dravids’ rationale for batting out an additional 4-5 overs escaped me.

India are clearly ahead in this game and need to go for the jugular. An additional spinner would have helped India’s cause. But they have started the bowling well thanks to a mindless shot from Andrew Strauss. He hooked a Zaheer Khan ball irresponsibly down Sree Santh’s throat at fine leg. But that is what mental fatigue does to you. After nearly 170 overs in the hot sun, the brain does tend to get scrambled and the muscles get weary. Who knows? An additonal 4-5 overs of time may have got India another wicket or two. And I do believe that it is the mental game that will get India ahead on day-3. There is nothing much in the pitch although there were some indications that Kumble will make the ball bite and jump. A bit of aggression and a lot of chatter mixed with attacking close-in fields could deliver India this game.

India could well have had another wicket if Ian Howell had been awake. His shocking match continued when he refused to give James Anderson out. He was struck plumb in line by a wonderful Sree Santh delivery although there was bat-pad doubt. And this is where Howell’s inexperience came through. A bat-first-then-pad would have been normally squeezed square of the wicket. If it did travel straight down the wicket, a bat-first-then-pad shot would have minimal power in it. This ball, however, screamed to the deep mid-on boundary thereby clearly indicating that it was a pad-first-bat-next shot. Howell’s inexperience yielded the benefit of doubt to James Anderson when there was neither a need for benefit or doubt!

In 2003-4 in Sydney, India had put 705 on the board against Australia. There again, Sourav Ganguly had delayed the declaration by at least half an hour. Who knows what that extra half hour would have given him and the team in that match? In that match, India did have two spinners in Kumble and Murali Karthik. In this match, India only have Kumble. So the road ahead is potentially hard for India. But the saving grace is that it is incredibly hard for England. They have almost certainly lost this series. The question in my mind is whether the final scoreline will be 1-0 or 2-0.

It has been a terrific team-batting-performance by India who had as many as eight 50+ parterships — a first in cricket!

India must now hope for an all-round bowling performance as it searches for an outright victory in this game…

— Mohan

England Vs India: Test 3 Day 1 — India attempt to step up…

Dileep Premachandran asked yesterday in a well-written Cricinfo article if India would be able to step up and cross that last hurdle in the 3rd Test against England at The Oval. It was a question that was posed yesterday on this blogsite too. So often — most excruciatingly in Steve Waugh’s final Test — India have not managed to cross this last hurdle.

But India did the right things right on Day-1 of Test 3. India won the toss, elected to bat and came out in a sensationally positive frame of mind. If this mindset was evident in the mercurial nature of of Wasim Jaffer’s batting, it was palpable in the purposefulness of Rahul Dravid’s stride. This team meant business and they would have reached a much more satisfying destination at the end of Day-1 but for the fact that a certain Ian Howell appeared to have got up on the wrong side of his bed! After giving a marginal caught behind decision to send Dinesh Karthik back to the hut, he chopped Sourav Ganguly at the knees with a shocker of a decision! India ended the day at 316 for 4. India had had a good day, but England are still in the game.

Karthik was playing extremely well and had composed his 91 runs in style; with confidence and energy. On that score he wafted with minimal footwork at a ball from Sidebottom for Matt Prior to pounce on the catch. The England players went up as though they had just won the lottery or a date with Catherine Zeta-Jones, or both! Ian Howell, the umpire, lifted the dreaded finger and Karthik had to make the slow long walk back. I did not hear the snick. Snickometer did not think there was a snick either. However, Karthik did say at the end of days’ play, “there was a small nick, there is no doubt about that“! Phew! One less effigy to construct and then destruct for the folks in Kolkata! The Ganguly decision, however, will have generated a few thousand effigy orders!

Up until that lapse in concentration, Karthik had batted very well. He was all poise, determination, inventiveness and concentration. A step down to caress Andreson through extra cover as well as an inside-out six off Panesar were special shots.

In the morning, after Rahul Dravid had won an important toss and elected to bat, proceedings ran against the normal script. Karthik, the normal aggressor was quiet while Wasim Jaffer, the dour accumulator was in his elements! It was a very different Wasim Jaffer that came to the crease this morning. Indeed, it appeared as though Jaffer and Karthik had reversed roles! We saw a quiet Karthik and a different player to the Jaffer, who normally plays well within himself. Instead, he was playing out of his skin! There were some great leaves by both Jaffer and Karthik initially. Of course, the bowling was shocking to start with. Karthik and Jaffer were served some dross by James Andreson, who gave both the openers ‘ample opportunity to have a look at the ball and what it was doing’. Both Anderson and Tremlett had poor opening spells and they did not make batsmen play enough. Although Sidebottom bowled tightly, he slid too many across face of the batsmen. The openers settled down and slowly opened their shoulders.

I liked the way the openers saw off the new ball. A shot by Jaffer to send an Anderson ball for 6 over third man was so Sehwag that one wondered if Sehwag himself would have been able to execute that shot any better!

The only way Jaffer was going to get out was through a brain explosion. And it did happen. He played a shot that would have done Sehwag proud! It was a strong statement from Jaffer, but I’d think he needs to work on his square-off-the-side strokes to do well in Australia.

India went in to lunch at 117-1 off 28. It was an innings that was paced well. India were well-placed with Karthik on 50, Dravid on 25 with Dravid looking very very determined.

Dravid’s stride to the crease was purposeful. He opened with two fours and looked extremely focussed, determined and positive. If he had a message to convey to the team, he did so with panache. In the days leading to this Test match, he had already telegraphed his positive intentions. He had said that the previous two Test matches were-result oriented even though they only featured 350 overs. He said that with 450 overs expected to be bowled at The Oval, he expected a result. This was positive and tone-setting stuff from the captain.

The hour after lunch saw some awesome batting; perhaps even the best batting-phase of the series from either teams. Dravid and Karthik were scoring at will. They took nearly 70 runs in 17 overs. In this passage of play it was interesting to note that England maintained a very good over rate too. One particular shot by Dravid was really special. Panesar had two men in front of Dravid — one at short extra cover and one at short mid off. The two fielders were really close to each other — within hand-shaking distance. A flighted ball from Panesar invited the cover drive. Dravid leaned into a classic cover drive and threaded the ball through these two fielders with unforgettable panache and sheer style.

He really did look set for a 100 or even higher! After all, the last time he played at The Oval, he had scored over 200 runs! And then suddenly the ball started moving around quite a bit. Although Dravid was bowled by Anderson off a beauty — and normally, it is a beauty that gets Dravid out — it was really the previous over from Sidebottom that probably set up the dismissal. It was a fantastic and searching over; an over in which Sidebottom swung the ball away and asked a few questions. Dravid had played and missed a few times in that over and was clearly annoyed with himself. The first ball of the next over was a terrific yorker length ball that moved slightly away. Dravid lost his middle stump!

Although the ball was a good one, but for the previous over, Dravid may have, on most occasions, presented a straight bat to the ball. Instead, he closed the face and tried a cute flick to leg, perhaps in an effort to score a few off Anderson to compensate for the tightness of Sidebottom’s line, movement and length that did not afford any “gimme” balls.

Soon after Karthik was out too. How Howell could have given that out, I really do not know. There was no sound of a nick. Nor was there any deviation. The benefit of doubt should have gone the batsman’s way. It did not.

All of this happened during a phase in play when it was a wee-bit gloomy and there was some swing around. Andreson was in the middle of a good spell of fast swing bowling. The 50-over old ball was suddenly seaming around. Was it the overcast conditions? Or was there some jelly beans involved too?

Ganguly and Tendulkar set about the reconstruction job. Once again, Tendulkar appeared shaky while Ganguly was playing reasonably well, albeit with some initial scares. I thought England bowled badly to Tendulkar. They overdid the “chin music” stuff to Tendulkar when fully pitched outswingers that invited the drive may have been a better option. Matt Prior, who was asked to “put a sock in it” had a forgettable day. He let through some 20 byes and dropped Tendulkar off Sidebottom! A costly lapse perhaps?

But both teams are still in the game. I’d say that India won 2 sessions (session-1 and session-3) with the middle session being called an even one.

The new ball is only 8 overs old. So, Laxman and Tendulkar will need to see off the first 10-15 overs and then start to play their shots. The stage is set for a crucial 1st session on day-2. If one of Tendulkar, Laxman or Dhoni make a big hundred, they can put the match beyond Englands’ reach. But if England manage to get 1 or 2 quick wickets, they are right back in the game. All of this makes for a fascinating day-2.

— Mohan

Team India on the cusp of a crucial milestone…

“Since 2000, India have won 16 Test matches away and 14 at home. They have won Test matches in every Test playing country bar New Zealand. India has won more away-Tests than England (14), South Africa (13), Pakistan (13) and Sri Lanka (10) in the same period. Australia leads the pack with 26 away-wins”. — Dileep Premachandran

The 3rd and final nPower Test between England and India commences at The Oval today.

This Test assumes special relevance for India. One simple fact that makes this Test very different from any other Tests is that India have, to the best of my knowledge, never gone into the last Test of a series with a series lead. Ravi Shastri says, “This is probably the most important Test for India in the past five-six years because they’ve never been in a position to win the series with one Test to go”.

India is in a position to win an away-series — and these do not come often.

There are several other factors that combine to add much spice to The Oval Test match. Some of them are:

  • India will want a win or a draw in The Oval Test match to clinch an away-series-win to add to the away-series-win the team scored in the West Indies in 2006.
  • England will be desperate to win to ensure that their home-turf record stays; England have not lost a home-series since 2001.
  • Michael Vaughan, the England captain has not lost a home series as captain of England.
  • More often than not, India have lost a Test match immediately after winning a match — especially in an away-series. India will be desperate to lose the team-that-takes-its-foot-off-the-pedal tag while, at the same time, scoring an important away-series-win.
  • Michaeal Vaughan, on the other hand, has always captained his team to wins immediately after losing a Test match. This is indeed an impressive record; one that he is quite proud of. Vaughan will not want to lose his home-series win-record or the win-immediately-after-a-loss record.
  • Barring some miracle, it is almost certain that this will be the last Test match that the Famous Five — a bit tired of the Fab Four tag! — will be playing in England. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman and Anil Kumble will want to sign off from England on a victorious note.

If we look back to the best duration for Indian cricket in recent memory, two periods perhaps jump out more than any other.

The first is the period from 1983 to 1986 where India seemed to have developed the ability to win One Day games. This was the period when India won the World Cup and followed it with the World Championship in Victoria, Australia.

The second period, in my view, commenced in 2001. Although the first year or so of this period was a bit stop-start, it is important to anchor this period in Kolkata and then travel through to the point I wish to make.

  • It was in Kolkata on 11 March 2001 — the second Test between India and Australia in that brilliant 2001 series that the period was conceived, in my view. Although India’s Fab Four were around for a while before then, it was perhaps only in that Test match that Team India fans started having visions of backs-to-the-wall victories. The team seemed to have developed confidence in itself, fed by a mix of ability, skill, class and swagger.
  • Much was expected after that incredible series win against Australia. India seemed to have found bowlers in Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan to back Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. The Fab Four were firing. So, post-conception optimism was high. However, in a period of morning-sickness, India stuttered through to Zimbabwe, where India won an away-Test and lost the next Test match immediately; a pattern that has continued to haunt its travels since then!
  • India then travelled to Sri Lanka, where the team struggled without Tendulkar and Laxman and coped with Kaif and Badani instead! Once again, an away win was secured in the 2nd Test. However, the trend of losing a match immediately after winning one continued as India lost by an embarassing margin in the last Test of the series. However, these away wins were accumulating. Perhaps India was coping with the pregnancy after all!
  • A rude and forgettable series to South Africa followed this, dominated somewhat by the antics of Mike Denness.
  • A somewhat listless series followed between India and England in India in which Ashley Giles’s negative bowling to Sachin Tendulkar possibly exposed the great batsman’s weakness to left-arm-over defensive bowling. India won this series.
  • India then travelled to West Indies in early-2002. Although India lost this series 1-2, this series too saw India score an away win followed immediately by a crushing loss. The enduring image from this series would be the one of Anil Kumble bowling with jaw strapped to face in a losing cause.
  • After the trials and tribulations of conception and gestation, in my view, the baby was finally born in Headingley when India toured England in the summer of 2002. This Test match will be one of India’s most famous victories, after the Kolkata Test. It launched what was possibly the best time for Indian cricket in recent memory. The period was brief, but it did exist! And for once, an away win wasn’t followed by an immediate loss! But the Headingly win was a watershed; an important landmark in Indian cricket. Headingly was to an away-win-buff what Kolkata was to a home-bully-buff! This series also included the NatWest Trophy that India won.
  • A forgettable away series to NewZealand was followed by the 2003 World Cup in which India reached the finals.
  • India then travelled to Australia in November 2003 for Steve Waugh’s final matches as Australia captain and player. Just as Headingly was an important win, the draw that India secured in Brisbane and the win in Adelaide marked important milestones. But once again, a thrilling win was followed up by a sorry loss; India lost the next Test in Melbourne! But, the baby had almost grown up by now!
  • If evidence of the growth were needed, India produced that in Pakistan in 2003, where thanks to the Sultan of Multan (Sehwag’s 309) and Dravid’s efforts at Rawalpindi (a majestic 270), India clinched an away series win! But yet again, India had lost (at Lahore) immediately after winning (at Multan).

And that is where I stop this recollection. India did then score wins against Pakistan in India (followed by a loss!) and India did also score a famous away-series-win in the West Indies that included a Dravid-inspired win at Sabina Park. However, it would be fair to say that, despite an away-Test win in South Africa (followed, predictably by a loss!) the child that was conceived in Kolkata had gone a bit wayward. With the departure of John Wright, who incidentally had oversight of the above era, it seemed that the Indian fans’ visions of consistent wins overseas were fading.

Team India has an opportunity to resurrect over the 5 days of the 3rd and final nPower Test match against England. India should go into the match in a buoyant mood. This is possibly the last hurrah for the Famous Five. The team will want to do well for these five warriors. The pressure is on England who will not want to lose their proud home-win record.

India has rarely converted thrilling away Test wins to away series wins. In a thorough article Dileep Premachandran analysed India’s away-performance and clinically demolished the “home-bully-away-silly” tag that Indian teams have been stuck with. Since then, even Tony Greig and Ian Chappell have started saying how good India are are travellers these days! Just goes to show how serious journalism can erode myths and create new cliches almost at will!

India’s batsmen will want to sign off positively from England. Zaheer Khan will want to show that he has added “consistency” to his quiver. The Indian openers will want to continue their good showing thus far on the tour. Sree Santh will want to put the nightmare of Trent Bridge behind him. It is even likely that, while England have been concentrating on tackling the prodigious swing of Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh, Sree Santh could sneak under the radar to wreak some havoc.

But it is Kumble that holds the key for India, I believe. By his own high standards, Kumble has had a poor series. The conditions at The Oval are tailore made for him. It has bounce and carry early on and spin as the match progresses. Will he be able to recreate the magic that the great B. S. Chandrashekar created at The Oval? While Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly stay on for the ODIs, Kumble will bid adieu to English Test grounds after this match. The stage is set perfectly.

While a draw would do for India to clinch a historic away-series-win in England, India should play positively and look to win this one. If India wins, we may be able to claim that the kid that was somewhat lost, has been found again! This Test marks an important milestone especially since some of the more senior cricketers will be entering into their baton-passing stage in the near future.

— Mohan

Indian Team for the Oval Test

Team India have a nine-day gap between the end of the 2nd Test match and the start of the 3rd and final Test at The Oval. The 3rd Test commences 9 August.

In between, from the 3rd to the 5th of August, India plays Sri Lanka ‘A’ at Leicester! This is a bit wierd! I am not aware of a touring team playing another touring team — and that too an ‘A’ team — in a 3-day practice match! Could well be a first?

India have a few questions to answer, notably:
– Whether Sree Santh plays at The Oval, and if he does, what his mental state is.
– Whether Yuvraj plays at The Oval.

Sri Lanka ‘A’ have some decent players in its ranks. Its one-down player, Michael Vandort, has already played 9 Tests for Sri Lanka (including those against Bangladesh recently) for an impressive average of 52.91 including 3 centuries. Thilan Samaraveera, the ‘A’ Team captain, has played 39 Tests for an average of 41.53. He has also snared 14 Test wickets with his off-spin bowling. Kaushal Lokuarachchi is said to be a useful all-rounder. He bowls legspin, bats well and has played in 4 Tests and 19 ODIs. Dammika Prasad and Akalanka Ganegama are useful fast-medium bowlers who are rated quite highly. They have both played a handful of ODIs. They will be able to offer a good practice for the Indians ahead of The Oval.

I believe India needs to play the following in their XI for this game (in batting order):

Wasim Jaffer
Dinesh Karthik
Gautam Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
VVS Laxman
Rahul Dravid (c)
MS Dhoni (wk)
Ramesh Powar
Ranadeb Bose
S Sreesanth
Ishant Sharma

Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, R. P. Singh and Sachin Tendulkar should earn a break and get some R&R.

Despite the win in I do believe India needs to sort out the Yuvraj Singh question. I do feel that the process of future-building needs to commence now — and not in the future. The Fab Four will not be around for ever. Yuvraj Singh needs to be blooded and the time is now.

Despite Laxman’s fighting 50 in the 2nd Test and despite Dhoni’s match-saving innings at The Lords’ I believe one of them need to make way for Yuvraj Singh for The Oval game. Apart from being an opportunity to play a future middle-order bat for India, Yuvraj Singh lends greater agility to the fielding and is also able to bowl a containing line of left-arm spin — if needed. One of the drawbacks in Team India in the 2nd Test was that there was virtually no one who could bowl an Ashley-Giles-type or even a Monty-Panesar-type of containing-line at one end. Yuvraj Singh may give India that option.

Moreover, if Sree Santh appears to be still undercooked in the Sri Lanka ‘A’ game, I feel he should make way for either Ranadeb Bose, Ishant Sharma or Romesh Powar. The Oval does afford spin on days 3 and 4 and so, Powar would be a tempting option to go with. It depends, however, on how Bose, Sharma and Powar bowl in the tour game.

— Mohan