Tag Archives: Yuvraj Singh

Have the doors closed on the Singhs?

Yuvraj Singh is probably one of the most frustrating cricketers in India at the moment. You look at the way he plays ODIs and you would think he *has* to be on the Test team – alas, the two formats are like chalk and cheese. And Yuvraj the ODI specialist and Yuvraj the test batsmen are two completely different players.

Yuvraj burst into the International scene with a bang while still in his teens, and showed so much potential – everyone knew he was a future super star.

He has still got it in him. Just look at his performance in the 2011 World Cup – Player of the tournament, 362 runs at an average of 90.50, and four man of the match awards to boot. Did I mention he also took 15 wickets in the tournament? You just can’t fault him…

But move over to Tests, and it is a completely different story. An average of 35 in 56 innings is barely passable and if you watched Yuvraj scratch around for his 25 in the first innings, you would start to wonder what he is doing in this team.

With Raina (is he another Yuvraj in the making?), Rohit Sharma, Pujara, Rahane, Kohli, Jadeja, etc knocking on the door, his position is the shakiest in the team. And considering the fact that he was an utter failure when India toured Australia last time around, would you pick him? He hasn’t scored a century in tests in close to 4 years. Sure, he has been in and out of the team in those fours years (which itself tells us something, right?), but 27 innings without a 3 figure score is just not good enough.

Four years ago, when the Indian team was picked to tour Australia, there was one notable absentee – Virender Sehwag. Back then I blogged about why he should be in the team in spite of his poor form (he eventually was included in the squad, but I digress). In the case of Yuvraj, I feel the exact opposite, he should not be picked in the Test team for the Australian team.

(BTW – You also need to read these previous posts – Good horses in unfamiliar courses (Oct 2011), the contenders (Nov 2008), the case for (and against) Yuvraj Singh… (Nov 2007) and you’ll realise that nothing has changed in all these years – Let’s just put an end to this persistence with Yuvraj and drop him from the Test team)

Having said all this, Yuvraj has one big supporter in the team – captain MS Dhoni, and that may just be enough to pen his name in the team selection. He could also end up scoring a century in the next game against the West Indies and find himself on a plane to Melbourne. I guess, the door hasn’t entirely closed on him yet.

For the other “Singh”, Harbhajan Singh, the door is closing a lot faster. Dropped from the team for the first two tests, is in itself an ominous sign. And add to it, good performance from his replacement, Ashwin and poor Ranji performances (none for 92 in the first game and one for 50 in the second match) don’t help either.

We all know that Harbhajan and Australia have a history, and some of his best performances have been against them. When Australia toured India last year, I blogged that Harbhajan needs to step up, but nothing has changed in the last 12 months to indicate that he has. If you take out his 7/120 against South Africa at the beginning of the year, he averages around 40 in the last 12 months. Not figures to be proud of. More importantly, he looked totally ineffective in England. Being in the top 10 wicket takers of all time doesn’t mean automatic selection if you can’t back it up with performance.

I will surely miss his fiery bowling when he is on a roll, combative spirit in the field and even his never-say-die batting abilities – particularly against the Aussies, but I am afraid he just needs to be left out of the team that tours Australia this time Sad smile

-Mahesh-

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Good horses in unfamiliar courses

In an earlier post, Sanjay Subrahmanyan writes about how Team India’s middle-order hopefuls have performed in recent years in the glories, chaos, catastrophes, and convulsions of Indian cricket.

One of these “hopefuls” is Yuvraj Singh. He is once again a Test middle-order “hopeful”. Fourteen years after making his First Class debut and some 8 yeas since making his international debut, Yuvraj Singh is still a “hopeful”. That is a story in itself and is cause for him to be the protagonist in this essay. But the larger plot is the rationale behind his selection in a Test side. The more important inquisition is about how T20 and ODI performance continues to influence selectors when they sit down to select a Test side.

India is, ironically, in a good situation. This moment in time represents a compelling opportunity to build for the future. It should be an opportunity to be clear and strategic in thought and action. Instead, what we are left with is an impression of a selection group that is chaotic, disorganized and muddled in its thinking.

India has been thoroughly embarrassed and humiliated in England in a tour in which nothing went right for the team. In a year from now, the team might have one or perhaps even two or three departures through retirement. For example, I cannot see VVS Laxman’s body last beyond mid-2012. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid cannot be too far from hanging up their bats. Zaheer Khan is not going to be around for ever. This was, therefore, an opportunity to commence a definite freeing of the many strong Atlases that held the team aloft in an impressive journey. The time was ripe for strategic thinking.

Ironically, the situation that the team faces now has parallels with 2007.

The tour of Australia in 2007 was an important one for India. The team had had a captaincy change after the triumph in England, which wiped out a disastrous World Cup performance. The team had also unexpectedly lifted the inaugural World T20 Championship under the captaincy of MS Dhoni. India would play a series against Pakistan prior to embarking on a defining tour of Australia. Here was a team on the ascendancy; but she had to win in Australia.

Prior to this tour, Yuvraj Singh was selected in the India Test team. After all, how could you drop a player who had smashed Stuart Broad for 6 sixes in an over? Yuvraj Singh proceeded to hit a brilliant century in Bangalore against Pakistan. The selectors had no other choice. Yuvraj Singh’s name was etched in the team sheet for Australia in December 2007. In order to accommodate him in the middle-order, Rahul Dravid had to open the batting along with Wasim Jaffer in the first Test at the MCG. Yuvraj and India had a miserable Test match. The same mistake was repeated in that infamous Test in Sydney. Once again, Rahul Dravid was sacrificed in order to accommodate Yuvraj Singh in the middle-order. Yuvraj made an embarrassing 12 in the first innings and did not trouble the scorers in the 2nd innings. Good sense prevailed in the 3rd Test in Perth when Wasim Jaffer opened with Virender Sehwag.

Now I am not saying that Yuvraj Singh is a poor player. Not at all. He is one of the sweetest timers of the ball in world cricket. He has a lazy elegance about his stroke play that whispers “Brian Lara”. He burst onto the scene by hitting some of the best bowlers out of the park. He had the swagger, power, timing, hunger, attitude and charisma. At one stage, he was even talked of as a future captain of India. He looked like he wanted to belong. He belonged. He played a wonderful hand in India’s 2011 World Cup win. He seemed to be fit and hungry in the 2011 World Cup. After sulking and moping his way through the previous year — including, famously, in the IPL Edition 3 — it appeared as though Yuvraj Singh had arrived once again. He played like a team man. After a spate of sorry injuries, he was even throwing himself around on the cricket field once again.

But that was in the ODI arena. His exploits in 2007 were in the T20 arena. The question must be asked. Is Yuvraj Singh a Test batsman?

Since 2003, Yuvraj has played 35 Test matches, scoring 1709 runs at 35.60 with 3 centuries and a highest of 169! All of Yuvraj’s centuries have been made on the subcontinent. Indeed his average in ‘Home Tests’ is 45.31 against an average of 29.24 in Tests away from the ‘Home’.

Contrast this with a “contemporary” of his. Since his debut in 2000, Wasim Jaffer played 31 Test matches, scoring 1944 runs at 34.10 with 5 centuries and a highest score of 212. Three of Jaffers’ five Test centuries have been made overseas: how can we forget that brilliant 212 at St Johns’ in the West Indies and his fighting 116 in South Africa.

Alas! Jaffer only played 2 ODI games (in South Africa) and never played a T20 for India. So he wasn’t able to showcase his latent flamboyance and ability to “thump” the ball hard and far. We like that. We like opposition to be pummeled into submission. We like our batsmen to be in a Colosseum battling the opposition with a mace instead of a bat. So flair and flamboyance wins.

Mind you, I am not pushing for Jaffer’s inclusion in the Indian Test team. All I am saying is that Yuvraj Singh has a record that is on par with Wasim Jaffer as a player. I agree that such comparison fail at various levels. I am not advocating a StatsGuru based analysis of player worth. And as a person who is not heavily pro-StatsGuru, the last thing I would advocate is a StatsGuru compliant iPad for all members of the Team India selection committee!

My point here is that Yuvraj Singh’s massively significant ODI and T20 performances continually propel him into our peripheral vision when it comes to selecting Test teams. He is always there in our faces, asking to be selected in Test matches too; because he thumped 4 boundaries in an over in an ODI or pummeled India to victory in a T20 or took Kevin Pietersen’s wicket… Again! We do select him in Tests. He fails. We fail. We do not learn. Another IPL comes around. Another ODI series comes around. He performs well in these. We select him again.

I have shone the spotlight on Yuvraj Singh because we make the same mistake with other players too.

In the team that has been chosen to play West Indies in the forthcoming Test series (if we rule out quota-based selections as a plausible reason), we have Rahul Sharma and Varun Aaron who have got in on the basis of their T20 and ODI performances. The First Class records of the above two players makes shabby reading.

Rahul Sharma has played 10 First Class games and has taken 18 wickets at an average of 44.66 a piece! I am not joking. This is true! And the only good thing about Rahul Sharma’s selection is that he makes Varun Aaron’s selection look inspired! Varun Aaron has played just 12 First Class games and taken 26 wickets at 41.50 a piece!

Both of these players may well be the future of Indian cricket. I have nothing against them and hope that they have a brilliant career in whites as well as in the blue of the Team India ODI/T20 teams. That is not my point. My point is that they have found a place in the Indian Test Team through IPL/T20 and/or ODI routes. This is a selection process that has lost direction.

Another curious selection is that of Ajinka Rahane. And to explain why, our protagonist must make a reappearance!

Rahane is a fine player, mind you. I was always confident that he would play for India one day. That is not my issue. My concern is (a) the route the selectors have chosen for him and (b) the person he has displaced in the team.

Rahane has replaced Abhinav Mukund in the Test team mainly because of his domestic record but also because he played reasonably well in one ODI in England. He also had a reasonably good T20 gig.

Rahane is a class act. He was always marked for a Team India spot at some point of time in his career. In four Ranji seasons since 2007, he has played 49 First Class matches and scored 4838 runs at an average of 69.11 including 18 centuries. After opening in his first two seasons, he has been coming in at #3 in subsequent seasons, for reasons best known to him and the Mumbai team management. This a record to be proud of. Once a player accumulates as many runs as Rahane has in first class games, the real issue is one of “when” rather than “whether” — unless of course, Rahane also responds to the name “Badrinath”!

Abhinav Mukund was in Virat Kohli’s U19 Team that won the World Cup, although he played only one game in that particular journey. Since then he has had an impressive run in domestic cricket — Ranji and the Irani Trophy. Since his debut in 2007, he has played 47 First Class matches and scores 3880 runs at an average of 54.64 with 14 centuries and a high-score of 300*.

Clearly, players like Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund and Cheteshwar Pujara are the future of Indian cricket. They are young. They have made plenty of runs in first class cricket and have also made big hundreds. I have always felt that more then hundreds, what matters most when you look at domestic records of players is the number of big hundreds a player has made. All three have made many big scores.

Now, let us look at Yuvraj Singh! In all the time since he made his debut (in the late 90s) Yuvraj has played a mere 97 first class games, scoring 6114 at an average of 44.62 and with just 18 centuries to his name.

So, essentially what has happened is that, on the back of a good World Cup ODI and a good IPL season, Yuvraj Singh has squeezed himself back into the India Test Team! The result of this is that the selectors may have wanted a player who could play in the middle-order in the event of a Yuvraj Singh failure or injury — both of which are equally likely — who would also double as an opener in an injury situation to one of Gambhir or Sehwag — also likely given trends in recent series.

Enter Ajinkya Rahane who edges out Abhinav Mukund, the incumbent in the openers’ slot! So one T20/IPL/ODI based shoehorning has resulted in the forced eviction of the future. It is clear that IPL/T20 performances have influenced Test selection. Surely, Varun Aaron and Rahul Sharma have been selected on that basis. Yuvraj Singh’s selection is reward for a stellar World Cup. These selections may pay off for Team India. But I do not see either clarity or consistency. There is much muddled thinking.

Part of the problem here is with communications. The selectors do not communicate with players. Younger players do not know what plans the committee has for them. Would it not be good (or indeed necessary), for the selectors to talk to Suresh Raina and set targets/goals for him? Would it not be necessary for them to talk to Abhinav Mukund to explain why he was dropped? But that does not happen, for it appears that the selectors job in India is to merely select; not to nurture talent. Even in selection, their job seems to me to be to select good horses for somewhat unfamiliar and uncomfortable courses.

A significant part of the problem here is that selectors are barred from communicating their decisions to you and me. It may not be necessary. But it would help identify how these decisions are thought through. The result, therefore, is an extremely unclear, hazy and murky environment in which no one is really sure what is going on.

Meanwhile, we have several other distractions like a dog on a race track and broken barricades in a rock concert and an array of similar goof ups to distract us from transparent and cogent decision making!

— Mohan (@mohank)

Crunch time for Team India in ICCWT20C

India is in almost the same situation as it was in the 2007 edition of the ICC World T20 Championships. Back in 2007, having lost her fist Group-E Super8 game to New Zealand, India had to play England in game-2 and then South Africa in game-3 of the Super-8 stage. India are in much the same position now. It is an opportunity for India to re-write the history books or a chance for England and South Africa to exact some revenge!

Stuart Broad, in particular, will want to forget that night at Kingsmead, Durban on 19 September 2007! He got taken to the cleaners by an angry Yuvraj Singh who was made angrier after a sledge from Andrew Flintoff! The repeat of Stuart Broad Vs Yuvraj Singh should make compelling viewing.

There are cries of gloom and doom already in the Indian media. Obituaries are already being written and workers at effigy-making factories have booked in for over-time while their masters are already rubbing their hands in glee!

Someday someone will realise that this is only a game!

India, in my view, is not playing the right team. One can’t do anything about Virender Sehwag’s injury. Them’s the breaks and you can only play with the cards you are delivered.

I can understand the teams’ reluctance to play R. P. Singh ahead of Ishant Sharma because, if R. P. Singh were to play, the team would have Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Irfan Pathan as the pace bowlers. There would, as a result, be a sameness to the bowling. Understood.

However, this analysis is predicated on the presence of Irfan Pathan in the team! I can’t be certain that that is a foregone conclusion.

I’d much rather the team play Zaheer Khan, R. P. Singh and Praveen Kumar instead!

The absence of Irfan Pathan would result in a weakening of the batting though. To make up for this, I’d like the team to play Ravindra Jadeja instead of Pragyan Ojha.

Moreover, I think M. S. Dhoni is wasted at #3. He is a clinical finisher and is a bit of a misfit at #3. I’d like to see Suresh Raina at his more familiar #3 position.

I believe India has defined a hitter/defender role for each player. Rohit Sharma appears to be the designated “hitter” while Gautam Gambhir is a “defender”. So, should Gautam Gamhir fall first, Dhoni walks in as a “defender” replacing another “defender” while, should Rohit Sharma fall, Raina would come in as a “hitter” for “hitter” replacement (as he did in the game against West Indies).

All of this sounds excellent on paper.

This represents another twist in Dhoni’s reading of the game and works well provided, of course, that it doesn’t become an obsession. Some six months back Dhoni was obsessed with the left-right batting combination strategy and ploughed on with it regardless of the situation or the opposition. Formula captaincy does not a Dhoni make though! His strength is his alertness and nimbleness and he should fall back on that rather than a formula.

Although, having said that, having a few set templates in a game as fast and furious as the T20 game is not necessarily a bad thing.

The problem with implementing this strategy blindly is that Dhoni’s form has not been that great lately. Given that, I think he should stick to the knitting and back himself as one of India’s strongest finishers in recent memory. He has this uncanny ability to hold one end up, rotate the strike and score at a run-a-ball without getting fazed. THat ought to be his role in the team.

So, I’d like India to go with the following team (in batting order) in todays’ game against England:

Gautam Gambhir, Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, M. S. Dhoni, Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, R. P. Singh

— Mohan

Team India Performance in New Zealand: Tests

Much has been written about India not going that extra mile to win the last Test in New Zealand in the last few days. I wrote about India missing a “Tipping Point” moment. Mahesh also wrote about Good Enough not being Enough anymore!

These thoughts were summed up pretty accurately by Samir Chopra, in his CricInfo Blog.

In a two-part article, Samir Chopra says, “Why did Dhoni need 600 plus runs on the board? To set attacking fields? Why were 500 runs not enough? Because New Zealand had scored 600 runs in the first innings of the last Test? And if he wanted to set attacking fields then why didn’t he set them? I didn’t see fields that were consistently the hyper-aggressive fields that a captain with 600 runs on the board could set. (If you want to see aggressive fields for spinners and pacers alike, go find a video of Imran Khan’s field settings during the 1982 series against England, his first as captain). If the idea was to get 600 runs on the board and go on all-out attack, then why was the Indian team’s demeanour in the post-tea session on the fourth day that of giggling schoolboys? They didn’t look like meanies that had put 600 runs on the board and were in your face thereafter. This slackness affected their catching as well; three catches went down on the fifth day itself. (Dileep Premchandran notes that had those been held, India would have won anyway; perhaps; but perhaps the reason they weren’t held was that the team’s mind wasn’t fully set on winning the game as opposed to the series).”

I couldn’t have put it any better!

Some of us Team India fans could not digest the go-slow approach at The Oval against England and still got over that disappointment to savour India doing well subsequent to that in the T20 Championship and against Australia. Some of us could not digest the last Test draw against England in December, but still got over that to savour India’s success against Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Similarly, I am sure we will get over the disappointment of a mere 1-0 win against New Zealand!

Setting the expectation bar higher is not necessarily a bad thing!

However, I am confident that the disappointment of a mere 1-0 result in New Zealand will soon be forgotten as we see the dancing ladies, pom-poms and skin-tight lycras of cheer-squads in a variety of T20 and ODI tournaments that India has lined up over the next few months. As we look back on Team India’s tour of New Zealand, we look forward to a year filled with T20 and ODI tournaments.

India does not play a Test match for a while now!

So who were the heroes and the zeroes of the NZ tour?

India’s support cast of M. Vijay, Amit Mishra, L. Balaji and Dhawal Kulkarni did not get a gig. That speaks as much to India’s consistency as well as it does to the faith that the team management reposes in its players. In my view, this is how the rest of the tour party fared in the Tests.

9.5: Gautam Gambhir — The biggest hero to emerge from the tour. He was the biggest find of the tour. He convinced everyone he could bat outside India. He saved the Test match in Napier for India and scored heavily in every Test. Although he had a marginal ODI tournament, he played well enough to emerge as an A-lister! In my view, it is because of him that India has risen to #3 position in the Test rankings. When asked some time back whether he preferred Aakash Chopra or Gautam Gambhir as his opening partner, Sehwag said, “I prefer Chopra because he gives me more of the strike!”, and therein lies the value of Gautam Gambhir. He is a diminutive opener, built in the Justin Langer mould. He has the fighting qualities that Langer brought to his game. But he mixes those fighting qualities with the aggressive mindset of a Matthew Hayden. In my mind, there was a question mark over his stomach for a back-to-the-wall fight. There was also a doubt over how he would perform in seaming conditions. Gambhir has ticked both boxes emphatically and emerged from the tour as India’s biggest asset despite a somewhat lacklustre showing in the ODIs. His poor ODI showing makes his Test performance even better! He shrugged off indifferent form in the ODIs to score heavily in the Tests. Full marks to this impressive lad.

9.0: Harbhajan Singh — He won the Test match for India in Hamilton by taking 6 wickets in the second innings. He bowled well as India’s lead spinner. He also topped the bowling charts in terms of # of wickets. India needs Harbhajan Singh to step up to the plate. Right from his debut series, it is when he has been labelled the “lead spinner” that Harbhajan Singh has emerged strongest. So also on this tour. He emerged as the highest wicket taker in the series. But more than that, he bowled with zip, rip and flight and rarely speared balls in as his wont! Apart from his performance in the Tests, more often than not, it was Harbhajan Singh that turned the screws on in the ODIs too. Apart from his bowling, Harbhajan Singh continues to develop as a bat. A solid #8 is vital to India’s hopes of ascending the Test ladder and Harbhajan Singh has constantly been part of major rearguard fights — Sydney 2008 and Bangalore 2008 spring to mind immediately.

8.5: Zaheer Khan — He had a wonderful tour. He bowled more overs than either Ishant Sharma or Munaf Patel. He shouldered the ace pace bowler responsibility and performed solidly. He made initial breakthroughs almost always and shone with the bat too. A recent analysis of his overseas performances underscored Zaheer importance to this team. He has taken 149 of his 210 wickets away from ‘home’. “His percentage of 70.95 is the highest among all bowlers who’ve taken at least 200 wickets. In fact he is well clear of second-placed Michael Holding, who has a percentage of 65.46.” Impressive indeed. Zaheer Khan had a very good ODI series too. Like Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan too has impressed with the bat lately. It is always comical when Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh bat together — not quite in the Javagal-Kumble mould, but comical nevertheless! Both of them seem to relish making contributions to the team cause with both bat and ball and so get close to full marks.

8.0: Sachin Tendulkar — He also had a wonderful tour. It seems that Tendulkar has found second wind in his career after beating Brian Lara’s record. He seems almost unstoppable these days. I will not say that his fluency reminded us of the “Tendulkar of the old”. I am convinced that the Tendulkar of today is the Tendulkar we see today! The Tendulkar of old is exactly that — Tendulkar of old! His 160 in Hamilton was a gem, but for me, his 62 in Wellington was the score I’ll store on my favourites. It is a pity that India is not playing too any more Test matches in the next 8-9 months. His 160* score in the ODI series has many people still drooling. He would have gone on to make a 200 (perhaps) but for a stomach muscle tear.

7.5: V. V. S. Laxman — Laxman proved his detractors wrog — again! The man has always been fighting off his detractors. But it looks like he is finally comfortable in both his own shoes as well as the role he has in the team. With Sourav Ganguly’s departure, he has moved one slot higher in the batting order. He also seems to draw comfort from the knowledge that he has the dependable and rock-solid Dhoni coming in after him! This has enabled him to play his own game lately. And whether it is defence or attack, he has looked assured, while looking attractive. His second innings century at Napier was fluent, artistic and solid — all at once!He scored 295 runs at 73.75 in the series! A good series which is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

7.0: Rahul Dravid — Although he had hit a century in the previous series, a sword continued to hang over this mans’ head! With the recent retirement of Sourav Ganguly, the clarion calls were growing for Dravid’s imminent departure or announcement. Dravid did make an announcement! It was that he was not in a tearing hurry to leave the scene! The chapter is still incomplete! He will be disappointed that he did not convert his starts of 66, 8*, 83, 62, 35 and 60 to much more. However, he will take the 314 runs he made @ 62.8 any day although he will rue the poor umpiring decisions he received! But these were strong returns for this Gentleman of Indian Cricket. He also signalled that he will be around for a while longer. And judging by the way he played, who would begrudge him his opportunities? It would do him and Team India good, however, if the selectors sat him down and worked out his plans for the future. Again, his good series is only blotted by the knowledge that we will have to wait a while to see him in India colours again!

6.0: Virender Sehwag — Virender Sehwag puts fear into the opposition when he walks in. He showed how dangerous he could be in the ODIs. His amazing ODI century was breathtaking in its audacity as well as its brutality and skill. And that is purely why Sehwag is higher in the rankings than Dhoni. In the Tests, Sehwag missed out after making some explosive starts. He had a terrific start at Hamilton and missed out. He received a lot of flack for the shots he played against Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel in Napier. But we have to perhaps learn to accept that that is how he plays his game. He lives for today and it perhaps does not hurt to have a player like him in the midst, especially since India has, in Gautam Gambhir, one of the more dependable openers in recent memory.

5.0: M. S. Dhoni — He had a funny tour, in my opinion. He still hasn’t lost a Test match as captain. He brings that X-factor to his captaincy and his team. He is positive and fearless and his energy seems to rub off on his team — even the “seniors” in it. His absence was noticeable in the Napier Test. Virender Sehwag, the next best leader-option in the team — assuming that Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman will not take up that responsibility — was shown up quite badly. Sehwag seems to lack a strategic bone in his body and, to his credit, does not seem to really want one or need one! But Dhoni was missed in Napier. His wicketkeeping was missed in Napier. His batting was also missed at #7 and I personally missed his almost non-stop Hindi commentary from behind the stumps! I seriously think that the TV station should run a separate “Dhoni Channel” when the cricket is on! But that’s another matter for another day… He keeps it simple and uncomplicated. When asked about why the team arrived “late” into Napier (only the afternoon before the Test match), he said, “The mind doesn’t know if it’s Napier or not. You come and say this is Napier it believes it’s Napier, you say it is day it believes it is day because it’s about how you treat the mind… We think more about the small steps rather than have a look at what we want to achieve in the longer run. We know that if we achieve the small milestones what we want to achieve in the longer run will take care of itself. We think about a series, and we break the series into games. And every game is a different game in which we start from scratch.” By the way, this is exactly what Greg Chappell was saying too! But he made himself out to be a pontificating Guru. He was constantly challenged, continually ridiculed and then shown the door! Dhoni brings that earthy matter-of-fact approach to leadership. But despite his X-factor captaincy and despite his solid showing in both ODIs and Tests, he scores low in my books because of his wrong decision on the 4th morning of the 3rd Test — my view on this was recorded at the end of day-4 of the Test match itself (well before rains turned the 2-0 party in Wellington into a mere 1-0 party!).

4.0: Ishant Sharma — Ishant Sharma promised more than he delivered. He is still a work-in-progress. He will improve. He will get better and stronger. India needs to invest more on him. He had a good match at Hamilton but struggled to bowl into the wind at Wellington. Of course, all bowlers struggled at Napier! He bowled well in patches and it is fair to say that he will have learned from this outing.

3.0: Munaf Patel — I really do not know when players like Munaf Patel will realise that it is not enough to just rock up on the park and assume that “she’ll be right, mate”! The fact that the entire team applauded a dive that Munaf Patel put in on the boundary rope is symptomatic of his problems. A dive must be de rigueur. If your team mates are surprised that you can actually dive, that is cause for concern! He blows hot one day and cold the next. He lacks consistency and I suspect that it is because he either does not “put in” enough to his game and his preparations. Or maybe he just leaves his thinking cap behind in the Hotel room every morning! He had a terrific match in Hamilton. He played the 3rd bowler card perfectly and performed his role to perfection. He kept it tight and took wickets too. However, when the batsmen got stuck into him at Napier, he dropped his bundle and his tour went South from there on! He looked completely disconnected from proceedings subsequent to that point. He dropped catches, could not bend down to field regular shots and just missed the point of being part of a team! He needs a wake up call or a kick up his backside. He needs to work on his fitness, period. You are not going to teach him to be a better fielder and dive around the park. Not now. He has missed that bus many years ago! However, what he has to learn is complete commitment to his fellow bowlers — if not the entire team. A good, mentally strong, fit and committed Munaf Patel is important for India if she is to challenge the #2 and #1 spots.

2.0: Yuvraj Singh — What I wrote about Munaf Patel could be said about Yuvraj Singh too. He had several opportunities to not only cement the #6 spot, but make it his own. Instead, he used the tour to default on his loan repayments. His line of credit has been extended. But only just! He had a poor tour. For me, it was less his ability with the seaming ball and his low returns that made me give him such a low score. It was due to his overall lethargy in the field. He just did not seem to belong in this company. A few years ago, he was the touted as the great hope of the Indian infield. He was! He was seen as the messiah that would inspire a generation of Indian cricketers to throw themselves around on the park like a Jonty Rhodes or a Ricky Ponting. Today he is already a pale shadow of what he was even yesterday! Unfortunately, this means that he might need to start all over again! I think he can do it. He has to sharpen his fitness and lose those needless excess kilos. He also has to fix that ‘dodgy knee’. He seems to me to be a man pre-occupied by that weakness. We may then see a better, fitter and a more free Yuvraj Singh.

1.0: Dinesh Karthik — The only positive contribution from Dinesh Karthik on this tour is that he has ensured that Yuvraj Singh does not get lined up at the rear of the class! I would not be surprised if Dinesh Karthik played his last Test at Napier. The only good thing about his ‘keeping in the 1st Innings of that Test was that he made the Kiwis wonder if he had been selected for his batting! Once they saw him batting, they were left scratching their heads! I strongly believe that it is time the team and the selectors invested in Wriddhiman Saha, Naman Ojha and Srivats Goswami.

Overall, this was a steady tour for Team India. I’d have preferred a 2-0 result, but will take this in the hope of better things in the future.

In conclusion, I must say that the pitches as well as the schedule worked in India’s favour. Gautam Gambhir was “allowed to fail” in the ODIs without allowing it to form a ‘mental block’ for him. The bowlers — particularly Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh — got used to the conditions. So a big tick to the BCCI for drawing up a schedule. A big tick too to the BCCI for also organising for Dravid, Laxman, Kulkarni and Laxman to play a few provincial games in New Zealand. It can’t have hurt India’s preparations.

— Mohan

Third Test :: New Zealand Vs India :: 1st Day

It was one of those manic days of Test cricket in which each team will claim they got it right.

New Zealand took a risk by winning the toss and asking India to bat. NZ will feel that their decision was vindicated by getting 9 of India’s 1st Innings wickets on the opening day! NZ will also be disappointed that they let India get away to 375 after having India 205-6 at one stage! It was a poor post-Tea show from the NZ bowlers after they stuck to their task in the first two sessions — despite the pounding they received from Sehwag!

India raced at the start. It was almost as if India was playing in an ODI. Having started in that manner and having put the seed of concern in the mind of the NZ captain, the Indian top order will be disappointed that it let NZ back into the game. Everyone in the top-order barring Gautam Gambhir got out to a poor shot rather than a good ball.

Gambhir was out-thought by Franklin — a bowler who just didn’t look like taking a wicket this series. After moving a few away from the left hander, Franklin got a cross-seamer to hold its line. Gambhir was out LBW.

However, Sehwag, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid and Dhoni “gave it away”. And Yuvraj Singh was Yuvraj Singh!

There has been talk that the NZ bowlers bowled too short. I am not sure I agree. Of the Indian bats that got out, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Dhoni and Zaheer got out to balls that were pitched short! Harbhajan got out to a ball that seemed to stop on him a bit. Gambhir got out to a clever piece of bowling. The ball was pitched further up and held its line. Laxman chased a fuller ball that pitched outside off and swung further away.

And Yuvraj Singh was Yuvraj Singh! The only good thing about Yuvraj Singh these days is he makes the Indian fan yearn for Saurav Ganguly! The man does need to do something about his (1st Innings) batting.

Despite the fact that Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar and Dhoni got starts, India were pegged back by the NZ bowlers. But despite the somewhat poor showing from the top order, India still made 375!

So it was just one of those days of cricket!

— Mohan

Another (Not-so-dull) Draw…

Geoff Boycott’s mother-in-law could have played in this Test match with a draft-stopper as a bat and still would not have got out on that track unless of course her name was Yuvraj Singh or McIntosh or unless she had a rush-of-blood a la Virender Sehwag! That was how poor that Test match track was at Napier. To say that it was a terribly rotten track would do grave injustice to “terribly rotten tracks”. It was worse than just that! At the prize distribution ceremony, Vettori said, “You can play another Test match on this if you want to!”

What’s wrong with Kiwi pitch curators? One of them messed up the Bangalore Test against Australia. And now this graveyard got dished out.

Apart from perhaps Yuvraj Singh in India’s 1st Innings, every other batsman got himself out. The pitch had nothing to do with them getting out (for most part). After the recent spate of huge scores on boringly dead tracks, this is hardly an advertisement for Test cricket.

Yes, this Test match was quite gripping stuff. But this was more due to bad batting in the 1st Innings by India than anything to do with the pitch. Once a team puts on 619 runs in its first innings, the other team is always going to play catch up! And that’s precisely what India did. To compound matters, in the first innings reply, Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Karthik, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan got out to poor shots, while Yuvraj Singh played like only he can!

The response from India, after following on, was solid. It was expected. It wasn’t pretty. But it was necessary.

Now India have the opportunity to go back home (or to South Africa, to play in the IPL) with the silverware. I do not expect to see any changes in Team India other than Dhoni coming in for an out-of-colour Dinesh Karthik.

I would also hope/expect that Dhoni will hang up his soccer boots!

Meanwhile, we have the start of what appears to be a bit of a controversy with Rahul Dravid appearing to question either Virender Sehwag’s shot selection or V. V. S. Laxman’s justification/defence of Sehwag’s shot selection!

Either way, Team India should work to put this Test match and the soccer ball behind it and move on to Wellington where the 3rd Test commences on Friday.

— Mohan

What was Sehwag thinking?

At the end of the 6th over of the ongoing Test match between New Zealand and India, New Zealand was travelling nicely at 21/0. The 7th over was a beauty from Ishant Sharma. He had Macintosh out first ball and almost had How out LBW off the 5th ball. At the other end, the 8th over was a terrific follow up from Zaheer Khan. He had How cleaned up off the last ball and New Zealand was 22/2.

At this crucial juncture, in the 9th over, after his team had taken 2 wickets in 2 overs, Sehwag decided to bring in Munaf Patel!

It wasn’t as if Ishant Sharma was spent! For crying out loud, he had just taken a wicket in his previous over!

I am not saying that this decision cost India a bad day in the office — Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik and Rahul Dravid made sure that their hands (or lack of it) did the real damage! But I really would like to know what Sehwag was thinking at that time? I’d love to know…

— Mohan